Blue Jays 7, Phillies 5: Ambidextrous pitcher offers a highlight

Blue Jays 7, Phillies 5: Ambidextrous pitcher offers a highlight

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- St. Patrick's Day is always a festive affair at Camp Clearwater. The Phillies wear green jerseys and caps and fans pack the place and have a few cold ones under the hot sun.

The third-largest crowd in the 14-year history of Spectrum Field -- 11,173 -- came out for Friday's quasi-holiday matchup between the Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays. Phillies fans did not see a win -- the Jays prevailed, 7-5 -- but there was some entertainment.

Howie Kendrick and Aaron Altherr both went deep and Pat Venditte, the ambidextrous reliever (see story), made his Phillies debut and struck out the side in the ninth inning. He struck out two batters from the right side and one from the left.

"He's really fun to watch," manager Pete Mackanin said. "I like the way he threw. He mixed it up from both sides. I guess he's going to go in and ice both his arms now.

"If he continues to be effective, he'll be in the mix."

Venditte has pitched in the majors with Oakland, Seattle and Toronto. He was pleased with his Phillies debut.

"When you get to a new team, you definitely want to start on the right foot and fill up the strike zone," he said. "It was nice to do that."

Nola builds up
Aaron Nola continued to show good arm strength in his fourth start of the spring. He worked 4 2/3 innings and threw four-seam fastballs early, hitting 94 mph on the stadium radar gun.

Nola threw more two-seamers (sinkers) in later innings, and his changeup looked good.

"He threw a lot of good changeups," Mackanin said. "And the velocity was important to me. The command will come next. Once he gets to the point where he's commanding his pitches, he's going to be back to where he's supposed to be."

Nola struck out four, but his command was off and he allowed four walks.

"The walks hurt me, obviously," he said. "Four walks and I think they all scored. Walks are never a good thing, but other than that my body felt good.

"I feel like I'm almost where I need to be going into the season. A few more outings and I think I'll be good to go for the season."

"Keep on staying healthy, that's my main focus right now," added the right-hander, who missed the final two months of last season with an elbow injury.

Transactions
Ben Lively, an 18-game winner in the minors last season, had a rough outing. He allowed four hits, including a grand slam, and a walk over 2 1/3 innings. Lively was optioned to Triple-A after the game. The Phillies are high on him and he will be part of the Lehigh Valley rotation to open the season.

Earlier in the day, the Phils sent three top prospects, J.P. Crawford, Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams, to Triple-A (see story).

They left with instructions.

"I like all of them," Mackanin said. "They need to go [to minor-league camp] and get consistent at-bats and get off to a quick start.

"We told all of them, 'Make us call you up. Do well enough to force our hand.'"

Up next
The Phillies host the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday afternoon. Jeremy Hellickson will start for the Phillies against Tyler Glasnow.

Best of MLB: Josh Reddick's big day helps Astros sweep A's

Best of MLB: Josh Reddick's big day helps Astros sweep A's

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Josh Reddick homered and scored four runs, Jake Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez each went deep and the Houston Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 12-9 on Thursday.

The major league-leading Astros completed a four-game sweep with their 10th straight victory in Oakland and their 15th win in 16 games against the A's overall. They've won 12 of their last 14 road games. Their 27-8 record away from home is the best in the majors.

Reddick also doubled, tripled and drew a walk, and Marisnick and Gonzalez each drove in three runs.

David Paulino (2-0) struck out six and gave up three runs, seven hits and two walks. The 23-year-old rookie right-hander struck out five of his first six batters in his sixth career start.

Astros center fielder George Springer left with a left hand contusion after being struck by a fastball from Jesse Hahn (3-5) leading off the game. The ball also grazed Springer's left shoulder. Springer is tied for second in the AL with 21 home runs. His status is day-to-day (see full recap).

Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks blast Rockies
DENVER -- Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Owings hit three-run homers, Zack Godley threw well into the eighth inning, and the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Colorado Rockies 10-3 on Thursday.

Goldschmidt finished with three hits and four RBIs to increase his season total to 64, tops in the majors.

Arizona took two of three in the NL West matchup and is now tied with Colorado for second place in the division behind the Dodgers. The Diamondbacks have won 12 of 14 and are a season-high 19 games above .500.

Godley gave up a home run to Charlie Blackmon to lead off the first inning, but shut down the Rockies from there.

