On the Pharm: Gillies looking to regroup after demotion

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On the Pharm: Gillies looking to regroup after demotion

READING, Pa. -- Sometimes a guy needs to take a step back in order to move forward. Other times, a man needs to have something taken away from him in order to have his eyes opened.

By now one would assume that Phillies outfield prospect Tyson Gillies would have figured all of that out. After a brush with the law, a spate of injuries and a suspension, it would seem that Gillies would understand not to take anything for granted.

But sometimes a guy gets into a slump.

At least that’s what happened to Gillies during the first month of the 2013 season. Following a well-publicized stint with Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, in which Gillies started alongside major league All-Stars Joey Votto of Cincinnati and Justin Morneau of Minnesota, the 24-year-old opened the season with his first stop at Triple A.

It didn’t last long.

“It hit me and it surprised me to be back here so soon,” Gillies said. “But I’m going to make the best of it. It’s not like there’s easy pitching down here, either. I’ve seen a lot of great arms down here and I can still get better as a baseball player.”

Gillies batted just .148 with 13 strikeouts in 18 games for Triple-A Lehigh Valley. This came after he went 0 for 14 for Team Canada in the WBC and played a prominent role in a brawl with Mexico. Or, as Gillies called it, “some Canadian bonding experience.”

Still, the brawl didn’t project a great image for Gillies, who has been arrested for cocaine possession -- the charges were dropped for lack of evidence -- and was suspended after an altercation with the team bus driver. Gillies also is legally deaf, though his handicap is unnoticeable to those not in the know.

However, in the sixth inning of Wednesday night’s game against Altoona at FirstEnergy Stadium, Gillies was doubled off first base on an infield pop up. Running on the pitch to Edgar Duran, Gillies never heard the crack of the bat. By the time he realized that the ball was in play, Gillies was sliding into second with what he thought was a stolen base.

But it’s hitting and not base running that Gillies has focused on this season. A strong finish to the 2012 season following a promotion to Reading paved the course to Triple A.

Now he’s back at Reading looking to find his stroke.

“I’m trying some things hitting-wise,” Gillies said. “I'm trying to generate more power and hit to the left side of the field. But this has been the slowest start of my career.”

His manager at Reading, Dusty Wathan, says Gillies has to focus on his hitting mechanics.

“He’s done a pretty good job. The one thing he has to stay away from is getting that front side open,” Wathan said. “That’s when he has a tendency to roll over balls to the first-base side.  When he keeps that front shoulder in he can drive the ball.”

Though he says he is notorious for his slow starts, Gillies was demoted to Double A Reading. At first he was upset about not being able to stick with Lehigh Valley, but quickly saw the demotion as an opportunity.

“I’m really slow, but not this slow,” Gillies explained. “I usually take a while to adjust to pitching and getting my eye and seeing the ball well.”

Gillies went 1 for 4, reaching on an error and a single Wednesday night to lift his average to .246 since joining Reading. In the last 11 games, Gillies is 10 for 33 (.313), hitting mostly from the leadoff spot. Hitting at the top of the order may have re-energized Gillies a bit, but there are still many parts of his game that need work.

Though he has lots of speed, Gillies is 5 for 8 on steal attempts and just 1 for 3 at Reading. He also misplayed a fly ball at the warning track into a two-out RBI triple. For Gillies, acquired in the deal that sent Cliff Lee to Seattle, there is plenty of raw talent.

The trick is going to be for the 24-year-old to hone it before he’s no longer considered a prospect.

“He has all the tools and it’s all there,” Wathan said. “He just has to trust himself.”

Best of MLB: Indians pick up 27th win in last 28 games

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Best of MLB: Indians pick up 27th win in last 28 games

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It's time for the 2017 Cleveland Indians to be introduced to the one and only 1884 Providence Grays.

They share some unlikely history, the two teams, which played a mere 141 years apart, are the only two clubs to have ever won 27 out of 28 games.

The Indians joined the Grays on Thursday when Francisco Lindor's three-run homer led Cleveland to a 4-1 victory and three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels.

The Grays ended up winning 28 of 29, leaving the Indians one game shy of matching the record (see full recap).

Cubs rally in 9th, beat Brewers to open big series
MILWAUKEE -- Javier Baez grounded a tying single with two outs in the ninth inning, Kris Bryant hit a two-run homer in the 10th and the Chicago Cubs widened their NL Central lead over Milwaukee, beating the Brewers 5-3 Thursday night.

The Cubs now are 4 1/2 games ahead of the Brewers after winning the opener of a four-game series.

Milwaukee was in position to win it in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases with one out. But Wade Davis (4-1) struck out Domingo Santana and then, after falling behind 3-1 in the count to Orlando Arcia, came back to retire him on an easy comebacker on a full-count pitch.

The Cubs trailed 3-2 when Ian Happ led off the ninth by hitting a grounder that first baseman Neil Walker fielded wide of the bag. Reliever Jeremy Jeffress covered first and Happ was called safe in a close play, a ruling upheld on replay (see full recap).

