Pete Mackanin opens up about Phillies' prospects with trade deadline looming

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Pete Mackanin opens up about Phillies' prospects with trade deadline looming

If the Phillies do the expected and shake up their roster before the July 31 trade deadline, the minor leaguers manager Pete Mackanin would most like to see are reliever Jesen Therrien and first baseman Rhys Hoskins.

Mackanin was quick to add the play of the Phils’ current first baseman, Tommy Joseph, complicates matters when it comes to Hoskins.

“Tommy Joseph’s been doing well enough to where you just can’t forget about Tommy,” Mackanin said before Saturday’s game against Milwaukee. “So that becomes an issue.”

Joseph entered Saturday’s game slashing .249/.310/.449, with 15 homers and 45 RBIs. His homer total led the team. Hoskins, while slumping lately, was slashing .279/.373/.550 for Triple A Lehigh Valley heading into Saturday’s game at Durham. He had 21 homers and 70 RBIs.

“We’d all like to see Rhys Hoskins,” Mackanin said. “There’s just a matter of him getting playing time.”

Therrien, a right-hander, began the season with Double A Reading, going 2-1 with a 1.26 ERA in 21 games while converting seven of eight save opportunities. That resulted in a promotion to Lehigh Valley. He had not recorded a decision before Saturday, but in 16 games owned a 1.75 ERA while converting both his save chances.

Mackanin expects another righty reliever, Edubray Ramos, to return to the big-league club at some point. Ramos was 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA in nine games with the IronPigs before Saturday.

The manager also remains high on outfielder Dylan Cozens, despite Cozens’ low batting average (.236) and high strikeout total (130, in 352 at-bats) for Lehigh Valley. Cozens, who owned a .314 on-base percentage and .469 slugging percentage entering the game at Durham, had accumulated 22 homers and 61 RBIs.

“I think he’s going to be a heck of a hitter with power,” Mackanin said. “He strikes out an awful lot, but I’d still like to see him. I’d like to see what he does up here. I’m not politicking for him, but I would like to see him.”

Mackanin had little to say about shortstop J.P. Crawford, who has begun to show some pop after a slow start at Triple A. 

“That’s a positive,” Mackanin said of Crawford, who overall is slashing .221/.332/.356.

The play of Freddy Galvis this season has made that a moot point.

“I wouldn’t want to have to replace him,” Mackanin said. “That’s how important I think he is right now to us.”

Mackanin also adopted a wait-and-see stance on catcher Jorge Alfaro, who began Saturday slashing .246/.300/.360 for Lehigh Valley, with six homers and 40 RBIs.

“I look at the numbers, and statistics mean something,” the manager said. “If you’re hitting in the .240s, that doesn’t necessarily warrant a promotion to the big leagues.”

Mackanin did add that Alfaro has shown improvement defensively, and added that his youth (24) and tools work in in favor.

“He’s just been inconsistent,” Mackanin said. “He’s a tool player. Tools are great, but we want the potential to come out.”

Medical report
Mackanin said outfielder Daniel Nava is “day to day” with a strained left hamstring sustained in Friday’s game against the Brewers.

The manager also said outfielder Aaron Altherr, on the disabled list since July 15 with a strained right hamstring, has made “very good progress” and could be activated as soon as Tuesday.

With evolving changeup and 4-pitch mix, Aaron Nola raising his own ceiling

With evolving changeup and 4-pitch mix, Aaron Nola raising his own ceiling

BOX SCORE

Once upon a time, Cole Hamels was a two-pitch pitcher: fastball and changeup. The changeup was so good so consistently that it didn't matter that Hamels' curveball command was often shaky. Two very good pitches were enough.

It wasn't until Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay arrived that Hamels began incorporating a fourth pitch, the cutter, and along the way, his curveball command improved substantially. Suddenly, a two-pitch lefty had a legitimate four-pitch mix and it took him to another level.

Watching Aaron Nola dominate the Brewers in Friday night's 6-1 Phillies win (see Instant Replay), Hamels' evolution came to mind. Nola allowed one run and struck out nine over seven innings, at one point whiffing eight of nine Brewers. And he did with a four-pitch mix that included 31 sinkers, 27 fastballs, 20 changeups and 18 curveballs.

It's no longer sinker-curveball only with Nola. He's now giving his opponents more to worry about in the form of additional velocity on the fastball and a changeup that is becoming a money pitch.

"Nola was outstanding. He's been working on that changeup all year and it's really one of his better pitches right now," manager Pete Mackanin said. 

With a four-seam fastball that has been maxing out at 95 mph lately, a curveball that buckles hitters from both sides of the plate, a sinker with wicked two-seam movement and a changeup that he's beginning to feel comfortable throwing to righties and lefties alike, Nola may be making his jump to the next level before our very eyes.

"No question about it," Mackanin said. "That changeup, he threw a ton of them tonight to righties and lefties. I talked to him when we took him out of the game and he was real excited about throwing the changeup not just to lefties but to right-handers as well. If he can do that with the rest of the arsenal that he has, I expect a real good performance from him every time out."

