Archive | May, 2011

Lee Comes Up Big at the Plate and on the Mound in Phils Win over the Reds

26 May

Lee has a career-high three RBI against the Reds

By Chris Murray

Cliff Lee didn’t necessarily have the greatest outing in the world for a starting pitcher of his caliber. In eight innings, the Phillies lefty gave up four runs on 10 hits with one walk and eight strikeouts.

To make up for a rather ordinary pitching performance by his lofty standards, Lee was outstanding at the plate. He was 2-for-4 with a career-high three runs batted in the Phillies 10-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park before a sellout crowd 45, 650 fans.

After a lackluster start to this homestand, the Phillies win their second straight series win before going into their nine-game road trip to New York, Washington, and Pittsburgh.

Nearly 12 hours after infielder Wilson Valdez was the winning pitcher in Wednesday night’s/Thursday morning 19-inning marathon, Lee’s bases-loaded ground-rule RBI double helped to break a 4-4 in the sixth inning tie put the Phillies on top of the Reds for good. For good measure, Lee had a stolen base and a run-scoring single.

“He likes to hit and he wants to be a good hitter,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “When he gets in batting practice, he wants to see how far he can hit the ball. He takes a very aggressive cut in the game. Once he learns to stay on breaking balls and changeups a little bit more, he might become a real good hitter.”

Lee’s eight-inning stint on the mound gave the Phillies bullpen a much needed rest after it was exhausted the previous night. He threw 114 pitches  during his time on the mound. Jose Contreras, who was in his first outing since coming off the disabled list, pitched the ninth inning for the Phillies.

“I knew that I needed to get deep into the game and help out the bullpen,” Lee said. “A lot of guys threw a lot more than they’re used to.”

Within a short span of time after a position player has a performance for the ages on the mound, a pitcher comes up with the big hit to break open a tie ball game. That’s probably an event that only happens when the stars are aligned a certain way in the galaxy. The experience of Valdez and Lee in the last half day or so is further evidence of why baseball can be such a goofy game.

“This is fun, this game is crazy,” said Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, whose RBI double gave the Phils a 1-0 lead in the first inning. “You never know what you’re going to see. For Wilson to do what he did last night and for Cliff to do what he did today, stealing bases. It’s full of surprises.”

With the short turnaround from a night game to an afternoon contest, the Phillies jumped on the Reds early with Howard’s run-scoroing double in the first inning. The Phillies upped their margin to 4-0 with a three-run home run by Raul Ibanez in the bottom the third inning.

But the Reds would gradually creep back into the game. In the fourth innning, shortstop Paul Janish drove in a pair of runs that cut the lead to 4-2.

In the sixth ining, Reds rightfielder Jay Bruce, who has been destroying Phillies thorughout this series, came up with another clutch base hit to drive in a pair of run tie the game at 4-4. Thursday, he blasted a two-run homer. For the last three games, Bruce has come up with the big hit off Phillies that tied or won the game for the Reds.

The game remained a tie until Lee’s heroics with his bat in the sixth inning. Lee hit a ball to deep right center field that appeared to heading out of the park for a home run, but the ball sailed over the head of Reds centerfielder Drew Stubbs and bounced onto the warning track and into the bushes for a ground-ruled double.

“It was a first-pitch fast ball. I was looking for something that I could put a good swing on and that was it,” Lee said. “It was a ground-rule double. I was hoping it wouldn’t bounce over the fence because it cost us a run. It was a tie game, we extended the lead and we busted it right open.

With all the accolades being showered upon Lee for his offensive performance, Phillies second baseman Chase Utley hit his first homerun of the 2011 season in the eighth inning to complete the scoring. Though he was just 2-for-14 in his first series of the season. His mere presence back in the Phillies starting lineup seems to have the offense a spark in this series. They scored in double digits in runs in two of the four games in this series.

“It’s always good to get Chase back in the lineup and it does provide some energy, just his presence,” Howard said. “He’s kind of like a spark plug that gets out there and he goes hard, so to be able to have that back into this lineup, I think it gives an extra spark of life.”

Phillies Outlast Reds in Bizarre 19-inning Marathon, infielder Wilson Valdez Gets the Win for Phils

26 May

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

It what was a bizarre, six-hour marathon in which the Phillies blew several chances to win, exhausted their bullpen and managed to outlast Cincinnati Reds 5-4 in 19 innings in what was the longest, if not the most zaniest game in the brief history of Citizen’s Bank Park.

With the bases loaded and just one out, Raul Ibanez’s sacrifice fly to center scoring Jimmy Rollins from third finally won it for the exhausted Phillies.

“That was a funny game,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “It also shows you how hard it is to get a hit. It seemed like nobody was ever going to get a hit.”

The final winning score was the merely punctuation mark of a game that ended at 1:19 a.m Eastern Daylight Time. How we got to that point will be stamped in the lore of the Phillies for a good long time.

