Helton denies tagging Rollins in Phillies' loss

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Helton denies tagging Rollins in Phillies' loss

BOX SCORE

In three of the five games Ryne Sandberg has managed for the Phillies, the offense has produced just three hits.

Obviously, all three of those games ended up being losses.

Tuesday night’s three-hitter resulted in a 5-3 loss to end a modest two-game winning streak for the Phillies (see Instant Replay), but maybe if Jimmy Rollins was able to get one hit the result would have been different.

With two on and two outs in the seventh inning, Rollins ripped a 1-2 pitch from reliever Rex Brothers down the third-base line that seemed to be rolling to the corner for a two-run double. Even when third baseman Nolan Arenado made a sensational diving stab to keep the ball in the infield, it looked like Rollins had a single at the very least.

But along with the great stop, Arenado also made a great throw. With his momentum carrying him into foul ground, Arenado made a strong, one-hop throw that pulled Gold Glove first baseman Todd Helton off the bag. With a quick downward swipe, Helton made what replays seemed to show a whiff on the tag to get Rollins at first. Still, first-base umpire Jim Wolf called Rollins out.

Apparently, Helton sold the tag well enough to fool both Wolf and Rollins. That’s because afterwards, Helton says he never touched Rollins.

“I didn’t tag him,” Helton said of the bang-bang play. “I tried to, but I didn’t tag him.”

That admission differed from Rollins’ reaction and his explanation to Sandberg. After running past first base -- and never touching it -- Rollins did not argue the call. It seemed as if everyone in the ballpark thought he was safe but him. And because Rollins did not react other than to wait for someone to bring him his glove and cap before taking his position in the field, first-base coach Wally Joyner didn’t argue the call.

Neither did Sandberg.

“It looked like a close play at first, but J-Roll felt some contact over there, he felt like a tag was applied,” Sandberg said.

“That was the biggest thing, Jimmy had no argument. He told me later he felt something over there on his back. From my angle, I just saw a throw that was slightly up the line with a swipe tag. I based it on Jimmy’s reaction.”

Had Rollins beat the throw, the bases would have been loaded with two outs and Carlos Ruiz at the plate. Or if Arenado’s glove had been an inch lower or higher, the game could have been tied with Ruiz at the plate.

“That was a game-saving play,” Sandberg said. “Two men on and a possible double, who knows?”

That was the Phillies’ best chance to score, and that even includes the three runs in the third inning when they got two singles, a walk and an error by Helton to rally to within two runs. But Rockies’ lefty Jorge de la Rosa held the Phillies in check on three hits and three walks into the seventh, making the five early runs stand up.

Nevertheless, spot starter Tyler Cloyd gave the Phillies a chance despite allowing three in the first highlighted by a long homer from Troy Tulowitzki and one in each of the second and third innings. After the second inning, Cloyd retired 13 of the final 16 he faced and had just two three-ball counts.

“I was just trying to do too much, trying to be too fine,” Cloyd said. “Mechanics wore down a little bit. Later on, I settled down and started trusting that my stuff was going to go where I wanted it to go.”

Sandberg lauded Cloyd for pitching through six innings after such a shaky start. However, Sandberg explained, starting pitching sets the tone for the game and with five runs before the bottom of the third, the hitters were at a disadvantage.

Then again, starting pitching has put the Phillies at a disadvantage a lot during the second-half swoon. Since the All-Star break, the Phillies’ starters are 6-17 with a major-league worst 5.79 ERA. The next closest team, Toronto, is nearly a full run a game better than the Phils’ starters with a 4.82 ERA since the break.

“Starting pitching really sets the tone for the game and letting the offense do the things,” Sandberg said. “When the pitcher can put up some early zeroes, I think the offense feels better about that. And then the offense can work on getting some runs on the board. But we needed some innings out of Cloyd and he put the three zeros up there at the end, which helped the bullpen and it gave us a chance to come back. We were still in the game for the last three or four innings.”

The series continues on Wednesday night when Cliff Lee (10-6, 3.19) faces right-hander Juan Nicasio (7-6, 4.94). Lee goes into the game searching for his first win since July 5.

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."