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May 25, 2017

Joseph delivers, Phillies snap five-game losing skid in extras

Like the manager he went to a World Series with eight years ago, Pete Mackanin tries to eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive nightly.

He’s begun each of his postgame press conferences with a similar refrain throughout the last month, pouring through a box score to see who threw a scoreless frame in the seventh or banged out a couple of hits in an otherwise unpleasant night at the ballpark. It’s the only way Mackanin knows how to operate, even as the losses pile up, leading the Phillies to the worst record in the big leagues before Memorial Day.

“Believe me, it is not fun for me to watch, but I’m the captain of the ship and I have to make it right,” Mackanin said the other day. “I’m very patient, but that doesn’t mean that I have to like being patient. I’d rather be cocky because we’re beating teams. But the only way to go is to be positive and not getting down. That’s the only thing we can do.”

Mackanin brought up a familiar memory after the Phillies’ most recent defeat on Wednesday night, their 20th loss in their last 24 games. He recalled two summers ago, when he took over for Ryne Sandberg and saw a team 29 games under .500 on July 4 suddenly turn things around, at least temporarily, by winning 18 out of the 29 games they played in the next five weeks.

“Sometimes one little thing clicks and we get better,” he said. “We just have to have some kind of spark to get out of it.”

For at least one day in a forgettable month of May, the Phillies received that spark.

It came in the form of a 428-foot blast to dead center off the bat of Tommy Joseph, with the ball clanking off the ivy-colored batter’s eye in front of Ashburn Alley, tying the score with the Rockies in the seventh inning of Thursday’s matinee at Citizens Bank Park. The spark was nearly extinguished when a rally in the next inning turned ugly faster and again in extra innings when the usual suspects continued their ongoing struggles, but, to the Phillies credit, they persevered.

Joseph ripped a one-out single to center field, scoring Michael Saunders, to deliver the Phillies a 2-1 victory in 11 innings over Colorado on Thursday, avoiding a four-game sweep. The win was the first for the Phillies in six games and just their second win since May 14.

The victory also ended the Rockies’ chances at making major league history: Colorado entered play 9-0 in one-run games this season. The MLB record for most one-run wins without a loss is 11, but the 1972 New York Mets.

“Finally get to some in here and smile,” a relieved Mackanin said Thursday. “A good performance from (Joseph).”

In an otherwise forgettable month of baseball in South Philly, the 25-year-old Joseph has been more than a bright spot. Following a rough April (.179, one home run in 19 games), Joseph is slashing 329/.400/.671 with six home runs and six doubles in 22 games in May.

Joseph, who only arrived in the big leagues a year ago this month, said he’s basically trying to keep things simple.

“Staying consistent with my approach, my swing,” he said. “Every day I’m having conversations with (hitting coach) Matt (Stairs), making sure we stick to the things that work for me, try to build on them every day and make sure that I have a good idea on the scouting report.”

“A lot of it has to do with timing and comfort level,” Mackanin said. “There’s no telling what clicks in a guy, it’s just a matter of making a minor adjustment sometimes, possibly getting better pitches to hit. There’s no telling what it is, but he just looks a lot more comfortable at the plate.”

About those slumping bats…

In the eighth, an inning after Joseph’s game-tying home run, the Phillies were in prime position to take their first lead in 50 innings and five days when Cesar Hernandez led off with a double and Aaron Altherr followed with a walk.

But then the middle of the middle of the lineup reared its ugly head. In an effort to try something new since his team entered having lost nine of its last 10 games and scoring just five runs in their previous four games, Mackanin went back to his Opening Day lineup, with the exception of Altherr in for the disabled Howie Kendrick.

It did not go well. 

In the eighth, they killed the rally. Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco struck out before Saunders ended the inning with a weak ground out to second base. 

Herrera finished the afternoon 0-for-5 with five strikeouts. He has struck out in each of his last seven at-bats dating back to Wednesday.

“I feel that I am making good swings but I'm just missing the pitches,” Herrera said. “But I feel I am swinging the bat well.”


Franco, back in the lineup after sitting out the previous two nights, singled in is first at-bat but also finished his day with strikeouts in back-to-back at-bats. Franco could be swapped with Joseph in the lineup on Friday (with the hotter right-handed hitter batting cleanup, the slumping slugger hitting sixth).

“Possibly,” Mackanin said. “You know what, let me enjoy this, we’ll discuss that tomorrow.”

And perhaps it’s time for Herrera to sit out for a bit, too.

“It’s a tough decision,” Mackanin said. “That’s a tough decision. You wonder if he needs to be in there seeing pitches and batting or does he need time off? I’ll think about that.”

Pitching in

Vince Velasquez ran into a familiar problem (he threw his 90th pitch with two outs in the fifth inning) but otherwise had an impressive outing in his first start since calling himself “clueless” last weekend in Pittsburgh.

Matched up against a Rockies lineup teeming with power bats that have looked more than comfortable this week at Citizens Bank Park, Velasquez went fastball-heavy on Thursday afternoon and scattered eight hits but also struck out seven and walked just one. The only damage came on a Trevor Story solo home run.

“It’s pretty much a step in the right direction,” said Velasquez, who has a 5.55 ERA after nine starts.

Mackanin thought about sending Velasquez back out in the sixth (he was at 94 pitches) and did let him hit in the bottom of the fifth (a sacrifice bunt attempt went bad thanks to an extraordinary play by Nolan Arenado) but thought better of it.

“We wanted to take him out on a high note because he showed improvement and we wanted to get his psyche in the right spot,” Mackanin said.

Unsung heroes

Don’t look now, but the beleaguered Phillies’ bullpen is finally finding its groove. 

Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit, Hector Neris, Luis Garcia, and Jeanmar Gomez (activated from the DL prior to Thursday’s game) each threw scoreless innings of relief, holding the Rockies to two hits in six innings. They also struck out three and walked just one.

The ‘pen has a season-best 13-inning scoreless streak. They have a 0.79 ERA (two earned runs in 22 2/3 innings) over the last seven games.

“I said early on that I think it’s one of our strengths, and after today you can see why I have a lot of confidence in them,” Mackanin said of their performance against the major league’s second-highest scoring offense. 

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