Utility infielder Wilson Valdez, who last pitched in a pickup game in the Dominican Republic in 2002, was the winning pitcher. He was the first position player to get a win for the Phillies since Jimmy Foxx did it in 1945. It was the first time, the Phillies used a position player on the mound since Tomas Perez in 2002. Valdez started the game at second base and got three hits.

In the top of the 19th inning, Valdez faced Joey Votto, the 2010 National Most Valuable Player and got him to fly out to center. That got the crowd chanting, “Wilson, Wilson, Wilson! After hitting third baseman Scott Rolen, he then he got Jay Bruce to fly out center and Reds pitcher Carlos Fisher to pop out to second. What was left of the announced attendance of 45, 706, went to an uproarious frenzy.

“I was concentrating on pitching. It was something that I will never going to forget,” said a smiling Valdez, who was hit with a shaving cream pie during the postgame interview with Comcast SportsNet. “I can go for two more, three more or four more whatever. I like to win and if I have to pitch five or three innings, I go for it. I like to win. I like to go home happy.”

Oddly, enough Valdez’s fast ball was clocked somewhere around 89 or 90 miles pers hour. Okay, so he’s not the second coming Cy Young, but he was good enough for the Phillies.

“He’s got a good arm and so we figured that he was the guy,” Manuel said smiling. “I think he’s got a fastball. It was 88 or 89. That’s better than some guys I see go out there. I put him right there against the middle of the (Reds) order to see what he’s got. He passed the test.”

Another move Manuel made was to put catcher Carlos Ruiz at third base and Placido Polanco at second. Ruiz got the crowd cheering by barreling into the crowd on the third base trying to a foul ball off the bat of Votto.

Perhaps the real pitching hero for the Phillies was right-handed pitcher Danys Baez. A guy who has not necessarily been a favorite of Phillies fans, Baez pitched a solid five innings, allowing just one hit, with one walk and three strikeouts. He threw 73 pitches. It was his longest stint as a relief pitcher.

“I think I got the most out of him, didn’t I?,” Manuel said laughing. “It just goes to show he can pitch, though. He said he felt good. He said he wanted to go. He stayed in there. I don’t have to tell you that he did a super job. He got into it.”

On a night when Phillies starting pitcher Roy Halladay was merely average, the Phillies offense spotted him a 3-0. Under normal circumstances, a three-run lead would be enough for the Phils ace. Tonight, it wasn’t. For the game, Halladay allowed three runs on 11 hits with a walk and six strikeouts.

If there is any one player that the Phillies will be glad to see go his merry way when this homestand is over it’s Bruce. For the past two games, he has been torturing Phillies pitchers by coming up with the big hit to alter the outcome of each contest.

In top of the 10th inning, Bruce hit a solo homerun that put the Reds up 4-3. With two out and the bases loaded and the Phillies clinging to a 3-1 lead in the top of the seventh, Bruce lined a single off Halladay to right field that scored two runs to tie the game. The night before, Bruce had a base-loaded double off Ryan Madson in the ninth that scored three runs and gave the Reds the win.

But just when it looked like Bruce was going to be the hero of the night for the second straight night, Ryan Howard led off the 10th with a solo homerun to keep the game going until its strange finish in the bottom of the 19th inning.

The Phillies opened the scoring in the first inning with a two-run homer by Ben Francisco. The Phillies upped the lead to 3-0 in their half of the third inning on an RBI single by John Mayberry Jr. that scored Ruiz, who doubled to open the frame.

In the fifth, the Reds got on the board with an RBI single by Joey Votto that scored Drew Stubbs from second to cut the deficit to 3-1 before their game-tying rally in the seventh.

The Phillies certainly had their chances to win this game in regulation. They had the bases loaded in the bottom of ninth with one out and could not score. Domonic Brown pinch hitting for Ben Francisco popped out to the catcher and Polanco bounced out on a force at second to end the innning.

In the bottom of the 11th inning, the Phillies had Michael Martinez on second with two out, but Brown struck out on a foul tip. It was the second time, he came up short with men in scoring position.

What Can Brown Do for the Phillies?

25 May

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Sunday Sun

After spending the first month of the season at Triple A Lehigh-Valley, Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown is back with the big league ball club, looking to provide a much-needed spark for an anemic Phillies offensive attack that’s had trouble scoring runs.

“I hope so, that’s the thing coming in,” Brown said. “I want to give these guys a little bit more aggressiveness, a little bit more defense and do whatever I have to do for the team.”

Brown was able to come back to the Phillies after centerfielder Shane Victorino went on the 15-day disabled list and because he tearing up minor league pitching at Lehigh Valley. He batted .341 with 10 runs batted in and two home runs. He also had a .537 slugging percentage and a .437 on-base percentage.

While was Phillies management was initially worried about to bring him up too soon, but with Victorino injured, Brown re-joined the parent ball club last Friday. The main challenge that Brown faces is just getting time on the field and finding his comfort zone as a hitter.

