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: Cardinals erupt for 9 runs during 8th inning of comeback

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Best of MLB: Cardinals erupt for 9 runs during 8th inning of comeback

CHICAGO -- Paul DeJong hit a tiebreaking two-run double in St. Louis' nine-run eighth inning, and the Cardinals cooled off the Chicago Cubs with an 11-4 victory on Friday.

Chicago carried a 3-2 lead into the eighth, looking for its seventh consecutive win. But St. Louis sent 14 batters to the plate in its highest-scoring inning of the season, taking advantage of a combined six walks by three relievers while improving to 4-4 since the All-Star break.

Carl Edwards Jr. (3-2) was pulled after the first three batters reached. Hector Rondon then walked Jedd Gyorko, tying it at 3, and DeJong followed with a drive into the ivy in right-center for a ground-rule double. The Cardinals were off and running from there.

Matt Bowman (2-3) got the final out of the seventh for the win.

The Cubs played without third baseman Kris Bryant, who sprained his left little finger on a headfirst slide on Wednesday. X-rays were negative, but Bryant is experiencing soreness and there is some concern about gripping a bat (see full recap).

Andrus' hustle gives Rangers win in 10th inning
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Elvis Andrus homered early, and then snapped a 10th-inning tie with a two-out infield single that gave the struggling Texas Rangers a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.

Andrus, who homered in the first inning, hit a sharp grounder off Brad Boxberger (2-1) that forced Evan Longoria to make a diving stop. Pinch runner Delino Shields scored when the third baseman to was unable to complete the throw to first base.

Alex Claudio (2-0) pitched two innings in relief of Yu Darvish to get the win. The left-hander gave up a leadoff single to Steven Souza Jr. in the 10th, but avoided further damage by getting Adeiny Hechavarria to bunt into a double play and Mallex Smith to fly out.

Texas ended a five-game losing streak.

Rays starter Alex Cobb took a three-hitter and a 3-1 lead into the ninth, but couldn't finish off the Rangers, who erased their deficit with Joey Gallo's double and Shin-Soo Choo's 14th homer within a three-pitch span (see full recap).

Encarnacion powers Indians past former team
CLEVELAND -- Edwin Encarnacion homered and drove in four runs against his former team, and the Cleveland Indians broke open a close game with an eight-run seventh inning to rout the Toronto Blue Jays 13-3 on Friday night.

Encarnacion, who played the last six seasons with Toronto before signing a three-year, $60 million contract with Cleveland in January, hit a leadoff home run in the second, broke a 3-all tie in the fifth with a two-run double and added an RBI single in the seventh.

Encarnacion was 3 for 4 with a walk and nearly added to his total later in the seventh, but center fielder Kevin Pillar tracked down his fly ball on the warning track with two runners on.

Abraham Almonte hit a three-run homer and rookie Bradley Zimmer added a two-run single in the seventh as the Indians won for just the second time in eight games (see full recap).

With evolving changeup and 4-pitch mix, Aaron Nola raising his own ceiling

With evolving changeup and 4-pitch mix, Aaron Nola raising his own ceiling

BOX SCORE

Once upon a time, Cole Hamels was a two-pitch pitcher: fastball and changeup. The changeup was so good so consistently that it didn't matter that Hamels' curveball command was often shaky. Two very good pitches were enough.

It wasn't until Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay arrived that Hamels began incorporating a fourth pitch, the cutter, and along the way, his curveball command improved substantially. Suddenly, a two-pitch lefty had a legitimate four-pitch mix and it took him to another level.

Watching Aaron Nola dominate the Brewers in Friday night's 6-1 Phillies win (see Instant Replay), Hamels' evolution came to mind. Nola allowed one run and struck out nine over seven innings, at one point whiffing eight of nine Brewers. And he did with a four-pitch mix that included 31 sinkers, 27 fastballs, 20 changeups and 18 curveballs.

It's no longer sinker-curveball only with Nola. He's now giving his opponents more to worry about in the form of additional velocity on the fastball and a changeup that is becoming a money pitch.

"Nola was outstanding. He's been working on that changeup all year and it's really one of his better pitches right now," manager Pete Mackanin said. 

With a four-seam fastball that has been maxing out at 95 mph lately, a curveball that buckles hitters from both sides of the plate, a sinker with wicked two-seam movement and a changeup that he's beginning to feel comfortable throwing to righties and lefties alike, Nola may be making his jump to the next level before our very eyes.

"No question about it," Mackanin said. "That changeup, he threw a ton of them tonight to righties and lefties. I talked to him when we took him out of the game and he was real excited about throwing the changeup not just to lefties but to right-handers as well. If he can do that with the rest of the arsenal that he has, I expect a real good performance from him every time out."

The win made Nola 7-6 with a 3.38 ERA, which essentially means he's given up three runs every eight innings. Any team will take that from a starting pitcher. 

Over his last six starts, Nola has been lights-out — 1.70 ERA, .190 opponents' batting average, 50 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings. Perhaps most impressively, he's held his opponents to a .118 batting average with runners in scoring position, second in the National League over that span to only Clayton Kershaw.

"My changeup ... I'm feeling consistent with it right now," Nola said. "It's evolved. I really didn't have much of a feel for my changeup [when I first came up]. It's a thing I worked on in spring training a lot this year, threw it in counts when I usually wouldn't. That's what spring training is for and I think it helped."

The changeup is a feel pitch and its success is usually dictated by the pitcher's arm angle and speed. If he throws it the same way he throws a fastball, that's where the deception of the slower speed comes into play. Nola has worked hard on those aspects of the pitch and it's clearly paying off.

Nola induced 15 swinging strikes on the night, six of them on changeups and five on curveballs. His strikeout numbers stand out because he was not billed as this kind of pitcher when he was drafted or was coming up through the Phillies' system. In the minor leagues, Nola struck out 7.6 batters per nine innings. In the majors, he's struck out 277 in 275 innings (9.1 per nine).

"I'm real happy about the way he's come along, especially after the elbow issues," Mackanin said. "He has increased velocity. His pitches are crisper. He's better now than before. It's really a nice jump for him to make."

Indeed it is. Perhaps Nola's ceiling is higher than No. 2 starter.