Phillies 11, Tigers 6: Sizzling Brock Stassi belts grand slam; Aaron Nola rusty but healthy

Phillies 11, Tigers 6: Sizzling Brock Stassi belts grand slam; Aaron Nola rusty but healthy

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LAKELAND, Fla. -- Brock Stassi's candidacy to win a spot on the Phillies' opening day roster seems to get stronger by the day.

The 27-year-old career minor-leaguer (see story) hit his third homer of the spring -- a grand slam -- to lead the Phillies' 11-6 win over the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday.

Stassi went 2 for 4 on the day and also walked and scored three runs. He is hitting .563 (9 for 16) with 11 RBIs and has played sound defense at first base and in left field. He is attempting to make the club as a backup at both positions.

"He's having a great spring," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's making a bid for making this team. He's really looked good and is making a real good impression. He's doing everything right."

Stassi, a lefty hitter, drew a walk against Tigers ace Justin Verlander in the second inning and scored on a base hit by Pedro Florimon.

The grand slam came in the sixth inning against lefty Blaine Hardy. Stassi turned on a 2-1 fastball and lined it over the right-field wall with a short, quick stroke.

"I knew he had to come in with something," Stassi said. "He threw me a couple of off-speed pitches early and I knew he didn't want to go 3-1 with the bases loaded. I was sitting fastball and got it."

Some folks don't put much stock in spring training stats. These are, after all, exhibition games.

But for Stassi, they count. Big time.

"Guys always talk about saving it for the season, but for me there are no guarantees," Stassi said. "It's life or death out there for me right now and I'm just trying to stay positive and have quality at-bats and keep things rolling.

"Today is over. Come back tomorrow and get back to work."

Stassi is scheduled to start in left field against the Braves on Wednesday as Mackanin and the coaching staff evaluate him at the position.

Nola rusty
Aaron Nola wasn't particularly sharp in his second spring outing, but the right-hander is not necessarily being graded on results.

What matters most is his health and after four spring innings, well …

"I really feel good," he said.

Nola missed the final two months of 2016 with an elbow strain, but he has no health-related limits this spring. He was scheduled to bump up to three innings on Tuesday, but a high pitch count in the first inning scuttled that. He ended up going two innings and giving up five hits, a walk and two runs. He struck out two. He threw 40 pitches.

"The plan was to go three, but I was spotty today and the pitch count got up pretty fast," Nola said.

"My command was off. I was missing over the plate on some pitches, but other than that I felt good. My arm felt good. My body felt good."

Mackanin was not alarmed by Nola's outing. He, too, is looking for good health.

"He looked a little rusty," Mackanin said. "He wasn't as bad as you think he was. He was just missing. (Catcher Ryan) Hanigan told me a lot of those pitches were pretty good pitches, so I was happy with that."

Nola pitched two scoreless innings against Toronto in his spring debut last week (see story).

The game
The Phillies' bats exploded for 13 hits. Bryan Holaday also homered for the Phils.

Colton Murray, Jeanmar Gomez, Ben Lively and Cesar Ramos all pitched scoreless ball. Michael Mariot had to close it out after the Tigers rallied for four runs against Pedro Beato in the ninth.

Eflin, Thompson ramp up
Pitchers Zach Eflin and Jake Thompson both threw to hitters for the first time this spring on Tuesday and they could be ready for some game action next week.

The team has taken things slowly with both pitchers. Eflin had double knee surgery in the fall and Thompson reported to camp with a sore right wrist. Both are healthy now.

"I'm head over heels better than I've ever felt in my life," said Eflin, who had battled knee tendinitis for years. "I can't remember the last time that I felt like this. It's just a blessing. There's no pain at all."

Both pitchers project to be in the Triple A rotation, though it's unclear whether they will be ready to open the season in a month. It's quite possible that the Phillies will give Eflin a little extra time as he continues to build strength in his legs.

Up next
The Phillies play the Braves at Disney on Thursday afternoon. Jeremy Hellickson will start for the Phils. Here is the Phillies' posted lineup for the game:

Cesar Hernandez, 2B
Freddy Galvis, SS
Daniel Nava, DH
Maikel Franco, 3B
Tommy Joseph, 1B
Cameron Rupp, C
Brock Stassi, LF
Dylan Cozens, RF
Roman Quinn, CF

Mark Leiter Jr. picks up 1st big-league win as Phillies cool off Diamondbacks

Mark Leiter Jr. picks up 1st big-league win as Phillies cool off Diamondbacks

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PHOENIX -- The clubhouse was beginning to clear and still the star of the game had not yet emerged from the shower.

"He's in there cleaning the guacamole and mayo out of his hair," Cameron Rupp said with a laugh.

Eventually Mark Leiter Jr. made it out of the shower and over to his locker where equipment man Phil Sheridan presented him with three game balls, souvenirs from not only his first big-league start but his first big-league win, as well.

"It's something I'll never forget," the 26-year-old right-hander from Toms River, N.J., said pitching six shutout innings to backbone the Phillies' 6-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Friday night (see Instant Replay).

"I’ll be honest, I was probably more excited for this than I was for my major-league debut. To go out there and contribute to a win is what I was hoping to do."

Leiter, a 22nd-round draft pick by the Phillies in 2013, had never made it onto the 40-man roster until the Phils needed a reliever in mid-April and gave him a shot after he'd gotten off to a good start at Triple A. He spent six weeks in the majors and made 12 relief appearances before being sent back to Triple A the first weekend of June.

