Cliff Lee rusty in return as Phillies lose to Giants

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Cliff Lee rusty in return as Phillies lose to Giants

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The scouts were lined up a dozen wide behind the backstop at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night. In case you didn’t hear, Cliff Lee returned to the Phillies’ rotation after two months on the disabled list.

Lee was the feature attraction because, if healthy, and if effective, he could zoom to the top of the list of pitchers that are available before next week’s non-waiver trade deadline.

The left-hander did not exactly drop jaws in his highly anticipated return performance. He went 5 2/3 innings against the San Francisco Giants and allowed 12 hits and six runs in a 7-4 loss (see Instant Replay).

Lee was clearly rusty. He lacked his usual pinpoint command.

“Yeah, a little bit,” the pitcher said after the game. “I wasn’t locating that well. I was behind in the count more than I’d like to be. It was good to be back, but I would have liked the results to be better.”

Lee had not pitched in a big-league game since he went down with an elbow strain on May 18. He made three minor-league rehab starts before the Phillies turned him loose Monday night.

“I would say he was rusty,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “It was evident in the first inning with him going 2-0 on the first couple of batters. When he threw strikes he wasn’t on the corner like he usually is and balls were over the plate.

“Looking at the swings, you usually don’t see balls getting squared up that often when he’s on the corners.

“The velocity was fine. That might improve a little bit along with the command with more outings underneath him.”

Lee’s fastball has been better. He threw nine fastballs in the first inning. Eight registered 90 mph on the stadium radar gun and one reached 91 mph. His fastball sat at about 89 mph the rest of his outing. Truth be told, Lee delivered more gas during his postgame interview than he did on the mound.

Most importantly, Lee said he felt healthy.

“I felt good physically,” he said. “I just wasn’t locating as well as I would have liked.

“But they earned it as well. They got 12 hits off me. You have to give them credit.”

Lee faced 28 batters and threw first-pitch strikes just 13 times. That’s not him.

Scouts from a number of contending teams, including the Blue Jays, Pirates, Royals, Mariners, Tigers, Orioles, Giants and Angels were on hand for Lee’s start. You can bet other teams were charting pitches from the television broadcast. (There’s more than one way to scout a player.)

“I didn’t know how many scouts were here and I didn’t care,” Lee said. “My goal is to give the team a chance to win and obviously I didn’t do that.”

Some scouts may have been in attendance to get a peek at some of the Phillies' available relievers. Very available lefty Antonio Bastardo pitched a scoreless seventh inning and struck out two batters. The Royals and Tigers were specifically on hand to check out Phillies relievers, a source said, and Bastardo’s appearance had the look of a showcase.

Jonathan Papelbon, available and wishing out loud for relocation, did not pitch. Closer-needy teams are watching him.

Papelbon was not needed because Lee gave up a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning and the Phillies, who had 14 singles and zero extra-base hits (see story), couldn’t get it back. The sixth inning started with a single by Michael Morse and a two-run homer by Adam Duvall. Lee allowed a two-out double to pinch-hitter Joaquin Arias and an RBI single to Hunter Pence later in the inning and was gone.

“It’s good to have the first one out of the way,” he said. “I’ll definitely have to make some adjustments before my next start.”

That will come Saturday night against Arizona at Citizens Bank Park. That will be Lee’s last start before the trade deadline, which arrives a week from Thursday at 4 p.m. Lee is scheduled to pitch that night in Washington.

Will he make that start or will he be with another team by then? Tough to say. Lee’s performance Monday night was not enticing. On top of that, it’s tough for scouts to get a complete read on his health in two starts. Taking on Lee comes with risk because he is owed $37.5 million after this season and will cost a team prospects. If Lee remains with the Phillies beyond the non-waiver trade deadline, he could still be moved in a waiver deal in August. That would give teams more time to gauge his health and effectiveness.

Lee, who turns 36 next month, has been traded twice in July in his career, so he is unfazed by the glare of this trade deadline.

“I couldn’t care less about the scouts in the stands or trade rumors or anything like that,” he said. “It’s not my job to make trades and acquire players. That’s their job upstairs. Our job as players is to go out and compete and try to win and it’s really that simple. I can’t get caught up in trades and speculation. I’m a Phillie and I want this team to win.”

Phillies can exhale after bullpen nearly blows 10-0 lead

Phillies can exhale after bullpen nearly blows 10-0 lead

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The moment when the ball struck first baseman Tommy Joseph’s glove for the final out of the Phillies 10-8 win over the Mets — dealing a major blow to their rival’s wild card hopes in the process — felt more like a collective exhalation than a moment of celebration (see Instant Replay).
 
Two days earlier, the bullpen faltered suddenly. A game-tying two-run homer by Jose Reyes in the ninth was the first body blow. The game-winning three-run homer by Asdrubal Cabrera was the knockout.
 
Saturday, the collapse occurred over the course of five innings as the Phillies let a lead that was once 10-0 slip away, one drawn-out at-bat after another.
 
Missing, of course, was the moment of impact in the proverbial slow-motion car crash, thanks to well-placed sinkers and four-seamers from Michael Mariot.
 
“The bullpen’s been sputtering,” manager Pete Mackanin said in an understatement.
 
