Close to full health, Phillies no longer look like the worst team in baseball

Close to full health, Phillies no longer look like the worst team in baseball


Though they still have the worst record in the majors by 3½ games, the 34-62 Phillies aren't playing like the worst team in baseball right now.

Not from an offensive standpoint, not from a starting pitching standpoint, not from a bullpen standpoint.

The Phils' offense stayed hot Sunday afternoon in a 6-3 win over the Brewers, their fourth win in five games and sixth in the last 10 (see Instant Replay).

Nick Williams homered again, Howie Kendrick had a very Howie Kendrick-like at-bat with the bases loaded, Jerad Eickhoff spun a quality start and the trio of Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit and Luis Garcia sealed the win.

The Phillies have scored at least five runs in seven straight games, which is something none of their recent division-winning teams did in a single season. It's their longest such streak since May 31-June 7, 2005.

Their starting pitchers have allowed three runs or less in six of the last eight games.

And the Phils' bullpen has the lowest ERA in the majors since June 26 at 2.19.

A lot of things are clicking right now for a team that probably can't play worse than it did in the first half. The Phils' record remains hideous, but there are actually four teams with worse run differentials: the Reds, Blue Jays, Giants and Padres.

"My first year here as a coach was '09, and in no way am I comparing ourselves to that team, but it was reminiscent the way we've been swinging the bats of us coming back and coming from behind and catching up and beating other teams," Pete Mackanin said. "It reminds me to a certain degree."

For much of the season, Mackanin has walked into the Phillies' media room after a loss and said that his hitters aren't living up to their standard. For much of the season, the Phillies have made quick outs and life easy for the opposing pitcher. 

But with Kendrick and Cesar Hernandez back from the DL, with Odubel Herrera hitting .331 since June 1, with Maikel Franco walking as much as he's struck out the last 35 games, and with Williams' power and energy rubbing off on the rest of the team, many different Phillies are playing like they have something to prove.

"Everybody is playing for a job next year," Mackanin said. "Everybody is playing to be part of our future and I think the guys are competing among themselves. It's good to see. Everybody's more aggressive. They're into the games."

The energy added by Williams' arrival on June 30 has been impossible to ignore, though it's kind of a chicken-or-egg thing. Is there added energy because he and so many other guys started hitting, or are they hitting because there's a more positive vibe in the clubhouse and dugout?

"I like to do whatever I can to start the momentum or get guys going," Williams said. "If I do something exciting, they're like, 'Oh, he's playing hard.' But everyone's been hitting and everyone's been just playing the game right and just doing all the little things and that's how we've been able to come out with some victories.

"In close spots with the hitting, we've been able to knock a lot of guys in. It's just that hitting's contagious. I always say when one guy does it, why can't the next? That's how I think of it."

The biggest spot in Sunday's game came with the bases loaded and no outs in the fifth inning. With the game tied, the Brewers switched pitchers and Kendrick quickly found himself down 0-2 before singling up the middle to score two runs.

Kendrick has missed 60 games this season and it's been frustrating for him because he's been so locked-in when he's played. After picking up two more hits Sunday, he's up to .353 with an .873 OPS. His numbers are rarely sexy because he averages about 10 home runs per season, but a versatile, perennial .290 hitter has value. It's why the Phillies' offseason acquisition of Kendrick made sense and it's why he figures to have some trade value even though Sunday was just his 36th game of the year.

"Not only is he a good hitter but he plays solid defense out there," Mackanin said. "He doesn't have the greatest range but it's not bad. He's average to maybe a tick above average. 

"I'm sure there's a lot of interest in a lot of our guys, (Pat) Neshek, [Kendrick], even (Joaquin) Benoit, (Daniel) Nava. We'll wait and see."

The non-waiver trade deadline is just eight days away and general manager Matt Klentak expects there to be some movement. The Phils' two best trade chips are Kendrick and Neshek and both had productive weekends. Neshek pitched a scoreless seventh inning to lower his ERA to 1.12. He's allowed runs in just two of 43 appearances.

And Kendrick has picked up right where he left off, going 4 for 10 since returning Friday from a hamstring strain.

"If I were scouting for another organization I'd recommend him," Mackanin said of Kendrick. "I'd put an acquire (label) on him."

We'll soon see what that acquire label nets the Phillies. The return won't be huge, but trading Kendrick will allow the Phils to add another young player with upside and open a spot back up for Aaron Altherr, who could return from the DL as early as Wednesday.

