Fewer Ks at plate, clutch pitching, shift that works equals win for Phillies

Jim Salisbury | NBC Sports Philadelphia
NBC Sports Philadelphia
<p>Fewer strikeouts, clutch pitching and a defensive shift that actually worked helped snap the Phillies' losing streak Sunday vs. the Brewers. By Jim Salisbury</p>

Fewer Ks at plate, clutch pitching, shift that works equals win for Phillies

Fewer strikeouts, clutch pitching and a defensive shift that actually worked helped snap the Phillies' losing streak Sunday vs. the Brewers. By Jim Salisbury

The Phillies didn't exactly pound the baseball in their much-needed 4-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday afternoon. They had just four hits and three of them were singles.

The Phils were able to snap a four-game losing streak and win for just the second time in nine games since the calendar turned to June because they received good starting pitching, good bullpen work and their hitters didn't overdose on strikeouts (see first take).

All four of the Phillies' runs scored on something other than a base hit. In other words, they manufactured runs on a pair of groundouts, a bases-loaded walk and a sacrifice fly. All of these happy endings were possible because the Phils did not strike out in those at-bats. Strikeouts have plagued the team, especially during its recent slump. Entering Sunday, Phillies' hitters had struck out once every 3.86 plate appearances, the highest rate in the majors. They struck out just six times Sunday. It was just the fifth time in the last 16 games that they did not reach double digits in Ks.

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"We're not hitting well so you have to do the little things right and that's what's going to keep us in the hunt," J.P. Crawford said. "We do strike out a lot but that's just us. We do need to put the ball in play a lot more, I think. Everyone knows that but we're not going to tell everyone that because everyone already knows that."

Crawford had the only hit, a leadoff single, in a three-run fifth inning that saw the Phillies take a two-run lead. The Phils loaded the bases on an error and a sacrifice bunt/fielder's choice and scored their runs on a walk (Cesar Hernandez), a sacrifice fly (Rhys Hoskins) and a potential double-play ball that was beaten out by Odubel Herrera.

"There was some team baseball going on there, which was kind of cool," manager Gabe Kapler said.

Zach Eflin delivered his second straight strong start. The Phils are 2-7 in June and he has both wins. Eflin allowed two runs and struck out nine in six innings. He was at his best in the sixth, a half-inning after the Phils took the lead. He struck out the side, all swinging.

Outscored 24-7 by the Brewers the previous two days, the Phillies needed a win badly and Kapler managed that way. With a two-run lead in the seventh, he brought in his bullpen ace, Seranthony Dominguez.

"We just felt like there was no time to deploy him like then," Kapler said. "We just wanted to preserve the lead."

The rookie right-hander got six outs, but allowed a run in the eighth to make it a one-run game. Things got nervous in the ninth when Luis Garcia allowed a pair of two-out hits. Tommy Hunter, whose cutter plays well against lefty hitters, was brought in to face Christian Yelich and his dangerous lefty bat. Hunter got Yelich to ground out to second with runners on second and third to end the game. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez was in a shift and Yelich hit right into it.

"I have a 93-94 mph cutter, I don't care who it is, I'm going to take my chances with it," said Hunter, the sixth different reliever to earn a save this season out of Brother Gabe's be-ready-for-anything bullpen.

Hunter was asked if he felt any extra pressure because the Phillies desperately needed a win after losing 10 of their previous 13.

"No," he said. "If you add pressure on it that's just going to complicate your season. He hit a ball and we had a really, really good baseball player in good position. You have to fight to win those high-octane, one-run games and that's what we were able to do."

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