Phillies make Ben Lively, Mark Leiter Jr.'s MLB dreams come true

Phillies make Ben Lively, Mark Leiter Jr.'s MLB dreams come true

NEW YORK -- Dreams are coming true all over the place with this Phillies team.

First, it was rookies Andrew Knapp and Brock Stassi making the club in the final days of spring training.

And now, 2½ weeks into the season, Mark Leiter Jr. and Ben Lively have arrived from Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Leiter, a 26-year-old right-hander, was called up on Tuesday afternoon and made it from Allentown to Citi Field in time for that night's game. His dad, Mark Sr., pitched for a decade in the majors and spent the 1997 and 1998 seasons with the Phillies. The Leiters are just the second father-son combo to play in the majors for the Phillies, joining the Amaros, Ruben Sr. and Jr.

"That's incredible," said the younger Leiter, who fondly remembers playing catch with his dad at Veterans Stadium. "I'm proud of that. That's something that I've dreamed about and me and my dad have talked about. That was the goal. I would love to have a career like he had. I would love that. I'm excited to be here and looking forward to everything that's coming."

Leiter and Stassi roomed together in Clearwater this spring. The two were both late-round draft picks -- Stassi a 33rd-rounder out of Nevada-Reno in 2011 and Leiter a 22nd-rounder out of the New Jersey Institute of Technology in 2013.

"Seeing everything Brock went through in spring, it felt like a lot of my story is similar," Leiter said. "I couldn't have been happier for him. I was lucky enough to share some of that with him being his roommate and having that night hanging out with him before the team left. To experience it for myself, it's amazing. It really was."

Leiter was not in big-league camp this spring. He was over on the minor-league side, though he did come over to the big-league side as an extra a few times. Leiter pitched at Double-A Reading last season and went 6-3 with a 3.39 ERA in 103 2/3 innings, some as a starter, some as a reliever. Phillies minor-league instructors have long liked his pitching savvy and toughness on the mound. He was promoted to Triple-A this season and allowed just one run in 5 1/3 innings over two appearances. He walked two and struck out 11.

The Phillies summoned Leiter when they placed outfielder Howie Kendrick on the disabled list Tuesday. Leiter was on the field in Lehigh Valley going through the pregame stretch when manager Dusty Wathan called him into the dugout.

From afar, Lively watched the dugout meeting.

"We were in the outfield stretching and Dusty said, 'Leiter, come here,'" Lively said. "We saw Mark go in the dugout. We were thinking, 'Did he get sent down?' No one knew. Then we saw them hugging and smiling. It was pretty cool."

Leiter phoned his wife back at the apartment in Allentown and she ran an overnight bag over to the ballpark and within 40 minutes of getting the news of his dream-come-true promotion, he was in a car on the way to New York and ultimately was in uniform in the bullpen for the first pitch. The Leiters, of course, are New Jersey baseball legends from Tom's River. Al Leiter, the brother of Mark Sr., had a long and successful career with the Yankees, Blue Jays, Marlins, and Mets. A bunch of Mark Leiter Jr.'s pals from home made it to Tuesday night's game and shouted at him in the bullpen.

While Leiter was a late-round draft pick, Lively, 25, was a fourth-rounder by the Cincinnati Reds in 2013. The Phillies picked him up in a trade for Marlon Byrd on New Year's Eve 2014 and he won 18 games at Double A and Triple A last season and won the Paul Owens Award as the organization's top minor-league pitcher. Lively came up to replace reliever Pat Neshek, who went on paternity leave Wednesday (see story). Neshek is expected back by the weekend, so Lively's stay could be brief. The pitcher knows that.

"I'll get my feet wet," he said with a smile. "My name is right there -- call me whenever.

"Everyone is always saying you're just a phone call away, and the phone call came at midnight."

Lively was home relaxing after Tuesday night's Lehigh Valley game when Wathan called and told him he was joining Leiter in the big leagues.

Lively's dad, Ed, runs charter fishing boats in Pensacola, Florida. He's on the job by 5 a.m. every day so he gets to bed early. But his son did not hesitate to call his folks at midnight with the good news.

"My dad woke up and said, 'Something happen?' And I said, 'No, no. All good,'" Lively said. "I told him and he was pretty pumped. Then he woke up my mom and she started to cry. She lost it. My dad -- he was just fired up."

The Phillies sent a car to Allentown on Wednesday morning to shuttle Lively to Manhattan. He said he's not a big city guy, but there was no place he would rather have been Wednesday night than New York, in the big leagues, even if the assignment figures to be brief.

"Honestly, when it started setting in, I was in the car and I started seeing the city," he said. "I was like, 'All right, this is happening.' It was pretty cool."

Best of MLB: Eric Thames hits league-leading 11th home run in Brewers' win vs. Reds

Best of MLB: Eric Thames hits league-leading 11th home run in Brewers' win vs. Reds

MILWAUKEE -- Eric Thames hit his major league-leading 11th home run -- his sixth against Cincinnati this season -- and the Milwaukee Brewers cruised to a 9-1 victory over the Reds on Tuesday night.

In his first season with the Brewers, Thames capped a five-run sixth with a two-run drive off reliever Robert Stephenson.

Hernan Perez had a pair of RBI triples, then homered off Stephenson leading off the sixth, and Jonathan Villar had a pair of two-run singles.

Zach Davies (2-2) allowed six hits in five scoreless innings, lowering his ERA from 8.24 to 6.57. He stranded a pair of runners in three innings (see full recap).

Keuchel tosses complete game in Astros' win over Indians
CLEVELAND -- Dallas Keuchel pitched a complete game to extend his promising start to the season and the Houston Astros beat the Cleveland Indians 4-2 Tuesday night even though Jose Altuve and Teoscar Hernandez left following a frightening collision in the eighth inning.

