Countdown to Clearwater: Here’s looking at you, kids

Countdown to Clearwater: Here’s looking at you, kids

The Phillies begin spring training in Clearwater, Florida, on Feb. 14. Leading up to the first workout, we will take a daily look at the important issues and storylines of camp.

You never know who’s going to rise up from the edges and make a difference for a major league team.
 
Look at Tommy Joseph. A year ago at this time, his career was on the rocks. He’d been waived, passed over in the Rule 5 draft and assigned to minor-league spring training camp. Before you knew it, however, he was in the big leagues, driving in runs and muscling balls over the wall.
 
When the Phillies open camp next week, Joseph will have a locker in the big-league clubhouse and the regular job at first base will be his.
 
So who will be this year’s Tommy Joseph?
 
Who will be that unheralded guy that pops in from the margins and makes a contribution in the majors in 2017?
 
Could it be Andrew Pullin?
 
Pullin, 23, is one of about 20 young prospects who will get time in big-league camp before heading off to the minors this season. The list includes some of organization’s brightest and most talked-about prospects, including shortstop J.P. Crawford; catchers Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp; outfielders Dylan Cozens, Roman Quinn and Nick Williams; first baseman Rhys Hoskins; second basemen Scott Kingery and Jesmuel Valentin; and pitchers Victor Arano, Elniery Garcia, Ricardo Pinto, Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively and Drew Anderson, among others.
 
The first few weeks of camp will be a time to watch Crawford, the organization’s top prospect, work counts and make the pivot on double plays. It will be a time to watch Alfaro and Cozens play dueling power bats in batting practice, a time to see Quinn show his electrifying speed on the bases, and a time to see if Arano might be in line for a quick jump to the Phillies’ bullpen.
 
We single out Pullin because he’s the guy that reminds us a little of Joseph in that he was eligible for the Rule 5 draft in December and 29 other teams passed on him. The Phillies retained the 23-year-old corner outfielder and thought enough of him to invite him to big-league camp for a look-see. Pullin is a left-handed hitter with a swing that reminds some of Jim Eisenreich. It would not be a complete reach to think he could help in Philadelphia at some point this season.
 
Pullin’s journey to Phillies big-league camp is kind of interesting. He hails from Centralia, Washington, about 90 minutes south of Seattle, and was headed to the University of Oregon before the Phillies selected him in the fifth round of the 2012 draft. Before the draft, Pullin had caught the eye of a number of Phillies scouts, including Pat Gillick, as they spent time watching another player from the Centralia area, pitcher Mitch Gueller. The Phils picked Gueller in the sandwich round, 54th overall. He has moved on from baseball and is now playing football at Idaho State. Meanwhile, Pullin presses on with his baseball career.
 
Drafted as a second baseman, Pullin moved to the outfield in 2015 and drove in 73 runs in the Florida State League. His career seemed to be moving on a good track when he abruptly announced that he was retiring from baseball just before the start of the 2016 season. Six weeks later, he reconsidered, returned to the Phillies’ system and his career got back on track as he hit .322 with 14 homers, 51 RBIs and a .885 OPS in stops at Single A Clearwater and Double A Reading. He hit .346 with a .955 OPS in in 46 games after his promotion to Double A.
 
“I had some personal things I needed to take care of and the Phillies were very gracious and helpful,” Pullin said of his decision to step away from baseball temporarily. “Everything’s taken care of and I’m glad to be back. Everything’s great.”
 
That includes his right elbow.
 
Pullin injured the elbow making an awkward throw during the final week of last season while playing for Reading. The injury cost him a scheduled assignment to the prospect-filled Arizona Fall League and gave management reason to gamble and leave him off the 40-man roster in November, thus exposing him to the Rule 5 draft in December. The gamble paid off.
 
“My elbow is fine now,” Pullin said. “I’ve been throwing and it’s feeling good.”
 
Pullin recently took part in the Phillies prospect education seminar. During a weeklong stay in Philadelphia, he got to work with new hitting coach Matt Stairs in the batting cage.
 
Like Gillick before the 2012 draft, Stairs was taken by Pullin’s crisp and efficient swing.
 
“He’s got a very quiet approach, tremendous hands and a short, fluid swing,” Stairs said. “The scouting report is you can’t beat him with a fastball and I can see why. I’m excited to see him on a more regular basis in spring training.”
 
It’s unclear where Pullin will open the 2017 season. The Triple A outfield appears set — and prospect-studded — with Quinn, Williams and Cozens. Pullin might have to return to Double A to get regular at-bats, but if he produces like he did last season he will continue to get noticed and play himself onto the 40-man roster in November – and maybe sooner if he hits his way to Philadelphia this season.
 
“I feel like I can compete anywhere,” Pullin said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I can do and I’m just trying to repeat that. My goal is to improve with every game and keep moving up so next year I can hopefully make it on the 40-man roster.”

Tonight's lineup: Herrera leads off as Hernandez sits

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Tonight's lineup: Herrera leads off as Hernandez sits

With eight games left in the Phillies' season, Pete Mackanin is still playing to win.

After dropping the series opener in Atlanta, 7-2, Friday, Mackanin made several changes to his lineup for Game 2 tonight. His first change is at the top of the order, as Cesar Hernandez sits and Odubel Herrera moves up to the leadoff spot.

The decision to rest Hernandez appears based on his poor career numbers against Atlanta's starter, Julio Teheran. Hernandez is 3-28 against Teheran, while Herrera is 5-23. Teheran is 1-2 this season against the Phillies. He won his previous start against them on Aug. 30, allowing just one run and striking out eight in 6 2/3 innings pitched. 

