Braun feeds off Phillies fans' boos in 3-HR game

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Braun feeds off Phillies fans' boos in 3-HR game

BOX SCORE

There are a few things to remember when it comes to certain baseball players like Ryan Braun.

One thing to remember is that if you’re at a Brewers game in which Braun is in the lineup, leave him alone. Keep the boos well below J.D. Drew level to something more apt for a Scott Rolen plate appearance.

Sure, go ahead and boo Braun. He knows it’s coming after the long suspension for performance-enhancing drugs he completed last season. But just don’t be overly obnoxious with it.

He likes it too much.

“I try to use it to my advantage,” Braun said.

In Tuesday afternoon’s home opener at Citizens Bank Park, Braun was greeted with over-the-top boos and catcalls that seemed to fuel his obnoxious and over-the-top performance in Milwaukee's 10-4 victory over the Phillies (see Instant Replay). Braun went 3 for 5 with three homers and seven RBIs even though he went into the game with an injured thumb, ugly swings in batting practice and just three hits for the season.

Actually, of all the games to break his season-long funk, Braun was surprised it was this one. During batting practice before the game, Braun said he swung as hard as he could and couldn’t hit one out.

“I don’t think there was any chance I could have a game like this,” Braun said. “The game works in mysterious ways. It was kind of a crazy game and I enjoy this atmosphere and this environment. It’s motivating for me and helps get that adrenaline going.”

Oh yes, the environment. Braun says he is used to hearing fans scream and holler whenever his name is called, and by now it’s nothing more than background noise. But after a series in Boston followed by another at Citizens Bank Park, Braun was like a bear messing with a bees’ nest trying to get some honey.

After a while he doesn’t even feel the stings any more -- the reward is just too sweet.
 
“I love it. It’s great,” Braun said of the negative fan reaction he receives. “Seriously, as a competitor I really enjoy it. It’s a challenging game and it’s a long season and playing in an environment and atmosphere like this is certainly motivating.”

There’s something to that, says Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. Certain players just seem to thrive in contemptuous situations. For instance, Roenicke remembered when he was coaching the Angels and how loud and crazy the fans in Anaheim got whenever Jose Guillen came to town to play.

The louder Guillen was booed, the better he played.

“We were just like, ‘Leave him alone.’ Really. It makes a difference,” Roenicke said. “And those guys who can turn it up, you don’t want to be messing with them.”

Phillies fans messed with Braun, and he’s the one who got into their heads.

“It isn’t anything new to me or anything I haven’t experienced,” Braun said.

No, filling the role of public enemy No. 1 is something he does well. In fact, Braun was first entwined in a PED scandal following the 2011 season when he won the National League MVP award. During the 2012 season, Braun was booed at every stop -- especially Philadelphia -- and turned in a career-best 41 homers, 112 RBIs and a .319 batting average.

Braun’s numbers were enhanced, so to speak, whenever he faced the Phillies. In seven games, Braun hit six homers, drove in 10 runs and batted .519 (14 for 27) with a 1.296 slugging percentage. He went only 9 for 26 against the Phillies last season, but for his career he destroys Phillies pitching.

He has 10 homers in 20 games at Citizens Bank Park and 17 homers with 37 RBIs to go with a .392 batting average (69 for 176) in 44 games against the Phillies. Only two of those homers came against Phils starter Kyle Kendrick, but in going 9 for 19 (.474) against the righty, Braun had little difficulty figuring things out.

Maybe Braun didn’t need to use PEDs. Maybe he just needed to face the Phillies.

“I don’t know [why I hit well against the Phillies]. Obviously this ballpark is good to hit in. That’s pretty well documented, but there’s nothing specific about this team,” Braun said. “I like competing against Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.”

Chalk it up to the challenging atmosphere and good teams. Considering that Braun has 14 homers in 49 games in Cincinnati and eight in St. Louis -- two of the Brewers' NL Central rivals -- he likes the big stage.

He also likes it when the fans in those places boo him.

“At times, it certainly drives him, no question about that,” Roenicke said. “He’s a special hitter and those guys, when they turn it up, they turn it up.”

Last time it happened ...
The last time the Phillies allowed three home runs in a game to a hitter was May 19, 2011 at Citizens Bank Park against Jason Giambi and the Rockies.

Incidentally, Giambi is a player (like Braun) who was embroiled in a PED scandal. He also hit two of his three home runs that game against Kyle Kendrick.

Marlins reinstate 2B Dee Gordon after 80-game drug ban

Marlins reinstate 2B Dee Gordon after 80-game drug ban

MIAMI — Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon issued an apology on Twitter addressed primarily to his young fans as he returned from an 80-game suspension for a positive drug test.

"I know I let you down, and I'm sorry," Gordon said in a video. "Complacency led me to this, and I'm hurt. I urge you guys to be more responsible than I am about what goes into your body. I wouldn't wish this on anyone."

Gordon, who won the NL batting and stolen base titles last year, was reinstated before Thursday's game against St. Louis.

