Gibson as advertised, up for NL East chase

August 1st, 2021

The Phillies acquired right-hander on Friday prior to the Trade Deadline hoping he’d be the help their rotation required to make a push in the National League East. On Sunday, Gibson made his first start with his new team, and it was the reset Philadelphia (52-53) needed.

As Gibson fired a season-high 113 pitches (64 strikes) through 6 2/3 innings in his Phillies debut, the offense -- which scored just two runs in the series’ first two games -- finally showed up to back him and fend off a series sweep with a 15-4 win over the Pirates at PNC Park.

Gibson didn’t fall short of his All-Star billing. He held the Pirates to two runs on five hits and two walks. The third of the 33-year-old’s five punchouts notched his 1,000th career strikeout on an 84.6-mph changeup to Michael Perez to start the bottom of the fifth inning.

"It was a lot of fun going out there,” Gibson said. “There's nothing like pitching in a pennant race and being on a team that's fighting every single day to get to where you want to be.”

The outing wasn’t just a big turnaround for the Phils; Gibson was 0-3 with a 7.79 ERA in his final three starts for the Rangers. But even with the rough stretch, Gibson’s 2.87 ERA ranked third among American League qualifying pitchers.

“I tried to not have too many knee-jerk reactions from those last three,” Gibson explained of his stretch before the trade. “Over the three outings, they might have had a total of five or six hard-hit balls across all three games.

“... In my last two bullpens, we were really trying to focus on executing pitches in the strike zone, being aggressive in a strike zone. At times today, I felt like I was better at it. But I need to be better when we build up a lead like that. I need to be better at being in the strike zone earlier and forcing contact earlier.”

Gibson had a slight velocity uptick in his six-pitch arsenal. He induced only 14 swings-and-misses in his 19th start, but he had his slider, fastball and changeup working for him. Those three pitches accounted for 11 whiffs and four called strikes.

“What was impressive to me is we scored in that first inning and he went out and it's like, ‘bang, bang, bang, strike, strike, strike,’ and then he did it again,” manager Joe Girardi said. “His efficiency, his ability to throw four pitches over at any time I thought was really important.”

The Phillies took their first lead of the series in the first inning on J.T. Realmuto’s single that scored Travis Jankowski from second. Jean Segura extended Philadelphia’s lead with his 17th double this season, a two-run line drive to right

Segura didn’t play in Friday’s series opener when the Phils were shut out, but his presence atop the lineup Sunday jump-started a parade of nine doubles against Pittsburgh’s Mitch Keller and company -- the most two-baggers Phillies have recorded since they hit 11 against the Cubs on June 23, 1986.

Though the Phillies had a strong chance to beat the Pirates when they entered the bottom of the ninth inning with a 13-run lead, it was time for to make his own Phils debut. Kennedy -- the other Major League arm acquired in Friday’s deal with Texas -- was named Philadelphia's new closer in a pitching staff shakeup this weekend. Incumbent closer Ranger Suárez, Chase Anderson and Gibson entered the starting rotation, while Vince Velasquez and Matt Moore were shifted from starters to relievers.

Kennedy allowed two runs on two hits (one homer) in the inning, but he struck out two of the last three batters of the game to close the door on the Pirates.

The Phils’ seven-game road trip started with an 0-2 series deficit to the last-place Pirates, but the finale victory moved Philadelphia (52-53) to 3 1/2 games back of the first-place Mets (55-49) in the National League East. Up next is a four-game set at Nationals Park.

“I thought it was really important that we won today's game,” Girardi said. “We did not swing the bat particularly well the last two days, so to come out and be able to put that many hits together ... was really important for us moving forward as we go to Washington.”