Brock Stassi has a storybook ending to spring training

Brock Stassi has a storybook ending to spring training

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- There was no holding back Brock Stassi this spring and when he achieved his goal, there was no holding back the tears.

"I can finally say I'm a big-leaguer," the 27-year-old first baseman/outfielder said moments after learning he'd earned one of the final two spots on the Phillies' opening day roster late Thursday afternoon.

"It's a dream come true. I really don't have words to describe it right now."

Words were not needed. The tears in Stassi's blue eyes said it all.

An against-all-odds professional baseball journey that started when he received a $1,000 signing bonus as a 33rd-round draft pick by the Phillies in 2011 will take him to Cincinnati and the Phillies' season opener on Monday.

Daniel Nava, another first baseman/outfielder, will also be there. Nava and Stassi were chosen for reserve roles with the club while 22-year-old prospect Jesmuel Valentin, the third candidate for one of the final two spots on the bench, was sent to Triple-A so he could play every day and further his development.

The Phillies cleared room on their 40-man roster by designating outfielder Tyler Goeddel for assignment.

Nava, a 34-year-old who has played in the majors with Boston, Tampa Bay, Anaheim and Kansas City, came to camp on a minor-league contract and earned his way onto the club by hitting .362 (17 for 47) with a .944 OPS.

As happy as Nava was to make the club, he couldn't help but get caught up in Stassi's elation. Nava has walked a few miles in Stassi's spikes. He was an undrafted player and began his pro career in an independent league before signing with Boston in 2008.

"It's awesome," Nava said. "I've been in his position. Also, we have unique stories. Neither one of us were big prospects or big signs so when he started sharing his story I was happy for him that he was doing so well, and to make the team -- it's special. It's special, your first one. He earned it. Nothing was given to him. Everyone was pulling for him and now we're all pumped for him."

A couple of years ago, Stassi thought his baseball dream was dying. He feared he might get released in spring training 2015. But he made the Double-A roster that spring, revamped his swing and had a huge season that earned him Eastern League MVP honors. He was invited to big-league camp last spring and spent all of 2016 at Triple A. He was invited back to big-league camp this spring with the mindset of winning a job.

And he did it with his lefty bat and good glove work at first base and in the outfield.

Stassi started hitting early in camp and never stopped. For the spring, he batted .333 (19 for 57) with six homers, 17 RBIs and a 1.099 OPS.
 
Stassi got the news in a meeting with manager Pete Mackanin after Thursday's 14-1 loss to the Yankees.
 
"What number do you want?" Mackanin asked Stassi, who wore non-roster number 78 in camp.
 
Stassi was speechless.
 
"I didn't really know what to expect," he said of the meeting. "I was pretty nervous. When Pete asked what number I wanted -- it was pretty special."
 
After getting the news, Stassi tried to call his folks. No answer.
 
"They’re working," he said with a laugh.
 
But they will be in Cincinnati on Monday.

And a lot of people who pulled for him along the way will be there in spirit, as well.

"My scout, Joey Davis -- he drafted me in the 33rd round -- he saw something in me," Stassi said. "I'm so thankful."

Stassi's dad, Jim, is a physical education teacher in the Sacramento area. A former catcher, Jim Stassi made it to Triple-A with the Giants before becoming a successful high school coach in Yuba City, California, where he coached his three sons. Max, also a catcher, has played in the majors with Houston each of the last four seasons.

Even Mackanin got a little caught up in Stassi's story.

"I got a little choked up, to be honest with you," Mackanin said. "I've sent a lot of guys to the big leagues as a Triple-A manager. I had my share of sending guys down and releasing them, which is the worst part about my job. But over the years, I have sent a lot of guys up and it's always fun. 

"This was special to me. And I know it was to (player development director) Joe Jordan because Brock earned every bit of it. He's just a good-looking player. He gives you good at-bats. He's a good defender. He plays the game the right way."

Stassi's journey to the majors was difficult. Staying in the majors is not easy, either, especially for a rookie reserve who must learn to stay sharp when the at-bats are not plentiful. 

Stassi realizes that.

"I'm going to celebrate tonight, but it's not done," he said. "I don't just want to get here, I want to stay here. I accomplished one of my goals. I'm just looking forward to the next one."

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.”