Cliff Lee rusty in return as Phillies lose to Giants

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Cliff Lee rusty in return as Phillies lose to Giants

BOX SCORE

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.”

Today's Lineup: A.J. Ellis, as expected, catches Vince Velasquez

Today's Lineup: A.J. Ellis, as expected, catches Vince Velasquez

After arriving to the team Saturday, veteran backstop A.J. Ellis will see his first game action in a Phillies uniform, as expected, in Sunday's series finale against the Mets.

Ellis will catch right-handed starter Vince Velasquez and bat seventh. The catcher doesn't bring much to the plate with his bat, but he calls a good game and was Clayton Kershaw's personal catcher in Los Angeles. It'll be interesting to see how he handles Velasquez.

The 35-year-old is hitting just .194 this season with one home run and 13 RBIs.

In other lineup notes, Tommy Joseph gets the start at first base and will bat cleanup and Jimmy Paredes gets his second straight start in left field. Paredes will hit sixth.

Here is the Phillies' full lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Jimmy Paredes, LF
7. A.J. Ellis, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Vince Velasquez, P

For more on today's game, check out Steven Tydings' game notes.

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Nearing the end of 2016 for Vince Velasquez

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Nearing the end of 2016 for Vince Velasquez

Phillies (59-70) at Mets (66-63)
1:10 p.m. on CSN

Can the Phillies avoid a sweep at Citi Field?

Vince Velasquez looks to recover from his mid-August swoon, while the Mets toss out Robert Gsellman, a pitcher making his first career start and second career appearance. 

Here are five things to know for Sunday afternoon's series finale.

1. Nearing the end
Velasquez's last three starts have been an unmitigated disaster. 

In three games against current playoff teams (a key thing to note), he's allowed 19 earned runs in 16⅓ innings. While he's struck out 23 batters in that span, he's also given up 25 hits and walked five.

Even more concerning are the home runs. After allowing just three homers in nine starts from June 3 to Aug. 4, Velasquez surrendered eight homers in his last three outings. He had allowed just 11 total in his first 19 appearances. 

With all that in mind, it makes sense the Phillies will limit the 24-year-old righty to just three or four more starts this season. He has nearly surpassed his career-high innings total, a mark he compiled in 2013. Having thrown 124 innings this year, the Phils likely don't want him getting beyond 150 innings, at most — 140-145 may be a more realistic target. 

Good news for Velasquez: He has a 1.74 ERA in two starts against the Mets, going 1-1 in those appearances. He's thrown 10⅓ innings against New York and struck out 13. The bad news is that despite allowing just two earned runs against the Mets, he's given up five runs total. 

2. Another new Mets pitcher
The theme of the Mets' season has been pitching injuries. After that same pitching staff brought the Mets to the brink of a World Series win in 2015, their pitchers have found a new home on the disabled list in 2016.

Jonathon Niese is the latest example. In his second start for the Mets after he was re-acquired at the trade deadline, he left with an injury just four batters into the game. He'll undergo left knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus.

So replacing him in the rotation on Sunday is the pitcher who replaced him on the mound Tuesday, Robert Gsellman. 

Gsellman fits into the Mets' rotation, at least appearance-wise. He has the long hair that Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard sported during the Mets' NL championship run. As for his actual pitching, his first impression was pretty good. For 3⅔ innings, he allowed six baserunners but no runs while striking out two. He walked three, gave up two hits and hit a batter in the relief appearance.

The 23-year-old righty threw 75 pitches in the outing, most of which were his four-seam fastball. Out of the bullpen, his fastball topped out at 95.6 miles per hour and averaged 94 mph. His slider, which averaged 87.5 mph, and low-80s curveball were his most-used offspeed pitches.

In 20 starts between Double A and Triple A this year, Gsellman is 4-9 with a 3.99 ERA over 115 innings.

3. What does Ellis bring to Philly?
A.J. Ellis, the Phillies' new catcher, is still adjusting to his new team after coming over from the Dodgers in the Carlos Ruiz trade Thursday (see story). As Ellis gets set to make his first appearance, here's a look at what he brings to the table.

Before getting to the stats, one must mention Ellis' leadership. The Phillies insisted on getting Ellis back in the Ruiz deal for that very reason, his ability to not only take over as the backup catcher but also provide some intangibles as a veteran backstop. He's been in the league since 2008 and at 35 years old, he can help provide a good perspective to a young Phillies squad.

Ellis has been the personal catcher to Clayton Kershaw, the 2014 NL MVP and Cy Young. The veteran has been solid behind the plate, a must for any long-term backup catcher.

His ability behind the plate has slightly helped offset his major decline at the plate. After a career-worst season in 2014, he rebounded to produce solid numbers at the plate in 2015. However, this season has been even worse than 2014.

Ellis has just six extra base hits in 161 plate appearances and has a .194 batting average. His on-base percentage (.285) is higher than his slugging percentage (.252), neither of which are remotely close to average. He has just one home run and 13 RBIs. 

