Good morning, Phillies fans. The Phils had quite the weekend in Tampa, which means I have songs like this and this stuck in my head. The Phillies have won six in a row and eight of their last nine. They're rolling, and each win is celebrated in the clubhouse with a light show and club music. The vibe this season feels — and sounds — a bit different. There was a lot to like this weekend from Jorge Alfaro's single Friday to J.P. Crawford's big night Saturday to Aaron Altherr's homer and catch Sunday. And Scott Kingery continued to do things. The Phillies will try to keep the music playing tonight in Atlanta.
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Victor Arano has been perfect this season, retiring all 16 batters he has faced. And now the righthander thinks a pregame conversation might have helped him get even better.
The reliever altered the grip on his sinker this weekend in Tampa after chatting before Friday's game with Rays reliever and fellow Mexican Sergio Romo. Arano used his new grip Saturday, sprinkling it in with his four-seam fastball and slider to retire the four batters he faced.
"We were talking about our sinkers, and he said 'grab the ball this way' and see how it feels and what happens," Arano said. "Mine didn't move too much. His moves a lot. I feel like I have more control over that pitch. I practiced the pitch in the bullpen, and it was moving. It was working well. I have a lot of confidence in me right now because the results are showing. It felt good. It was moving so I said, 'You know what? I'm going to throw it in the game.' "
Arano has struck out eight of the 16 batters he has faced. Including last season, he has an 11.8-strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio in 16 major-league innings. Arano pairs his new sinker with a 92-mph fastball and an 82-mph slider. He does not shy away from firing his fastball up in the zone. The next step could be testing the 23-year-old in high-leverage situations. Manager Gabe Kapler said Arano is "capable of handling higher-leverage spots."
"It's awesome for me. That's what we work for. That's what we get ready for," Arano said of his start to the season. "We want to be given that opportunity, and when we have it, it's up to us to take advantage of it. My confidence level is really high. For a baseball player, it's really important to be secure about yourself and be confident in yourself."
The Phillies completed their second straight sweep Sunday behind three RBIs apiece from Scott Kingery and Aaron Altherr. They then reveled in the clubhouse, which is becoming a usual occurrence as the Phillies rattle off wins. "I think it's important in baseball, because there's so much stress and so much pressure and so much on the line each night, to pick your times to indulge and have a great time, and these guys know how to do that," Gabe Kapler said.
Maikel Franco and Gabe Kapler had a lengthy chat before Friday's game, as Franco was bit peeved to be out of the lineup for the second time in three days. Franco wants to play, but the manager seemed able to smooth things over before it became a real issue.
Remember all the heat Kapler took earlier this month when the Phillies lost games after defensive shifts backfired? The shifts paid off in Tampa. Odubel Herrera was positioned perfectly Friday to make a key catch, and Aaron Altherr's diving catch on Saturday was helped by his positioning. The outfielders position themselves with analytical cheat sheets.
Tonight: Aaron Nola opens series in Atlanta, 7:35 p.m.
Tuesday: Tommy Hunter pitches in Clearwater, could return soon, 6:35 p.m.
Thursday: Phillies return home to face Pittsburgh, 7:05 p.m.
A win today against the Braves would give the Phillies their first seven-game winning streak since September 2012. It's been a while. The Phillies lineup that day was Jimmy Rollins, Juan Pierre, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, John Mayberry, Domonic Brown, Erik Kratz, Michael Martinez, and Cliff Lee. Nate Schierholtz came off the bench. There's a player I forgot about.
"My concern is the way Scott Kingery is being used. It is great that his bat is popping, but playing him at multiple positions I think can harm him. He is a second baseman by trade and throwing him into the outfield to me is asking for trouble. For one, he is learning the position on the fly, so to speak. I can see some defensive issues hurting the team. Players who play multiple positions are utility players, not potential franchise cornerstones. I was wondering what your thought process is on Kingery." – emailed question from Jeff H.