Blackmon drew a walk in the third, then Godley erased him with a double-play ball to end the inning. He didn't allow a hit after Nolan Arenado's one-out single in the first and retired 19 of the next 20 batters before Raimel Tapia and Pat Valaika singled and doubled to lead off the eighth.

Godley (3-1) allowed three runs on four hits and struck out eight in seven-plus innings. He also helped himself with an RBI single in the eighth.

The Diamondbacks hit a Colorado rookie pitcher hard for the second straight night. Wednesday they scored 10 runs in the fourth off Jeff Hoffman, and Thursday they battered right-hander Antonio Senzatela (9-3) for nine runs in five innings.

Owings' homer in the third, his ninth, made it 5-1, and Goldschmidt hit his 18th to cap a four-run fourth to make it 9-1 (see full recap).

Knebel sets strikeout mark as Brewers top Pirates
MILWAUKEE -- Corey Knebel broke Arodlis Chapman's modern-era record for most consecutive games by a reliever with a strikeout at a season's start, fanning a batter for the 38th straight game and closing out the Milwaukee Brewers' 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday.

Knebel struck out Josh Bell on a foul tip leading off the ninth. The 25-year-old right-hander retired Elias Diaz and Andrew McCutchen on popouts, finishing a four-hitter for his 12th save in 15 chances.

Chapman had set the mark since 1900 as part of a streak of 49 games for Cincinnati that began in August 2013 and ended the following August.

Travis Shaw drove in three runs with a homer and two doubles, and he came within inches of a second home run.

Chase Anderson (6-2) allowed two runs and two hits in six innings (see full recap).

Pete Mackanin 'not pleased' with Odubel Herrera's base-running blunders

Pete Mackanin 'not pleased' with Odubel Herrera's base-running blunders

Odubel Herrera’s return to the dugout was so slow that home plate umpire Nic Lentz had to clap to speed him along. Herrera obliged, accelerating to an effortless jog until he left Lentz’s sight. Then he went back to a hung head and a crawling pace as he reached the steps. Boos met his ears through it all. 

Herrera was picked off third base by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina for the second out of the fourth inning on Thursday. It didn’t matter much as the Phillies beat the Cardinals, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), guided by Aaron Nola’s the best outing in a long time (see story)

However, Herrera made a base-running blunder at the same spot Wednesday night, when he blew through a Juan Samuel stop sign and was out by a mile at home plate to make the final out in the ninth inning of a tie game. And later on Thursday, while on second during a running count and Maikel Franco behind him at first, Herrera didn’t run on the pitch.

These are mistakes any big-leaguer should avoid. And when he’s the only player a team has signed to a long-term deal, which is supposed to last into a new era that involves winning games, the mistakes sting a bit more. 

“I’m not pleased about it,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. 

Had Wednesday night’s gaffe been avoided, maybe the Phillies could have gone on to win. Thursday’s was more embarrassing than damaging. While displeased, Mackanin, who said he thought about giving Herrera Thursday off, understood what happened this time around.

“He was running contact. And when you’re running contact, you’re susceptible to getting picked off by a catcher, especially with a left-handed hitter up,” Mackanin said. “You have to be aware of that. They’re taught to be aware of that. He just didn’t take that first hard step back. And that deters the catcher from throwing to third base. It happened.” 

The Phillies have been picked off eight times this season. Entering Thursday, only four teams had been picked off more. 

The Phillies own a run scoring percentage (percentage of base runners that eventually score) of 28.0, which puts them in the bottom third of the league. While much of that can be attributed to bad bats, mistakes like Herrera’s are not helping the cause. 

At 25, Herrera is still figuring this whole thing out. But he was the Phillies’ only All-Star last year and is supposed to be a consistent presence in the lineup. 

Andres Blanco, on the opposite end of the spectrum, first saw major-league action in 2004, and should be providing a consistent presence in the Phillies’ clubhouse. Yet on Thursday, starting at second base instead of Howie Kendrick, Blanco made a veteran play on the base paths, which felt like the remedy to Herrera’s mental lapses.

In the bottom of the fifth, with two outs and Blanco on second base, Freddy Galvis grounded a ball up the middle. Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz sent an errant flip to second to get the final out, and Blanco was smart enough to round third and score after the ball got loose in the infield. Mackanin called it a heads-up play. 

“That’s the kind of players you’re looking for, the guys that are going to look for those kinds of things to happen,” Mackanin said, “and they don't assume a play is going to be made and assume they might be able to take an extra base.

“He’s a veteran. I’m glad he paid attention.”