Well removed from everyday playing time, Ellis will be a minus at the plate for the Phillies. He'll be a solid backstop until Jorge Alfaro rejoins the roster in a few weeks. 

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Cesar Hernandez does not want August to end. He's batting .321 this month with 25 hits and 10 extra base hits, including three home runs. 

Mets: Yoenis Cespedes has only one hit in five at-bats against Velasquez this year, but that one hit was a home run that knocked in three runs. He had a three-run homer Saturday night.

5. This and that
• Curtis Granderson is 0 for 4 with a walk and hit-by-pitch against Velasquez. Neil Walker is 0 for 5 with a strikeout.

• The Phillies are 11-11 in August despite a 7.26 ERA from their starters this month. They haven't had a winning month since going 14-10 in April.

• Velasquez is 0-3 with an 8.86 ERA in four August starts. However, he has struck out 29 batters in 21⅓ innings.

• The Mets are 23-14 in day games, while the Phillies are 19-27.

Best of MLB: Rookie Gary Sanchez hits another HR, Yankees rout Orioles, 13-5

Best of MLB: Rookie Gary Sanchez hits another HR, Yankees rout Orioles, 13-5

Best of MLB: Gary Sanchez hits another HR, Yankees rout O's, 13-5

NEW YORK -- Rookie Gary Sanchez kept up a most remarkable run, homering for the third straight game as the New York Yankees routed the Baltimore Orioles 13-5 Saturday.

Sanchez hit a drive that bounced off the top of the right-center field wall and over in the fourth inning. He reached 11 career home runs faster than anyone in major league history -- 23 games, including two hitless games last year.

After the switch-hitting catcher connected, the crowd of 38,843 emphatically chanted his name. Mark Teixeira stepped out of the batter's box, pausing the game, allowing the 23-year-old to tip his batting helmet to the fans from the top of the dugout steps.

Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks also homered as the Yankees won their fourth in a row. A day after trouncing the Orioles 14-4, New York moved within 2 1/2 games of them for the second AL wild-card spot.

Chris Davis homered twice and Mark Trumbo hit his big league-leading 39th home run for Baltimore, which has dropped three straight (see full recap).

Pedroia falls short of record, Red Sox beat Royals 8-3
BOSTON -- Dustin Pedroia had four hits to extend his streak to 11 straight at-bats before bouncing into a double play with a chance to tie the major-league record and the Boston Red Sox beat the Kansas City Royals 8-3 on Saturday night.

Pedroia's streak, which stretched over three games, ended in the eighth inning. The big league mark of hits in 12 straight official at-bats is shared by Walt Dropo for Detroit in 1952, Pinky Higgins of the Red Sox in 1938 and Johnny Kling of the Cubs in 1902.

Xander Bogaerts homered and drove in three runs, and Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez hit consecutive homers for Boston, which snapped a three-game losing streak.

David Price (13-8) won his fourth straight start, giving up two runs in six innings.

Danny Duffy (11-2) gave up three homers and seven runs in five innings, halting a personal 10-game winning streak.

Salvador Perez hit two solo homers for the Royals, who lost for just the fourth time 20 games (see full recap).

Harper ejected as Nats lose 9-4 to Rockies in 11 innings
WASHINGTON -- Charlie Blackmon hit two home runs, including the go-ahead shot in the 11th inning, as the Colorado Rockies beat the Washington Nationals 9-4 Saturday to snap a four-game losing streak.

Blackmon connected in the third off starter A.J. Cole, then hit a two-run drive off Yusmeiro Petit (3-4). Blackmon has 23 home runs this season and five multihomer games.

Carlos Gonzalez also hit a two-run homer off Petit, his 24th of the season and 200th of his career.

Jake McGee (1-3) got the win by pitching a perfect 10th, which included a strikeout of Bryce Harper that led to the reigning NL MVP being ejected.

Called out on strikes, Harper immediately began yelling at plate umpire Mike Winters and threw his helmet to the ground before getting tossed.

Rockies second baseman D.J. LeMahieu went 3 for 5 to pass the Nationals' Daniel Murphy for the NL batting lead (see full recap).

Julio Urias' strong start guides Dodgers past Cubs, 3-2
LOS ANGELES -- Julio Urias allowed one run over six innings, Corey Seager set a Dodgers franchise record for a shortstop with his 23rd home run and Los Angeles defeated the Chicago Cubs 3-2 on Saturday to even the series between NL division leaders.

Urias (5-2) pitched better at home than the last time he faced the Cubs. The rookie left-hander made his second career start in Chicago on June 2 and gave up six runs -- five earned -- and eight hits in five innings while serving up three homers.

This time, he allowed six hits and tied a career high with eight strikeouts and two walks. He is 4-0 in six games (four starts) since the All-Star break.

Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his 38th save a day after allowing a run on a wild pitch in the ninth in a 6-4, 10-inning loss.

The Cubs' four-game winning streak ended behind the shortest outing of the season from Jason Hammel (13-7) (see full recap).