Thursday, June 23, 2016

Kepler's redemption leads Twins past Phillies

 Max Kepler was in danger of being the goat after his two-run fielding error keyed a three-run rally that gave the Phillies a lead in the fifth, but he was instead the hero of a 6-5 Twins victory on Wednesday night after driving in the tying run, the go-ahead run and making a highlight-reel diving catch in the eighth to help preserve the late lead at Target Field.
Trevor Plouffe led the way with three hits for the Twins, who did the brunt of their damage against Phillies starter Adam Morgan in the fifth on a two-run triple by Eduardo Escobarand Kepler's game-tying single. Escobar and Robbie Grossman each had two hits and a run scored, as every Minnesota starter hit safely in a 13-hit outburst.
"We came back tonight, and I thought we swung the bats well," said twins manager Paul Molitor. "We didn't capitalize too much. We left some people out there, but we got some hits with runners in scoring position.
"It was one of those games where we had to fight. They put together a big inning. ... But overall, we'll take the win. We had to grind to get it, but we found a way to get it done."
After hitting four home runs in Tuesday's series opener, the Phillies continued to do damage with the long ball on Wednesday, tagging Twins starter Kyle Gibson for two homers in his six innings of work. Cameron Rupp went yard for the second straight game with an opposite-field solo shot in the second, and Andres Blanco homered in the third as part of a three-hit evening.
"We're going to come back from the dead, but now we're at the bottom," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said about the team's nine-game losing streak. "We're going to climb out, that I'm pretty sure of. But right now is the time I've got to figure out a way to keep them motivated without being too harsh."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Max-imum redemption: Kepler's error in the fifth allowed two runs to score on Blanco's RBI single, setting the stage for the Phillies to take a 5-2 lead. But in the bottom half, Kepler found his redemption by following Escobar's two-run triple with a single up the middle to cap off a game-tying rally. Kepler later drove in the deciding run on a sacrifice fly in the seventh.
"His at-bats, he's got an idea to stay in the middle of the field there in that situation, with a man on third and less than two outs when they're conceding a run, which is something that we've had trouble doing," Molitor said. "He's taking a plan up there and he's executing a little bit better." More >
Morgan's struggles continue: Mackanin said Morgan needed a good start to prove he should stay in the rotation, with Vince Velasquez's return from the 15-day disabled list looming, but the lefty struggled. Morgan allowed 11 hits, five runs (four earned runs), one walk and struck out three in five innings.
"Yeah, there's not much I have to say," Morgan said. "The only thing I know to do is to keep going. You go through these times and the only way to get out of them is to keep going."More >
Rookies show range: With the Twins nursing a 6-5 lead in the top of the eighth inning, Minnesota's two highly touted rookie outfielders both turned in outstanding plays. Kepler's diving catch on a sinking line drive by Rupp was followed up by Byron Buxton's leaping grab at the right-center field wall to rob pinch-hitter Tyler Goeddel of extra bases.
"In my head, I kept saying, 'Just hold on to the ball,'" Buxton said. "I knew I was going to hit the wall pretty hard, so I just really wanted to make the catch and get us out of that inning."
Bailey injured: The Phillies' bullpen is very thin, following a 14-10 loss Tuesday and Morgan pitching only five innings Wednesday. Compounding its problems, right-hander Andrew Bailey left the game after just one inning because of a strained left hamstring. He will be reevaluated Thursday and is day to day.
"I didn't feel anything pop or pull or anything like that," Bailey said. "I just kind of felt fatigued after that. I don't think it's anything serious. I think it should be fine."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Phillies have lost nine consecutive games, matching their longest losing streak since 1999, when they had an 11-game losing streak in September. The Phillies also have lost 26 of their last 32 games. It is their worst 32-game stretch since a 6-26 run in '99.
VELASQUEZ MAKES REHAB START
Velasquez pitched five innings in a rehab start Wednesday with Double-A Reading. He allowed two hits, one run, one walk and struck out three. Velasquez is hopeful it will be his only rehab start and that he will rejoin the Phillies' rotation next week. 
WHAT'S NEXT
Phillies: Jerad Eickhoff, who faces the Twins in Thursday's series finale at Target Field, has been one of the Phillies' few bright spots this season. He has been on a bit of a roll lately, too. The right-hander is 2-2 with a 2.13 ERA in four starts this month, allowing 22 hits and eight walks while striking out 23 in 25 1/3 innings.
Twins: As the saying goes: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The Twins elected to move up right-hander Ricky Nolasco one spot in the rotation to keep their most consistent starter on his regular rest for Thursday's 12:10 p.m. CT series finale against the Phillies. Four of Nolasco's last five outings have been quality starts, including his last outing, in which he allowed two runs over seven innings against the Yankees.

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