Brown got his first RBI of the season on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the second inning in Tuesday’s 6-3 loss to  the Cincinnati Reds. In the Phillies 10-3 win over the Reds he was 1-for-4 with a double.In the Phillies 2-0 shutout of the Texas Rangers last Saturday, Brown was 0-for-4.

“It’s about being patient and getting good pitches to hit,” Brown said. “(Saturday) night I wasn’t doing that. First game back, I was a little antsy here and there, but it’s going to take time. I’m going to get comfortable in the box and good things are going to happen.”

For the last year, the 23-year-old Brown has accumulated a number of accolades since being picked in the 20th round of June 2006 draft as a high school player out of Redan High School in Stone Mountain, Ga.  In 2009, the magazine, “Baseball America” named him the top prospect in the Phillies minor league system.

Last season, Brown started out the season at Double-A Reading and had a .381 batting average over an 11-game stretch until he was promoted to Lehigh Valley. On July 28, Brown got moved up to the Phillies. He was a recipient of the Paul Owens Award as the best minor league player in the Phillies farm system.

The 6-foot-5, Brown came into this season with the potential of being the next big star for the Phillies, especially with the departure of Jayson Werth. But there were a few setbacks along the way. In spring training, he went through a tremendous slump, going 0-for-15 and

sustained an injury to his wrist and was out for 4-6 weeks. He got his first hit of the spring the day he got injured.

“I think a few days before the injury happpened, Brown was back to being the way he was when I was around him at Lehigh,” said Phillies hitting coach Greg Gross. “I think he was in a good frame of mind three or four days leading to him getting hurt, so I think he would have been throughout the rest of spring training.”

Gross said Brown has good hand and eye coordination and has fared well against some good competition in the minor leagues including hard-throwing Reds left-hander Aroldis Chapman, whose fastball has  been clocked at over 100 miles per hour.

“I’ve seen him against some very good pitching, I saw him hit with two strikes and I saw him hit off of Chapman in Louisville,” Gross said. “When you see him against that type of competition with good at-bats, you can only think that confidence wise it should help you a lot to be able to handle that stuff and it shows what kind of potential he has.”

For right now, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is platooning Brown against right-handed pitching and will eventually test him against left-handed pitching. In 2010, Brown struggled against lefthanders, he was 2-for-18 (.111 batting average).

“I haven’t really seen that many lefties here at all,” Brown said. “I hit lefties well in

the minor leagues, but up here it’s a totally different story and that’s why they’re trying to work me in slowly.”

Brown said it was tough when he first came up here last year because he wasn’t used to coming off the bench as a pinch hitter, but this season as a starter against right-handed pitching.

“I’m back to my normal routine and back to doing the things that I do. It’s just going to take time and I’m not going to put any pressure on myself or anything like that. I’m just going out and having fun,” Brown said.

The tall, lanky Brown has the potential to be a five-tool player with his speed on the base paths and in the field. He has a strong arm capable of gunning down runners from right field. He said defense and hitting are his favorite aspects of the game.

“I take pride in my defense and I like to throw guys out, but the best thing I like is hitting,” Brown said. “When I step into the box, it’s game on. I really don’t care who’s on the mound or what your name is, I just want to hit the ball.”

Despite Phils Offensive Explosion, Utley Still Has a Long Way to Go

24 May

Utley was 0-for-5 in first game off the disabled list

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

The Philadelphia Phillies welcomed back second baseman Chase Utley Monday and I guess folks were expecting the Phillies anemic offense to find some life.

If you’re a fan and you were looking for any sign or revelation that Utley’s presence would inspire the Phils offense, the first four innings of the game definitely gave the 45, 841 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park Monday night some room for optimism. The Phils scored 10 runs—more runs than last weekend’s inter league series against the Texas Rangers in which they won two out of the three games.

It was the most runs they’ve scored since a 7-4 win over the Washington Nationals on May 5 and the first time since May 13 that the Phillies have scored more than three runs in a game.

The Phillies 10-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds probably gave fans the idea that prosperity is around the corner for the Phillies offense with Utley back in the lineup. His teammates felt the same way. The Phils got home runs from Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco and Raul Ibanez.

“He’s a huge part of our team and we’ve definitely been missing him and it’s great to have him back,” Ibanez said.

I wouldn’t be that optimistic and to paraphrase Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. do not expect him to come in and be the team’s savior. It’s going to take some time considering the severity of his knee injury for Utley to be a true force in the Phillies lineup.

For one thing, I don’t doubt that Utley is healed from his knee injury, but I wonder how long it’s going to take for him to get back in the groove at the major league level? Granted, he was 9-for-32 with a pair of doubles, four runs batted in and a home run with a .361 on-base percentage and a .438 for single- A Clearwater (Fla.).