Herrera has no hits and six strikeouts in his last 12 at-bats. He's also been chasing a lot of pitches outside of the strike zone and has only one walk since Sept. 9. At .281, his batting average is the lowest it has been since Aug. 6.  

J.P. Crawford, who has looked smooth at third base, shifts to second base to accommodate the change. Maikel Franco slots back in at third.

Mackanin's final change is swapping catcher Jorge Alfaro for Cameron Rupp. With the Phillies getting an extended look at Alfaro, Rupp's playing time has recently decreased. This is his first start since Sept. 17 against Oakland.

In his second start for the Phillies, Henderson Alvarez won't have to do much to better Ben Lively's outing Friday night. Lively conceded six hits and five runs before recording an out. Alvarez's start Sunday, when he allowed four runs in five innings, was his first major league game in the past 28 months. An All-Star in 2014, Alvarez's career was derailed by injuries. 

Below is Saturday's lineup:

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, RF
4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, LF
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. J.P. Crawford, 2B
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Henderson Alvarez, P

And the Braves' lineup:

1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Ozzie Albies, 2B
3. Nick Markakis, RF
4. Tyler Flowers, C
5. Matt Adams, 1B
6. Dansby Swanson, SS
7. Rio Ruiz, 3B
8. Jace Peterson, LF
9. Julio Teheran, P

Best of MLB: Cubs take control in NL Central with win over Brewers

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Best of MLB: Cubs take control in NL Central with win over Brewers

MILWAUKEE -- Pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella drew a bases-loaded walk off All-Star closer Corey Knebel with one out in the 10th inning, helping the Chicago Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 5-4 on Friday night to tighten their grip on the NL Central.

The Cubs hold a five-game lead with nine days left in the regular season after winning their second straight tense game over the Brewers. Milwaukee dropped into third in the division, 5 1/2 games behind Chicago, after St. Louis beat Pittsburgh earlier Friday.

The Brewers had the tying run at first with one out in the bottom of the 10th, but Eric Sogard was called out at second trying to advance on a ball in the dirt. Shortstop Addison Russell appeared to hold the tag as Sogard's foot lifted off second for a split-second, and the call was confirmed on review (see full recap).

Ryan Goins' hidden-ball trick, grand slam lead Blue Jays over Yankees
TORONTO -- Ryan Goins successfully pulled off a hidden ball trick and hit his second career grand slam, leading the Toronto Blue Jays over Masahiro Tanaka and the Yankees 8-1 Friday night and ensuring New York had to wait at least one more day to clinch a playoff berth.

With Todd Frazier on base following a leadoff double in the third, Jose Bautista made a running catch just in front of the right field warning track on Jacoby Ellsbury's one-out drive. Goins caught Bautista's throw while standing near second base, then pretended to toss the ball to pitcher Marco Estrada while slipping in into his glove.

Goins turned his back to Frazier, who had returned to the base, and when Frazier briefly lifted his left foot off the base, Goins tagged him on the left thigh. Frazier insisted he had maintained contact with the base, but umpire Mark Carlson called him out to end the inning (see full recap).

Red Sox rally for win over Reds, extend AL East lead
CINCINNATI -- Rafael Devers hit a three-run homer Friday night, and the Boston Red Sox extended their AL East lead to four games by overcoming Scooter Gennett's fourth grand slam of the season for a 5-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Boston added to its lead with the help of the Yankees' 8-1 loss at Toronto. The Red Sox have won 12 of 15, keeping the Yankees at bay while moving a season-high 25 games over .500 (89-64).

Their AL Cy Young Award winner is still struggling heading into playoff time.

Rick Porcello gave up Gennett's fourth grand slam -- a Reds' season record -- in the first inning. He lasted a season-low four innings, turning a 5-4 lead over to the bullpen. Porcello has lost 17 games -- most in the majors -- after winning 22 last year along with the Cy Young (see full recap).

Cardinals rally past Pirates in 9th
PITTSBURGH -- Randal Grichuk scored after an error by Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer, capping a frantic ninth-rally that lifted the surging St. Louis Cardinals over Pittsburgh 4-3 on Friday night.

The playoff-chasing Cardinals won their fifth straight, despite trailing by a run entering the ninth.

Stephen Piscotty led off with a double to right against closer Felipe Rivero (5-3), and Jedd Gyorko followed with a pinch-hit RBI single. After Tommy Pham's single, Grichuk pinch-ran for Gyorko at third. He scored when Mercer misplayed Dexter Fowler's sharp groundball.

Former Pirates reliever Juan Nicasio (4-5) got the win after working the eighth and ninth. Fowler and Piscotty had two hits each.

David Freese had an RBI double for the Pirates, who have dropped eight of nine. Rivero blew a save for only the second time in 20 chances this season (see full recap).

Twins stay on track in postseason race with win over Tigers
DETROIT -- Max Kepler and Brian Dozier homered, Byron Buxton had three hits and the playoff-chasing Minnesota Twins beat the Detroit Tigers 7-3 on Friday night.

Buxton's two-run double in the fourth put the Twins ahead to stay against a Detroit team that announced before the game that manager Brad Ausmus will not be back in 2018.

Minnesota came into the night leading the race for the American League's second wild card by 2 games over Texas and the Los Angeles Angels.

Kyle Gibson (12-10) allowed three runs and five hits in seven innings for the Twins. He struck out six and walked two.

Daniel Norris (4-8) allowed five runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.

Nicholas Castellanos and Ian Kinsler homered for Detroit, but the Tigers dropped to 4-18 in September (see full recap).