By Aaron Bracy
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PHILADELPHIA _ The slumping Philies are in desperate need of a boost, and top hitting prospect Maikel Franco may provide help soon.
Gerrit Cole pitched seven effective innings, Starling Marte hit a three-run homer and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Philadelphia Phillies 4-3 on Monday night.
Philadelphia, which entered tied with Milwaukee for the major’s worst winning percentage, has dropped 10 of 13 to fall to 11-22 (.333). It’s the worst start for the Phillies since 1997, when they opened the season by losing 20 of 29 games.
“In close games like that, little things add up,” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. “We just have to tighten it up and do the little things better.”
One area Philadelphia needs to improve is runs. The Phillies, who entered last in the majors in runs (91), have averaged 2.14 runs in their 22 losses.
Franco could add some offence. The third baseman is batting .341 with four homers and 19 RBIs in 30 games at Triple-A. The Phillies paved the way for Franco to join the club by telling third baseman Cody Asche after the game he would be sent to the minor leagues on Tuesday to switch positions to left field. Franco likely will be called up Friday. By waiting until May 15, the club gains an extra year of player control.
“Cody is a big part of the future and it’s best for Cody and best for the organization going forward,” Sandberg said.
Asche had two of the Phillies’ six hits _ all singles _ off Cole.
Cole (5-1) allowed two runs while striking out six and walking two, shaking off his first loss in 10 starts with another good outing. The right-hander had won four straight before Wednesday’s 3-0 home loss to Cincinnati.
“They were not terrible pitches, but they were singles,” Cole said. “It was important to minimize the damage.”
Making his first start at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park, Cole improved 5-0 with a 2.36 ERA in his last seven road outings.
“He’s a quality guy,” Sandberg said. “We spread out our hits and really didn’t have a threat.”
The Pirates opened a seven-game trip with their fourth win in five games overall and seventh in their last eight against the Phillies dating to last season.
Odubel Herrera broke out of a skid with his first major league homer in the ninth off Pirates closer Mark Melancon, who held on for his eighth save in nine opportunities. Grady Sizemore had a pair of RBI singles for the Phillies.
Jerome Williams (2-3) lasted just five innings, giving up three runs and four hits. He struck out four and walked two.
The Pirates did most of their damage in the third inning. Williams walked Polanco and Andrew McCutchen, and Marte launched his eighth homer of the season into the seats in left-centre to give Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead.
“He’s aggressive and dangerous,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He jumped on a mistake tonight. It was a big hit for us.”
Marte is 14 for 34 (.412) with five doubles and two homers in eight games in Philadelphia.
“He’s very comfortable here,” Hurdle said.
Philadelphia got a run back in the sixth on Sizemore’s second RBI single. But McCutchen’s sacrifice fly in the seventh made it 4-2.
The Pirates improved to 9-2 in their last 11 games in Philadelphia.
Herrera returned to the lineup after Sandberg rested the rookie centre fielder on Sunday. Prior to the homer, he went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts in his first three at-bats to fall to 2 for 23 (.087) with 14 strikeouts in his last six games.
Chase Utley put his arm around a clearly shaken Asche in the clubhouse afterward. Outfielders Darin Ruf and Jeff Francoeur also surrounded Asche at his locker.
“I’ll never stop believing I’m a big-league baseball player,” Asche said.
A PIRATE WHO STEALS
Polanco stole his 10th base of the season and trails Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon for the NL lead.
Pirates: LHP Antonio Bastardo was placed on the paternity list. Bastardo has a 6.43 ERA in seven games this season.
Phillies: RHP Sean O’Sullivan (knee tendinitis) will be activated from the DL to start Tuesday night’s game.
Pirates: RHP A.J. Burnett (1-1, 1.66 ERA) returns to Philadelphia to start Tuesday night. Burnett had a league-leading 18 losses last year with the Phillies. How bad did he want out? Burnett took more than $4 million less to sign with the Pirates, declining a $12.75 million player option with the Phillies in favour of Pittsburgh’s one-year, $8.5 million offer.
Phillies: O’Sullivan (0-1, 4.91 ERA) makes his first start since April 17.