Phillies See Hope in Several Areas During Win Over Marlins

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MIAMI – One never knows when hope will arrive.

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That feeling has been elusive lately for the Phillies, who have lost at least three consecutive games a dozen times this season.

But hope made an appearance at Marlins Park on Tuesday night in a 5-2 win over the Miami Marlins (see Instant Replay).

Hope cleared its throat in the third inning when Cameron Rupp, moments after his passed ball cost the Phillies a run, fired a pea to second to throw out Dee Gordon, who led the majors in stolen bases in 2014 and 2015.

Hope showed through when the Phillies battled back from two early deficits and when starter Vince Velasquez, in his first start off the disabled list, struck out scorching-hot Giancarlo Stanton in the third inning.

Maikel Franco had the game-winning solo homer in the eighth, one of his three hits on the night.

But hope yelled the loudest in the ninth when rookie Nick Williams, a lefty hitter, blasted a homer to left-center.

"He's just an athletic freak," Vince Velasquez said. "I don't know, can I say freak?"

Yes, you can Vince.

And the way the 23-year-old Williams is hitting – nine RBIs in his past five games – few would argue the point.

"The guy overall is talented," Velasquez continued. "He plays the game right. He hustles all the time.

"You see little grounders, and that dude is running four-flat to first base. Stuff like that – that's what the manager likes to see. That's what we all like to see. Something like that really motivates you – he shows he's a hard-working kid."

Williams, a 6-3, 195-pound rightfielder, has produced three consecutive multi-hit games. He's also batting .429 on this road trip, but manager Pete Mackanin was most impressed with the rookie's approach and his strength on Tuesday's homer.

"You don't see many home runs by a left-hander hit to that part of the ballpark," Mackanin said. "He really crushed that ball. He's got well-above average power."

Before the game, Mackanin, in explaining why he had elevated Williams to third in the batting order for this game, talked about the rookie's aggressiveness.

This is the era of OPS, where walks have value. But Mackanin said he sees too many of his hitters taking hittable pitches.

In contrast to that, Mackanin likes that Williams is hunting pitches anywhere in the strike zone.

And not even moving up from fifth in Monday's batting order to third on Tuesday was going to put the clamps on Williams.

"You never know," Mackanin said. "There are veterans who don't want to hit fourth. They don't like to have that pressure. But Nick is feeling so good about himself.

"He's in the big leagues for the first time. He's swinging aggressively. It looks like he's having fun. Why not put him third? I'll take aggressiveness over caution any day."

Scouting reports indicate that Williams' bat speed is elite. He hits to all fields. He has plus raw power, and he can play all three outfield spots.

Refining his approach and continuing to make adjustments to changing game plans from opposing pitchers will tell the tale on his development.

But the past week, without question, has offered hope on Williams. And there was hope on Velasquez and Franco as well.

Velasquez, who hadn't pitched since May 30 due to an elbow injury suffered at Marlins Park, fared well in his return to Miami but got a no-decision. He allowed four hits, one walk and two runs (one earned) in six innings. He struck out four.

His one big mistake came on a 94-mph fastball he threw to Stanton, the NL home run leader. Stanton hit that pitch 442 feet to left, and it had an exit velocity of 111 mph.

Overall, though, this was a positive day for Velasquez.

"I felt good from the get-go, pitching to contact," Velasquez said. "I just tried to pick up where I left off (before the injury)."

Franco, who entered the day with a .224 batting average – 56 points below his 2015 numbers – fell a triple shy of the cycle.

"He had a different approach in batting practice, and it was obvious," Mackanin said of Franco, who has seven game-winning RBIs this year. "He really concentrated on staying above the ball and leveling off his swing."

The Phillies can only hope that continues.

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