Ryan Flaherty has lived out Dez Bryant's dream, and the Phillies have paid for it. Bryant, of course, was recently released by the Dallas Cowboys and expressed his desire to go to an NFC East team so he could haunt and taunt his former team. Flaherty, on the other hand, was quietly released by the Phillies after an outstanding spring training with the team and, without vowing anything, signed with the Atlanta Braves.
He has, however, spent the first few weeks of the season haunting and taunting the Phillies. He did it again Wednesday night with a three-run home run off Vince Velasquez that triggered Atlanta's 7-3 win at SunTrust Park. Flaherty, a career .215 hitter during his six seasons as a reserve with the Baltimore Orioles, is leading the National League with a .365 average, and he has the Phillies to thank for it. In six games against the Phils this season, he is hitting .458 (11 for 24) with three doubles, a home run and five RBIs. The good news is the Phillies have to face him only three more times this month, at the end of the 10-game homestand that begins Thursday night against Pittsburgh. If Dez can have similar success during the next NFL season against the Cowboys, it will be something to see.
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The Phillies' cross-state rivalry with the Pittsburgh Pirates used to be a great one when both teams were in the National League East and had stars such as Willie Stargell, Dave Parker, Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton. These days, the Pirates are just more of an annoyance. They are one of those teams the Phillies just can't seem to beat.
The last year the Phillies had a winning record against the Pirates was 2011. Since then, they are 14-28 against the Bucs, who enter Citizens Bank Park as one of baseball's early surprise teams. With a win over Colorado on Wednesday, the Pirates improved to 12-6, good enough for first place in the National League Central.
This will be the first time since 2011 that the teams have both had winning records at the start of a series against each other, but it still cannot compare to that time from 1970 through 1980 when either the Pirates or Phillies won the N.L. East title 10 times in 11 years. The one outlier was the 1973 New York Mets.
First baseman Carlos Santana was not in the starting lineup for the first time this season Wednesday night, but he did enter as a pinch-hitter and remain in the game. He went hitless in two at-bats and his average plummeted to .131, the fourth lowest among qualified major-league hitters. With runners at first and second and nobody out in the seventh, Santana grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. He also flied out to center field to end the game. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler called Santana's start the "unluckiest in baseball," and there are some statistics to bear that out.
Speedy center fielder Roman Quinn felt as if he did all he could in spring training to make the Phillies' opening-day roster, but it was not enough. Quinn is back at triple-A Lehigh Valley for a second straight season and believes if he can remain healthy he will get his shot at the big leagues this season. IronPigs manager Gary Jones and Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan agree with Quinn.
Versatility is the buzzword around baseball these days, and it does not apply just to position players such as Scott Kingery. The Phillies also want some of their pitchers to be able to perform in a variety of roles, and Lehigh Valley lefty Brandon Leibrandt is one of them. Leibrandt, pitching out of the bullpen for the first time in his professional career, is off to a great start with the IronPigs.
Vince Velasquez said he was just being aggressive and attacking the hitters when Ryan Flaherty hit a first-pitch fastball deep into the right-field seats in the fifth inning Wednesday night, triggering Atlanta's 7-3 win that allowed the Braves to improve to 4-2 against the Phillies this season. Velasquez did pitch out of more trouble in the fifth and also worked a scoreless sixth, which was impressive. It was a leadoff walk to Preston Tucker that most disturbed Velasquez, but the righthander has still walked only five batters in 21 1/3 innings this season, which represents a vast improvement over last season.
Tonight: Jake Arrieta vs. Pittsburgh's Jameson Taillon, 7:05 p.m.
Friday: Ben Lively vs. Ivan Nova, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday: Aaron Nola vs. Steven Brault, 4:05 p.m.
Sunday: Nick Pivetta vs. Trevor Williams, 1:35 p.m.
Tuesday: Phillies open three-game series against Arizona, 7:05 p.m.
Manager Gabe Kapler brought in Hoby Milner in the eighth inning Wednesday night mostly because he wanted the lefty to face Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis, the two best lefthanded hitters in the Atlanta order. Milner hit Freeman with a pitch and surrendered a single to Markakis. Kapler then decided to leave Milner in to face righthanded-hitting Kurt Suzuki, who delivered an RBI single that pretty much put the game out of reach.
Kapler said that he wanted to save his bullpen and that Milner has proven in the past he can get righthanded hitters out. For the record, righthanded batters have a career .365 batting average and .465 on-base percentage against Milner. We buy that the manager did not want to use any more relievers. Sell on Hoby being effective against righthanded hitters.
When can we expect to see top-prospect pitcher Sixto Sanchez in Philadelphia? Will he at least reach Reading this summer if he continues to impress?
Thank you, Greg S.
Answer: The absolute earliest you should expect to see Sanchez in the big leagues is near the end of next season, and that's probably a stretch. He is still only 19 years old and started this season at high-A Clearwater. If he pitches well, he will get to double-A Reading this season, but it's more than likely he will start at Reading again in 2019 unless he is really lights-out. Even though he is absolutely the Phillies' best pitching prospect, Sanchez still has much to prove and work on.