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September 18, 2016

Sloppy defense prevents Phils from completing sweep over Fish

First, the positives from the Phillies' 5-4 loss to the Marlins on Sunday.

The team is going to be looking for useful bullpen arms to complement the trio of Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos and Jeanmar Gomez for the 2017 season, and you have to think that Joely Rodriguez put his best spike forward in his first week in the big leagues.

Rodriguez, the left-hander acquired for Antonio Bastardo two Decembers ago, was in line for his first big league win on Sunday, the decision the official scorer announced right before the game broke bad at Citizens Bank Park.

On an afternoon when the Phillies starting nine didn’t have a single player over the age of 26, and an average age of 24.4, the 24-year-old Rodriguez was summoned in from the ‘pen to clean up the mess fellow 24-year-old Alec Asher had created in the fifth inning. The Phillies were holding a one-run lead, but two runs were in and two base runners were on with just one out.

Rodriguez immediately induced an inning-ending double play from Ichiro Suzuki. And then he retired all three batters he faced in the sixth inning, too.

"We want to find out (about guys), it’s a fact-finding mission (this month)," manager Pete Mackanin said. "I want to find out about Joely. He’s got real good stuff, power stuff, and if he can throw strikes like he’s shown us he can, other than the one outing, he can be a part of it next year."

In the bottom of the sixth, another positive: Freddy Galvis launched a home run to right-center to give his team an insurance run. The home run was the 20th season for the shortstop with the stellar glove, surprising power, and MLB-worst OBP.

"I’ve finally found a good swing, a good approach and I’m going to try to keep doing it," said Galvis, who has 11 home runs in his last 36 games after altering his swing last month in Los Angeles.

It marked the first time in 134 years of Phillies baseball that the team had four infielders with at least 20 home runs: Ryan Howard and Maikel Franco both have 22, Tommy Joseph and Galvis both have 20. Even with an offensive approach that needs improvement, Galvis defense and pop have been above league average for his position.

“In the aggregate,” general manager Matt Klentak said three days earlier, “we have to look at Freddy Galvis’ season as a very, very positive one this year.”

Galvis also made his first error in 52 games on Sunday. The miscue did not cost the Phillies on Sunday.

The sloppy defense the rest of the infield was guilty of in the eighth inning was another story, however.

After Christian Yelich ripped a game-tying home run off the left field foul pole against Hector Neris, the Phillies infield gifted the Fish another run as Miami rallied back to avoid a sweep and leave South Philly with a victory.

"We let it slip away," Mackanin said. "We should have won that game."

The first play (which hopefully you have not seen, because you can’t un-see it if you have, and you sure as hell do not want to read about it): Marcell Ozuna hit a routine pop up just behind first base and Joseph and Cesar Hernandez both tried to catch it. And you know how that usually works out.

Ozuna was initially credited with a double, until said official scorer came to his senses and gave Hernandez an error.

"That’s right above Tommy Joseph and if Cesar is going to make an attempt to catch the ball, he’s got to call it," Mackanin said. "He never said a word. So that was mental mistake on his part."

After Neris got a second out, J.T. Realmuto hit a ball sharp down the third base line, where Franco showed his normal strong reflexes on his backhand side. But then Franco fired an awkward one-hop throw across the diamond, which Joseph was able to stop off the bag, but a throw that also allowed Ozuna to score the go-ahead run.

Franco was initially given an error. But then, you guessed it, the official scorer changed his mind again.

Either way, the Phillies were no longer winning. 

"It’s always disappointing to lose the game, but sometimes we’re going to commit mistakes and errors," Galvis said. "I think maybe we feel bad a little bit because we lost the game but we have to try to again tomorrow and play good baseball. I think we have to talk about that play, about that situation and I think we could be better."

Of course, the defensive miscues wouldn't have mattered as much if Neris hadn't served up the game-tying home run earlier in the inning.

"His splitter is a swing-and-miss pitch," Mackanin said. "It’s his best pitch. It’s why I don’t understand why he didn’t use it against Yelich."

Neris said he planned on throwing on it the next pitch to Yelich, in an attempt to keep the Marlins clean-up hitter guessing (changing his sequence from the previous time he had faced him). But he didn't get the chance, since Yelich jumped all over the 96-MPH fastball he threw instead.

"I tried to mix it up," Neris said.

• The plan to play Ryan Howard in each of the Phillies final two home weekends of the 2016 season to not get off to a great start. After hitting a home run in Friday's win, Howard was on the bench on Saturday and Sunday with swelling in his left knee. 

"A day to day type of thing," Mackanin said after Sunday's game. "He might be ready by Tuesday. We’ll see."

The Phillies are off on Monday. If they keep Howard out of action again Tuesday, the Phils could opt to let his knee rest up until they go to New York to begin a seven-game road trip on Thursday. 

The Phils are matched up against Chicago left-hander Chris Sale, an American League Cy Young candidate, on Wednesday, so there's almost zero chance Howard would play in the final game of the current homestand. reported that Howard had his knee drained Sunday morning. But that likely wouldn't affect Howard's availability this week.

Odubel Herrera (2-for-4 with a home run) has multiple hits in four straight games and five out of his last six games, raising his batting average (to .285) and OBP (to .361) in the process. Herrera, the Phillies lone All-Star representative, hit .229 with a .285 OBP in 49 games between July 7 and Sept. 4. 

"I think the minute (Roman) Quinn got here he started really turning it on," Mackanin said. "He saw Quinn and said, 'Hey wait, I’m better than this guy. I better get back on track.' Everyone needs a little bit of a boost sometimes, and I think that may have something to do with it."

Perhaps it isn't a coincidence that the Phillies placed Quinn's locker stall right next to Herrera in the home clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park. 

Freddy Galvis, Tommy Joseph, Ryan Howard, and Maikel Franco are the first infield foursome to hit at least 20 home runs in a Phillies season, as is stated above. They are also the first four Phillies teammates to hit 20 or more in a season since 2009 when five Phillies hit 20 or more home runs: Howard (45 home runs), Jayson Werth (36), Raul Ibanez (34), Chase Utley (31), and Jimmy Rollins (21).

Three-fourths of the '09 infield hit a combined 97 home runs – 13 more than Galvis, Joseph, Howard and Franco – but Pedro Feliz came eight short of giving the pennant-winning team four infielders with at least 20 home runs.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21