Phillies-Nationals: What you need to know

753930.jpg

Phillies-Nationals: What you need to know

Phillies (13-13) at Washington Nationals (16-9)7:05 p.m. on TCN

The Phillies took two of three in Atlanta to move back to .500 and can pick up more ground in the NL East this weekend when they visit the first-place Nationals. The Phils will get their first look at 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper, who is 6 for 16 with four doubles and three RBI since his promotion five games ago.

Starting Pitchers
In what Kyle Kendrick sarcastically billed as a battle of aces, KK takes on Stephen Strasburg in the first of a three-game set.

Kendrick, 0-2 with a 6.59 ERA on the season, is making his third start. His first start in place of Cliff Lee was disastrous, as he allowed seven runs on 11 hits over three innings in Arizona. His last outing was much better. Kendrick held the Cubs to three runs (two earned) in six innings Tuesday, striking out seven in a loss. Hell have to be careful with the lefty Harper.

Its hard to start a season better than Strasburg has. The all-world 23-year-old is 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA in five starts. Hes struck out 34 batters and has walked just six. His WHIP is 0.88. Hes among the top seven in the National League in ERA, WHIP and Ks.

Strasburgs success isnt fluky, its come as a result of possessing perhaps the best pure stuff of any pitcher in either league. His fastball averages, yes averages 96 miles per hour. His 89 mile per hour changeup (the same velocity as Kendricks fastball) dives and disappears, especially to lefties. And his 80 mile per hour slow curve is sharp with knee-buckling break. If he has all three of his pitches working Friday night... look out.

Head-to-head
The Phillies are 79-49 (.617) against the Nationals since they relocated to Washington from Montreal in 2005. The Phils were a remarkable 51-21 against the Nats from 2007-10 before losing the season series 10-8 in 2011.

The Nationals have a five-game winning streak over the Phils and have won two consecutive series at Nationals Park.

In 13 appearances (12 starts) vs. Washington, Kendrick is 2-3 with a 5.46 ERA. Current Nats are batting .318 with a .894 OPS off Kendrick, which is a bit scary given the sample size of about 130 plate appearances.

That said, Kendricks only allowed two homers to current Nats, and the man whos done the most damage, Ryan Zimmerman, is on the shelf with a shoulder injury.

Previous games
The Phillies scored 21 runs in three games against the Braves and took two of three. The standout game was the loss, where the Phillies blew leads of six and four runs and eventually lost, 15-13, in 11 innings.

The Nationals enter the series with a two-game winning streak after losing five straight. Washingtons offense is having a hard time scoring runs and it isnt hard to understand why when you look at the lineup, even with Harper. The Nats have averaged 2.0 runs per game over their last seven.

Whos hot
Laynce Nix has been a revelation. He went 5 for 9 in the Braves series with a solo home run and a three-run double. Hes batting .342 on the season with a 1.076 OPS. The offense was inconsistent for much of April, but Nix and fellow first base fill-in Ty Wigginton havent been the reason.

The leading factor in the Phillies' recent offensive success theyve averaged 5.4 per game over the last 10 has been the top of the order. Jimmy Rollins followed a 3 for 37 stretch by getting on base 10 times in the last six games. Shane Victorino has a homer, four RBI and two runs scored during his four-game hitting streak. Placido Polanco is up to .265 after bottoming out at .196 eight days ago.

And, of course, theres Carlos Ruiz, who set a single-game record for RBI by a Phillies catcher on Wednesday with seven.

Lineup
1) Jimmy Rollins, SS
2) Juan Pierre, LF
3) Placido Polanco, 3B
4) Hunter Pence, RF
5) Shane Victorino, CF
6) Laynce Nix, 1B
7) Carlos Ruiz, C
8) Pete Orr, 2B
9) Kyle Kendrick P

Sound off
What is your predicted final line for Strasburg?

E-mail Corey Seidman at cseidman@comcastsportsnet.com

MLB Notes: Austin Jackson makes Indians' opening day roster

MLB Notes: Austin Jackson makes Indians' opening day roster

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Outfielder Austin Jackson took an opportunity with the Cleveland Indians and ran with it.

Jackson was informed on Sunday that he has made Cleveland's opening-day roster, giving the AL champions some outfield depth in case Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley aren't ready for the start of the season.

The 30-year-old Jackson signed a minor league deal with the Indians in January. He missed the early part of training camp as he recovered from left knee surgery, but Jackson has made up for lost time by batting .375 with one homer and five RBIs in Cactus League games.

Jackson played in only 54 games last year with the Chicago White Sox before undergoing knee surgery to repair torn meniscus. He's played in the postseason with Detroit and the Cubs.

Jackson had an out clause in his contract that had to be exercised by Sunday (see full story).

Rockies: Mark Reynolds' contract selected from Triple A
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Colorado Rockies have selected the contract of first baseman Mark Reynolds from Triple-A Albuquerque.

Reynolds figures to be the starter at first in the absence of Ian Desmond, who is out with a broken left hand.