Pat Neshek sticks to normal script as a Phillie with scoreless inning in All-Star Game

Pat Neshek sticks to normal script as a Phillie with scoreless inning in All-Star Game


MIAMI -- Pat Neshek spent the first half of the season racking up scoreless innings for the Phillies and that's exactly what he did in the 88th All-Star Game on Tuesday night.
Neshek was an early participant in his second All-Star Game. National League manager Joe Maddon of the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs called on Neshek in the top of the second inning and the veteran right-hander faced four batters and pitched around a single on his way to posting a zero.
One of the NL's other relievers did not fare as well Neshek, however.
Wade Davis of the Cubs entered a tie game in the top of the 10th inning and served up a home run to Robinson Cano on the third pitch he threw. Cano's line drive over the right-field wall was the difference in a 2-1 American League victory at Marlins Park.
The AL has won five straight All-Star Games.
Cano, appearing in his eighth All-Star Game, hit a 1-1 breaking ball for the go-ahead homer. He was named the game's MVP. He won the All-Star Home Run Derby in 2011.
"It's always good to accomplish something great," Cano said. "As a kid you watch Ken Griffey Jr., and all those guys come to the All-Star Game and win the MVP and you want that feeling. It feels great."
For the first time since 2002, the game was a pure exhibition. For the last 14 seasons, the game decided home-field advantage in the World Series. That practice ended with the new labor agreement that was set in the fall. Home-field advantage in the World Series, for the next five seasons, will go to the participant with the better regular-season record.
There was one moment, however, when the game had the feel of a true exhibition. In the top of the sixth inning, Nelson Cruz, Cano's teammate on the Seattle Mariners, approached home plate and said something to NL catcher Yadier Molina. Cruz then handed Molina his cell phone and proceeded to pose for a picture with home plate umpire Joe West. West, in his 40th season, worked his 5,000th game in June, becoming just the third umpire to do so. The legendary West, known for taking no guff on the field, played along with this one and smiled for the picture.
"I would bet if the game had counted, he would not have done that," Maddon said of Cruz's picture request.
Neshek, a noted autograph collector, didn't mind it.
"I liked it," he said. "I like the fun stuff like that.
"Now, if I was pitching, I don't know if I would have liked it."
Zack Greinke was the NL pitcher when Cruz whipped out his camera, causing a slight delay. Greinke isn't exactly the most fun guy in baseball, but he survived the distraction and pitched a scoreless inning.
Oh, yeah, he also promised to get Neshek an autograph somewhere down the road. Neshek has been trying to land Greinke's John Hancock for years.
Becoming a photographer — in full catcher's gear in the middle of a game — was only part of an eventful sixth inning for Molina. In the bottom of the inning, he tied the game at 1-1 with a solo home run to right field against Minnesota's Ervin Santana.
Neshek was the Phillies' only representative in the game. He came to the Phillies in an offseason cash deal with the Houston Astros and earned his way into his second All-Star game by allowing just five runs in 35 1/3 innings in the first half. He allowed runs in just two of his 38 appearances.
Neshek's success with the Phillies will soon make him a former Phillie. He is a slam dunk to be traded by the end of the month as the team looks to profit from his success and get a young player to add to its rebuild in return.
Neshek knows it's not a matter of if, but when, he will be traded. He's heard all the rumors.
"Every day a new team pops up," he said. "For me, if it does happen, it will be really fun to go into a playoff race."
The Yankees and Nationals are strong candidates to land Neshek. Lately, the Red Sox have been mentioned. Just about any team looking to shore up its bullpen will be on Neshek.
Does he have any preference where he ends up?
"The team with the best record," he said with a laugh.
Maddon told Neshek on Monday that NL starter Max Scherzer would only go one inning and that he would be the first guy out of the bullpen.
"They told me yesterday so I was able to be fully prepared," Neshek said. "I was able to spend the rest of the game watching in the dugout, talking to guys. I talked to Daniel Murphy about hitting and that was really enjoyable. Getting in the game early allowed me to really soak it all in.
"As far as the game goes, I wanted to throw strikes and I did that."
Neshek threw just 11 pitches in getting through his one inning of work. Nine of those pitches were strikes. He retired Carlos Correa on a fly ball to center field for the first out then allowed a single to Justin Smoak before getting Corey Dickerson and Salvador Perez out on fly balls.
Now, it's a couple of days off and back to work for the Phillies — at least for a little while.

All-Star Game turns into Father's Day for Phillies pitcher Pat Neshek

All-Star Game turns into Father's Day for Phillies pitcher Pat Neshek

MIAMI — Just 3½ years old, little Hoyt Neshek is already a baseball nut.

"He has a Phillies uniform," Pat Neshek said of his little boy. "He wears it to bed. He doesn't take it off. He'll wear it for two days and we'll be like, 'It's time to take it off,' and he'll go nuts. The only time you can get it off is if he passes out and falls asleep. Then you throw it in the wash. It's crazy. He loves it."

Like father, like son.