Gordon tested positive for two performance-enhancing substances and was suspended in late April. Gordon acknowledged in April that he unknowingly took the banned substances.

Marlins president David Samson said then that the second baseman had betrayed the team and its fans. On Wednesday, Samson said the Marlins are glad to have Gordon back.

"I believe that America and our fans and our players and us, we're a pretty forgiving society," Samson said. "It's important Dee ask for that forgiveness, and he has, and he'll receive that. He's got to continue to work to get himself back in with his teammates and the fans and my son."

In his video, the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Gordon said he learned from his mistake.

"I thought being the smallest guy I would never fail a drug test," he said. "I didn't pay attention at all and I didn't meet the standards. That's my fault and no one else's. But don't give up on me."

To make room on the roster for Gordon, the Marlins designated for assignment infielder Don Kelly, who had two triples in Sunday's victory. Even without Gordon, the Marlins have remained in contention for their first playoff berth since 2003.

Last year Gordon batted .333, stole 58 bases, became an All-Star for the second time and won his first Gold Glove. The season earned him a $50 million, five-year contract in January.

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Chance for Nola to respond vs. worst offense

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Phillies-Braves 5 things: Chance for Nola to respond vs. worst offense

Phillies (46-57) at Braves (35-66)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies were throttled Wednesday, 11-1, as they dropped their fourth straight series coming out of the All-Star break. 

The Phils have gone 2-4 through the first two stops of their three-city, 10-game road trip which now takes them to Atlanta. It's a winnable series against the majors' worst team that could get the ice-cold Phillies' offense back on track.

Let's take a look at the opener:

1. Important night for Nola
Aaron Nola came out of the All-Star break with six shutout innings of the Marlins. It didn't mean he was all the way back. Sure enough, his next start was a struggle, just like his five before the break.

Nola allowed six runs in four innings to the Pirates last weekend as his ERA rose again to 4.75. He's allowed four runs or more in six of his last seven starts, five runs or more in five of his last seven, and he's pitched more than five innings just once in that span.

His command is just gone right now. And that's why this is such an important start for him. Facing the worst offense in baseball in a pitcher-friendly environment could build back Nola's confidence and result in a quality start, even if he's not locating perfectly. There is one dangerous hitter in Atlanta's lineup, Freddie Freeman. Other than that, Nola should be able to get away with a curveball that hangs a bit or a fastball that doesn't perfectly nip the outside corner.

His focus tonight should be attacking. Nola has faced the Braves four times and gone 2-1 with a 1.73 ERA.

2. Situational struggles
The Phillies went 2 for 21 with runners in scoring position in the Marlins series. On Wednesday, they had 10 hits but left 10 men on base. 

Rarely do you see a team come an out away from being shut out when its first two hitters reach base seven of 10 times. Cesar Hernandez was 3 for 4 with a walk, Odubel Herrera was 2 for 4 with a walk, and Maikel Franco also had a multi-hit game batting third.

But the Phils have just been unable to come up with the one big hit since the break and it's why they're averaging 2.6 runs per game.

3. Scouting Wisler
The Phils get another look at young Braves right-hander Matt Wisler (4-10, 4.92), whose ERA is much higher than it was the last time they faced him.

Wisler, like Nola, has been pounded lately. He ended May with a 3.16 ERA, but has a 7.40 ERA in nine starts since, allowing his opponents a .329 batting average and .934 OPS. 

Wisler faced the Phils twice in a 10-day span on May 10 and May 20 and allowed four runs in 14⅔ innings.

Wisler's fastball averages 94 mph, but he doesn't strike many batters out (6.8 per nine this season). He usually uses three pitches: four-seam fastball, sinker and slider.

Current Phillies have hit .299 against him in 67 at-bats with seven doubles and three home runs. Franco has done the most damage, going 5 for 9 with two doubles and a homer.

4. Bullpen blunders
The Phillies' bullpen has a 5.14 ERA since the All-Star break, another reason they've struggled. The main culprits have been Andrew Bailey (seven runs in four innings) and Brett Oberholtzer (four in five). 

The Phillies have three legit bullpen pieces in Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos, but none of the others have been reliable, which is a problem when the Phils don't carry a lead into the later innings. 

Expect to see a lot of bullpen turnover next season. The Phils have two promising young relievers in the minors in Jimmy Cordero (Double A) and Victor Arano (High A) who could turn this unit into one of the hardest-throwing in the game when they're ready to join Neris and Ramos. 

Bailey and Oberholtzer are not long for this organization. Both are free agents after the year and both could be designated for assignment to make room for another player over the next month.

5. This and that
• The Phillies are 6-3 vs. the Braves this season after going 30-45 against them from 2013 to 2015.

• Atlanta is a majors-worst 14-36 at home.

• Freeman is hitting .280 with 18 home runs and an .881 OPS, but he has just 41 RBIs because the Braves barely get on base ahead of him.

Roundtable: Which young player makes least sense for Phillies to trade?

