MLB Notes: Rivera pitches first simulated game

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MLB Notes: Rivera pitches first simulated game

TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees closer Mariano Rivera was all smiles after throwing 18 pitches Thursday in his first simulated game since knee surgery last spring.

"I feel good," Rivera said. "I feel real good. Getting stronger and stronger."

The 43-year old pitched one inning against Yankees' minor leaguers. He also fielded and covered first base.

"That's what I wanted to do, field some bunts, go after some balls in between first and the mound," Rivera said.

Rivera pitched in nine games last year, his season ending when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while tracking down a fly ball during batting practice in Kansas City on May 3. He had surgery on June 12 (see full story).

Not much hope for Astros, Marlins
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Spring training is supposed to be a time of hope.

Unless you're the Houston Astros. Or the Miami Marlins.

With no-name rosters and in the midst of massive rebuilding jobs, Houston and Miami are more likely to be remembered as among the worst teams in recent history than make an improbable run at the playoffs.

The Astros lost 107 games last year, after 106 defeats in 2011. Houston's main goal will be trying to avoid becoming the first team since the expansion New York Mets in the 1960s to lose at least 106 games in three straight seasons.

"No one expects us to do well," Lucas Harrell said Thursday, after pitching in a spring training game against the New York Yankees. "So, when we do well, it's going to be kind of like, `Oh, wow.' I definitely think we have a chance to shock a lot of people this year."

Brave words, especially when the Astros face the additional burden of moving from the NL into what looks like the toughest division in baseball, the AL West. They'll be matched regularly against two 2012 playoff teams -- Oakland and Texas -- plus the high-priced Los Angeles Angels, who have three of the game's most dynamic players: Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Mike Trout (see full story).

Beltran, Westbrook hurt in Cards' win
JUPITER, Fla. -- Carlos Beltran and Jake Westbrook limped to the St. Louis Cardinals' clubhouse moments apart Thursday, which made manager Mike Matheny glad it was still only February.

Beltran bruised the little toe on his right foot when he was hit by a pitch in the first inning of the Cardinals' 8-2 victory over the Miami Marlins. Westbrook bruised his left leg below the knee on a grounder hit by Casey Kotchman in the second inning.

Beltran's X-rays were negative, but he said the injury was painful, and he was unsure whether it would affect his plans to play for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. Westbrook didn't undergo X-rays.

Beltran scored after being hit then left the game (see full story).

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Pete Mackanin: 'I still don't know if I'll be here next year'

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USA Today Images

Pete Mackanin: 'I still don't know if I'll be here next year'

Pete Mackanin may have received a contract extension in May, but the Phillies' manager has yet to receive assurances from general manager Matt Klentak that he’ll return in 2018. 

“I still don’t know if I’ll be here next year,” Mackanin said before Monday’s game against the Washington Nationals.

Mackanin took over midway through the 2015 season and has presided over the Phillies’ rebuilding project. He went 37-51 to finish 2015, 71-91 last year and was 62-94 heading into the final week of the season. 

Does Mackanin hope Klentak tells him his fate soon? 

“Of course,” Mackanin said. “I’m signed through next year and I assume I’ll be here. But you never know what they’re going to do.”

Mackanin said he’s set to meet with Klentak on Saturday to evaluate players. The season ends the next day, with the Phillies needing one victory over their final six games to avoid their first 100-loss season since 1961. 

“Do you need better coaches? Do you need a better manager? The answer to all these questions is you need better players,” Mackanin said as he quizzed about his future. 

Despite the dismal record, the Phillies have made progress in many areas. They may have found their future star power hitter in Rhys Hoskins. Fellow rookie Nick Williams has shown flashes. Cesar Hernandez is hitting .296. Freddy Galvis is a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop. Adam Morgan has pitched like a permanent setup man (see story). Mackanin believes Aaron Nola has established himself as a “solid No. 3 starter.” 

But the rest of the rotation is uncertain. They still need more offense. And while the Phillies have played well down the stretch, it’s come with no pressure in a sea of meaningless games.

Mackanin was asked if the team made a step forward this season. 

“I think individual players have made a step forward. As a team, of course not. We’re down at the bottom,” Mackanin said. “On the other hand, there are teams with similar records with much higher payrolls that were expected to do much better and haven’t. And when you look at the makeup of the team with all the pitchers that we’ve used and injuries, we’ve had a lot of unproven players.”

Mackanin revealed the angriest he’s been was back in May, when the Phillies went 6-22. He said while he's trying to keep an “even keel,” he gave his team a tongue-lashing after a home loss during that stretch. 

“I just went down the list of players,” Mackanin said. “Every one of them, I pointed out all the good things they’ve done to get here. And I asked after I got done naming every player how good they’ve been and what they’ve accomplished to get here, I asked, ‘How come we’re so bad?’”

Despite injuries and having to rush players to the majors, the Phillies were 33-36 since the All-Star break before Monday’s game. 

Mackanin acknowledged 2018 will be different, when the record will matter much more. He believes it’s time for the franchise to start winning in order to lure the potential free agents needed to become a contender again. 

“We’ve got a ways to go,” Mackanin said. “We’ve got players who have to prove they’re for real. Next year will tell us an awful lot.”

The 66-year-old Mackanin hopes he’s around to see what happens. 

“Blame the managers and coaches. How about if the players perform better?” Mackanin said. “Now, could we get the players to perform better? Everybody tries hard to do that.” 

Tonight's Lineup: Tommy Joseph out, Rhys Hoskins back to 1B in opener vs. Nationals

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CSN

Tonight's Lineup: Tommy Joseph out, Rhys Hoskins back to 1B in opener vs. Nationals

The Phillies need just one more win to avoid losing 100 games this season. They'll hope to get it Monday night when they open their series against the Nationals.

Pete Mackanin has made several adjustments to the lineup that beat Atlanta on Sunday, 2-0, behind a strong start from Nick Pivetta (see observations).

Tommy Joseph is out, which means that Rhys Hoskins returns to first base. Hoskins is going through a rough stretch over the last few days, as he has only two hits in his last 17 at-bats.

Despite going 2 for 3 Sunday, Jorge Alfaro is replaced by Andrew Knapp, who plays for the first time since last Wednesday. Mackanin seems to be trying to give all three of his catchers chances to play over the final weeks of the season.

Aaron Altherr shifts down from second to fifth in the lineup. Altherr is hitting .289 vs. righties this season, compared to .236 against lefties. The Phillies face a righty tonight in Washington's A.J. Cole. In two appearances against the Phillies this year, Cole has allowed only one run in eight innings.

Aaron Nola kicks off the Phillies' final homestand on the mound. He has been stellar this year at Citizens Bank Park, where he is 9-4 with a 2.98 ERA. Nola has started against the Nationals three times in 2017, sporting a 1-0 record and 3.31 ERA in those outings. 

The Phillies' lineup can be found below: 

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, RF
4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, LF
6. Odubel Herrera, CF
7. Maikel Franco, 3B
8. Andrew Knapp, C
9. Aaron Nola, SP

And the Nationals' lineup:

Nationals
1. Trea Turner, SS
2. Wilmer Difo, 3B
3. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
4. Adam Lind, LF
5. Jayson Werth, RF
6. Michael Taylor, CF
7. Matt Wieters, C
8. Adrian Sanchez, 2B
9. A.J. Cole, P