Lee dazzles, Ruiz rewards Sandberg in Phils' win

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Lee dazzles, Ruiz rewards Sandberg in Phils' win

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LOS ANGELES -- Ryne Sandberg has displayed a little managerial wizardry, a little Ryno Magic, the last couple of days.

On Sunday, he used John Mayberry Jr. as a late-game defensive replacement for hard-handed first baseman Ryan Howard. The move proved auspicious when Mayberry dug a ball out of the dirt to preserve a one-run victory in Denver.

Monday night, Sandberg mixed up a lineup potion that had Carlos Ruiz in the cleanup hole even though the Phillies' catcher did not have a home run or an RBI in 49 at-bats this season.

Presto!

Ruiz drove in four runs, two on a first-inning double and two more on a ninth-inning home run, to help propel the Phillies to a 7-0 win over the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium (see Instant Replay).

Of course, Ruiz was only part of an ensemble effort in the Phillies' winning cause.

Howard homered for the second straight game, giving him five in 19 games. His long, two-run shot to right-center against lefty Paul Maholm gave the Phils a 4-0 lead in fifth. Howard added an opposite-field single in the seventh as the Phils finished with 11 hits. They had 15 on Sunday.

The star of the game had just one single and struck out twice.

We’re talking, of course, about Cliff Lee. As good as Ruiz and Howard were -- and as good as Chase Utley’s defensive gem in the first inning was -- Lee was the star. He allowed just four hits over eight shutout innings, did not walk a batter and struck out 10.

Since being roughed up for eight runs in five innings on opening day in Texas, Lee has made four starts and allowed just four runs over 30 innings. His strikeouts-to-walks ratio in those four starts is an eye-popping 37-to-1.

Lee was coming off a start in which he struck out 13 Atlanta Braves but took a 1-0 loss because the Phillies, as they are wont to do, didn’t hit.

This time, they hit.

Lee was so good that Ruiz's two-run double in the first was enough for him.

“That was huge,” Lee said of Ruiz's opposite-field double. “An early lead is definitely good for the pitchers. We did that and we extended the lead; Howard hit that two-run homer to give us a four-run lead. That definitely makes it easier on the pitchers to go out there, be aggressive, and throw strikes.”

And Lee did plenty of that.

“Cliff was outstanding,” Sandberg said. “He’s pitched well all year.

“He just dominated the strike zone. He pitched well inside and out, and as he went along mixed in breaking pitches. But he was in total control out there.

“He’s just a quality pitcher. He gets after it. He’s a gamer. He’s a battler. His command was pinpoint. He worked well with Chooch all night.”

Lee is 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA in five starts at Dodger Stadium.

Sandberg gave Marlon Byrd his first night off of the season and batted Howard fifth, as he will do against left-handed pitchers. In need of a cleanup man, Sandberg went to Ruiz, who has hit second, third, sixth and seventh this season.

Now he can add cleanup to the list.

“He’s a versatile hitter,” Sandberg said of Ruiz. “Facing a lefty -- sometimes that will give a guy like him a boost. Obviously he came through in a big way. He swung the bat well in the four spot.”

Ruiz was aware that he did not have a home run or an RBI.

“It can happen,” he said. “When you don’t swing the bat real good, it’s hard to get some RBIs. For me, I've been working the count and going from there. If I was thinking about not having an RBI, I'd be putting pressure on myself. So I had to stay strong and continue to work hard.”

Ruiz's two-run double in the first was important because it gave the Phillies an early lead. The Dodgers had been 11-2 when they scored first. Lee registered a shutdown inning in the bottom of the first thanks to Utley’s defensive gem. He halted Adrian Gonzalez's base hit in shallow center field, wheeled and threw home to prevent hard-rushing Yasiel Puig from scoring from second.

Lee was appreciative.

“It was definitely advanced,” Lee said of Utley's play, which resembled the famous one he made in the 2008 World Series. “That just shows he's one step ahead of the game. Maybe he could get the guy at first, but he had a pretty good idea of how Puig would be running the bases and he was dead on. He was aggressively rounding third and going home. Chase anticipated that and got him out. That's advanced. That just shows how he's one step ahead and is a prime example of the kind of player he is.”

Best of MLB: Dodgers lose injured Clayton Kershaw, beat Braves in 10 innings

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Best of MLB: Dodgers lose injured Clayton Kershaw, beat Braves in 10 innings

LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw left after two innings with a back injury, but the Los Angeles Dodgers overcame a blown save by Kenley Jansen to beat the Atlanta Braves 5-4 on Sunday on Logan Forsythe's bases-loaded single in the 10th.