If Utley hits that well against major league pitching then it will spark the Phillies offense. However, the reality is that it’s going take him some time to get back to where he was back in 2009 when he batted .282 with 31 homeruns and 93 runs batted in.

Against the Reds Monday night, Utley was 0-for-5 and had a couple of deep fly-ball outs. In the field, he snagged a high-line drive that took him about a foot or two off the ground and he moved well to cover second base on plays in the infield.

“I’m feeling pretty good, a lot better than I’ve felt the past few months with a doubt,” Utley said. “I think that’s a positive sign. I’ve put in a lot of hard over the last few months to get to this point and I’m pretty satisfied with where we’re at. I would have like to have been out there earlier. It is what it is. I was just happy to be out there.”

Another thing to think about is how well will Utley’s knee take the pounding on a regular basis from playing second base. He will no doubt get a lot of contact from guys sliding at second to break up the double play. There will be times when he’ll have to leap to avoid someone barreling into him.

But leg injuries, regardless of the sport, take time to be in playing shape, on a regular basis. At the end of the National League Championship Series last season, Jimmy Rollins, who spent some time on the disabled list, told me that while his leg was healed, getting it to the point where he felt comfortable hitting and running was the hard part.

“To hit, you have to stand on your legs. When you get injured, especially in the lower half, you have to find ways to play without it hurting and that can lead to bad habits,” Rollins said last October.

With all the injuries that Utley has had over the years such as hip injury surgery after the 2008 season, there are some baseball observers who speculating that at the ripe “old” age of 32 that he is on the decline and that he will never get back to being the player he was from 2005 to 2009.

According to her blog that appeared on ESPN.com back in March, physical therapist Stephania Bell, who specializes in orthopedic therapy and sports medicine, Utley’s patellar tendinitis in his knees might be degenerative since the cartilage in that area of the knee is either damaged or severely weakened. She said it doesn’t necessarily affect him in hitting, but playing the field and running is her biggest worry for Utley.

“Perhaps the best analogy for Utley’s knee condition is that of a worn tire. You know that if you continue to drive on it, you may be able to get another 20,000 miles out of it, but if the tire blows, it won’t come as a great surprise. And if you put the car in the garage and “rest” it, it doesn’t improve the tire tread,” Bell wrote.

I’m not going to be so quick to write him off just yet because Utley is a grinder and he has the work ethic to get himself back to some semblance of his former self. I’m sure he’s on a rigorous program to keep his knee in shape. But if the condition in his knee is degenerative then the clock on his career could be ticking.

Only time will tell.

Lee shuts down his old team, Howard breaks out of his slump

22 May

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

If the Phillies can somehow hit the ball on a more consistent basis they will truly be a difficult team to beat and you can start making plans for what should be a trip to the World Series, especially when their highly-touted pitching staff is on its A-game.

With their bats still in chill mode, they’re going to have to be content with good pitching and timely hitting when they can get it. In their 2-0 shut out of the Texas Rangers at Citizen’s Bank, the Phillies got superb effort from Cliff Lee, who dazzled his former teammates with 10 strikeouts while scattering five hits in eight innings of work.

“Lee was tremendous and aggressive. His command is good and he’s right around the plate all the time,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said after the game. “He was really good and he made really good pitches when he had to.”

The Phillies offense wasn’t necessarily overwhelming by any stretch of the imagination, but they did just enough to get the win. They got a solo-homerun from Ryan Howard in the bottom of the third inning and an RBI single John Mayberry that scored Raul Ibanez, who reached on a two-out walk in the sixth inning.

Meanwhile, Howard, who was hitless in last 23 at-bats broke out of his slump, was 2-for-4 including a homer and a single. Manuel said showed good plate discipline by staying on the ball.

“He stayed on the ball real good and he had good swings on the ball,” Manuel said. “He swung the ball real good. Anytime you have a couple hits, a homerun and a single, you feel confident.”

Howard said he was comfortable in the batter’s box and that enabled him to come out and swing the bat with a lot of confidence.

“I felt better, I had a couple of hits tonight and just missed the last ball, so I felt like it was a step in the right direction,” Howard said. “It’s always frustrating going through something like that. I was asked the question of how much video do you watch or how much work are you trying to do. You try to put in the work, but sometimes you have to step back and let things happen.”

Phillies hitting coach Greg Gross said when Howard struggles at the plate it’s because he puts too much pressure on himself.

“I just think he takes it on himself personally and he has to pick up everyone else,” Gross said. “I think subconsciously he thinks he be can be that guy that can turn things around and get us going.”

At a time when the offense has been desperately looking for ways to get out of what has been horrendous slump, the Phillies found a way to come away with the win. The Phillies had eight hits tonight, but still left six men on base.

“You hope that now it’s starting to pick back up a little bit,” Howard said. “Hopefully, we’ll start getting the hits when we’ve got guys in scoring position. At the end of the year, his numbers are going to be close as they always are, but righ now ”

Meanwhile, Lee kept Rangers hitters off-balance throughout the game. He had 122 pitches during his stint on the mound and allowed just two outs. His 10 strikeouts mark the sixth time, he has accumulated double-digits in strikeouts.