Twins rout Tigers, lead AL wild card by 2½ games
DETROIT -- With a postseason berth tantalizingly close, the Minnesota Twins snapped out of their mini-slump in emphatic fashion.

Joe Mauer and Jorge Polanco had three hits each, and the Twins extended their lead for the American League's second wild card by beating the Detroit Tigers 12-1 on Thursday night. Minnesota is 2 games ahead of the Angels in the race for the AL's final postseason spot. Los Angeles lost earlier in the day to Cleveland .

The Twins had lost five of six coming into the night, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees, but they routed a depleted Detroit team that is 4-17 in September after trading Justin Verlander and Justin Upton.

"As a whole in this season, it's been pretty impressive," Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. "Staying away from the long losing streaks, coming back from some tough losses and some tough stretches and getting back to playing winning baseball, for the most part,” (see full recap).

Fowler delivers again as Cardinals beat Reds
CINCINNATI -- The St. Louis Cardinals rinsed the bad taste of being swept by the Chicago Cubs the best way they could -- sweeping the Cincinnati Reds.

Dexter Fowler delivered again, hitting two doubles and a single as St. Louis overcame Scott Schebler's two home runs to beat the Reds 8-5 Thursday night.

The Cardinals began the day 2 games behind Colorado for the second NL wild-card spot and five games behind the Central-leading Cubs.

Fowler drove in two runs. He went 7 for 13 with two home runs and six RBIs in the three-game series (see full recap).

Despite series finale loss to Dodgers, Phillies show they can 'compete with the best teams in the league'

Despite series finale loss to Dodgers, Phillies show they can 'compete with the best teams in the league'

BOX SCORE

In the end, things reverted to form: The Dodgers won and the Phillies lost.

The Dodgers are headed to the playoffs, the Phillies to who-knows-where.

Los Angeles scored twice in the seventh inning Thursday afternoon to beat the Phils, 5-4, and salvage the finale of a four-game series (see observations).

The Dodgers, the majors’ best team at 97-56, lowered their magic number to one for clinching a fifth straight NL West championship. The Phils, baseball’s second-worst team at 61-92, were left with a lovely parting gift: hope.

“I think it’s a good lesson,” J.P. Crawford, the rookie shortstop-turned-third baseman, said of the series as a whole. “It showed us, or showed me, we can compete with the best teams in the league. Just can’t wait to see what next year has in store for us.”

Crawford, the 16th overall pick in 2013, drew three walks in four plate appearances and fielded eight chances flawlessly, at least four of which could be described as moderately difficult.

In addition, Mark Leiter Jr. pitched six strong innings, Rhys Hoskins did another Rhys Hoskins thing — i.e., hit a two-run double in the fifth — and Nick Williams launched a two-run homer.

So it was that the Phillies finished the homestand with a 7-3 record. They have won eight of their last 12, and are 32-34 since the All-Star break, after going 29-58 beforehand.

There are those who question how much it means for an also-ran to excel in September, when the pressure is off. It would appear that Phillies manager Pete Mackanin is not among those people. He mentioned in particular how valuable it is for his young relievers to face teams in the thick of the race.

“To get this kind of experience is worth a lot,” he said. “It’s a big part of this year.”

One of those relievers, Ricardo Pinto, faltered Thursday, allowing those two seventh-inning runs to take the loss. But Leiter, who had pitched to a 9.39 ERA in three previous September starts, allowed just one earned run on five hits over his six innings of work. He struck out three and walked one.

So it’s one for his résumé going forward. And he said a strong finish to the season — the Phils have nine games left — is “important for everybody.”

“I don't know if it's more important for us than other teams,” he said, “but you want to finish strong and start strong. Those are the goals. That's baseball. You're going to have some ups and downs, and to take a series is a good thing.”

Crawford, called up from Triple A Lehigh Valley on Sept. 5, hit .200 without a walk in his first six major-league games. In his last nine, he is slashing .296/.474/.481, with 10 walks and seven strikeouts in 38 plate appearances.

“Just a matter of getting my feet settled down,” he said, “and just being comfortable in the box.”

“It’s good to see,” Mackanin said. “He was advertised as someone who controls the strike zone and he’s proven that he can do that. Walk’s as good as a hit — the old saying. He keeps innings alive and he doesn’t expand the strike zone, he makes the pitcher get him out and he’ll take a walk, which is important.”

Speaking generally about such an approach (and not about Crawford in particular), Mackanin had only one small reservation.

“One of the problems with a guy who walks too often is you’d like him to be a little more aggressive at times,” he said, “but in general it’s good to see.”

Crawford made his eighth start at third base, and while he doesn’t possess the power bat normally required of someone who plays the position, he certainly looks like he can hold his own with the glove.

“There’s not really much transition,” he said. “I’m just going over there, reacting, catching the ball, throwing the ball.”

If nothing else, he gives the Phillies a possible alternative to Maikel Franco, who has struggled all year.

And if nothing else, the team as a whole has shown there is some reason for hope.