Phillies 8, Blue Jays 8: Another young middle infielder opens eyes

Phillies 8, Blue Jays 8: Another young middle infielder opens eyes


DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Scott Kingery isn't the only young second base prospect to open eyes in the early stage of the Grapefruit League season.

Jesmuel Valentin has put together a couple of pretty good days lately.

He had a two-run double to go along with a walk and a run scored as the Phillies played to an 8-8 tie with the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday.

Valentin also had a double in Wednesday's game.

A former supplemental first-round pick of the Dodgers (51st overall) in 2012, Valentin joined the Phillies in the August 2014 trade that sent pitcher Roberto Hernandez to Los Angeles.

Valentin hit .269 with nine homers and 52 RBIs at Double A and Triple A last season and earned a spot of the 40-man roster in November. He projects to open the season as the starting second baseman at Triple A while Kingery projects to open at Double A.

Kingery has been a standout early in camp. He has won high praise from manager Pete Mackanin (see story) and is widely considered the Phillies' best second-base prospect.

But Valentin has his fans. And he's actually several weeks younger than Kingery. Kingery turns 23 in April, Valentin in May.

Valentin hails from Puerto Rico. He is the son of former big-league infielder Jose Valentin. The younger Valentin was slowed early in camp by a shoulder injury sustained in winter ball, but he's healthy now and it has shown at the plate the last two days.

Valentin has played mostly second base as a pro, but he was drafted as a shortstop. He's gotten time at that position the last two days as Mackanin and the Phillies staff try to determine whether he could hold down a utility infielder's job on the bench. A utility infielder must be able to fill in at shortstop in a pinch.

"I like what I've seen of Valentin," Mackanin said. "He showed really good base running instincts and that's the way he was advertised. I like his energy. We're going to put him at shortstop a little bit to see what he can do over there. He looks OK over there. It looks to me like he's got enough arm, but I'd have to see him longer.

"We have to make sure we're covered if something happened to Freddy (Galvis), or if (J.P.) Crawford isn't ready at a certain time, we have to have coverage. He's on the roster. We want to see if he can play more than second base."

Said Valentin: "I'm ready to go at any position, anywhere the team needs me."

On Nola
Aaron Nola had a solid spring debut. He pitched two scoreless innings and hit 94 mph on the radar gun. Most importantly, he got out of it healthy (see story).

"The best thing about that game was Aaron Nola," Mackanin said. "He looked really good. He had some good velocity, made some good pitches, went unscathed. I liked that."

Nola missed the last two months of 2016 with an elbow injury, so there's going to be some holding of breath for a while.

"I'd feel totally comfortable if we get into June and there aren't any issues," Mackanin said. "To be honest with you, I don't foresee any, but you never know. I don't know if the workload will catch up to him or not, and if it doesn't, then we have a heck of a good pitcher there. But it's always going to be an issue. I'm always going to wonder if he comes in one day and says it's bothering him. But right now, I'm staying positive and hoping he has no issues."

Brock and roll
Brock Stassi, the 27-year-old career minor-leaguer bidding to win a spot as a backup first baseman/outfielder, started in left field and had three hits, raising his spring batting average to .636 (7 for 11). He also drove in a run.

Up next
The Phillies host the Minnesota Twins on Friday afternoon. Jeremy Hellickson will start against Trevor May, the former Phillies prospect who was traded to the Twins for Ben Revere.

Best of MLB: Royals storm back in 9th inning for win over Blue Jays

Best of MLB: Royals storm back in 9th inning for win over Blue Jays

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Whit Merrifield hit a two-run, two-out double that capped a four-run rally in the ninth inning, and the Kansas City Royals beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-4 on Friday night to reach .500 for the first time since April.

With their 10th win in 12 games, the Royals improved to 36-36. They were 6-6 before play on April 20, then went on a nine-game losing streak that night and dropped as low as 10-20, seven games out of first place. They trail AL Central-leading Cleveland by three games.

Toronto took a 2-1 lead into the ninth and extended it when Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak hit RBI singles off Joakim Soria (4-2) (see full recap).

Dodgers cruise past Rockies for 8th straight win
LOS ANGELES -- Yasiel Puig homered and left-hander Alex Wood kept his record perfect as the streaking Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the NL West rival Colorado Rockies 6-1 on Friday night for their eighth consecutive victory.

The Dodgers have won 14 of their last 15 games. They have scored at least six runs in seven consecutive games.

Wood (8-0) allowed one run in six innings. He gave up only three hits and walked two, retiring his last 10 batters.

The Dodgers have homered in 15 consecutive games, tied for fourth-longest streak in club history. The last time they managed it was in 1977. Their record is 24 consecutive games with a home run.

Rookie left-hander Kyle Freeman (8-4) allowed five runs and a career-high 10 hits and three walks in six innings (see full recap).

Torreyes hits walk-off single to lift Yanks over Rangers
NEW YORK -- Ronald Torreyes hit a game-winning single with two outs in the 10th inning after midnight, and the New York Yankees edged the Texas Rangers 2-1 on a rainy Friday night for just their second win in 10 games.

Brett Gardner lined a tying home run with one out in the New York ninth off closer Matt Bush. After Chasen Shreve (2-1) escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the 10th, Torreyes kept the Yankees atop the AL East.

Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka kept it scoreless into the late innings in the first major league meeting between the Japanese stars (see full recap).

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


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.