Leiter worked as a starter during his time back at Triple A. He pitched six shutout innings against Syracuse in his last start and got the call to come back up when Jerad Eickhoff went on the disabled list with a back strain earlier this week.

Leiter's return assignment was not easy: The Diamondbacks are one of the best hitting clubs in the majors and the best on their home turf. They entered the game scoring 6.48 runs per game at home and with an .886 OPS, both major-league bests.

None of that fazed Leiter.

"In my opinion, this is the big leagues and it doesn’t matter who the lineup is," he said. "They all have the ability to hit and hit well. They’re all big-leaguers and they've earned their right to be big-leaguers. I was just trying to pitch to the team you're facing that day."

Leiter trusted his low-90s fastball and commanded it well. He mixed in his secondary stuff and kept the D-backs off-balance with his splitter. He scattered three hits, walked one and struck out five. He showed no fear.

"Great performance," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He made it look easy. He made a lot of good hitters look bad with his split. For him to come up and do that to a real good hitting team was outstanding."

Leiter's dad, Mark Sr., pitched for the Phillies in 1997 and 1998. He made the trip in from New Jersey to watch his son's first big-league start.

"I guess they found him on TV," Leiter said. "That's what they were telling me. I'm sure he wasn't too pleased they found him because he was probably stressed out. But I think it was probably worth him coming out here. He's probably happy."

How could he not be?

Leiter's teammates were definitely happy.

They treated Leiter to a raucous postgame dousing that included as many different condiments as could be found in the clubhouse dining room. One laughing player had a bottle of ketchup in his hands. Another had a squeeze bottle of honey.

And then there was the guacamole and mayo that Rupp mentioned.

"In his first major-league start, to come up here and do that in what is known as a good hitters’ park - that proves Mark is pretty strong between the ears," Tommy Joseph said. "He's been one of those under-the-radar guys that people have doubted, but his mentality and ability to prepare are second to none."

Joseph played a big role in the win, smacking a two-run homer in the ninth inning to give the Phillies some breathing room. Maikel Franco also had a big home run and Freddy Galvis contributed an important triple that led to a Phillies' run in the first inning.

The Phils still have the worst record in the majors at 24-48, but they've won two in a row, both on the back of good starting pitching performances. Aaron Nola pitched 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball on Thursday.

And Leiter delivered on Friday.

"It's good to see those back-to-back," Mackanin said.

Instant Replay: Phillies 6, Diamondbacks 1

Instant Replay: Phillies 6, Diamondbacks 1

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PHOENIX — Mark Leiter Jr.'s first big-league start was a memorable one. The 26-year-old right-hander from Toms River, New Jersey, pitched six shutout innings to lead the Phillies to a 6-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Friday night.

The win was the Phillies' second in a row and just their third in the last 16 games. It came against an Arizona club that entered the day in second place in the NL West. The D-backs are 46-28 and have the best home offense in the majors, averaging 6.48 runs per game in their ballpark.

But Leiter, called up to replace injured Jerad Eickhoff, held off that lineup for his first big-league win. He also had his first big-league hit.

The Phillies are 24-48, worst in the majors.

Starting pitching report
Leiter held one of baseball's best offenses scoreless for six innings. He gave up three hits, walked just one and struck out five. The right-hander had one trouble spot. It came in the fourth when he allowed a one-out double to David Peralta then walked Paul Goldschmidt to put runners on first and second. Leiter then retired Jake Lamb and Chris Owings to get out of the inning. He punched his glove with excitement as he left the field. Leiter retired the final six batters he faced and left with a 1-0 lead.

Arizona's Patrick Corbin pitched one-run ball over 6 2/3 innings.

Bullpen report
Pat Neshek pitched a scoreless seventh inning to protect a one-run lead. Neshek, the subject of some controversy in recent days (see story), has allowed just two runs in 29 2/3 innings this season.

Joaquin Benoit allowed a run in the eighth, but got the final two outs with the tying run at third.

Hector Neris pitched a scoreless ninth inning.

Arizona's bullpen gave up five runs in the final two innings.

At the plate
Freddy Galvis tripled with one out in the first inning and scored on a groundout.

Maikel Franco put the Phils up, 2-0, on a solo homer in the top of the eighth. He got the green light on 3-0 and hammered a liner over the right-field wall.

The Phillies were clinging to a 2-1 lead when they erupted for four runs in the top of the ninth, highlighted by Tommy Joseph's two-run homer. Cameron Rupp and Howie Kendrick (pinch-hitter) also had important hits in the ninth.

The D-backs got on the board on an infield single by Rey Fuentes and a triple by Daniel Descalso in the eighth.

In the field
Odubel Herrera had an adventurous night in center field. He misplayed a ball into a double in the third inning then promptly gunned down the runner at third as he tried to advance on a fly ball.

Galvis made a tremendous snag on a hard liner by Peralta for the second out of the eighth inning. Galvis made the play up on the grass with the potential tying run on third.

Health check
Kendrick was scratched from the starting lineup with left hamstring tightness. Andres Blanco started at second base. Kendrick had a pinch-hit double in the ninth.

Up next
The series continues Saturday night with Ben Lively (1-1, 3.33) pitching against Arizona lefty Robbie Ray (7-3, 2.87).