Believe in the bamboo.
It has been three days since infielder Brad Miller went shopping in Chinatown in search of a good-luck charm and brought a bamboo plant into the Phillies clubhouse. And after going eight days without a win, the Phillies have now gone three days without a loss. Their latest victory was their most dramatic. Trailing by four runs in the sixth inning, they rallied to win, 5-4, on Jay Bruce’s double in the 10th inning. It was their first walk-off win this season.
Ah, the power of the bamboo. Or maybe it’s the dysfunction of the Mets?
Either way, the plant is here to stay. Miller even bought a smaller one for manager Gabe Kapler, who displayed it on his desk and called it “one of my favorite gifts.” Hey, whatever works, right?
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It was their biggest question mark in spring training, and it is still their most pressing issue now, 80 games into the season and 34 days until the trade deadline. And all discussion of anything else — third base, outfield depth, the bullpen — is merely a distraction from the obvious.
The Phillies must improve their starting rotation if they’re going to reach the playoffs.
Three victories in a row over the floundering Mets shouldn’t obscure that fact. If anything, actually, they should amplify it. Nick Pivetta wasn’t particularly impressive last night, as Bob Brookover writes, and displayed little emotional maturity en route to dropping the Phillies in an early hole, just as Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin had done in the previous two games.
And lest anybody forget the problems the Phillies have had filling the No. 5 starter spot, which will be occupied once again by Vince Velasquez on Friday night in Miami if only because Jerad Eickhoff, Cole Irvin, and Enyel De Los Santos have inspired such minimal confidence.
Last year, general manager Matt Klentak refused to get sucked into the starting-pitching market at the trade deadline, citing the encouraging first-half performances of Pivetta, Eflin and Velasquez and the prohibitive asking price for available starters. In the offseason, the Phillies bid aggressively on lefty Patrick Corbin, who wound up signing with the Washington Nationals, then took a pass on all other starters who were available via free agency or trade.
But Klentak said this week that he will be more willing to shop for a starter before July 31.
“I’m open to it for a lot of reasons,” he said. “I think that, yeah, the fifth spot in the rotation has been kind of a revolving door this year. I think we have to see how the team responds in the next month before we declare our intentions for the deadline. But if our most glaring need is a starter, we’ll pursue a starter.”
Madison Bumgarner, a postseason hero for the San Francisco Giants and a free agent after the season, figures to be at the head of the class of starters who will be on the trade block. But there will be others, including Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman, Detroit Tigers lefty Matt Boyd, and Cincinnati Reds right-hander Tanner Roark.
The Phillies have other needs, too, but there are potential in-house solutions in those areas. Maikel Franco is another hot streak away from regaining the third-base job. Tommy Hunter and eventually David Robertson will rejoin the bullpen. Adam Haseley or even demoted Nick Williams could help the outfield.
There aren’t any internal reinforcements for a rotation that the Phillies appear to have overrated in the offseason, leaving Klentak little choice but to shop for them now.
Jay Bruce talked his way into the lineup yesterday after Gabe Kapler suggested giving him a night off against a left-handed pitcher. Guess who came up with the winning hit? “I’ll never doubt another word that Jay Bruce says,” Kapler said.
Slowly but surely, the Phillies bullpen is getting healthy. Tommy Hunter, sidelined since the middle of spring training with a forearm strain, could return this weekend in Miami.
Remember Kapler’s dirt-kicking tirade after he got ejected from Saturday’s game? Well, MLB fined him an undisclosed amount. Kapler is awaiting word on whether he will be fined for Tuesday night’s ejection, too.
Today: Aaron Nola starts a matinee series finale vs. Mets, 1:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Vince Velasquez gets another turn as the No. 5 starter at Miami, 7:10 p.m.
Saturday: Zach Eflin vs. Marlins right-hander Jordan Yamamoto, 4:10 p.m.
Sunday: Jake Arrieta starts the series finale vs. Marlins, 1:10 p.m.
Monday: Day off before the Phillies return to Atlanta
Brad Miller is more than merely a bamboo connoisseur. The utility infielder has helped the Phillies off the bench since he was acquired in a June 13 trade with the New York Yankees.
Miller worked a walk in the seventh inning last night against Mets reliever Seth Lugo and came around to score the tying run on Jean Segura’s two-run single. Miller is 4-for-9 with a homer and three walks in 12 plate appearances since joining the Phillies, including 3-for-5 with two walks as a pinch-hitter.
Pinch-hitting wasn’t always Miller’s strong suit, either. A regular for most of his career with the Tampa Bay Rays, he was 8-for-51 (.157) as a pinch-hitter before coming to the Phillies.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: Asked why he didn’t bench [Jean] Segura after he didn’t run hard yet again, Kapler explained that the player “is one of our eight best players," etc. Tell that to Charlie Manuel. He never hesitated to bench Jimmy Rollins!
— Skip I., via e-mail
Answer: Thanks, Skip. I have given this a lot of thought, especially since Segura’s second glaring episode of not hustling last week in Washington. You’re right: Manuel did bench Rollins multiple times during his career for not running hard, and put me in the camp that believes Kapler should have done the same with Segura.
But it isn’t so simple, and there is another side to this. Let me ask you: Did benching Rollins change his style of play? Did he suddenly morph into Chase Utley and start running to first base as though his hair was on fire? No, Rollins kept playing the way that he played.