Catching prospect Joseph salvaging 'lost season'

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Catching prospect Joseph salvaging 'lost season'

READING, Pa. -- If this is a lost season for the Phillies’ minor league catcher Tommy Joseph, consider him on a search and rescue mission.

The Phillies’ top catching prospect is playing at Double A Reading where he’s working his way back from an early-season concussion that has plagued him for most of the year. Until the injury Joseph seemed to be on the proverbial fast track to the big leagues.

Still just 21 (he turns 22 on Tuesday), Joseph began the season playing for Triple A Lehigh Valley. With catcher Carlos Ruiz in the last year of his contract, a good season at Triple A from Joseph could have been a ticket to a roster spot in the big leagues in 2014.

But on May 4, Joseph took a foul ball off his mask and missed the next month of the season. He was activated and went to Single A Clearwater to get back into shape, but lasted just five games before post-concussion symptoms put him back on the shelf.

Joseph returned to action at the end of June, played a handful of games for Clearwater and now finds himself back at Reading.

“Right off the bat people were saying I could go down to Florida, I’ll be there a couple of weeks to get my feet under me and work my way back up,” Joseph said. “There were a lot of setbacks and it ended up taking a lot longer than people wanted it to.”

Now Joseph is back in Reading where he landed last July when he was acquired by the Phillies with right-handed starting pitcher Seth Rosin and outfielder Nate Schierholtz in a trade for Hunter Pence. But don’t consider 2013 a lost year for Joseph, because as far as he’s concerned, nothing has been lost.

Sure, Joseph has missed out on catching everyday at Triple A, but he doesn’t believe that has slowed him down.

Lost year? No way.

“People who say that obviously don’t believe in me,” Joseph said. “It’s not a lost year. I still get to play every day for the rest of the season and most likely in the winter, too. I don’t understand how it would be a lost season. When you’re in the minor leagues it’s a grind every day to get to your goal, which is the big leagues.”

Still, Joseph has appeared in just 36 games this season at all of his stops. On Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium against Blue Jays' affiliate New Hampshire, Joseph went 2 for 4 with a double in just his third game for Reading. In those 36 games, Joseph is 22 for 123 (.179) with four doubles and three homers. He also has struck out 30 times, though just 15 times at Triple A and once for Reading.

“He’s put some good swings on the ball,” Reading manager Dusty Wathan said after Thursday’s game. “He might be around the ball just a touch, which is why he hit some balls foul. But he smoked a double and muscled a single through short and third.”

Joseph hit eight homers in 80 games for Double A Richmond before the trade and just three in 28 games after joining the Phillies. However, at Single A San Jose in 2011, Joseph pounded 22 homers in 127 games and he hit 16 in 117 games as a 17-year-old in 2010. That shows Joseph has power when he gets a chance to be in the lineup.

However, to get to the big leagues as catcher, it’s all about defense. Wathan, a catcher in 14 pro seasons, likes what he sees in Joseph.

“Defensively, he’s really clean at receiving,” Wathan said. “He did miss a block with [lefty pitcher Jesse] Biddle, but he hasn’t caught him a lot and that’s a tough curveball to block in a tough location.

“He has a great arm, he’s pretty accurate, he receives well and calls a good game. He’s a good leader and has a lot of intangibles that aren’t physical tools.”

Better yet, Joseph is back behind the plate with no restrictions. After a first half of a season in which he spent more time on the sidelines than he’s used to, that’s all that matters to the catcher.

“I’m getting there. It’s nice to be out there with the team again and playing every day. That’s what I want to do,” Joseph said.

“All the [concussion] symptoms are gone, so now it’s just a matter of getting back to where I was and playing the game I love and doing the things I was put on this earth to do.”

Biddle headed for the Futures
Top pitching prospect Jesse Biddle was held to 75 pitches in Thursday’s start because he’s slated to pitch in the Futures All-Star Game in New York on Sunday.

Nevertheless, it was a bit of a rough outing for the lefty. In four innings, he allowed four runs on four hits and three walks. He had five strikeouts, threw a wild pitch and allowed a homer on a hanging curve.

This season, Biddle is 3-9 with a 3.33 ERA and has 107 strikeouts in 97 1/3 innings. But he hasn’t received much run support. Actually, he’s lucky if he gets a run.

Winless since May 21, Biddle has received just 10 runs of support in the nine games since that last win. In his last 14 starts, Reading has given Biddle just 18 runs of support with just 29 runs in his 18 starts.

With run support like that Biddle is lucky to have won three games.

Best of MLB: Aaron Judge breaks Mark McGwire's HR rookie record, Yankees top Royals

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Best of MLB: Aaron Judge breaks Mark McGwire's HR rookie record, Yankees top Royals

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge circled the bases for the 50th time this season, breaking Mark McGwire's major league record for home runs by a rookie, and returned to the Yankees dugout to exchange handshakes, hugs and high-fives with excited teammates.

And then, he walked up the steps and back onto the field.

Embarrassed by the attention, he managed four short waves with his right hand before heading back to the bench just three seconds later.

"They kind of told me: `You got to go out there. You got to go out there,'" he would later recall. "First curtain call. I hope it was a good one."

Judge had his second straight two-homer game in an 11-3 rout of Kansas City on Monday. On an unseasonably warm autumn afternoon, the Yankees won for the 16th time in 22 games during a playoff push that earned no worse than a wild card.

The 6-foot-7, 25-year-old slugger tied McGwire's 1987 mark with a two-run drive to right-center off Jakob Junis (8-3) in the third inning that put New York ahead 3-0, driving a 93 mph high fastball 389 feet about a half-dozen rows into the right field seats (see full recap).