Kershaw, unbeaten in 15 consecutive starts, left after 21 pitches because of right low back tightness.

Jansen entered with a 3-1 lead and got the final out of the eighth, but gave up a three-run homer to Matt Adams in the ninth, tying the game at 4-all.

Forsythe singled up the middle after Cody Bellinger was intentionally walked by Jim Johnson (6-2) to load the bases.

Brandon Morrow (3-0) got the win after retiring the side in the top of the 10th.

Austin Barnes hit a three-run homer in the fourth for the Dodgers (see full recap).

Britton gets AL consecutive saves record as Orioles beat Astros
BALTIMORE -- Zach Britton set an American League record by converting his 55th consecutive save opportunity, blanking the Houston Astros in the ninth inning the seal the Baltimore Orioles' 9-7 victory on Sunday.

Britton struck out the first two batters and issued a walk before pinch-hitter George Springer bounced into a force play to end it.

Britton broke the AL mark held by Tom Gordon, who notched 54 straight saves with Boston from 1998-99. Britton started his run on Oct. 1, 2015, added 47 in a row last season and is 6 for 6 this year.

The major league record of 84 is held by Eric Gagne of the Dodgers from 2002-04. Saves became an official statistic in 1969.

Britton earned his fifth save on April 14 and endured two months on the disabled list with a strained left forearm before returning on July 5 (see full recap).

Nationals beat D-backs but lose Strasburg to injury
PHOENIX -- Stephen Strasburg left after struggling with his control in the second inning, and the Washington Nationals wrapped up a successful nine-game trip with a 6-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.

There was no word from the Nationals during the game explaining the standout right-hander's departure.

Strasburg, 10-3 with a 3.31 ERA entering the game, uncharacteristically walked the No. 8 and No. 9 batters in the second inning before departing with a 5-0 lead. He threw 51 pitches, 29 strikes.

Brian Goodwin's leadoff homer ignited a four-run first inning off Robbie Ray (9-5), who lasted five innings, allowing five runs.

Wilmer Difo hit his second home run of the season off reliever T.J. McFarland in the seventh.

Joe Blanton (1-2) got two outs and earned the win.

The NL East-leading Nationals took two of three in Arizona to go 7-2 on the trip (see full recap).

Yankees win 1st series in 6 weeks, beat Mariners
SEATTLE -- The New York Yankees won a series for the first time in six weeks when Aroldis Chapman struck out Ben Gamel with a runner on to preserve a 6-4 victory over Seattle on Sunday, their third win in four games against the Mariners this weekend.

The Yankees had been 0-8-2 in series since sweeping Baltimore on June 9-11. New York had lost 13 straight games with a chance to win a series.

After Seattle overcame a 3-0 deficit with a four-run fourth inning against Caleb Smith, Brett Gardner hit a tying, bases-loaded single in the sixth and Clint Frazier followed with a two-run double off former Yankee James Pazos (2-3).

Didi Gregorius had his first career multihomer game with solo shots in the second and fourth innings for New York, both on 0-1 pitches from Yovani Gallardo. Gregorius has 14 home runs.

Gardner opened the game with his 17th home run.

A converted starter pitching on consecutive days for the first time in big league career, Chad Green (1-0) struck out three in 2 1/3 perfect innings. Dellin Betances and David Robertson each threw a hitless inning, and Chapman had another shaky finish for his 11th save (see full recap).

Nationals' GCL affiliate pitch no-hitter in both games of doubleheader
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Washington Nationals' rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate pitched seven-inning no-hitters in both ends of a doubleheader Sunday.

Facing the GCL Marlins at the teams' shared spring training home, right-handed prospect Joan Baez opened the first game with six innings, allowing a walk and striking out seven. Jose Jimenez walked one in the seventh to close a 4-0 victory.

Baez is among the organization's top pitching prospects. He improved to 2-0 with a 1.47 ERA in four appearances (three starts) with the GCL Nationals.

In the second game, Jared Johnson walked one in four innings, and Gilberto Chu closed with three perfect innings in a 1-0 win. It was only the second pro start for Johnson, a 17th-round draft pick last month from Palm Beach State Junior College.

They were the first no-hitters in the GCL this season.