“Anytime you get deep in the game and don’t give up runs and give your team a chance, that’s the starting pitchers job. I feel good about doing that,”said Lee, who had a single and a stolen base. “I was throwing strikes and mixing speeds. Those guys know that I throw a lot of fast balls, so I tried to throw a little bit less than I normally would. Throwing strikes was the key. I don’t feel good about walking two guys. We still got thorugh nine inninngs without them scoring and I feel good about that.”

….

Phillies Get Solid Effort from Kyle Kendrick, Howard homers in Shutout of Braves

8 May

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

After managing just two hits and zero runs in the previous night against the Atlanta Braves, the Phillies offense did not score runs in bunches, but then again just about anything is better than the lack of offense from the previous night.

More importantly, the Phillies (22-10) came away with a 3-0 win over the Atlanta Braves on a cool night at Citzens Bank Park.

On a night where the offenses of both teams didn’t necessarily overwhelm anyone, the Phillies managed to push across enough runs to put them over top thanks to a solo homerun to right center by first baseman Ryan Howard and an RBI triple by Shane Victorino that scored Jimmy Rollins. Second baseman Pete Orr drove in a run on a ground out.

Even though Charlie Manuel likes to see his team push across lots of runs with the big inning, he is just going to have to accept those nights when the team scores three runs or less and can come away with a win. That’s not a bad thing at all.

The Phillies went up against 20-year-old rookie Julio Teheran, who was rated as one of the top young pitching prospect in the Braves organization by Baseball America and was making his major league debut. In four and two-thirds innings, Teheran allowed three runs on four hits with a strikeout and a homerun. The Phillies were impressed with the youngster’s potential.

“I think he’s got good stuff, he’s got a good change up, he mixed it up pretty well,” Howard said. “He’s got a good curve ball. I think once he gets more experience and he’ll mix it up better. Just for him he needs more experience and he’ll be alright.”

With Roy Oswalt on the disabled list, Kyle Kendrick (2-2) didn’t have a Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay-like performance, but he was solid in five innings of work and came away with the win. He allowed no runs on just two hits with three strikeouts and a walk. In 15 of his last 30 starts he’s allowed two runs or less.

“He kept the ball down good tonight,” Manuel said. “I thought the fast ball was his biggest weapon. I thought that he moved the ball in and out. He didn’t throw too many balls high, especially to left-handed hitters. He did a good job with lefties tonight.”

The major area in which Kendrick has improved as a pitcher is that he has increased his arsenal of pitches. In addition to his fast ball and his sinker, he’s added a cut fastball and a changeup.

“It’s definitely a lot better than the last couple of years,” Kendrick said. “I think it’s just maturing and working on your pitches. My cutter has gotten a lot better and my changeup, too. It’s helped me out a bunch. Like we talked about back in 2008 when I got sent down (to the minors) to work on my offspeed pitches. I think it’s come a long way and it makes pitching a lot easier.”

Relievers J.C. Romero, Michael Stutes, Antonio Bastardo and Ryan Madson,who got the save, closed the door on the Braves and allowed just two hits from the sixth through the ninth inning.

“All of pitchers and that includes our whole bullpen have been pretty good,” Manuel said. “I’d say we are a pitching team.”

The Phillies scored their first run of the game in the second inning on an RBI ground out by Pete Orr that scored Ben Francisco.They increased their lead to 2-0 on a solo shot to right center by Howard to open the fourth inning.

With that homerun, Howard hit his 260th career and moved into sole possesion of second place past Del Ennis on the Phillies all-time career home run list. During the Phillies postgame show, Phils color commentary Gary “Sarge” Matthews read a letter from Ennis’s wife, Liz, congratulating Howard on his accomplishment.

In the fifth, the Phillies scored their final run of the game on a run-scoring triple by Victorino that brought home Rollins.

Lee Strikes Out 16, but Gets No Run Support in Phils Shutout Loss to Atlanta

7 May

Oswalt Goes on 15-day disabled list

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

On most occasions when a pitcher has double-digit strikeouts, he should come away with the win, right?

Nope, not tonight and not when your offense is not hitting.

In Friday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves, Phillies starter Cliff Lee had a career-high 16 strikeouts in seven innings of work. But one bad inning and the deafening silence of the Phillies bats on offense put a huge damper on what was a pretty good outing for the Phils lefthander.

The Braves came away with a 5-0 shutout in front of a sellout crowd of 45, 495 disappointed fans at Citizens Banks Park who were no doubt frustrated at their team’s inability to hit and score runs.

“I think it was amazing the way (Lee) was pitching and then after two outs (in the third inning) all of sudden they get four straight hits on four straight first pitches,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.

With the exception of the third inning, Lee kept Braves hitters off balance. He threw 117 pitches, 87 for strikes—48 of those strikes retired Braves hitters. Lee got the frustrating loss in a game where he got no run support.

“It’s a neat accomplishment, but it really doesn’t matter, we still lost the game,” Lee said. “Whether they get out by strikeout, ground out or flyout, it doesn’t really matter as long as they get out.”

In that pivotal third inning, Lee got the first two outs of the inning, but couldn’t stop Braves bats from whacking the ball all over the field. He gave up a double to shortstop Alex Gonzales, who scored on an RBI single by Braves third baseman Chipper Jones that jumped inches past the outstretched glove of shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

“They got three two-out hits there,” Lee said. “They were aggressive, they didn’t see that many pitches in that series where they scored scored runs. I made some mistakes over the plate and they hit him. I got the first two outs and they got four hits in a row.”

Lee then proceeded to give up a double to catcher Brian McCann that scored Jones from first base to make it a 2-0 game. Another double by second baseman Dan Uggla brought McCann home to increase the Atlanta lead to 3-0 .

After that troublesome inning, Lee was brutally efficient in mowing down Atlanta batters and allowed just two hits after the third inning. Fourteen of Lee’s last 15 outs were strikeouts.

As good as Lee was, Atlanta pitcher Derek Lowe was even better. He kept the Phillies hitless for six innings until he gave up a single to left by Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino and a ground -ruled double to center by third baseman Placido Polanco to open the bottom of the seventh inning.

“(Lowe) used his changeup very effectively tonight, kept his ball down, he kept it way and got guys to ground out,” Victoriono said. “Derek pitched very well.He was able to get outs.”

Those two hits ended Lowe’s evening. He was replaced by left-handed reliever Eric O’Flaherty who promptly struckout Ryan Howard, Ben Francisco, and Raul Ibanez in succession to end the Phillies threat in the seventh.

“They were playing the infield back and we didn’t put the ball in play,” Manuel said. “If you can knock a run in and move a runner, you’re getting back in the ball game. We couldn’t do that.”

Victorino, who was taken aback when reporters mentioned Lee’s 16 strikeouts, said it was frustrating for the offense not to provide Lee with run support.

“It just seems to be what happens when Cliff pitches right now. It was the same thing in Arizona where we didn’t score any runs and got shutout. Hopefully, we won’t let it happen anymore,” Victorino said. “I knew he was dealing, but that was unbelievable and it makes it an even more frustrating thing.”

The Phillies never came that close to scoring or getting a hit again for the remainder of the game. Lowe picked up the win for the Braves.

“Flaherty came in and did what he had to do. You tip your hat to him in that situation,” Victorino said.

The Braves added a pair of insurance runs in their half of the ninth inning to complete the scoring for the game.Polanco left the game in the seventh inning with a bruised right toe.

Notes—Phils starting pitcher Roy Oswalt was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of a sore lower back shortly after the Phillies loss to the Braves.

Phillies Do All the Right Things in Sweep of Nationals

6 May

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

You can certainly point to several reasons why the Phillies swept away the Washington Nationals in their three-game set at the Citizen’s Bank Park. One of them is something, the team is happy to talk about and the other is something very obvious, but for some bizarre reason they won’t talk about.

Let’s deal with the first one, they’re somewhat mum about the reshuffling that the Phillies have done at the start of the lineup. Putting shortstop Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino at the top of the order with Placido Polanco at the third spot has paid dividends this week.

The three games against the Nationals, the duo of Rollins and Victorino were 10-for-24 this week with two stolen bases. If anything else, they have sparked a Phillies offense that goes through periods of being hot and cold. After the way things have gone this week, Manuel is not to change the lineup anytime soon.

“I think you’ll see it for while,” Manuel said. “I’ve always liked Rollins and Victorino hitting one-two and that’s our speed and that’s how we manufacture a lot of runs. We pulled a double-steal (Tuesday) and that’s how we’ve always played in our big run-producing years and that’s how I like to do it.”

Rollins, who didn’t want to talk about the lineup change, did talk about the running game and attempting more steals, which was a by-product of Manuel moving him and Victorino to the top spots in the batting order.

“We would like to run a lot more, there’s no doubt about that,” Rollins said. “Sometimes you’re just shutdown. The pitcher is not giving you enough time. Stealing bases is like running up against the clock. If a guy is under 1.3 seconds to the plate and combines his time with the catcher, it’s not a good makeup to run on.

“Now if a guy is 1.35 and above combine that time with the catcher, your talking about five tenths of a second. We’ve been taking advantage of the guys that are slow and when guys are too quick, you can’t just run into an out and take the bat out of the next guys hand you’re not on bats for that double.”

Rollins said the Phillies have to be selective when they steal a base, but it’s not something they do for the sake of doing it.

