Cliff Lee tames Braves, gives Phils first win

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Cliff Lee tames Braves, gives Phils first win

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA -- For a hitter, the weather was frightful Thursday night at Turner Field. Forty degrees at game time. Wind blowing in. Chilly mist falling.

Cliff Lee made the elements work for him.

“It was cold, but as a pitcher, I don’t mind it,” Lee said. “I just tried to attack the strike zone, throw strikes, get ahead and make them swing their way on base. I tried to locate my fastball and when they got on the fastball, throw something else.”

Lee’s plan worked.

On a tough night to hit, he pitched eight innings of two-hit, shutout ball to help the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 2-0, for their first win of the season (see Instant Replay).

The Phils headed home late Thursday night at 1-2.

That sounds a lot better than 0-3 -- especially during introductions before Friday’s home opener.

“Without a doubt,” manager Charlie Manuel said with a laugh. “We’ve got hope now.”

Lee did what Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay couldn’t do in the first two games of their series. He iced a powerful Braves’ lineup that hit six homers and scored 16 runs in the first two games.

Lee allowed just two singles, did not walk a batter and struck out eight.

“He commanded and controlled the game,” Manuel said.

“It was a tough night to play a baseball game and he made it look easy,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Lee got into such a good groove that Manuel let him pitch the eighth inning even though he was at 98 pitches and Mike Adams, the team’s new eighth-inning man, was warm in the bullpen.

Adams will get plenty of chances to protect leads before this season is out. The Phillies blew 13 eighth-inning leads last year. Lee protected this one himself with an eight-pitch inning. He threw 106 pitches in all and 78 were strikes.

“I thought about using Adams, but Lee had pitched so well the last few innings we stuck with him,” Manuel said.

Lee didn’t get his first win until July 4 last season. He got his first of 2013 on April 4.

“It’s nice to get it out of the way,” he joked after the game.

Lee had a tough first half last season. He spent some time on the disabled list, received poor run support, and had trouble protecting a few leads.

But his second half was brilliant. He had a 2.45 ERA in 16 starts, struck out 109 and walked eight. By the end of the season, he finished in the top 10 in the National League in ERA (3.16) and WHIP (1.114) for one of the best six-win seasons you’ll ever see.

One of Lee’s best feats of 2012 was his finishing the season by pitching at least six innings and walking one or zero batters in 17 straight starts. That is a major-league record. Make it 18 after this one.

“I felt strong the whole time,” he said. “The cold didn’t bother me. When it’s 95 degrees it’s more taxing.”

Offensively, the Phils left 26 men on base in the series, including nine Thursday night. Eight of their LOBs came in the first four innings against Atlanta right-hander Kris Medlen, who had unusual control problems. The Phils got hits from Laynce Nix and Erik Kratz to open the second and Lee followed with a walk to load the bases. The Phils ended up scoring a pair of runs on a groundout by Ben Revere and a sacrifice fly by Chase Utley, who drove six of the Phils’ nine runs in the series.

“We’re going to score runs with this lineup,” Manuel said. “We’ll get it going.”

On nights when it’s not there, it’s nice to have well-pitched game like the one Cliff Lee delivered.

Phillies' Darin Ruf could be facing quiet goodbye

Phillies' Darin Ruf could be facing quiet goodbye

NEW YORK — The final eight games remaining on the Phillies’ 2016 schedule will undoubtedly serve as a farewell to Ryan Howard.

Lost in the background may be the fact this week could quite possibly be the end for the man who was supposed to platoon alongside him this year, as well: Darin Ruf.

Both men have been supplanted by Tommy Joseph, who's hit 21 home runs in just 100 games this year while positioning himself as the Phillies first baseman of the near future.

Ruf will start Saturday night against Mets’ lefthander Sean Gilmartin. The Phillies are not scheduled to face a lefty starter for the rest of the season, so Saturday could be one of the final chances to see Ruf in a Phillies uniform, especially considering manager Pete Mackanin’s stated intent to give Howard more playing time down the stretch.

“It seemed like we never faced a lefty for the first month of the season. So that didn’t help Ruf at the time,” Mackanin said.  “Joseph entered the picture and made an immediate impression.”

Ruf’s departure from the majors set the stage for Joseph’s immediate emergence. At the time of his May 13 demotion to AAA Lehigh Valley – and Joseph’s promotion -- Ruf was had a .158/.206/.193 slash line.
  
Since his Sept. 1 return to the majors after rosters expanded, Ruf has done what he can to make sure his possible final season in a Phillies uniform ends on a high note. On Friday night, he drilled a home run to left center off Mets reliever Josh Smoker in pinch-hit duty, the first time Ruf had gone yard since Oct. 1, 2015.

“It felt good,” Ruf said about ending his home run drought. “You just try to simply things and last night it worked out for me.”

Where Ruf will be next year is a more complicated matter, as the 30-year-old is out of minor league options. Japanese scouts were spotted at the games he played for AAA Lehigh Valley.

With Lehigh Valley, Ruf received an opportunity he’s never truly been able to get with the Phillies due to the longstanding presence of Howard: a chance to play every day and consistently accumulate plate appearances. He hit .294/.356/.529 in 390 trips to the plate for the IronPigs. 

Ruf has never made more than 300 plate appearances in a major league season and would struggle to crack that number if he remains in Philadelphia as a backup to Joseph, who will still be 25 on opening day next year.

“I learned [this year] that you can’t take anything for granted in this game,” Ruf said. “You’ve just got to keep working to get better every day, got to put up numbers no matter where you’re at in order to get to where you want. 

“Hopefully, wherever I’m at next year, I can do that.”

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Tonight's Lineup: Jorge Alfaro catches, bats 8th vs. Mets

Tonight's Lineup: Jorge Alfaro catches, bats 8th vs. Mets

Jorge Alfaro is behind the plate for the Phillies tonight and bats eighth. Alfaro has appeared in just four games since being called up earlier this month, and has just one hit in 10 at-bats. 

Tommy Joseph is back in the lineup and batting fifth. Pete Mackanin has said that Ryan Howard would get a lot of playing time during the last few games, but it is Joseph who gets the start tonight. Joseph is batting just .154 against the Mets this season. 

Odubel Herrera, who has been hitting well in September, will remain in the three spot. He has two homers and is batting .391 over the past week. Herrera has two hits in six at-bats against Mets' starter Sean Gilmartin. 

Phillies

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Roman Quinn, RF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF 
4. Maikel Franco, 3B 
5. Tommy Joseph, 1B
6. Darin Ruf, LF
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Jorge Alfaro, C
9. Alec Asher, P