Close to full health, Phillies no longer look like the worst team in baseball

Close to full health, Phillies no longer look like the worst team in baseball

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Though they still have the worst record in the majors by 3½ games, the 34-62 Phillies aren't playing like the worst team in baseball right now.

Not from an offensive standpoint, not from a starting pitching standpoint, not from a bullpen standpoint.

The Phils' offense stayed hot Sunday afternoon in a 6-3 win over the Brewers, their fourth win in five games and sixth in the last 10 (see Instant Replay).

Nick Williams homered again, Howie Kendrick had a very Howie Kendrick-like at-bat with the bases loaded, Jerad Eickhoff spun a quality start and the trio of Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit and Luis Garcia sealed the win.

The Phillies have scored at least five runs in seven straight games, which is something none of their recent division-winning teams did in a single season. It's their longest such streak since May 31-June 7, 2005.

Their starting pitchers have allowed three runs or less in six of the last eight games.

And the Phils' bullpen has the lowest ERA in the majors since June 26 at 2.19.

A lot of things are clicking right now for a team that probably can't play worse than it did in the first half. The Phils' record remains hideous, but there are actually four teams with worse run differentials: the Reds, Blue Jays, Giants and Padres.

"My first year here as a coach was '09, and in no way am I comparing ourselves to that team, but it was reminiscent the way we've been swinging the bats of us coming back and coming from behind and catching up and beating other teams," Pete Mackanin said. "It reminds me to a certain degree."

For much of the season, Mackanin has walked into the Phillies' media room after a loss and said that his hitters aren't living up to their standard. For much of the season, the Phillies have made quick outs and life easy for the opposing pitcher. 

But with Kendrick and Cesar Hernandez back from the DL, with Odubel Herrera hitting .331 since June 1, with Maikel Franco walking as much as he's struck out the last 35 games, and with Williams' power and energy rubbing off on the rest of the team, many different Phillies are playing like they have something to prove.

"Everybody is playing for a job next year," Mackanin said. "Everybody is playing to be part of our future and I think the guys are competing among themselves. It's good to see. Everybody's more aggressive. They're into the games."

The energy added by Williams' arrival on June 30 has been impossible to ignore, though it's kind of a chicken-or-egg thing. Is there added energy because he and so many other guys started hitting, or are they hitting because there's a more positive vibe in the clubhouse and dugout?

"I like to do whatever I can to start the momentum or get guys going," Williams said. "If I do something exciting, they're like, 'Oh, he's playing hard.' But everyone's been hitting and everyone's been just playing the game right and just doing all the little things and that's how we've been able to come out with some victories.

"In close spots with the hitting, we've been able to knock a lot of guys in. It's just that hitting's contagious. I always say when one guy does it, why can't the next? That's how I think of it."

The biggest spot in Sunday's game came with the bases loaded and no outs in the fifth inning. With the game tied, the Brewers switched pitchers and Kendrick quickly found himself down 0-2 before singling up the middle to score two runs.

Kendrick has missed 60 games this season and it's been frustrating for him because he's been so locked-in when he's played. After picking up two more hits Sunday, he's up to .353 with an .873 OPS. His numbers are rarely sexy because he averages about 10 home runs per season, but a versatile, perennial .290 hitter has value. It's why the Phillies' offseason acquisition of Kendrick made sense and it's why he figures to have some trade value even though Sunday was just his 36th game of the year.

"Not only is he a good hitter but he plays solid defense out there," Mackanin said. "He doesn't have the greatest range but it's not bad. He's average to maybe a tick above average. 

"I'm sure there's a lot of interest in a lot of our guys, (Pat) Neshek, [Kendrick], even (Joaquin) Benoit, (Daniel) Nava. We'll wait and see."

The non-waiver trade deadline is just eight days away and general manager Matt Klentak expects there to be some movement. The Phils' two best trade chips are Kendrick and Neshek and both had productive weekends. Neshek pitched a scoreless seventh inning to lower his ERA to 1.12. He's allowed runs in just two of 43 appearances.

And Kendrick has picked up right where he left off, going 4 for 10 since returning Friday from a hamstring strain.

"If I were scouting for another organization I'd recommend him," Mackanin said of Kendrick. "I'd put an acquire (label) on him."

We'll soon see what that acquire label nets the Phillies. The return won't be huge, but trading Kendrick will allow the Phils to add another young player with upside and open a spot back up for Aaron Altherr, who could return from the DL as early as Wednesday.