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.

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Phils face resurgent Brandon McCarthy

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Phils face resurgent Brandon McCarthy

Phillies (11-10) at Dodgers (12-12)
9:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies' six-game winning streak came to an abrupt end out west Friday night. The beauty of baseball is that you have a chance to start a new streak a day later. Zach Eflin looks to avenge a poor performance from last season while the Dodgers send out veteran righty Brandon McCarthy at home.

Here are five things to know for Saturday evening's game.

1. Two strong starts for Eflin
In his second season as a big-league starter, Eflin is off to a lot better start than last year. 

If you remember his MLB debut, he gave up eight runs and retired just eight batters against a Blue Jays team that could hit the snot out of the ball … and did. Through two starts, Eflin had a 10.80 ERA and two losses to his résumé before coming into his own over the next two months.

This year has been just about the opposite. Eflin clearly looks comfortable on a major-league mound. He's turned Clay Buchholz's spot in the rotation into a positive. He's allowed just three runs and one home run in 12 innings, good for a 2.25 ERA.

The modern thinking is that an ideal pitcher strikes out a lot of batters, avoids walks and home runs, and induces weak contact. Eflin has done all but the strikeouts. His sinker has been marvelous and the Mets/Braves had little chance to do damage against it. Pete Mackanin described the sinker as a bowling ball. That just about says it all. The sinker won't induce that many swings and misses — thus the lack of strikeouts — but he can throw it in the zone and keep hitters off balance.

The Dodgers kind of ended Eflin's season last year. In reality, it was dueling knee injuries that did Eflin in (see story), but the Dodgers were the last team to take advantage of an ailing Eflin, hitting three home runs and scoring seven runs in just three innings Aug. 8. Even the outs in that game were generally line drives. Chase Utley, Yasmani Grandal and Corey Seager — all of whom could be in the lineup Saturday — took the now-23-year-old righty deep.

Being a righty against the Dodgers isn't all that advantageous as the team boasts those three hitters and Adrian Gonzalez, Andrew Toles and Cody Bellinger as lefties who can put up disruptive plate appearances. Unfortunately for the Phillies, they have a rotation full of righties and are unable to take advantage of the Dodgers' platoon issues.

2. Dodgers send out resurgent righty
The first two seasons of Brandon McCarthy's deal with the Dodgers essentially went by the wayside. Now, the 33-year-old starter is picking up where he left off in 2014.

McCarthy has long been one of the more entertaining and thoughtful players in baseball, as evidenced by his Twitter account. The veteran righty has also been a steadily average to occasionally above-average pitcher in 12 MLB seasons, bouncing around teams mostly on the west coast. He posted career-worst numbers with the Diamondbacks in the first half of 2014, but he rebounded in the second half with the Yankees, pitching to a 2.89 ERA in 90 innings despite the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium.

He parlayed that second half into a four-year, $48 million deal with the Dodgers and that was almost immediately derailed by Tommy John surgery. Going into 2017, he had thrown just 63 innings and made only 13 starts in the first half of his contract. McCarthy was one of many Dodgers pitchers on the disabled list during a 2016 with a record-setting number of injuries for the club.

But now he's apparently back to form and, perhaps most importantly, he's healthy. He's made it through four starts unscathed this year and is 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA to boot. He's allowed just 18 hits in 24 innings. Similar to Eflin, he relies primarily on a dynamic sinker that sits in the low-to-mid 90s. He also features a low 90s cutter and an 80 mph curveball, both of which grade out well this season.

Only three current Phillies have any history vs. McCarthy. With his history in the AL West with the Mariners, Michael Saunders has faced McCarthy plenty with sub-par results, going 2 for 13 with five strikeouts. Freddy Galvis is 3 for 3 off the righty while Andres Blanco is 0 for 1.

3. How does the Dodgers' bullpen stack up?
Going into Friday's action, the Dodgers' bullpen had a 3.15 collective ERA, good for eighth in all of baseball and second-best in the National League. As a whole, the crew strikes out 10.29 batters per nine innings and has the highest wins above replacement of any bullpen in baseball.

Any conversation about the Dodgers' 'pen starts with Kenley Jansen, one of the premier closers in the game today. He overwhelms hitters with a cutter many consider reminiscent of Mariano Rivera. It isn't quite up to Rivera's level, but it is still wildly effective. He has a 2.16 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings this season, locking down six saves in six chances. He dominated the Phillies on Friday night.

