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June 22, 2017

About last night: Anatomy of one of Phillies' worst losses of 2017

It wasn’t all bad.


The last hour or so of Wednesday night’s game surely was a series of unfortunate events. And we’ll get to most of those in a minute, but, first, something good that actually came from one of the worst games of the season, a game that ended with the Phillies on the losing end for the 39th time in their last 50 games.

Nick Pivetta, the 24-year-old right-hander the Phillies once acquired for Jonathan Papelbon, is beginning to resemble the pitcher who dominated the competition in Triple-A’s International League in April. In his eighth career MLB start, Pivetta struck out a career-high 10 before walking a batter and took a 5-1 lead into the sixth inning.

After sporting a 5.12 ERA and allowing five home runs and an opponents 1.025 OPS in his first four starts, which earned him a trip back to Triple-A, Pivetta has a 3.91 ERA in his last four since returning to the Phillies, he’s allowed just two homers and held the opponent to a .220/.304./.354 slash line.

Pivetta’s fastball was sitting at 94-MPH on Wednesday night and he was commanding it with the confidence of a veteran starter, not a kid that looked shell-shocked in May. Going to Allentown to work on his off-speed stuff helped, but so did reconnecting with his confidence, the mojo that can help a young pitcher take the important next step in their maturation.

“As baseball players, you get into a rhythm, I’ve gotten into a rhythm here and there’s still stuff I can work on to help this team win more … but I still put my team in a position to win,” Pivetta said Wednesday night. “I’ve got more time here, got more confidence.”

Pivetta is averaging 9.78 strikeouts-per-nine innings this season, which ranks second to the Angels Alex Meyer among rookies with at least 40 innings of work. He’s struck out 19 of the last 49 batters he’s faced in his last two starts while walking just three batters in the same 13-inning span.

OK, now that that’s done, onto the bad …

Bullpen Destruction

It probably felt like a broken record last night for Phillies fans watching the bullpen blow the 5-3 lead Pivetta turned over to the relief corps.

Joaquin Benoit, one of the offseason moves that really hasn’t panned out well for general manager Matt Klentak, served up a home run to the first batter he faced in the eighth inning, Cardinals pinch-hitter Jose Martinez, to make it a one-run game. Benoit has given up at least one run in three of his six appearances this month.

Hector Neris, one of baseball’s best eighth-inning relievers in 2016, continued to be one of baseball’s least trustworthy closers in 2017. He served up a game-tying homer to the second batter he faced in the ninth; Neris has served up five home runs in 13 save situations this season and opponents have a .879 OPS against him in save opportunities this season, compared to a .623 OPS in non-save opportunities. Perhaps it’s time to put him back in the eighth and let that be that.

But who should close? Pat Neshek makes a heck of a lot of sense, given his success this year. Yeah, he probably won’t be here in a month as one of the team’s two attractive trade deadline chips (along with Howie Kendrick) but that doesn’t matter much now. Let him close until then.

Wait, where was Neshek?

Speaking of Neshek, there was a little confusion as to why he wasn’t called on to pitch at all on Wednesday, when every other reliever that entered found a new way to turn a winnable game into a disaster. After the game, manager Pete Mackanin said Neshek was unavailable, as veteran relievers sometimes are through the course of a season.

“He told me he couldn’t pitch,” Mackanin said. “He was just sore.”

According to Neshek, this isn’t exactly true. Prior to the game, Neshek said Mackanin told him he was ‘down,’ meaning he wouldn’t be using him and instead would be giving the 36-year-old a day off after working in six of the previous 10 games (and warming up in another one of those contests but not entering, too).

Neshek may have asked for a day before Mackanin gave him the heads-up prior to the game … but he may have also taken the ball if asked on Wednesday night, too.

One last bullpen note: it’s probably time to send Edubray Ramos to Triple-A.

He’s walked 20 batters and allowed 32 hits in 30 innings. Ramos’ 1.73 WHIP ranks 174th of the 189 major league relievers with at least 30 innings. Jeanmar Gomez, who was designated for assignment on Tuesday, was just ahead of him (173rd) with a 1.70 WHIP.

“I don’t know what to tell you, it looks like he’s mixed up or something,” Mackanin said of Ramos, who struck out 40 and walked 11 in 40 innings last year as a rookie. “ He’s not the same guy.”

Raging Bull

Despite being one of the Phillies few talented left-handed hitters capable of hitting anywhere toward the top of the lineup, Odubel Herrera was once ago promoted from a premier spot in Mackanin’s batting order to the sixth spot prior to Wednesday’s game. Herrera had been leading off since Cesar Hernandez was placed on the DL, but his .291 OBP and 13 walks (fewer than every other regular who’s been healthy all year) in 68 games are conducive of a leadoff hitter, of course.

Perhaps the lineup shift woke Herrera up. He went 2-for-5 with a double and a couple of RBI. He’s hitting third this afternoon.

But, yup, we’re burying the lede. In the bottom of the ninth, with the game tied, Herrera blatantly blew through third base coach Juan Samuel’s stop sign when Freddy Galvis doubled to left field.

Herrera was easily out by a few yards. Rally, over.

“I was playing aggressive,” Herrera said after the game through an interpreter. “I wanted to win the game. So when I was rounding third, I put my head down. I kept going to home plate. Yeah, I saw (the stop sign). But I saw it late.”

Samuel tried to physically place himself in front of Herrera as a last-second move after Herrera ignored him, to no avail. Samuel said it was the first time in his coaching career that a player ignored his stop sign at third.

“I'm watching the plays in front of me,” Samuel said. “I put the brakes on, you've got to stop, whatever the situation is.”

Herrera was one of the few bright spots on the Phillies roster in 2015 and ’16, slashing .291/.353/.419 with 23 home runs, 51 doubles, and 41 stolen bases, and finishing as a finalist for the National League Gold Glove Award for center fielders last season. The 25-year-old has taken a major step back this season (.255/.291/.405, 13 walks, 68 strikeouts in 289 plate appearances).

The Phillies awarded Herrera with a five-year, $30.5 million contract this winter. It looked like a smart, team-friendly deal at the time, even getting it in place before Herrera was eligible for arbitration.

But now? Despite Herrera’s physical talent, he makes enough regular mental mistakes to make you wonder whether that was such a smart deal after all.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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