Joely Rodriguez entered in the sixth inning with a 10-4 lead to face a string of lefties and it quickly became apparent that he did not have his fastball. A middle-in four-seamer that caught too much of the plate was slapped for a double by Mets shortstop Gavin Cecchini, his first major-league hit and a run. A second run scored when a little dribbler by third baseman T.J. Rivera died on the third base line, leaving Rodriguez with no play.
 
“He just didn’t throw quality strikes,” Mackanin said.
 
Even the normally-reliable Hector Neris struggled on Saturday. In his 77th outing of the season, Neris walked two straight batters and then surrendered an RBI double to Cecchini of his own which narrowed the lead to 10-7 and thrust the uncertainty of a save situation onto Mackanin.
 
Mariot was given first crack at the ninth inning one day after Mackanin said he would give Jeanmar Gomez a break from closing duties.
 
Mariot’s audition got off to a rough start. He gave up a pinch-hit solo home run to Jay Bruce — who had been mired in an 0-15 slump — with one out in the ninth and then walked Eric Campbell and Michael Conforto after a pair of grueling at-bats that lasted a combined 18 pitches.
 
The two hitters fouled off eight of Mariot’s pitches and took several four-seamers that just missed the plate.
 
“I was pretty upset about that,” Mariot said of the four-seamers that missed. “I was hoping to get at least a swing or maybe a call on those. Talking to [catcher] A.J. [Ellis], I think he said that they missed but I was hoping at least one of them to get called a strike.”
 
Gomez was up in the Phillies’ bullpen but Mariot ensured that Mackanin wouldn’t need to throw the recently-struggling closer back into the fire in a high-stress situation.
 
Mariot was able to locate his fastball when he needed to most. He fooled Lucas Duda with a two-seamer that the slugger popped out to Freddy Galvis and got Travis D’Arnaud to ground a four-seamer outside right back to him.
 
“I just told myself: ‘keep throwing strikes and good things will happen,’” Mariot said.
 
He threw just enough strikes to ensure that the Phillies didn’t end up on the wrong end of what would have been the Mets’ biggest comeback in team history.

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Best of MLB: Nationals clinch NL East with win over Pirates

Best of MLB: Nationals clinch NL East with win over Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- The Washington Nationals clinched their third National League East title in five years, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 Saturday night behind 5 1/3 scoreless innings from rookie reliever Reynaldo Lopez.

Stephen Drew's two-run single capped a three-run first inning for the Nationals, who return to the postseason after a one-year absence. Their win ensured a playoff berth, and they won the division about 20 minutes later when the second-place New York Mets lost to Philadelphia.

Lopez (4-3) came on to the start the bottom of the fourth inning with a 6-1 lead and allowed three hits while striking out five and walking one. He was removed a runner on first and one out in the ninth inning.

Marc Rzepczynski and Blake Treinen got one out each to end the game, and a pocket of Nationals' fans behind the visiting dugout cheered (see full recap).

Cardinals solve Wrigley again, crush Hammel, Cubs 10-4
CHICAGO -- The St. Louis Cardinals have a lot to accomplish if they want to return to Chicago in two weeks for a rematch of last year's NL Division Series. They would have to qualify for one of the wild-card spots, then win the single-elimination playoff game.

If they do, the Cardinals may be the one club that won't be fazed by Wrigley Field and the Cubs.

Yadier Molina drove in four runs, Stephen Piscotty homered and the Cardinals boosted their playoff hopes by getting to Jason Hammel early in a 10-4 rout of Chicago on Saturday.

Randal Grichuk added three RBIs and Jhonny Peralta had three hits and scored three runs for the Cardinals, who stopped a two-game skid and moved into a tie with San Francisco for the final NL wild-card spot pending the Giants' game at San Diego (see full recap).

Yanks shut out for 3rd straight game in 3-0 loss to Jays
TORONTO -- The New York Yankees' offense has disappeared, and their playoffs chances have pretty much vanished, too.

Jose Bautista hit a three-run homer off Tyler Clippard in the eighth inning, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Yankees 3-0 Saturday.

New York has been shut out in three straight games for the first time July 27-28, 1975.

"Whatever we're doing right now, it's not working," first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "We just seem to have lost it the last few days."

The Yankees have lost 10 of 13 following a seven-game winning streak and dropped 4 1/2 games back for the AL's second wild card with eight games left. They likely will miss the playoffs for the third time in four years (see full recap).

Dietrich homers, Marlins end Braves' streak at 7 win
MIAMI -- Derek Dietrich hit a two-run homer to help the Miami Marlins end the Atlanta Braves' winning streak at seven games, winning 6-4 on Saturday night.

Dee Gordon had two hits, two walks and three stolen bases - one shy of tying the Marlins' single-game franchise high, which he has done on two separate occasions.

Atlanta's Freddie Freeman extended his hitting streak to 28 games in the first inning and has reached base in 44 straight. He also hit a solo home run in the sixth, his 32nd.

Brian Ellington (4-2) earned the win in relief and A.J. Ramos recorded his 39th save in 42 chances.

The Braves pulled within 5-4 on a wild pitch by Fernando Rodney in the seventh inning (see full recap).