Setting up for him primarily is righty flamethrower Pedro Baez. Baez pitches with a dreadfully slow pace but great results, striking out batters at a similar clip and takes a 1.08 ERA into the weekend. Righty Josh Fields and lefty Grant Dayton each hadn't allowed a run this year before Fields let one up in the eighth inning Friday while lefty Luis Avilan has been effective primarily vs. lefties. 

While Chris Hatcher and Ross Stripling, both righties, each has a loss this season, they've still achieved OK results pitching often in low leverage situations. The biggest disappointment for Los Angeles has been the offseason signing of former Giants closer Sergio Romo. The 34-year-old has a 10.57 ERA through 10 appearances and has walked as many batters as he's struck out. If the Phillies get to face Romo in a big situation this weekend, it'll be a tremendous opportunity to do some damage.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Freddy Galvis takes a 10-game hitting streak into action on Saturday night. Not only does he have good numbers off McCarthy, he's also simply off to the best start to his career. The Phillies' shortstop has traditionally been a better second half hitter but he has a career-best .269 average and .487 slugging percentage thus far.

Dodgers: While he is currently playing corner outfield, rookie Cody Bellinger is the Dodgers' first baseman of the future. Currently the No. 10 prospect in baseball, he had five home runs in Triple A Oklahoma City and is projected to have legitimate in-game power at the major league level. 

5. This and that
• The Phillies went 2-4 vs. the Dodgers last season and haven't won a series at Dodger Stadium since April 21-24, 2014, when they took three of four.

• Frequent trade partners in recent history, the Phillies and Dodgers have teamed up for eight trades since the 2012 trade deadline. Eflin himself came to the Phillies in the 2014 Jimmy Rollins trade.

• McCarthy is typically at his worst in April. He has a 5.01 ERA for March/April in his career, his worst for any month. However, he pitched well the two times he faced the Phillies. He threw eight shutout innings in 2013 and gave up two runs while striking out 12 in seven innings during the 2014 season.

Pain-free, Zach Eflin is ready to climb Dodger Stadium mound again

Pain-free, Zach Eflin is ready to climb Dodger Stadium mound again

LOS ANGELES — What Zach Eflin remembers most about his last start at Dodger Stadium isn't so much the result, it's the long walk he took up the corridor behind the dugout to the visiting clubhouse.
 
It hurt.
 
Physically.
 
Eflin lasted only three innings in that game on Aug. 8 of last season. He gave up seven hits, three of which were home runs, and seven runs before walking gingerly to the clubhouse, his night and his season over.
 
"I remember feeling pain as I walked to the trainer's room," he said Friday.
 
Eflin will be feeling no pain when he returns to the Dodger Stadium mound Saturday night. He had dealt with chronic tendinitis in his knees for years. The flare-up that affected his performance and forced him to leave the game the last time he pitched in Dodger Stadium hastened his decision to have offseason surgery — on both knees — to fix the problem.
 
"Surgery was always something off in the distance," the 23-year-old pitcher said. "But after that night, we sat down and talked about it. It was absolutely a good thing that we took care of it at that point, do it while I'm young, make sure it's a 2016 injury and not a career injury."
 
Team physician Steven Cohen performed the surgeries six weeks apart in August and September and Eflin says, "I feel completely rejuvenated. It's like night and day."
 
The surgical procedures, Eflin said, involved Cohen cutting a two-inch vertical incision over the middle of the kneecap.
 
"He cleaned out some dead tissue and little tears," Eflin said. "He drilled some holes in the kneecap, moved some stuff around and glued it all down."
 
Obviously, that's not a scientific description of the surgeries, but all that matters to Eflin is, "I feel great now."
 
Eflin got in on the ground floor of the Phillies' rebuild. He came to the Phils in the first trade that the team made after embarking on its rebuild after the 2014 season, the one that sent Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers. Eflin was actually a San Diego Padres prospect as the trade was going down. The Phillies targeted him and got him in what was ostensibly a three-team deal. Eflin was a Dodger for about 20 minutes before joining the Phillies' organization.
 
The Phillies took it easy with Eflin out of the gate this season, giving him a little extra time to get used to his new knees. He has made two starts with the big club and given up just three runs in 12 innings. His last start was excellent — seven innings of three-hit, one-run, no-walk, three-strikeout ball in a 5-2 win over Atlanta.
 
Eflin would like to duplicate that effort as he returns to the Dodger Stadium mound Saturday night. He will be opposed by right-hander Brandon McCarthy.
 
"I'm ready to go and take care of business," he said. "I'm excited to take the mound healthy."