For Phillies, beating up on Marlins is a must

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For Phillies, beating up on Marlins is a must

The Phillies enter the X Factor portion of their schedule when they travel to Miami for a three-game series against the Marlins on Friday night.

You know the story by now. Marlins ownership had another one of its infamous fire sales in November. Shortstop Jose Reyes, catcher John Buck and pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle were traded away in a purge that reduced the team’s payroll by $60 million. The stripping down of the Marlins came a year after they spent lavishly on talent in preparation of their move into a new ballpark, and it created ill will among the fans/taxpayers who helped pay for that stadium.

“It’s not right, plain and simple,” Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said of the Marlins’ strip down.

In the wake of the controversial dismantling, the Marlins have been left with a JV team that has been forced to use light-hitting Phillies’ castoff Placido Polanco as a cleanup man in four of nine games. The Marlins, who have the worst record in the majors, have won just one of those nine games. They have scored just 16 runs and been shut out four times.

Despite winning two in a row, the Phillies are off to a middling start at 4-5. The Marlins are a team that the Phils could get well against in a hurry. But here’s the hitch: Every team in the NL East could profit against the Marlins this season. They are the division’s X Factor team. Beating up on them won’t guarantee a team’s winning the NL East, but it can certainly help.

“You’ve got to play them and you’ve got to beat them,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “They’re not going to roll over and give you anything. If they beat you, yeah, that could cause you a lot of problems in your division. I think right now, where they set and who they are -- if you think you’re going to win your division or go somewhere, you have to take care of your business against them.”

Washington and Atlanta has already taken care of some business against Miami. Both have posted an early-season three-game sweep of the Marlins. Now it’s the Phillies’ turn to see how much hay they can make in the first three of 19 games against Miami this season.

The Phils will send John Lannan, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay to the mound against Ricky Nolasco, rookie Jose Fernandez and Kevin Slowey in the series.

Plenty of good seats remain available.

The Marlins drew just 14,222 and 13,810 on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the two smallest crowds at their year-old stadium. They could get a bump when Cuban-born pitcher Fernandez starts against Hamels on Saturday night. The 20-year-old right-hander struck out eight Mets in five innings in his big-league debut Sunday. This weekend’s series finale will have a huge Phillies subplot as the struggling Halladay tries for the third time to pitch beyond the fifth inning.

Road-to-nowhere teams like the Marlins have given the Phillies problems in the past. Last year, the Phillies’ late run at an NL wild-card spot suffered a gaping wound when they lost three of four to 107-loss Houston, the worst team in the majors, in mid-September.

The Phillies have to expect to beat the Marlins.

But they can’t assume they will.

“Washington, Miami, New York, Atlanta -- we have to win all these games,” GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “You have to win your division games. On any given day, any team can beat another team. This is different than other sports. You saw what Houston did to us last year.

“We have to play good baseball, and we have to play with energy whether there’s four people in the stands or 40,000.”

The Marlins drew 34,439 on opening day, but not all of those fans had their happy, new-season faces on. There are hard feelings toward owner Jeffrey Loria, who has stripped down his club twice in a decade. One fan wore a shirt that said, Marlins baseball: Helping other teams get better since 1998. A couple of protesting fans were asked to leave.

Giancarlo Stanton hasn’t been so lucky. The Marlins’ mega-talent, who expressed his displeasure with the Marlins’ purge this winter, remains part of the team largely because he’s inexpensive at $537,000 this season. Stanton, 23, has averaged 37 homers and 86 RBIs the last two seasons. As his salary climbs, he could be the next big name out the door. And, yes, sources say the Phillies have let it be known that they’d like to talk to the Marlins once they put a For Sale sign on Stanton.

Rollins said the Marlins’ way of operating was a topic of conversation among Team USA players at the World Baseball Classic last month. Stanton was on that club and Rollins was able to take the young slugger’s temperature on the topic.

“He’s going to be OK,” Rollins said. “For his sake, I wish he was somewhere where he could shine and be a star. In a situation like that, the season can get long on you. But he’s going to be OK.”

Stanton hits third in the Marlins’ lineup, a challenging task without a formidable cleanup bat behind him (see story). He is off to a slow start, hitting just .167 (5 for 30) with two doubles, no homers and no RBIs.

The Phillies hope Stanton stays cold this weekend as they look to beat up on a team that they should beat up on.

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH --- Vince Velasquez wasn’t able to stand the heat Sunday afternoon.

The game-time temperature was 89 degrees with humidity to match at PNC Park. The Phillies' right-hander admitted he didn’t handle the weather well.

"You're going to go through various conditions, and it's something that you've got to really take into consideration -- to really lock in, stay hydrated because it can mentally drain you,” Velasquez said. “It kind of took a toll on me but I have to make the best of what I've got.”

Velasquez wound up pitching six innings in the blistering heat but did not factor in the decision as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Phillies 5-4 on pinch-hitter Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run in the seventh inning, his first in the major leagues, off fellow rookie Edubray Ramos (see Instant Replay).

Velasquez had his worst of his five starts since coming off the disabled list June 26, allowing four runs and seven hits while walking four and striking out five. He threw 107 pitches, 64 for strikes.

In his first four outings after begin activated, he was 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA to raise his record to 8-2.

“Just looking at his body language, he showed that he was struggling to find the strike zone,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He didn't have his best location. He did a good job; he just made a couple bad pitches when they scored the two runs. Obviously, he wasn't at his best, but he kept us in the game.”

While that kind of outing can breed confidence in a 24-year-old pitcher, Velasquez took no consolation in it. He was bothered about not being able to hold a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, giving up a tying two-run home run to Matt Joyce.

“I knew it was my last inning when I went out there and I have to be able to close it out there,” Velasquez said. “I’m disappointed in that. I need to be better in that situation.”

