Phillies 2015 – Week Twenty
An eventful week filled with little hellos and one big goodbye began with a troubling MRI and ended with a good, old-fashioned fish fry.
The day off and the return home meant further examination of Maikel Franco’s injured left wrist. Initial x-rays had not shown a fracture. But, anyone who saw the first-year slugger brought to his knees in pain after he was hit by Arizona’s Jeremy Hellickson had to think it was more than a bruise. Sure enough, an MRI revealed a small, non-displaced fracture of his ulnar styloid, that will more than likely end his impressive rookie campaign.
To fill out the roster, the Phillies promoted 24-year-old Aaron Altherr, the 6-foot-5 German-born outfielder who was drafted out of high school in the ninth round in 2009.
The Toronto Blue Jays were in town to finish the protracted ‘Home and Home’ interleague set that began in Toronto at the end of July. The match-up was knuckleballer and unrepentant Phillie killer R. A. Dickey against rookie Aaron Nola. After all-star third baseman Josh Donaldson hammered a first inning fastball deep into the upper deck in left, Nola started to nibble. In the third inning, after Jeff Francoeur had tied the game with a tater of his own, the combination of a young pitcher being overly careful and a line-up of patient, veteran hitters resulted in Nola walking the bases loaded before allowing a two-run single to Ezequiel Carrera in a 38 pitch inning that would shorten his night. Down 3-1, the home team fought back with a run in the bottom of the third and two more in the fourth to give the rookie a 4-3 lead that he stamped with a 1-2-3 shut down inning in the fifth. The offense rewarded his effort with another run in the bottom half that chased Dickey from the game. Manager Pete Mackanin decided to pull Nola after five innings and 94 pitches, trusting the bullpen to protect the 5-3 lead.
It didn’t work out.
After Elvis Araujo walked Ben Revere, who was sacrificed to second, Jeanmar Gomez, who has been a dependable arm for most of the season, was lit up, allowing homers by Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion. The Blue Jays pen did their job and closed down the last 12 outs. Blue Jays 8, Phillies 5.
Notably, GM Ruben Amaro said on SportsRadio 94 WIP on Tuesday morning, that a trade for second baseman Chase Utley was unlikely due to the veteran’s demands for playing time from any prospective trade partner.
In the wake of Amaro’s Tuesday claims that the Utley trade would not happen, a Tweet surfaced on Wednesday afternoon courtesy of Fox Sports baseball reporter and talking bow tie, Ken Rosenthal:
Sources: Utley situation with #Phillies coming to head. Trade possible today.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) August 19, 2015
As the rumors and conjecture began to swirl in south Philly, Utley went about his business as usual, stretching, taking grounders and a few swings in the cage.
Because, after all, there was a game to be played.
Having lost four straight, the Phils sent rookie Adam Morgan to the hill against veteran Mark Buehrle. The Phillies jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first and added to it when Francoeur homered in the third. Toronto picked up two runs in the top of the fifth. But, in the bottom half, Andres Blanco led off with a solo shot and Altherr, who had notched his first major league hit with an RBI double earlier, launched his first big league bomb, a two-run shot to make it 7-2. The pen held on and Ken Giles locked down his eighth save. Phillies 7, Blue Jays 4.
Utley did not play. But, as he left the field following the post-game celebration, he casually doffed his cap to the remaining fans who were thanking him and wishing him their best.
To provide some perspective on Altherr’s evening, the last Phillie to collect his first hit, walk, run scored, double, home run and RBI in the same game was Denny Southern in September of 1926.
The particulars of the trade were finalized on Thursday and Utley was shipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for high-A righthander John Richy and switch-hitting prospect Darnell Sweeney, the latter would be joining the big club in Miami immediately.
They say momentum is only as good as your next starting pitcher. This was a timely truism considering the Phils’ solid win on Thursday and Jerome Williams’ struggles this season. Sure enough, after he was handed a 1-0 lead, the pink-gloved righty was tagged for eight runs in an inning and two-thirds. The bats did what they could against the Marlins’ bullpen. But, they couldn’t get all of it back. Marlins 9, Phillies 7.
The first piece of the Cole Hamels deal to arrive in the bigs would be Jerad Eickhoff. The 6-foot-4 righty had been 2-1 with a 2.49 ERA, striking out six for every walk he issued in his short time with Lehigh Valley. It was time to see what he could do. It turns out, he could do quite a bit. En route to winning his major league debut, the 25-year-old pitched six scoreless innings and drove in two runs with his first big league hit. Ryan Howard had three doubles and two RBI to buttress Eickhoff’s efforts as the Phillies cruised to the win. Phillies 7, Marlins 1.
Aaron Harang had one of his finest starts in recent memory. Touched for a two-run double in the third, he retired the next 13 batters he faced. He was done after seven innings, trailing 2-0. In only his fifth start, rookie Justin Nicolino was keeping the Phillies at bay until the newly acquired Sweeney hit for Harang in the top of the eighth and smoked the first pitch he saw over the left-centerfield wall. That was followed by a Cesar Hernandez single and an RBI double by Blanco that tied the game at 2-2. In the ninth, Altherr and Darin Ruf became the first Phillies to hit back-to-back homers in more than a year. Giles made it 9-for-9 with a 1-2-3 save. Phillies 4, Marlins 2.
Nola has shown flashes of brilliance thus far, as his 3-1 record suggests. But, he is averaging less than six innings pitched per start and is carrying a 4.41 ERA. Still seeking a signature performance, the young righthander was given the chance to close out the series and pull his team even in the standings with the Marlins.
The kid was in the zone. He threw eight scoreless innings, allowing only three hits and two walks while striking out six. His battery mate, Cameron Rupp, provided a solo homer off of the right field fair pole in the seventh to set the final. Giles continued to excel with his tenth save. Phillies 2, Marlins 0.
After a 1-6 week in Phoenix and Milwaukee last week, the Phillies’ 4-2 week allowed them to catch Miami. They are 21-12 in the second half. During this stretch, they have parted ways with Hamels, Utley and Jonathan Papelbon. Since those deals, the Dodgers are 0-3 and have been no-hit, the Rangers are surging but just got their first win from Hamels on Sunday in his fourth start and the Nationals have spiraled out of first place, going 9-15 since acquiring Papelbon. The old cliché about addition by subtraction may apply here. But, what we are seeing is the difference between hungry kids with something to prove and established veterans with something to protect.
Looking ahead –
The first-place Mets roll into The Bank for four this week. Having added Yoenis Cespedes to their line-up, they are welcoming back veteran third baseman David Wright from the DL after dealing with spinal stenosis since late April. But, the challenge with this Mets team is on the bump and that means Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Bartolo Colon and Jon Niese. Then, it’s three with the revenge-minded San Diego Padres.
FIRSTIES!!!!! of the Week –
One of the fun aspects of calling up prospects is celebrating their achievements. This week, we saw Altherr’s first hit, double, home run, walk, RBI and run scored, Eickhoff’s first win, hit and RBI, as well as Sweeney’s first hit, homer, run scored and RBI. While the first ones are always special, the future of this team hinges on all the ones that follow.
1995 Minnesota Twin of the Week –
LaTroy Hawkins pitched a scoreless seventh inning on Tuesday night against the Phillies. On its face, it was just another box score line entry. But, stop and think that when Hawkins debuted in this league, Ray Rhodes had just been named the head coach of the Eagles by new owner Jeffrey Lurie, Eric Lindros was just finishing his third season in the NHL and was still playing at The Spectrum with the 76ers who were led by Shawn Bradley and Clarence Weatherspoon. Meanwhile, the Phillies lineup was still full of names like Daulton, Dykstra and Kruk.