The win made Nola 7-6 with a 3.38 ERA, which essentially means he's given up three runs every eight innings. Any team will take that from a starting pitcher. 

Over his last six starts, Nola has been lights-out — 1.70 ERA, .190 opponents' batting average, 50 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings. Perhaps most impressively, he's held his opponents to a .118 batting average with runners in scoring position, second in the National League over that span to only Clayton Kershaw.

"My changeup ... I'm feeling consistent with it right now," Nola said. "It's evolved. I really didn't have much of a feel for my changeup [when I first came up]. It's a thing I worked on in spring training a lot this year, threw it in counts when I usually wouldn't. That's what spring training is for and I think it helped."

The changeup is a feel pitch and its success is usually dictated by the pitcher's arm angle and speed. If he throws it the same way he throws a fastball, that's where the deception of the slower speed comes into play. Nola has worked hard on those aspects of the pitch and it's clearly paying off.

Nola induced 15 swinging strikes on the night, six of them on changeups and five on curveballs. His strikeout numbers stand out because he was not billed as this kind of pitcher when he was drafted or was coming up through the Phillies' system. In the minor leagues, Nola struck out 7.6 batters per nine innings. In the majors, he's struck out 277 in 275 innings (9.1 per nine).

"I'm real happy about the way he's come along, especially after the elbow issues," Mackanin said. "He has increased velocity. His pitches are crisper. He's better now than before. It's really a nice jump for him to make."

Indeed it is. Perhaps Nola's ceiling is higher than No. 2 starter.

Maikel Franco less focused on launch angle and his swing has improved

Maikel Franco less focused on launch angle and his swing has improved

In the time since MLB's Statcast technology emerged in 2015, several new terms have been added to the baseball lexicon. Exit velocity. Launch angle. Route efficiency.

It's given teams and baseball fans new ways to measure a player's worth. But the developments haven't been all positive. One of the new obsessions around the league is with launch angle, which measures the trajectory of a ball after it leaves the bat. Players who have higher launch angles tend to hit more deep flyballs, which is obviously the most likely path of a home run.

As a result, we've seen home runs skyrocket around baseball ... along with strikeouts.

Enter Maikel Franco. You'll recall that when Phillies GM Matt Klentak spoke at the end of May, he cited exit velocity and launch angle as reasons why Franco had been a little bit better than his traditional stats indicate. 

Franco has finally come around over the last month, hitting .276/.340/.528 with 11 doubles, seven homers, 13 walks and 12 strikeouts over his last 141 plate appearances. So it was interesting that when manager Pete Mackanin was asked Friday how Franco has been able to finally drive the ball consistently, he brought up Franco's getting away from the launch angle obsession.

"I tell you what: I noticed it in Milwaukee and it just kind of slapped me in the face. He's not upper-cutting the ball," Mackanin said. "He has a nice, level swing. Matt (Stairs) had him shorten his stride and that helped in that regard. But he is working above the ball rather than underneath the ball. 

"There's this trend for hitters to want to lift the ball and they do it wrong. They don't understand the whole concept of getting the ball in the air. And a nice, level swing will get the ball in the air. You hit just under that equator of the ball, that's where you get lift. Anyway, his swing path is really much better."

Mackanin could sense Franco was going to have a big series in Miami.

"Just watching him take BP, I was watching him and I said, 'That's a different swing than I've been watching, even for a couple years,'" Mackanin said. "And to me, it's conducive to success, what he's doing now. And I even told (Bob) McClure before the game in Miami, 'You know what? If he carries BP over to the game, he's going to have a good game.' And he got three hits, hit the home run. So I am kind of cautiously optimistic about this. If he continues to do what he's doing, he's going to have a good second half, I believe."

Then came the question: Are players today too concerned with those kind of metrics? Can it be detrimental to their natural development?

"I think so," Mackanin said. "Somebody was talking to (Daniel) Murphy and Murphy made the comment that there's four infielders and only three outfielders, so he doesn't want to hit groundballs, he wants to get the ball in the air. So players start thinking about launch angle. To them it means swinging up on the ball, which is counterproductive. It's like when you're golfing. If you swing down, you hit the ball up with a nine iron, let the club do the work.

"I was talking to somebody over in Washington and they said Murphy wants to elevate the ball but he does it by hitting the bottom of the ball with a level swing. He looks for the bottom of the ball to hit with a level swing. If you hit the equator, it's a line drive. If you hit just under it, you get that backspin. That's what he tries to do. 

"So it is misinterpreted. It's like (Josh) Donaldson came out and said, 'When coaches tell you to hit groundballs, don't listen to them. Don't hit them. You've got to elevate the ball.' Well, if you watch Donaldson's swing in action, he doesn't swing up on the ball. He's got a nice level swing."

Right now, so does Franco, and the Phillies badly need this last month to be more than a mirage.