Former mates rave about Mike Trout: 'You'll see something amazing just about every day'

Former mates rave about Mike Trout: 'You'll see something amazing just about every day'

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- As the Phillies build for a better day and team officials promise that, yes, they will spend big dollars on top talent once they have a winning foundation in place, images of Mike Trout hitting in the middle of the order and running down balls at Citizens Bank Park fill the imagination.

Phillies fans have a natural obsession with baseball's best player. He grew up just down the road in Millville, New Jersey and still lives there in the offseason. He grew up a Phillies fan and as a teen was in the parking lot tailgating with friends the night the Phils won the World Series in 2008. His love of the Eagles is well documented. He and Carson Wentz are buds.

Go ahead and admit it. You fantasize about one day hearing Dan Baker bellow, "Batting third and playing center field for the Phillies, Mike Trout."

For Howie Kendrick and Cesar Ramos, two new Phillies players, Trout is not some fantasy off in the distance. They were both teammates of the young superstar during their time with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. They had a nightly front row seat in witnessing Trout's greatness, and they are here to tell you it's as good as you see on the TV highlights and on the stat sheets.

Maybe even better.

"Mike's awesome," said Kendrick, who played with Trout in Anaheim from 2011 to 2014. "He's the best player in the game of baseball, and I don't think there's even a question about that. You ask everyone in this locker room or around the league and they will tell you that's the guy.

"I have so much respect for Mike not only for what he does on the field but for the person he is. He is so down to earth. And for a guy of that status that says a lot. He's great with his family. He treated my kids so well around the locker room. He's great with the fans. He's been the same guy since Day 1."

At 25, Trout already has played five full seasons in the majors. He has won the American League MVP award twice and finished second each of the other three seasons, twice to Miguel Cabrera and once to Josh Donaldson. He has been an American League All-Star all five seasons and won the Rookie of the Year award in 2012.

"You'll see something amazing just about every day out of him," said Kendrick, who joined the Phillies in a November trade with the Dodgers and will play left field for the club. "That's just who he is."

Ramos, a lefty reliever, signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies in January and is a candidate to win a spot in the team's bullpen. He spent the 2015 season with the Angels and had a 2.92 ERA in 65 games.

Ramos has been exposed to greatness in his baseball career. He played with Evan Longoria and Troy Tulowitzki at Long Beach State University. In fact, the three were roommates and high picks in the draft; Tulowitzki and Ramos went seventh and 35th overall, respectively, in 2005, and Longoria went third overall in 2006. Tulowitzki and Longoria have eight All-Star games and four Gold Gloves between them.

No glimpse of greatness resonates with Ramos more than the season he spent as Trout's teammate.

"As a person and a player he's everything you'd want," Ramos said. "He's unbelievable to watch. They don't build them like that. He's a great teammate.

"The coolest thing was to watch him play every day. And every single day it's the same player -- talent, effort, everything is full speed. Groundball to short, it's bang-bang … watching him climb the wall -- incredible."

A simple Internet search reveals highlights of Trout climbing the outfield wall like Spiderman in baseball pants to rob home runs.

There was the one on J.J. Hardy in Baltimore in 2012 when even a disbelieving Trout sneaked a glance at the video board to make sure it was real.

And then there was the one in Anaheim on Seattle's Jesus Montero in 2015. Trout's body rose halfway above the wall to snatch that one.

"That's out Number 1," the gushing broadcaster shouted.

"He should get four or five outs for that play," the color man raved.

Ramos doesn't need to watch the video. He saw the real thing up close.

"Montero hit the ball 15 feet over the wall and Mike climbs the wall and is waiting for it," Ramos said. "We were in the bullpen watching it and no one was surprised."

Trout is signed for four more seasons at more than $120 million. Barring an extension, he will hit the free-agent market after the 2020 season. He will be just 29.

If Trout hits the market, you can be sure the Phillies will be connected to him. They've already been mentioned as a potential landing spot if the Angels ever decided to trade Trout. It would take a mother lode of talent to get him. But he might just be worth it.

"He’s just a freak of nature," Ramos said.

Best of MLB: Aaron Judge breaks Mark McGwire's HR rookie record, Yankees top Royals

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Best of MLB: Aaron Judge breaks Mark McGwire's HR rookie record, Yankees top Royals

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge circled the bases for the 50th time this season, breaking Mark McGwire's major league record for home runs by a rookie, and returned to the Yankees dugout to exchange handshakes, hugs and high-fives with excited teammates.

And then, he walked up the steps and back onto the field.

Embarrassed by the attention, he managed four short waves with his right hand before heading back to the bench just three seconds later.

"They kind of told me: `You got to go out there. You got to go out there,'" he would later recall. "First curtain call. I hope it was a good one."

Judge had his second straight two-homer game in an 11-3 rout of Kansas City on Monday. On an unseasonably warm autumn afternoon, the Yankees won for the 16th time in 22 games during a playoff push that earned no worse than a wild card.

The 6-foot-7, 25-year-old slugger tied McGwire's 1987 mark with a two-run drive to right-center off Jakob Junis (8-3) in the third inning that put New York ahead 3-0, driving a 93 mph high fastball 389 feet about a half-dozen rows into the right field seats (see full recap).

Russell makes food run, Cubs beat Cards to near clinch
ST. LOUIS -- Say cheese!

Addison Russell and the Chicago Cubs were all smiles after moving within a victory of another division title Monday night.

