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September 04, 2016

Despite another strong Thompson performance, Phils swept by Braves

In baseball, summer can feel like quite a long time. Case in point: As the temperatures drop and the season winds down this September, the Phillies starting rotation will look far different than when it was turning heads back in April and May.

Aaron Nola hasn’t been seen for over a month due to an elbow injury. The team (understandably) decided that Vince Velasquez has thrown enough innings, so he’s been shut down for the rest of the season. Even Zach Eflin, a promising midseason call-up, saw his year come to an end after undergoing knee surgery.

Jerad Eickhoff is still around (so is veteran Jeremy Hellickson), but all the excitement over the Phillies’ promising young arms feels a bit like a distant memory at this point.

After four miserable starts to begin his major league career, Jake Thompson is starting to pick up some of the slack. On Sunday against the Atlanta Braves, the 22-year-old right-hander again showed flashes of the talent that allowed him to dominate the International League this summer.  

“It’s nice to get a little momentum going,” Thompson said. “Now I’ve got a pretty good bulk of innings to work off of. I know what to expect, now I just got to work off that.”

Thompson was far from perfect in allowing nine baserunners, but he surrendered one only run in seven innings (a long homer to left field off the bat of Matt Kemp) while also striking out six Braves. As the current team struggles mightily on the field, Thompson’s two most recent starts have at least provided the Phillies with some encouragement.

“After his first four outings with us, we weren’t sure about what we were seeing,” Pete Mackanin said. “His last two outings, especially today, he pitched extremely well. It was great to see.

“Other than that, there’s not a lot of positives that came out of this whole homestand.”

You can say that again. In six games against Washington and Atlanta, the Phillies offense managed just 11 runs. On Sunday, the bats let Thompson down and the lowly Braves completed the three-game sweep with a 2-0 win.

“We’re not showing a lot of plate discipline,” Mackanin said. “It looks like we’re behind fastballs and not putting the ball in play with two strikes. We just need to be more professional swinging the bat.”

On the heels of two nights where the offense scored four runs each, the Phillies just couldn’t solve Braves starter Julio Teheran.

After cruising through four, Teheran ran into some trouble in the fifth and sixth innings, when the Phils were able to load the bases with two outs. Both Maikel Franco and Peter Bourjos (who stung the ball directly at the right fielder) weren’t able to make Atlanta pay. 

“You can only do so much,” Mackanin said. “It’s up to the player to learn how to ice skate. They got to learn how to do it. I can’t teach them how to ice skate.”

Teheran wasn’t the only starter on this windy Sunday afternoon that had to work out of trouble at times. In both the sixth and seventh innings, Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure left Thompson in the game to find his way out of bases-loaded jams. Both times, he was successful.

Some long-term thinking from Mackanin was one of the reasons that Thompson made it through seven innings.

“He didn’t have too many pitches and we’re trying to develop pitchers that’ll go deep in the game,” Mackanin said. “I saw no reason other than to let him battle his way out of that and he did a great job and showed a lot.”

“It’s nice feeling that confidence,” Thompson said.

For Thompson, whose ERA still sits at 6.68, there is still quite a bit of work to be done, something he knows. Up to 163 combined innings between Philadelphia and Triple-A, he hasn’t yet been informed of the Phillies’ plans for him in September.

“I understand their plan,” Thompson said of possibly being shut down for the year. “That’s not saying that I won’t put up a fight in it. But I understand what they’re doing, I understand their long-term goals.”

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann