Jorge Alfaro's strong arm overshadowed in Phillies loss | Extra Innings

It looked for a moment Sunday afternoon that the Phillies would bring some needed relief to Philadelphia’s disappointing sports weekend. They were just three outs from winning a game that Max Scherzer started and taking two of three from the Nationals. And then — as was the case with the Sixers on Saturday — everything fell apart. Hector Neris gave up two runs in the ninth inning and the Phillies fell on a walk-off single to put a bow on a rough weekend. They will welcome the Giants, winners of four in a row, to South Philly tonight for a four-game series. It should be a solid test.

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—  Matt Breen  (extrainnings@philly.com)

Camera icon YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Jorge Alfaro has the strongest arm among all major-league catchers.

Jorge Alfaro’s big arm

Gabe Kapler said after Sunday’s loss that Jorge Alfaro’s play behind home plate would have been a turning point had the Phillies held on to win. Alfaro threw out two runners in the second inning and has thrown out four of his last five potential base-stealers as he puts his powerful arm to use.

Alfaro, as graded by MLB’s Statcast, has the strongest arm among all catchers with an average throw to second of 90.1 mph. He also had the strongest arm last season, despite a small sample size because of his limited play.

“Well, those were big,” Jake Arrieta said of Alfaro’s throwing out two runners. “I was trying to be quick to the plate. I knew those guys were going to try to run, and Alfaro’s really good back there. He made two extremely good throws, two pretty good base runners. It’s just one of those situations where you have to be mindful that they’re probably going to try and take second base. Give him a chance to throw a guy out, and that’s what I was able to do and he held up his end of the bargain, which you expect from a guy like that who’s got such a great arm.”

Alfaro was lauded throughout his time in the minors for having an electric arm. And he has displayed that power thus far in the majors. But he’s yet to have consistent success with base stealers. Before this stretch, he had thrown out just one of the last 16. The blame does not fall squarely on Alfaro, as defending the base paths relies on a combination of a pitcher’s ability to hold runners and get the ball to the plate quickly, a catcher’s ability to release the ball rapidly, and a middle infielder’s ability to place a tag. Sunday, the Phillies excelled in all those areas.

“We’ve been working really diligently to keep runners tight,” Kapler said. “We’ve been working really diligently to have great tags at second base – it’s something that [first-base and infield coach] Jose David Flores has been working with our middle infielders on, putting the tag straight down and allowing Alfie’s arm to play and let that ball carry through the infield. And Alfie put two balls on the bag, Jake did a great job holding runners on and keeping guys close to give us that opportunity.”

The rundown

“It was three outs from being the Phillies’ most inspiring victory so far this season. Instead, it turned into a punch to their collective gut.” Our Scott Lauber was in D.C. for the weekend and chronicled what went wrong for the Phils in Sunday’s ninth inning.

Lost in Sunday’s defeat was Maikel Franco’s homer in the eighth inning. Scott talked to Phillies hitting coach John Mallee earlier in the week for a fresh look at Franco’s new swing and “spine angle.”

Gabe Kapler lifted Jake Arrieta after just 75 pitches to send Nick Williams to the plate with a runner on second in the seventh. The move worked as Williams drove in a run but then the bullpen blew a lead. It was a difficult decision and Arrieta said he understands why he was lifted.

Important dates

Today: Zach Eflin vs. the Giants’ Jeff Samardzija, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Aaron Nola vs. Derek Holland, 7:05 p.m.
Wednesday: Nick Pivetta vs. Chris Stratton, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: Vince Velasquez vs. Ty Blach, 1:05 p.m.
Friday: Jake Arrieta opens series against Mets, 7:05 p.m.

Camera icon JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
It was easier to imagine Seranthony Dominguez as a Phillie instead of an IronPig after Hector Neris blew Sunday’s game.

Stat of the day

One series is not enough to erase a brutal month, but Carlos Santana might be showing signs of emerging from his rough slump. He doubled Sunday and went 4 for 16 in the series against the Nats. All four of his hits went for extra bases. He entered the weekend with just nine extra-base hits in his first 106 at-bats. Santana’s four extra-base hits pushed his OPS to .638, the highest it has been since April 10 and 69 points higher than it was entering the D.C. series.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.

Question: I haven’t trusted Hector Neris since he gave up three consecutive home runs in Los Angeles last year. He never seems to have an easy ninth inning. He imploded at Washington in a big game  which was an ugly, tough loss to another NL East rival. I don’t think the Phillies can be considered contenders until they get a true hammer at the back of the bullpen.

What other options are there for the closer role? Wouldn’t Neris be best suited back as the 8th-inning setup guy where he excelled? Is young Seranthony Dominguez an option? Neshek when he returns? Ramos? Rios? Thank you. – email question from Greg S.

Answer: I’ll make a not-so-bold prediction and say that Seranthony Dominguez will be the Phillies closer before the end of the season. Don’t write off Neris just yet. Sunday was his first blown save in 27 chances. But it’s going to be tough to hold off Dominguez, who has retired 11 of his first 12 triple-A batters and has a 98-mph fastball. His arm is made for the ninth inning.