The 33-year-old Reynolds hit a career-best .282 last season with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs. He was limited to 32 at-bats after Aug. 11. He broke a bone in his left hand while swinging a bat, had surgery on Aug. 15, was activated Aug. 31 and broke his left wrist when he was hit by a pitch on Sept. 18.

He re-signed with Colorado in February on a minor-league deal.

Also Sunday, Colorado placed right-hander Chad Bettis on the 60-day disabled list as he deals with testicular cancer. There is no timetable for Bettis' return.

Tigers: Lowe released; Jimenez to minor-league camp
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Detroit Tigers have released right-handed reliever Mark Lowe, one of several cuts before Sunday's spring training game against Toronto.

Detroit also optioned catcher John Hicks to Triple-A Toledo, and the Tigers reassigned right-handers Joe Jimenez, Ruben Alaniz, Logan Kensing, Arcenio Leon and Edward Mujica, infielder Dominic Ficociello and outfielders Anthony Gose and Juan Perez to minor league camp.

The Tigers signed Lowe to an $11 million, two-year contract before last season, but he was ineffective in 2016, going 1-3 with a 7.11 ERA in 54 appearances. He had a 5.19 ERA in nine appearances this spring.

In 2015, Lowe went 1-3 with a 1.96 ERA in 57 games with Seattle and Toronto.

Phillies 6, Pirates 3: Andrew Knapp's big day comes at the right time

Phillies 6, Pirates 3: Andrew Knapp's big day comes at the right time

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ever since Andrew Knapp earned his way onto the Phillies' 40-man roster back in November, it seemed to be a fait accompli that he would end up as the team's backup catcher on opening day.

But that's not to say he didn't have to shine just a little bit in spring training to validate his standing.

Knapp got off to a slow start in Grapefruit League play -- one hit in his first 22 at-bats -- but he began the final week of camp with his best game on Sunday. He went 2 for 4 with a two-run home run and threw out two runners on the bases.

"It's been nice to get some games back-to-back," Knapp said. "I struggled a little bit early just taking a lot of time off in between at-bats and behind the plate. But this past week, I've been able to get in there a lot and start to get in the flow of the game a little bit. I think I was trying to do too much early on."

The increased playing time is likely a sign that Knapp will end up on the 25-man roster. The Phils have two non-roster veteran catchers -- Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan -- in camp. Both can opt out of their minor-league contracts in the coming days if they aren't going to make the club.

Phillies officials are looking to make as few subtractions from the 40-man roster as they can in constructing their bench and bullpen (see story). That's why things are looking good for Knapp.

But he's taking nothing for granted. Though Phillies officials were scheduled to meet Sunday evening "to try to get as close to the finalization as we can," in manager Pete Mackanin's words, opening day rosters don't have to be officially submitted until next Sunday, a day before the season opener.

"I'm just trying to keep my head down and not think about it that much," Knapp said. "The playing helps a lot. When you're just sitting on the bench, you're thinking about a million things. But when you're in the game, you get away from that a little bit. Just go out there, play, and enjoy the game. It's helped a lot."

The rest of the bench
Andres Blanco and Aaron Altherr are both set on the bench. Knapp looks good. That leaves two open spots, presuming the Phillies go with a five-man bench.

Chris Coghlan and Daniel Nava, both non-roster veterans, have played extensively in recent days. That suggests they could be the lead candidates. If that's the case, Brock Stassi, who has not played the last two days, could be on the outside. Infielder Jesmuel Valentin is also still in camp and he has played well. He's also on the 40-man roster and that would play in his favor. However, at 22, he might be better served to get regular playing time in Triple A.

Neither Coghlan nor Nava is on the 40-man roster so the Phils would have to clear spots to carry them.

Coghlan made an excellent running catch against the wall in left field Sunday.

The game
The Phillies had 15 hits and six of them were for extra bases, including homers by Knapp and Maikel Franco, in their 6-3 win over the Pirates.

Clay Buchholz, who had not pitched in 10 days after traveling home for the birth of his son, was rusty. He gave up five hits and three runs in 3 1/3 innings. He walked four and struck out four.

"Four walks is definitely subpar, but, you know, it's still spring training," Buchholz said.

The right-hander has allowed 11 runs over his last 14 2/3 innings.

"You can't honestly say he's had a good spring, but he was up close to 90 pitches today so pitch-count-wise he's doing fine," Mackanin said. "He hadn't pitched in 10 days so I can understand his lack of command. Once he's into a rhythm I think he'll be fine."

Venditte shines
Ambidextrous reliever Pat Venditte pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings.

"It's fun to watch Venditte pitch," Mackanin said. "If I'm up in the stands and I see him throw four pitches from the right side and I reach over to get my Coke or beer and I look back up and he's throwing from the left side I will start wondering how many beers I had. He's fun to watch."

Up next
The Phillies play the Blue Jays in Dunedin on Monday night. Vince Velasquez will start against Toronto's Aaron Sanchez.

The Phils could have several roster moves during the day as the 25-man roster continues to come into focus.