Roundtable: Which young player makes least sense for Phillies to trade?

Earlier this week, ESPN.com looked around baseball and came up with each team's most "untouchable" player. For contending teams, the untouchable player could have been a prospect — for example, Boston's representative was Yoan Moncada, a player who shouldn't be moved even in a win-now trade. Makes sense. He's the Red Sox version of J.P. Crawford.

But for selling teams, the focus was mainly on the 25-man roster. ESPN's David Schoenfield listed Aaron Nola as the Phillies' most untouchable player, despite the 4.75 ERA. 

I saw that and disagreed. Nola is a valuable piece, sure, and he's better and will be better than his current ERA indicates. But there are a couple players who should be regarded as even more untouchable than Nola. To see if this opinion was shared, I turned to three of my colleagues, all baseball people for Comcast SportsNet or CSNPhilly.com. (Only players currently on the Phils' 25-man roster were considered.)

Phillies insider Jim Salisbury — 3B Maikel Franco
I'm a believer in building around pitching and the idea that you can never have enough of it. But given the strides this team has made in adding what looks mostly like mid-rotation starting pitching depth — valuable but mid-rotation, nonetheless — and its continuing shortcomings on offense, I would make Maikel Franco my untouchable at this deadline.

He's had his ups and downs this season, but at 23, he is still a young, developing hitter with lots of upside. He leads the club in homers and RBIs while being a marked man in a lineup that provides little protection. Some of the adjustments he made after a difficult month of May suggest that he has the ability to improve his selectivity and that will speed his development.

The Phillies have been starving for a homegrown, middle-of-the-order, right-handed power bat almost from the time of Mike Schmidt, who, incidentally, sees MVP potential in Franco. Whether he stays at third, where he shows an excellent throwing arm and soft hands, or becomes an option at first base because of range concerns, Franco is an untouchable right now. 

Phillies Clubhouse producer Brian Brennan — CF Odubel Herrera
The Phillies have a wealth of talented young starting pitchers, so the guy I'd least want to part with is Odubel Herrera.
 
I think the potential is there for a perennial .850 OPS centerfielder who's a perfect fit at the top of a lineup. Herrera is on pace to score 90 runs this season without any consistent production elsewhere in the lineup. Once you add in J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams to pair with Herrera and Franco, you've got the makings of a dynamic top of the order for years to come. 

Herrera is currently fourth among MLB centerfielders in on-base percentage, behind only Mike Trout, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Yoenis Cespedes. Herrera is younger than all of them.
 
Herrera could be the National League's version of Mookie Betts if everything breaks right. He needs to hit a lot more doubles to get there, but I think he has the ability to hit 30 to 35 doubles in a season. He's under team control for four more seasons and that's a guy I'd be very unwilling to trade.  

Phillies Pregame/Postgame Live host Marshall Harris — 3B Maikel Franco
For me it's Franco. You're not going anywhere in today's game without a good offense and Franco is a solid building block to that end.

I realize that he's having a worse offensive year this year compared to 2015. But his errors are down compared to a year ago as he's proving himself to be an above-average defender at the hot corner. The Phillies have a plethora of young rotation arms ready to go, while the same can't be said about third basemen in the MiLB pipeline.

Franco isn't arbitration-eligible until 2018 and won't hit free agency until the 2022 season. At age 23, he's exactly the type of player you want to build around going forward. Even if he's not the best player on this team when it contends again, why would you not want a 30-plus HR player somewhere in your lineup?

Corey Seidman — OK, I'll play devil's advocate, SP Vince Velasquez
My answer would be Franco, as well, but I might even put Vince Velasquez ahead of Nola in terms of untouchability.

I just see more upside in Velasquez. This has been an up-and-down season for the 24-year-old right-hander, but even after a bad run in late May and an injury, Velasquez is 8-2 with a 3.34 ERA in 17 starts. 

Velasquez ranks ninth among National League starters with a swinging strike rate of 11.6 percent, ahead of guys like Stephen Strasburg, Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke and Jacob deGrom. 

Velasquez has also struck out 27.2 percent of the batters he's faced, which is the eighth-highest strikeout rate in the NL. 

What's most impressive about Velasquez's ability to miss bats is that he usually does it without walking people. Even after walking eight batters in his last 13 innings, Velasquez has a K/BB ratio of 103 to 34 in 91⅔ innings this season. For his career, he has 161 K's and 55 walks, nearly a 3:1 ratio. 

If Velasquez can ever put it all together and find a way to get deeper into games consistently, he could be an ace or high-end No. 2 starter. He has more upside than Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Zach Eflin or Jake Thompson because he can pick up a strikeout at any time with that mid-90s fastball that has some late life and zip.

And if it turns out Velasquez never does put it all together, he could be a very good closer. That's what makes the Ken Giles trade so confusing. If the Astros so badly wanted a young, inexpensive fireballer in the back end of their bullpen, they could have simply converted Velasquez into a full-time reliever.