Opposite dugout: Phillies simultaneously rebuilding and imploding

PhilliesLogo.jpgManager: Pete Mackanin (3rd season)

Record: 13-19

Last 10 games: 2-8

Who to watch: LF Aaron Altherr (.351 with 7 HR), 2B César Hernández (.324 with 5 SB), 3B Maikel Franco (5 HR, 25 RBIs), RHP Jeremy Hellickson (4-1, 3.49 ERA), RHP Héctor Neris (3 saves)

Season series vs. Nationals
: 4-5

Pitching probables:

May 12: RHP Nick Pivetta vs. RHP Tanner Roark, 7:05 p.m., MASN
May 13: RHP Vince Velasquez vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez, 7:05 p.m., MASN
May 14: RHP Jeremy Hellickson vs. RHP Max Scherzer, 1:35 p.m., MASN

Inside the Phillies:

It might seem odd for a team in an apparent tailspin to give its manager a contract extension in mid-May. That the Phillies on Thursday guaranteed Pete Mackanin's job through the 2018 season, with an club option for 2019, provides a pretty good indicator that the team is in a full-on rebuilding mode and wants to be sure to keep its foreman on the job site. Mackanin has his work cut out for him, at least in the short term. Injuries have sidelined two of his starting pitchers (Clay Buchholz and Aaron Nola) and his deposed closer (Jeanmar Gómez), and a frayed bullpen has been unable to keep the Phils in games lately.

It's not like the Phillies can't score. They're putting 4.75 runs per game on the board. That puts them in the upper half of major league offenses. It was less than a week ago, in fact, that one of the Phillies young hitters took Matt Albers deep to erase a three-run Nationals lead, enabling the Phils to win in the 10th inning and avoid being swept at Citizens Bank Park. Outfielder Aaron Altherr has lately given Phils fans reason to cheer. So far this month, the 26-year-old has hit at a .423 clip and homered five times. Third baseman Maikel Franco continues to lead the Phillies in RBIs with 25 and is second to Altherr in home runs with five, but is batting just .207. Franco has grounded into four double plays, also a team high. Second baseman César Hernández, with a slash line of .331/.378/.489, provides the Phils with a capable switch-hitting sparkplug at the top of the order. Nationals pitchers will have to keep an eye on Phillies baserunners. Hernández, Altherr, center fielder Odúbel Herrera and shortstop Freddy Galvis have a combined 14 stolen bases.

None of the starting pitchers the Nationals will face this weekend has an ERA below 5.00. Friday starter Nick Pivetta, the former Nationals farmhand who went to Philly in the deal that brought Jonathan Papelbon to Washington, has had two starts this year (including one May 5 versus the Nats) and lost both. Opposing batters are slashing .391/.417/.761, and his WHIP is at 1.900, so the series opener figures to see the Nats' high-powered offense firing on all cylinders. In just 65 total plate appearances facing current Nationals hitters, Saturday starter Vince Velasquez has surrendered four homers and 12 RBIs, while striking out 21. He's got a 5.94 ERA. Velasquez went seven innings in a May 6 start in Philadelphia against the Nationals, but gave up two homers and six runs, all earned. Sunday starter Jeremy Hellickson, who was the 2011 American League Rookie of the Year while with Tampa Bay, has posted a 4-1 record but has not lasted five innings in either of his previous two starts. In a May 7 outing against the Nationals, Hellickson took 98 pitches to get through 4 2/3 innings, surrendering two home runs.

Much of the drama in Philadelphia these days centers on the Phillies' recent bullpen collapses. Veteran Joaquín Benoit's outing Wednesday at home against the Mariners - and his subsequent tantrum over Mackanin's handling of his relievers - became a focal point for the frustration in Phillies Nation. Benoit took the hill in the seventh, faced seven batters and got only one out, giving up five earned runs and taking the loss. The day before, lefty Joely Rodríguez blew an opportunity to get a save as the Phillies dropped the front end of the two-game interleague series. The closing situation has been a mixed bag. Héctor Neris has notched three saves, blowing one save chance. Edubray Ramos has blown two save opportunities. Pat Neshek, pitching for his sixth team in the past eight seasons, has yet to give up a run in 12 innings of work.

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