Russell makes food run, Cubs beat Cards to near clinch
ST. LOUIS -- Say cheese!

Addison Russell and the Chicago Cubs were all smiles after moving within a victory of another division title Monday night.

Russell hit a three-run double in the first inning, then made a food run for a fan in enemy territory while the Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 10-2. Chicago can wrap up the division with a win Tuesday against the Cardinals or a loss by Milwaukee against Cincinnati.

Russell helped the Cubs get to starter Luke Weaver (7-2) early, then made some friends out of rival fans. After diving into the stands chasing a foul ball down the third-base line and spilling a man's tray of chips, Russell emerged from the dugout a few innings later with a plate of nachos and delivered it to the fan. Russell stopped to take a selfie before heading back to play shortstop.

"That was pretty entertaining," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said (see full recap).

Donaldson, Blue Jays stop Red Sox winning streak at 6
BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox would like to get the AL East wrapped up quickly so they can start resting some banged-up players.

Josh Donaldson homered and drove in three runs, powering the Toronto Blue Jays past the first-place Red Sox 6-4 on Monday night.

Boston's six-game winning streak was snapped and its magic number to clinch a second straight division title remained at three. The Red Sox lead the second-place New York Yankees, who beat Kansas City earlier in the day, by four games with six remaining.

But the most important thing for the Red Sox was the loss of two key players to injuries. For how long? They don't know yet.

Eduardo Nunez and Mookie Betts both left the game early. Nunez aggravated a right knee injury that sidelined him for 13 games, and Betts came out with pain in his left wrist (see full recap).

Rangers fall to Astros, wild-card hopes fading
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Marwin Gonzalez had four hits and three RBIs as the AL West champion Houston Astros beat Texas 11-2 on Monday night, putting the Rangers on the brink of elimination in the wild-card race.

Houston second baseman Jose Altuve, the American League leader with 199 hits and a .348 batting average, left in the eighth inning after he was hit by a 95 mph fastball. The team said X-rays were negative and Altuve had a bruised forearm.

Gonzalez had two hits and scored twice in an eight-run fourth, including a two-run single that chased starter Andrew Cashner (10-11). Gonzalez later hit his 23rd homer, a solo shot in the sixth.

Collin McHugh (4-2) struck out six while throwing 112 pitches in five innings. The right-hander is 15-0 with a 2.94 ERA in 19 starts in September or October during his four seasons with the Astros (see full recap).

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

BOX SCORE

Before beginning a season-ending six-game homestand Monday night, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin singled out Aaron Nola when asked about the positives of what is mostly a dismal 2017 season. 

“Nola has really established himself,” Mackanin said pregame. “To me, he’s a solid No. 3 starter.”

Nola then looked the part in what was likely his final start of the year, using a sharp curveball to strike out nine over six innings in the Phillies’ 3-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park (see observations)

“I felt like just the command and getting ahead of hitters helped out this year,” Nola said. 

Returning from elbow surgery that ended his 2016 season in July, Nola (12-11) became the best starter on the team thanks to the development of a changeup in spring training to go with his fastball and dominant curveball. 

“I felt a lot stronger,” the soft-spoken Nola said when asked to sum up his season. “I felt like I was using my legs more and that increased my velocity a little bit.” 

Nola allowed two runs or fewer in 18 of his 27 starts. His 184 strikeouts are the most by a Phillies pitcher who made fewer than 30 starts in a season. 

“I wouldn’t call him a power pitcher. He doesn’t appear to be a strikeout pitcher,” Mackanin said. “But when you can locate your fastball and get ahead with your fastball down in the strike zone and have that kind of curveball and then you add that kind of changeup, now the hitter has three pitches to worry about.”

He struck out 36 over his final four starts and 25 1/3 innings, using his sweeping curve as an out pitch. All but one of his strikeouts Monday night came on the curve. 

“It’s been good,” Nola said. “I’ve been able to command it on both sides of the plate and down, which has helped me. I felt like my fastball command was better this year than it was last year.” 

In a rotation in which basically nothing else is settled, Nola gives the Phillies an anchor for next season. The 24-year-old LSU product has a 3.54 ERA and the changeup gives him three quality pitches. 

“It’s been kind of the cherry on top, a little bit, being able to throw that right-on-right,” catcher Andrew Knapp said of the changeup. “It’s a hard pitch to hit when you’re a left-handed hitter. But when you’re right-handed and coming to that back foot, it’s a really good pitch.” 

Nola retired the first four hitters before Jayson Werth singled and Michael A. Taylor followed by crushing a 3-1 fastball into the left-field seats for his 17th homer. 

It was the 18th home run allowed by Nola. But he got into a groove from there. Facing a lineup without Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon, Nola held the NL East champions to two runs and five hits with two walks. 

But it didn’t prevent the Phillies from losing for the fourth time in five games. 

Odubel Herrera’s solo home run on an 0-2 pitch from A.J. Cole (3-5) in the fourth was all the offense the Phillies could muster. They’ve managed seven runs in four games. 

Rhys Hoskins is slumping (0 for 4 and hasn’t homered since Sept. 14) and Nick Williams struck out three times. 

“Our bats have gone silent for a few days now,” Mackanin said. 

They still have to win one more to avoid 100 losses, and many changes are possible in the offseason. Mackanin said before the game that “I still don’t know if I’ll be back here next year," (see story)

It’s a team that still has plenty of holes and lots of questions ahead of 2018. 

Nola, though, appears to be someone they can rely on. 

“The goal is to have five [reliable] guys on every start. But it’s nice,” Mackanin said. “When Nola pitches, we all expect to win. He’s done an outstanding job. He’s had the arm issues, but he came back from that better than he was before.”