MLB Wrap: Nats' Gio Gonzalez tosses one-hitter

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MLB Wrap: Nats' Gio Gonzalez tosses one-hitter

NEW YORK -- Gio Gonzalez was inches from a no-hitter and the Washington Nationals hit five home runs Monday night, including long balls by their first two batters, in a 9-0 rout of the New York Mets.

Gonzalez held the overmatched Mets hitless into the seventh before pinch-hitter Zach Lutz broke up the bid with a soft single for New York's only hit. Lutz swung at the first pitch of the inning and hit a looper that landed on the first base line, taking out a chunk of chalk well behind the bag.

First baseman Adam LaRoche made a diving attempt as the ball hit the dirt, but it squirted by and into foul territory along the right field line. First base umpire John Hirschbeck correctly called it fair, and Gonzalez (10-6) paused behind the mound to stare in his direction (see full recap).

Braves top Marlins to snap skid
MIAMI -- Evan Gattis drove in two runs to highlight Atlanta's highest-scoring inning in more than a month, and the Braves snapped a four-game slide by beating the Miami Marlins 5-2 on Monday night.

Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman and Gattis all doubled to lead off what became a five-run fourth, Atlanta's biggest inning since a five-run fifth against Philadelphia on Aug. 2. Kris Medlen (13-12) was the beneficiary that night against the Phillies and again on Monday, getting the win after allowing six hits and two runs in 6 1-3 innings.

Atlanta (86-57) passed idle Boston (87-58) for baseball's best record.

Chris Coghlan tied a career high with four hits for Miami, which lost for the 24th time in its last 34 games. Ed Lucas added a two-run double in the seventh for the Marlins (see full recap).

Tillman leads Orioles past Braves
BALTIMORE -- Chris Tillman took a three-hitter into the eighth inning and the Baltimore Orioles beat the New York Yankees 4-2 on Monday night in a game that featured an on-field confrontation between the teams' managers.

With the victory, the Orioles moved within 1 1-2 games of idle Tampa Bay for the second AL wild card. The Yankees fell three games behind Tampa Bay.

Tillman (16-5) allowed two runs and four hits in seven-plus innings. He walked none and struck out nine, matching his career high.

Both dugouts emptied briefly after the first inning, when Orioles manager Buck Showalter angrily exchanged words with Joe Girardi after the Yankees manager apparently said something to Baltimore third base coach Bobby Dickerson. Showalter had to be restrained by home plate umpire Ed Hickox (see full recap).

Pirates blank Rangers
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Clinching their first winning season since 1992, rookie right-hander Gerrit Cole had a career-high nine strikeouts over seven innings to outpitch Yu Darvish and lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 1-0 victory over the Texas Rangers on Monday night.

The Pirates (82-61) didn't get a runner to second base against Darvish (12-8) until Marlon Byrd's two-out double in the seventh. He came home when Pedro Alvarez followed with a double.

Pittsburgh had lost a season-high four games in a row since getting their 81st victory last Tuesday at Milwaukee to guarantee their first non-losing season in more than two decades.

They finally have their winning season after taking the opener of a three-game interleague series between wild-card leaders (see full recap).

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."