Joyce’s blast came on pitch after Starling Marte doubled on an 0-2 pitch. That, too, annoyed Velasquez.

“That's just a matter of finishing at-bats,” Velasquez said. “You've got to lock in on 0-2 counts when you're ahead. You've got to finish the at-bat. Knowing that that was my last inning, that's where you have to bear down and give it all you've got.”

Ramos then gave up the game-winning homer to Frazier an inning later, the first long ball given up by the 23-year-old right-hander in 14 career outings. The Phillies wound up losing two of three games in the series and are 3-7 since the All-Star break to drop to 10 games under .500 at 45-55 through 100 games.

“It’s a game we should have won but I put us in position to lose it,” Velasquez said.

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Jeremy Hellickson may be staying in the NL East past the trade deadline. 

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Phillies are scouting the Marlins' minor league teams in advance of a possible Hellickson deal. 

This comes on the heels of a report from a radio host in Miami that Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen may need Tommy John surgery. Chen left with an elbow sprain during Wednesday's loss to the Phillies and was placed on the disabled list. Ironically, Chen was starting against Hellickson, who will face Jarred Cosart in place of Chen on Monday.

Hellickson's value rebounded significantly this season after struggling in Arizona and Tampa Bay the last few seasons. After dealing with a shoulder injury, Hellickson pitched to ERAs above 4.50 in each season from 2013-15, leading to the Diamondbacks trading him to the Phillies for limited value. 

However, in 20 starts, Hellickson, who will be a free agent after the year, has anchored the Phillies' rotation, bringing a 3.84 ERA over 119 ⅔ innings into Monday's scheduled start. He also has a nearly career-best strikeout rate and has regained his signature command that made him a strong performer with the Rays.

The Phillies are aided this trade deadline by a lack of starting pitching options available on the market. With many teams in contention looking for an additional starter, Hellickson is an attractive piece who could help a team in a pennant race.

Best of MLB: Padres score 4 off Papelbon in 9th, take series from Nationals

Best of MLB: Padres score 4 off Papelbon in 9th, take series from Nationals

WASHINGTON -- The San Diego Padres' three-city road trip didn't begin well. Earning their first series victory against the Washington Nationals since 2011 is helping to turn it around.

Alex Dickerson and Ryan Schimpf hit back-to-back homers off Shawn Kelley in the eighth inning and the Padres added four runs off Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth to beat the Nationals 10-6 on Sunday.

"We've been on the road for a little bit, and it's definitely good to come here against a team like this and get two wins out of it," said Schimpf, whose team suffered a four-game sweep in St. Louis before winning two of three in Washington.

Ryan Buchter (2-0) pitched a scoreless eighth to earn the victory.

With the game tied at 6, Wil Myers drew a one-out walk off Papelbon and moved to second on a wild pitch before Yangervis Solarte's RBI single. The Padres added two more singles to load the bases, setting up Alexei Ramirez's three-run double (see full recap).

Matz earns 1st win since May as Mets beat Marlins
MIAMI -- Helped by a couple of small victories against Giancarlo Stanton, Steven Matz earned a big win for the New York Mets.

Matz pitched six innings Sunday for his first win since May, twice escaping trouble by getting Stanton to ground out with a runner in scoring position, and the Mets took the rubber game of their series against Miami, 3-0.

"It was good to go out there and put up zeroes and get a win," Matz said.

The Mets won two of three games in the series and returned home trailing second-place Miami by half a game in the NL East.

"This was crunch time for us," manager Terry Collins said. "We couldn't lose any more ground. This was a good series for us to win."

Matz (8-6) allowed four hits, walked two and struck out six. Pitching despite a bone spur in his elbow, he had been 0-5 in his past nine starts with an ERA of 4.73 (see full recap).

Reimold's HR helps Orioles beat Indians 5-3 for 3-game sweep
BALTIMORE -- This is how good things are going for the Orioles at home this season: After blowing a late-inning lead, Baltimore launched the game-winning uprising with a third strike.

Pinch-hitter Nolan Reimold hit a decisive two-out homer in the ninth inning after Pedro Alvarez reached on a strikeout, and the Orioles beat the Cleveland Indians 5-3 Sunday for a three-game sweep.

Cody Allen (2-4) began the ninth by striking out Alvarez, but the ball eluded catcher Roberto Perez. After fielding the bouncing ball off the backstop, Perez hit Alvarez in the helmet with the throw for an error.

"As long as I have been playing baseball the rule is you run down the baseline," Alvarez said. "I saw the ball get away from him and I just ran down to first base."

A sacrifice bunt and a strikeout followed before Reimold lined a 2-0 pitch into the left-field seats (see full recap).

DeShields homers as Rangers top Royals
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Delino DeShields is known for his speed, stealing 101 bases in 2012 in the minors, not for his power.

DeShields homered in the seventh inning to break a tie and the Texas Rangers defeated the Kansas City Royals 2-1 on Sunday.

DeShields, who was recalled Thursday from Triple-A Round Rock, walked and doubled before leading off the seventh with his third home run. DeShields hit a 2-1 pitch from Luke Hochevar out to left.

"It so happened that today I was the guy that got us the go-ahead run," DeShields said. "I was just trying to hit the ball hard. I wasn't looking for anything specific. I wanted to get on base. Before I had gotten on base in every at-bat.

"With the game tied and if I get myself in scoring position, there's a good chance for me to touch home plate. I got into it pretty good and got it over the fence, but the main focus was just putting the barrel on the ball and try to get on base."

The loss dropped the Royals to 48-49, the first time the World Series champions have been below .500 since May 15 when they were 18-19. The Royals have lost 13 of 19 games in July (see full recap).