Herrera leads Phillies over champs in opener

Herrera leads Phillies over champs in opener

PHILADELPHIA -- The Royals and Phillies are teams with very different objectives in 2016.

The Royals are trying to defend their World Series championship, while the Phillies are trying to rebuild an organization that has fallen on hard times since being a force in the National League from 2007-11. They opened a three-game series Friday night at Citizens Bank Park with the Phillies winning the opener, 4-3.

"It's good to bring the sticks to our ballpark," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said.

Odubel Herrera, Cody Asche and Maikel Franco provided the offense as Phillies right-hander Jeremy Hellickson allowed one run in six innings. Royals right-hander Ian Kennedy allowed three runs in five innings to take the loss.

Hellickson's superb start

"We just couldn't get anything going against Hellickson," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "We started off the game with two singles, but that fizzled out. He did a good job to keep us off balance with his changeup. That's his pitch. It's a good one."

Said Kennedy of his outing: "Early on, it just felt like it was a struggle to get on top of the ball. My hand was under it a little bit. My fastball was good. My breaking ball wasn't as good as it was last start. It was kind of a constant grind. That's what it felt like."

Kennedy strikes out eight

The Royals fell seven games behind the AL Central-leading Indians, who have won 14 straight.

"Obviously, we're all paying attention, and we all watch baseball," Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said of the Indians. "We see what's going on. You know coming into the season it's going to be tough. You don't expect to be leading [by] 10 or 15 games like we were last year.

"It's going to be tough. But we just got to worry about what goes on here. If we play our game, then we'll be where we need to be at the end of the year."

Herrera's the star: Herrera looked like an All-Star against the world champions. He went 2-for-3 with a home run, two RBIs, one walk and two runs scored, which included his leadoff homer in the first inning that gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead. Herrera could be the Phillies' only representative at the All-Star Game next week in San Diego. He'll learn if he made the team Tuesday.

When asked if he thinks he deserves to make the team, Herrera emphatically responded in English, "For sure." More >

Herrera's RBI single

K-Mo keeps mashing: Royals right fielder Kendrys Morales, who hit .402 in June and had six straight multi-hit games, saw his multi-hit streak come to an end. But he did mash another homer, his 12th, to tie for the team lead with Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez. Morales hit the ball sharply in the first, but grounded into a double play. He drilled a liner to deep right-center in the third but it was run down by Herrera.

"[Morales] is swinging the bat so well," Yost said. "Another big hit to bring us within one at 4-3. You're just hoping someone gets on and someone pops one and Mo did. It gave us an opportunity to tie that game."

Herrera's great catch

Meat in the middle: The Phillies have been scoring runs recently, and Asche and Franco are two reasons why. They have been hitting for the past couple weeks. Hitting third and fourth, respectively, they went a combined 3-for-6 with two RBIs and two walks.

"I'm seeing more pitches, and I've tried to be more selective at home plate," Franco said of his recent hot hitting. "That's what's happening right now. If they don't want to pitch to you, just take the walk. Just try to be ready for a mistake." More >

Franco's RBI single

Hitting streak to 12: Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar extended his hitting streak to 12 games. Escobar doubled down the left-field line in the second inning with two out and scored on Cheslor Cuthbert's floating single to center. Escobar led off the seventh with a double but was stranded there. More >

Cuthbert's RBI single

"I think he's getting there. Little by little, he's going to get to where we want him to be." -- Mackanin, on Franco heating up at the plate after struggling through mid-June

"It's been fun to watch. We've beaten some really good pitchers. Hopefully we can keep this up." -- Hellickson, on the Phillies' offensive improvement the past 10 games. They have scored 60 runs

The Phillies snapped a seven-game losing streak at home. It prevented their first losing streak of eight or more games at home since they lost 10 consecutive games at Veterans Stadium from May 16 to June 16, 1972.

The Phillies challenged the call that Royals catcher Salvador Perez picked off Asche at first base to end the third inning. The replay officials in New York agreed and overturned it. Asche's hand beat the throw to the bag. He was safe, the inning continued and Franco hit an RBI single to give the Phillies a 2-1 lead.

Phillies challenge call at first

Royals: Left-hander Danny Duffy (3-1, 3.24 ERA) takes the mound for the Royals at 4:50 p.m. CT in the middle game of the series at Citizens Bank Park. Duffy was sensational in his last outing Monday against the Cardinals, allowing two runs and six hits over eight innings in a 6-2 win.

Phillies: Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola (5-7, 4.45 ERA) tries to reverse a bad run Saturday at 5:50 p.m. ET in the second game of a three-game series against the Royals. Nola had been making a strong case to make the National League All-Star team through early June, but he is 0-3 with a 15.23 ERA in his last four starts.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.