How so?

Someday they'll have to tear the uniform off Pat Neshek. For if there's anybody in the Phillies' clubhouse that you could see pitching until he's 45, it's probably him. The guy has incredible love and respect for the game. He's a unique talent with a specialty. And he's a survivor.

Boy, is he ever a survivor.

He survived Tommy John surgery in 2008.

He survived nearly being out of the game — "I thought I was done," he said — in 2014.

And he and his wife Stephanee survived the ultimate loss when their first child, Gehrig, died just 23 hours after he was born in October 2012.

On Monday and Tuesday night, the entire Neshek family, which has grown quickly the last few years to include Hoyt and little sisters Shae and Skye, will be at Marlins Park in Miami for Major League Baseball's All-Star Game and other festivities. This will actually be Hoyt's second trip to the All-Star Game. He was a baby with his mom in the stands when Pat, rather incredibly, went from non-roster invitee in St. Louis Cardinals camp in March 2014 to the All-Star Game in Minneapolis that summer. Pat was raised just outside of Minneapolis, so making that All-Star team was very special to him — even if he ended up as what he calls a trivia question: the losing pitcher in that game.

But this trip to the All-Star Game, as the lone representative of a struggling Phillies team, is even more special for Neshek because he's able to share it more fully with Hoyt.

"It's nice because we went through a lot in 2012 and 2013 and when we had him in 2014, it calmed a lot of our fears," the 36-year-old pitcher said.

Hoyt has a special National League uniform — time to wash that Phillies uni! — and he wore it on the field with his dad as they watched Monday night's home run derby.

"It'll be awesome," Pat said a few days ago. "That's what life is all about — family. I've talked to (Phillies teammate) Mark Leiter (Jr.) and he's told me how special it was to go on the field with his dad, (the former Phillies pitcher) when he was a player. He tells me what great memories they are. It's great that Hoyt will have those. Hopefully we can get some cool pictures that he can show his friends someday.

"He's so excited about going. He knows all the teams. The other day, he said, 'Hey, the Pirates beat you guys,' and I'm like, 'You're 3½ years old! How do you know this stuff?' I told him we were going to Miami and he said, 'Oh, the Marlins, they have the home run hitter.' He knows Giancarlo Stanton. It's going to be so much fun."

Little Hoyt Neshek really had no choice but to fall in love with baseball. He was named for Hoyt Wilhelm, the Hall of Fame knuckleballer who pitched 21 seasons in the majors, from 1952 to 1972.

Pat Neshek wasn't born until 1980, but he knows all about Wilhelm. As relievers, they share a kinship. Neshek is a huge baseball fan, student of the game and avid baseball card and autograph collector. He does his homework. And, yes, he has been able to purchase several cards autographed by Wilhelm.

"He was one of the better relievers in the game and he played forever," he said. "I thought it was an awesome name, and he was a reliever and kind of an oddball with a knuckleball, so I felt like it fit. Wilbur Wood was another great knuckleballer but I didn't want to name my kid Wilbur."

Neshek doesn't throw a knuckleball. But he conceded that he has an oddball delivery — perhaps the most unusual in the majors — borne out of necessity when he hurt his arm in high school.

In April, the Nesheks welcomed their second daughter.

"I almost went with the name Joost, for Eddie Joost," he said, referring to the former infielder who played in the majors from 1936 to 1955. "But my wife liked Skye."

(Something tells us that Skye will appreciate that someday.)

Neshek's love of baseball history will forever shine in the name he gave his first son — Gehrig.

"He died in my wife's arms," Pat said. "It was hell."

Pat chooses not to speak a lot about the circumstances of Gehrig's death, though he believes it was preventable. The baby developed an infection hours before birth, he said, and to this day, Pat believes mistakes were made by the medical personnel that was involved in the delivery. The family investigated the possibility of legal action, he said, but the case did not proceed.

The pain of it all is still palpable in Neshek's voice.

"You never ever get over it," he said. "There's grief. There's anger. It's tough at the holidays, knowing that my kids had an older brother. He'd be getting ready to go to kindergarten. He'd be on the field with his brother and me at the All-Star Game. That's tough. But that's life. Life is beautiful, but it can also be tough."

Pat Neshek has used the same glove during games for many years. Look closely and you can see the initials GJN — Gehrig John Neshek — sewn into the black leather. And though Neshek admits that he is not overly religious, he always wears a cross around his neck. It was given to him by former Oakland teammates shortly after Gehrig's death. It also has the little boy's initials inscribed on it.

"See," Neshek said, pulling the cross out from under his shirt. "He's with me every day."

And that includes this All-Star Game.

Pat Neshek isn't just sharing the experience with one of his sons. He's sharing it with both of them.