Altuve and Hernandez were chasing a popup in right field and stayed down for a while after. Altuve appeared to get hit near his chin by Hernandez's arm, but he walked off the field under his own power. Hernandez, called up from the minors before the game, was carted off the field with an injury to his left leg.

Keuchel (4-0) gave up solo homers to Austin Jackson in the third and Michael Brantley in the ninth. The left-hander, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, held Cleveland to six hits and has a 1.22 ERA.

Josh Tomlin (1-3) allowed three runs -- all in the fifth -- in six innings (see full recap).

Tigers score 9 in 9th to rout Mariners, 19-9
DETROIT -- James McCann, Justin Upton and Alex Avila homered for Detroit -- and that was before the Tigers added nine runs in the fifth inning en route to a 19-9 rout of the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night.

Felix Hernandez (2-2) allowed four runs in two innings in his shortest outing since 2015, and Seattle's next two pitchers fared even worse. Detroit finished with 24 hits, 19 of which came in the first five innings. That was despite injuries that kept Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Jose Iglesias out of the lineup.

Jordan Zimmermann (2-1) allowed five runs in six innings. Jean Segura, Danny Valencia and Nelson Cruz hit solo homers for Seattle, but that wasn't nearly enough to keep up with Detroit's offensive onslaught.

Mikie Mahtook added another home run for the Tigers in the eighth. Ian Kinsler had four hits and four runs before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh (see full recap).

Nick Pivetta excited for big-league debut — even if rainout delays it a few days

Nick Pivetta excited for big-league debut — even if rainout delays it a few days

The Phillies' starting pitching rotation, for the time being, features four arms that were acquired in trades that have coincided with the team's rebuild, which started after the 2014 season.

Nick Pivetta will become the latest to join the group when he is officially activated. He was in the Phillies' clubhouse Tuesday afternoon and was scheduled to pitch on Wednesday, but those plans changed when Tuesday night's game against the Miami Marlins was postponed because of rain.

No makeup date was announced.

The rainout means Pivetta's big-league debut will be pushed back. Vince Velasquez, Tuesday's scheduled starter, will pitch Wednesday night against the Marlins and Jeremy Hellickson will start the series finale Thursday. Jerad Eickhoff and Zach Eflin are likely to stay on turn and pitch Friday and Saturday in Los Angeles. That means Pivetta's debut will likely happen Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. Not a bad venue for an unveiling. He does not have to be activated until that day. In the interim, the Phils are carrying an extra reliever in Mark Leiter Jr.

Even with the weather-related change in plans, Pivetta was thrilled to be in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

"I've achieved my goal of getting here eventually," the 24-year-old right-hander said. "I'm happy to be here. I want to get my feet on solid ground right now and just take it one step at a time."

Pivetta is a Canadian from Victoria, British Columbia, about 100 miles northwest of Seattle. As a kid, he watched Toronto Blue Jays' games on television and idolized Roy Halladay.

Victoria must now be Phillies territory. Michael Saunders, the team's rightfielder, also hails from the town.

"You see it more and more, more Canadians getting into the game of baseball, so it's always nice to see another one in the locker room," said Saunders, 30. "Clearly he's pitched well enough to earn his way up here and I'm looking forward to seeing him play."

Pivetta is 6-5, 225 pounds. He was originally selected by the Washington Nationals in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. The Phillies acquired him for Jonathan Papelbon and cash in July 2015.

Pivetta will take Aaron Nola's spot in the rotation. Nola is on the disabled list with tightness in his lower back. He could be back as soon as early next week.

Nola said he probably could have pushed himself and stayed in the rotation, but the team chose to be cautious.

"I don't think it's any big thing," Nola said.

With Pivetta on board, the Phillies now have four pitchers in their rotation that came over in "rebuild" trades.

Eflin arrived in the December 2014 deal that sent Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers.

Eickhoff came in the July 2015 deal that sent Cole Hamels to the Rangers.

Velasquez came in the December 2015 trade that sent Ken Giles to the Astros.

Pivetta did not immediately pitch well upon joining the Phillies organization. He had a 7.31 ERA in seven starts for Double A Reading in the summer of 2015. In 28 1/3 innings, he struck out 25 and walked 19.

Pivetta was a different pitcher last season. He registered a 3.27 ERA in 148 2/3 innings between Double A and Triple A, struck out 138 and walked 51. That performance earned him a spot on the team's 40-man roster.

"In 2016, he showed us the potential to be a really good major-league pitcher," said Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development. "He was a little excitable after the trade in 2015, but he came back calm and confident last year. His stuff is legit — 93 to 96 (mph) with life on the fastball, good breaking ball and good feel for the changeup."

His control continued to improve this season as he got off to a 3-0 start at Triple A. He pitched 19 innings, gave up just two earned runs, walked just two and struck out 24.

"Just getting ahead with my fastball," said Pivetta, explaining the early-season success that put him in line for the promotion. "First-pitch strikes are big. Even if I get into that 0-1 count or that 1-1 count, getting back to that 1-2 count is big. So being able to even up those counts have been really big for me, as well, and being able to finish off with my off-speed later in the counts, too."

Pivetta pitched for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March. He made one start and took a no-decision in the team's 4-1 loss to Columbia. Pivetta worked four innings and allowed one run.

"That helped me," Pivetta said. "It was awesome. It was like having playoff baseball in March."

It's not clear how long Pivetta will stay in the big-league rotation. But he has more than put himself on the map, and if he continues to pitch well, he'll make more starts with the big club this season.

"I did not expect to be here this early in the season," he said. "I am happy to be here right now. I'll see how long I stay and just have fun while I am here."