Coveted Lee wants to stay and win with Phillies

slideshow-071513-phillies-lee-uspresswire.jpg

Coveted Lee wants to stay and win with Phillies

NEW YORK – Cliff Lee was a very popular interview subject at All-Star festivities Monday.

Lee knew he would be. It’s July. He has a history as a hired gun. Teams want him. One of those teams is his current one, the Phillies. If that changes, contenders will pounce like wild dogs on red-pinstriped meat.

“It’s the nature of the business,” Lee said of the trade speculation that has followed him for the last year. “Until you have a full no-trade clause, you have no choice. It’s a business and each team has the prerogative to do what it wants.”

For the record, Lee has a partial no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to 20 teams.

“My job is to perform and give a team a chance to win -- for whatever team I’m with,” he said. “Right now it’s the Phillies and I hope it’s the Phillies for the rest of my career.

“You can sit here and what-if all kinds of things. I just know I’m a Phillie right now and that’s where my allegiance is, and I’ll continue to try to help them win. That’s where my focus is.”

Phils GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is on record as saying he wants to hang on to Lee for a possible second-half surge. Beyond that, Amaro says the Phillies are in business to win, and if they don’t make the postseason this year, they will look to rebound in 2014, and the best way to rebound is having Lee and Cole Hamels at the top of the rotation.

But here’s the thing about Amaro and the rest of the people that run the Phillies: They are human beings. Sometimes human beings change their minds. You can bet that Amaro’s ears are open to callers who ask about Lee and Chase Utley. If he’s blown away by the return -- and considers the Phillies a long shot to make the playoffs -- he could consider dealing those players. If he’s not blown away, no one will ever know he took the call in the first place.

There’s one sure way for Lee not be traded:

Keep on winning.

The Phils won seven of 10 on their last homestand to get to .500. They are 6 1/2 back in the NL East and 5 1/2 back in the wild card.

They aren’t trading Lee as long as they have a chance to overtake second-place Washington and catch Atlanta. The Phils must continue to run down both clubs when play resumes Friday. The Phils play three at the Mets, three at the Cardinals and three at the Tigers before an off day on July 29. By that time, Phils management will either be in the game all the way or looking to ship out players.

“We’ve actually played very well lately,” Lee said. “We’re winning series and that’s what you want. Lucky for us the Braves haven’t run away with it. As bad as we’ve played we’re within striking distance.

“As far as trades, you’ll have to talk to Ruben about that, but I think we’re in it. I have no other option but to look at it like we’re in it, and we’re going to catch up with the Braves, and we’re going to win the division and win the World Series. There’s no other way to look at it.”

Lee gets credit for thinking positively.

The Phillies in some ways control their own destiny as they have 13 games remaining with Atlanta and nine remaining with Washington. They also have 16 games left with the Mets and Marlins.

But these next nine games are crucial. They can’t afford a slow start to the second half in this weekend’s trip to Citi Field to face the Mets, and they have to play well against St. Louis and Detroit, two first-place clubs, next week.

“Hopefully we can continue what we’ve been doing last few weeks and make up some ground,” Lee said.

The Phillies have needs in the bullpen and in center field, where Ben Revere is out for up to two months with a broken foot (see story).

Amaro has said he’s looking to add to those areas, but there’s a feeling around baseball that he wants to see how his team reacts over the next week or so before he does.

Becoming buyers would show the team that management believes in it.

“I guess it would be bad to say I don’t care what management thinks about that but that’s kind of true,” Lee said. “It really doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about our team. It’s more about what we think amongst ourselves and us coming together as a team, competing hard and pulling for each other and picking each other up. And if we do that nothing else matters because we’ll win.

“It’s the front office’s job to field the best possible team they can. I’m pretty certain they’re trying to do that. My job is to pitch. I’m going to do that. If they trade guys or add guys I’m going to have to deal with that and we’re going to have to make the best of that no matter which direction they go.”

Lee, who turns 35 next month, is having a brilliant season. He is 10-3 with a 2.86 ERA in 19 starts. His WHIP is 0.995, the fifth-best in the NL. He has pitched 138 2/3 innings, third-most in the league and has 125 strikeouts and just 21 walks.

These are the reasons he is at his fourth All-Star Game, answering questions about possibly being a hired gun and saying he wants to remain a Phillie and make a run with that team.

“I’d rather not be here and be in first place by eight or 10 games and playing better baseball, but I can’t control that,” Lee said. “But it is gratifying knowing I’ve done my job at a high level and given the team a chance to win every time I’ve taken the mound, and I feel honored to be here.”

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).