There is no doubt that Raul Ibanez has gotten past his slump in a big way. In Thursday’s 7-3 win, Ibanez went 3-for-4 with three runs batted including a homerun that flew into the second deck in right field. Ibanez has eight hits in last 11 at-bats, five were for extra bases—three doubles and a homerun.

“Just trying to see it and hit. Really not trying to do too much and it’s working it and we were able to win,” Ibanez said. “I’m just trying to put an easy stroke on the ball and it works out. I’m trying not to put too much thought into it. I’m just trying to have a quality at-bat and put a good swing on the ball.”

Rollins said it was a gradual process for Ibanez to break out of the slump and regain his confidence.

“It starts before that there’s a little bit of belief and then when you get that hit, it’s like okay it worked, but you’re still not sure,” Rollins said. “You walk away with three hits and by the third one, you’re like okay I got three hits tonight, but I still have to do it again tomorrow.

“Then tommorow comes, you get three more hits and say this is feeling pretty good and I can keep doing this. By that time, you’ll believe that you give yourself a chance to get hits. Whether you get a hit or not, you can live more so with I did everything right and the ball didn’t fall in and they catch it as opposed to I have no chance. (Ibanez) he believes that the swing he has now is going to produce hits even if they catch them.”

With the exception of two games against the New York Mets in which they combined to score three runs, the Phillies have been hitting the ball better and scoring more runs. Rollins said it’s a matter of the team not dwelling upon the outs. He said it was something he discussed with Manuel.

“Everybody is starting to understand that this is baseball and that I do make outs,” Rollins said. “It’s not the end of the world. It doesn’t mean that my swing is bad. If I’m off let me go the shop and let me see the mechanic and get it adjusted.”

Even with one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, Rollins said the Phillies offense can’t put too much of the burden on the Phils starting rotation.

“We have to do our part. We do our part, we make their job easier,” he said. “They throw less stressful pitches. They’re up 6-0 as opposed to a 1-0 ball game where every pitch counts. We don’t want to rely on them too much to support us, but they shouldn’t rely on us too much to support them.Everbody stays focused and hopefully in the ninth inning, we’re in the winning column.”

Rookie Pitcher Vance Worley Doing Well, but still needs work

6 May

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Thursday morning I was listening to one of the local sports talk shows and everyone appeared to be gushing over the performance of Phillies rookie pitcher Vance Worley, who had a pretty good outing Wednesday night in the Phils 7-4 win over the Washington.

Worley has done well in his last two starts. He has a 0.75 earned run average and has allowed just one run in his last two appearances as a starting pitcher. Against the Nationals earlier this week, Not bad for a rookie.

With Worley’s early success, there are more than a few sports talk radio fans who are saying that it’s time to trade Joe Blanton to Outer Mongolia and put Worley in his place as the team’s fifth starter. Blanton is currently on the disabled list and might be ready to come off sometime early next week.

While I am just as impressed with what Worley is doing on the mound in the early going, I think the young man has a long way to before we can annoint him as the second coming of Steve Carlton or the fifth starter for this team.

I’d like to see what Worley can do when teams have faced him on a couple of times and the “book” is out him-when teams figure out how to attack his strengths and exploit his weaknesses. Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said he likes Worley’s repetoire of pitches as well as having a good arm.

“That always the test when people get more information about you,” Dubee said. “But the one thing you like about Vance is that he’s got ‘pitch-ability’. It’s not like he’s stuck just doing one thing. He can back-door you with breaking balls, he can front-door with that sinker like he did against lefthanders (Wednesday night), so he’s got some weapons and he’s got some knowledge. This game’s always about adjustments.”

Back in 2007, Kyle Kendrick, who came up from Double A Reading, led all National League rookies with 10 wins, but struggled so much the next season he had to spend some time in the minors to develop an arsenal of pitches.

“Kyle didn’t have a repetoire, he had a sinker. He didn’t have the cutter or the changeup, but Vance has more weapons,” Dubee said.

Dubee said adding more pitches helped Cole Hamels become much better than he did when was the most valuable player of the 2008 World Series.

“He’s got four options,” Dubee said of Hamels. “He was a very good pitcher when he got here, but he was 50-50. He didn’t use his curve ball much, he didn’t have to. As the league saw him, especially in our division (NL East), they could pick one pitch or one side. Now it’s four pitches. It’s a battle up there against him He pitched a game in Boston last year where you saw Boston hitters take fast balls that were down. They never saw come out of his hand.When he’s creating that angle you can only see the top part of the ball.

In a game where pitchers have to tweak a few things in their game, Dubee said he tells young hurlers that they have to keep track of hitters and the kinds of pitches they’ve thrown to get guys out.

“You gottta be aware of what hitters are doing and where you’been to hitters before,” Dubee said. “I try to tell minor leagues guys you should have books on every hitter you face. You should be able to write how you want to approach them and be able to write after every game what they did andM what they looked like. That’s because good players in the minor leagues are going to be facing those players in the major leagues eventually.”

