All’s well that ends well, as Shakespeare wrote, and because Monday night ended well for the Phillies, catcher Andrew Knapp was spared the indignity of costing his team by failing to glove the final out in the ninth inning. Likewise, manager Gabe Kapler’s unconventional bullpen usage wasn’t called into quite as much question as it would have been had the Phillies lost. And the offense got off the hook for scoring four runs in the first inning, then mustering only two hits until the 10th.
“I don’t know how I would have felt if we hadn’t won the game,” said Kapler, who will never have to find out thanks to Aaron Altherr’s two-run walkoff double in a 6-5 victory over the Cardinals that pushed the Phillies into a second-place tie in the National League East.
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Once again, Nick Pivetta ahead of the curve
As Jedd Gyorko walked to the Cardinals dugout after striking out for the third time Monday night, he glanced over his shoulder at Phillies starter Nick Pivetta. It was the look of a hitter who underestimated his competition.
Gyorko had faced Pivetta in two previous games, both last season, and largely owned him, going 4 for 5 with a double, a home run and four RBIs. Yet here was Pivetta, hitting 96 mph with his fastball and flinging wicked sliders and dirt-diving curveballs such as the one that Gyorko whiffed on in the seventh inning.
“That guy has got a good bender,” Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas said, echoing St. Louis manager Mike Matheny’s evaluation that Pivetta’s curveball was as good as any his team has seen this season.
Consider it a testament to how much Pivetta has improved — and not only since his previous start. Five nights earlier, he gave up six runs on eight hits and lasted only five innings against the Rockies. But clunkers like that have been fewer and farther between for Pivetta, who has a 4.08 ERA in 15 starts and has emerged as a reliable major-league starting pitcher.
On Monday, Pivetta was dominant. He racked up a career-high 13 strikeouts, made the Cardinals swing and miss 21 times with his three-pitch mix, and gave up little more than a pair of solo homers to Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina. He went 7 1/3 innings, threw a season-high 108 pitches and was lifted only after right fielder Nick Williams played Carpenter’s fly ball off his face and into a double in the eighth.
Pivetta’s success was largely attributable to his ability to command his curveball, which he hadn’t done quite as well in his past few starts.
“It was nice to have it back,” Pivetta said. “I think it all starts with my delivery. I was staying up through it, not trying to rush too much, and I think it worked out.”
Who says the Phillies don’t have a closer? Aaron Altherr picked up a pretty big save Monday night. Catcher Andrew Knapp, in particular, was thankful for Altherr’s big hit in the 10th inning.
It’s difficult to tell whether struggling ex-closer Hector Neris’ issues are physical or psychological, as Bob Brookover writes.
Here’s more on the decision to demote Neris to triple-A, which came on the same day the rival Nationals traded for Kansas City Royals closer Kelvin Herrera.
Also, within the notebook, we learn what one of Gabe Kapler’s sons thinks the Phillies should do at the trade deadline. And Charlie Manuel makes an appearance during batting practice at Citizens Bank Park.
It was a relatively light night of action for the Phillies’ minor-league teams, but Nick Tricome recaps it all here.
Tonight: Phillies host Cardinals in continuation of three-game series, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Nice pitching matchup of Jake Arrieta vs. Michael Wacha, 1:05 p.m.
Thursday: No game; Phillies Phestival at Citizens Bank Park to benefit ALS research, 4-6 p.m.
Friday: Phillies open three-game series at Washington, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday: Aaron Nola Day. The ace is slated to face the Nationals, 4:05 p.m.
Sunday: Phillies make their return to ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, 8:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
Aaron Altherr is walking, talking proof that the concept of “clutch” really does exist. Altherr has only 31 hits so far this season, but he has certainly made them count. Including his walkoff double Monday night, he has 31 RBIs, fifth most among Phillies hitters despite not playing every day. Altherr also is batting .438 (14 for 32) with runners in scoring position since April 18 and .364 (16 for 44) in that situation overall.
And while none of that makes his .180 batting average — partially a consequence of his unlucky .231 average on balls in play — and .625 OPS much easier to bear, it does underscore the fact that he has contributed several big hits.
“I was ready for the opportunity to end the game,” Altherr said Monday night. “Especially in a spot like that, you want to be up there and be able to have a chance to end the game.”
From the mailbag
Question: I know he’s young and has a lively arm, but is anyone besides me concerned about Seranthony Dominguez’s workload? They seem to turn to him in every tough spot. Keep up the great work with this newsletter. — Bernard A., e-mail
Answer: Thanks, Bernard, for the question and for the kind words. I can assure you the Phillies are paying close attention to how often they use Dominguez. In fact, Gabe Kapler brought it up in a conversation we had last week for a story about his bullpen philosophy. Dominguez was a starting pitcher until this season, which means the Phillies are still figuring out how quickly his arm bounces back after a taxing relief appearance. He also missed two months last season because of a shoulder strain. So, as tempting as it is to bring him in whenever a game is on the line, I think they’ll be careful. Dominguez threw 52 pitches over back-to-back games last weekend in Milwaukee. I doubt you’ll see Kapler push him more than that.