Kendrick's arm, Howard's power lead Phillies over Mets

slideshow-042613-phillies-kendrick-howard-uspresswire.jpg

Kendrick's arm, Howard's power lead Phillies over Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- Ryan Howard can see it from his position at first base.

Kyle Kendrick has become a man.

“He’s got so much poise on the mound in executing his game plan and giving us a chance to win,” Howard said late Friday night, after Kendrick shut out the New York Mets, 4-0, at Citi Field (see Instant Replay).

“He’s always had confidence, but now he has maturity to go with it. He’s taking what he’s learned on to the field and executing. You can definitely see the maturity that has taken place.”

At 28, Kendrick is in his seventh big-league season. He’s had ups and downs and grown from them to the point where this season he isn’t just a man. He’s looking like The Man on the Phillies' pitching staff.

At least so far.

Kendrick got his latest opportunity to be part of the Phillies’ starting rotation after Joe Blanton was traded last summer. Kendrick did so well with that opportunity last season -- he went 7-3 with a 2.43 ERA in his final 10 starts -- that he came to spring training in February with a job locked up. He’s continued to have success in five starts this season. His shutout of the Mets on Friday night left him at 2-1 with a 2.41 ERA in five starts. That’s the best mark among Phillies’ starters.

Over his last 15 starts, Kendrick is 9-4 with a 2.42 ERA.

Friday night’s gem was the best of those 15 starts. Relying mostly on sinkers and changeups and an occasional keep-‘em-honest cutter, Kendrick allowed just three singles, walked one and struck out five to improve to 3-1 with a 1.97 ERA lifetime at Citi Field.

“Absolutely outstanding,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “His last three starts have been really good.”

Kendrick beat the Mets four starts ago, but wasn’t pleased with his economy of pitches. He had a 30-pitch first inning and lasted just six innings. So his strategy in this start was to get ahead in counts and try to get quick outs. It worked. He threw just 107 pitches.

“He was great,” Howard said.

Howard was also pretty good. The Phils’ cleanup man entered the game hitting .284 after a .391 (9 for 23) homestand, but had just two homers in 21 games. The power showed up big in the sixth inning as Howard capped a four-run rally with a long three-run homer to center on a 1-1 changeup from right-hander Dillon Gee. Jimmy Rollins started the inning with a single and Chase Utley pushed him to third with a single. It was the fourth straight game in which the Phils had runners on the corners and no outs and they finally scored a run on a single by Michael Young. Young’s hit gave the Phils a 1-0 lead and resulted in some gallows humor from Manuel after the game.

“We were due to get him in,” Manuel said. “We must have thought we hit the jackpot or something. I wanted to stop and get them to play a song for us.”

What song?

“How about ‘Let’s do it again’?” Manuel said, not missing a beat.

Howard followed Young’s hit with his homer to center.

“That shows you he’s still got it,” Manuel said of Howard’s power stroke. “Maybe he needs to hit a few to convince himself. He’s been swinging better. Of course, he hasn’t been hitting the ball out of the yard, but he’s swinging better. He’ll get his stroke back when his power is there.”

The four-run inning was the Phillies’ only offense. They weren’t able to sustain anything, weren’t able to add on, which has been a problem for a year.

Kendrick made the lead stand up.

“Once you get a lead like that in the sixth inning you can smell that W,” he said. “You don’t want to let it slip away. I just wanted to stay aggressive and throw strikes.”

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

usa-aaron-judge.jpg
USA Today Images

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.”