Worley will eventually improve and along the way he’s going to take his lumps. But unless Blanton sustains another injury  or any other pitcher goes on the disabled list , you’re not going to see Worely cracking the starting rotation anytime soon.

John Mayberry Jr. Seeks his Big Chance

5 May John Mayberry Jr. hot bat is helping get more playing time

Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun

John Mayberry Jr. scoring a run for the Phillies

When Jayson Werth left to go to the Washington Nationals, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had to look for a solid right-handed bat that could fill the speed/power/RBI void that Werth left either as a member of the starting lineup or off of the Phillies bench.

John Mayberry Jr. is hoping to be that guy.

Mayberry showed flashes of the ability to fill the void in Saturday’s game against the New York Mets. Subbing for a struggling Raul Ibanez, who was suffering through what became an 0-36 slump, Mayberry was inserted into the lineup and went 2-for-4 including a game-tying home run.

“The more he hits, the more chances he gets to hit, let’s see where we go from there,” Manuel said. “He’s kind of like Jayson Werth was when he first came here. If John’s going to be play, he’s going to have to move to somebody out of the outfield. We’ll work him in as much as we can to give him a chance.”

Getting those chances to play and hitting to stay in the lineup is the difficult part for Mayberry because his starts are infrequent and the only other times he has a chance to bat is when he’s called into the game as a pinch-hitter.

So far this season, Mayberry has made the most of those opportunities. He is hitting .400 (4-for-10) when coming off the bench coming including a game-winning, walkoff RBI single in the Phillies opening-day win over the Houston Astros. He is tied for third in the majors in pinch hits.

“I’d love to be that guy in a big situation with the game on the line or in a close situation,” Mayberry said. “You have to relish that opportunity and increase your focus a little bit and hopefully you’ll come through.”

Mayberry, who hit his first major league homerun off legendary New York Yankees pitcher Andy Petitte, is hoping that whatever chance he gets to be on the field, he can make the most of it and turn this season into a breakthrough year.

“I definitely view it as an opportunity,” Mayberry said. “I made the team out of came and I get the opportunity to play once and a while. I’m trying to go out there and be productive at whatever task that Charlie gives me.”

At 6-foot-6 inches, 230-pound outfielder, has a wealth of physical talent and potential as well as an outstanding baseball pedigree. Mayberry’s father, John Sr. was a pretty good first baseman for those Kansas City Royals teams that dominated the American League West back in the 1970s.

Mayberry said the one area he wants to improve upon as a hitter is to be able to hit both left-handed and right-handed pitching well. So far this season, the right-handed batting Mayberry is batting .375 against lefties and .250 against right-handers.

“I feel like I’ve had the most success against left-handed pitchers. Thing that I need to work on is to would to be even that out against righties,” Mayberry said. “Charlie has addressed that issue with me before. It’s something to be said that he talked to Jayson Werth about that several years ago. It’s something that I’m going to have to work on and become more consistent against right-handed pitchers.”

On the defensive end, Mayberry can play both left and right field. Like his dad, he can also play first base. Manuel said he’s unsure if he’s going to platoon Mayberry in left field with Raul Ibanez, who had been struggling at the plate. He likes Mayberry’s versatility to the point where has to figure out ways to get him on the field.

“I haven’t made up my mind about a platoon system, but at the same I could be working him and he can play different positions than left field, too,” Manuel said.

Even though there may be a possibility that he could be Ibanez’s replacement either at some point this season or next season, Mayberry said the Phillies current starting left fielder is one of his best mentors.

“I’ve had the opportunity to watch Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez a lot,” Mayberry said. “He really loves talking the game and loves talking hitting and he presents thing in a fashion that I can relate to. He’s a great guy, a professional and somebody who’s had success in the game.”

Mayberry, who played his collegiate ball at Stanford, said the biggest adjustment for him in the majors is the same pitches he faced in the minors are just thrown better and with more precision.

“Everybody’s stuff is definitely cream of the crop,” Mayberry said. “Guys have more movement on their fast ball, their breaking pitches break sharper and also they confidence throwing any pitch on any count.”

As a high school athlete in Kansas City, Mayberry played basketball and got some looks by some smaller programs. But baseball was his passion and he ended up at Stanford. A two-time All-Pacific-10 selection Mayberry hit 35 homeruns, 28 doubles and had a .312 batting avearage with 148 RBI in three years with the Cardinal.

“I think I was just better at baseball, I figured I had a better shot,” said Mayberry, whose favorite players growing up were Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas.

Mayberry was drafted the by the Texas Rangers in 2005 and was eventually traded for Greg Golson and joined the Phillies organization in 2009.

Born the year his father retired from baseball, Mayberry said he never saw his dad play, but got some useful advice from him.

“The biggest thing is to remain relax, stick to the same game that you’ve been playing and just have fun out there,” he said. “This is a great opportunity and make the most of it.”

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