Russell hit a three-run double in the first inning, then made a food run for a fan in enemy territory while the Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 10-2. Chicago can wrap up the division with a win Tuesday against the Cardinals or a loss by Milwaukee against Cincinnati.

Russell helped the Cubs get to starter Luke Weaver (7-2) early, then made some friends out of rival fans. After diving into the stands chasing a foul ball down the third-base line and spilling a man's tray of chips, Russell emerged from the dugout a few innings later with a plate of nachos and delivered it to the fan. Russell stopped to take a selfie before heading back to play shortstop.

"That was pretty entertaining," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said (see full recap).

Donaldson, Blue Jays stop Red Sox winning streak at 6
BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox would like to get the AL East wrapped up quickly so they can start resting some banged-up players.

Josh Donaldson homered and drove in three runs, powering the Toronto Blue Jays past the first-place Red Sox 6-4 on Monday night.

Boston's six-game winning streak was snapped and its magic number to clinch a second straight division title remained at three. The Red Sox lead the second-place New York Yankees, who beat Kansas City earlier in the day, by four games with six remaining.

But the most important thing for the Red Sox was the loss of two key players to injuries. For how long? They don't know yet.

Eduardo Nunez and Mookie Betts both left the game early. Nunez aggravated a right knee injury that sidelined him for 13 games, and Betts came out with pain in his left wrist (see full recap).

Rangers fall to Astros, wild-card hopes fading
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Marwin Gonzalez had four hits and three RBIs as the AL West champion Houston Astros beat Texas 11-2 on Monday night, putting the Rangers on the brink of elimination in the wild-card race.

Houston second baseman Jose Altuve, the American League leader with 199 hits and a .348 batting average, left in the eighth inning after he was hit by a 95 mph fastball. The team said X-rays were negative and Altuve had a bruised forearm.

Gonzalez had two hits and scored twice in an eight-run fourth, including a two-run single that chased starter Andrew Cashner (10-11). Gonzalez later hit his 23rd homer, a solo shot in the sixth.

Collin McHugh (4-2) struck out six while throwing 112 pitches in five innings. The right-hander is 15-0 with a 2.94 ERA in 19 starts in September or October during his four seasons with the Astros (see full recap).

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

BOX SCORE

Before beginning a season-ending six-game homestand Monday night, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin singled out Aaron Nola when asked about the positives of what is mostly a dismal 2017 season. 

“Nola has really established himself,” Mackanin said pregame. “To me, he’s a solid No. 3 starter.”

Nola then looked the part in what was likely his final start of the year, using a sharp curveball to strike out nine over six innings in the Phillies’ 3-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park (see observations)

“I felt like just the command and getting ahead of hitters helped out this year,” Nola said. 

Returning from elbow surgery that ended his 2016 season in July, Nola (12-11) became the best starter on the team thanks to the development of a changeup in spring training to go with his fastball and dominant curveball. 

“I felt a lot stronger,” the soft-spoken Nola said when asked to sum up his season. “I felt like I was using my legs more and that increased my velocity a little bit.” 

Nola allowed two runs or fewer in 18 of his 27 starts. His 184 strikeouts are the most by a Phillies pitcher who made fewer than 30 starts in a season. 

“I wouldn’t call him a power pitcher. He doesn’t appear to be a strikeout pitcher,” Mackanin said. “But when you can locate your fastball and get ahead with your fastball down in the strike zone and have that kind of curveball and then you add that kind of changeup, now the hitter has three pitches to worry about.”

He struck out 36 over his final four starts and 25 1/3 innings, using his sweeping curve as an out pitch. All but one of his strikeouts Monday night came on the curve. 

“It’s been good,” Nola said. “I’ve been able to command it on both sides of the plate and down, which has helped me. I felt like my fastball command was better this year than it was last year.” 

In a rotation in which basically nothing else is settled, Nola gives the Phillies an anchor for next season. The 24-year-old LSU product has a 3.54 ERA and the changeup gives him three quality pitches. 

“It’s been kind of the cherry on top, a little bit, being able to throw that right-on-right,” catcher Andrew Knapp said of the changeup. “It’s a hard pitch to hit when you’re a left-handed hitter. But when you’re right-handed and coming to that back foot, it’s a really good pitch.” 

Nola retired the first four hitters before Jayson Werth singled and Michael A. Taylor followed by crushing a 3-1 fastball into the left-field seats for his 17th homer. 

It was the 18th home run allowed by Nola. But he got into a groove from there. Facing a lineup without Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon, Nola held the NL East champions to two runs and five hits with two walks. 

But it didn’t prevent the Phillies from losing for the fourth time in five games. 

Odubel Herrera’s solo home run on an 0-2 pitch from A.J. Cole (3-5) in the fourth was all the offense the Phillies could muster. They’ve managed seven runs in four games. 

Rhys Hoskins is slumping (0 for 4 and hasn’t homered since Sept. 14) and Nick Williams struck out three times. 

“Our bats have gone silent for a few days now,” Mackanin said. 

They still have to win one more to avoid 100 losses, and many changes are possible in the offseason. Mackanin said before the game that “I still don’t know if I’ll be back here next year," (see story)

It’s a team that still has plenty of holes and lots of questions ahead of 2018. 

Nola, though, appears to be someone they can rely on. 

“The goal is to have five [reliable] guys on every start. But it’s nice,” Mackanin said. “When Nola pitches, we all expect to win. He’s done an outstanding job. He’s had the arm issues, but he came back from that better than he was before.”