Phillies-Reds 5 things: More rain as Phils go for series win

Phillies-Reds 5 things: More rain as Phils go for series win

Phillies at Reds
12:35 p.m. on CSN and streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app

Some game notes ahead of the Phillies' series finale with the Reds Thursday afternoon at Great American Ball Park:

1. Buchholz's debut
Longtime Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz makes his Phillies debut and first-ever start in the National League after a rough spring.

Buchholz, 32, had a 6.65 ERA in six spring starts, allowing five home runs in 21 2/3 innings.

Buchholz is a reclamation project for GM Matt Klentak and the Phillies. They acquired him in December for minor-league second baseman Josh Tobias, who was expendable with the organization deep in second basemen (Cesar Hernandez, Scott Kingery, Jesmuel Valentin, perhaps Freddy Galvis once J.P. Crawford is called up).

It was a move similar to the Phillies' acquisition last offseason of Jeremy Hellickson from the Diamondbacks. That moved worked out as Hellickson has been the most solid and consistent he's been since his first two years in Tampa. 

But there's more reason for skepticism with Buchholz, who has alternated good and bad seasons in each of the last six. He also had seven trips to the DL from 2008-15.

Buchholz's last successful season was 2015, when he went 7-7 with a 3.26 ERA, 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings and 1.8 walks in 18 starts with Boston. 

The Phillies are hoping he pitches well enough in the season's first two months to become an enticing trade candidate. If that doesn't work out, well, it's not like they're committed to him. Buchholz is due $13.5 million this season before reaching free agency. If he stumbles over the first two months and Jake Thompson pitches well at Triple A, you could see Thompson up to take his place.

Buchholz has a pretty diverse repertoire. He has a four-seam fastball (about 93 mph), cutter, curveball, changeup and sinker, and last season he threw each of those pitches between 16 and 25 percent of the time.

2. Searching for offense
The Phillies made left-hander Brandon Finnegan look like an All-Star Wednesday night. He allowed just one hit (in the first inning) over seven shutout innings and struck out nine. 

It's the second straight year Finnegan shut the Phillies down in Game No. 2 of the season. Last April 6, he also struck out nine while allowing two runs over six innings in a Reds win.

Three of the Phillies' four hits last night were infield hits, so there was next to no offense to speak of. With a much different looking lineup on getaway day -- Brock Stassi, Daniel Nava and Andrew Knapp are starting -- they're hoping to do enough at the plate to leave Cincinnati with a series win over the lowly Reds.

Will they respond?

The Phillies had six games like this last season with no runs and four or fewer hits. On four of the six occasions, they lost the next day, three of them by one run.

3. Fitting name
The Phillies face Reds rookie Rookie Davis. Yes, a rookie named Rookie. His real name is William Davis, but he's had the nickname from his father since birth.

Davis, 23, was one of four prospects the Reds acquired from the Yankees in December 2015 for Aroldis Chapman. 

The 6-foot-5 right-hander spent most of last season at Double A before making a handful of starts at Triple A. All told, he went 10-5 with a 3.82 ERA, 77 strikeouts and 37 walks in 125 innings.

Davis is a strike-thrower with a 93-to-95 mph fastball, a mid-70s curveball and low-80s changeup. He doesn't project to miss a ton of bats at the major-league level.

4. First start for Stassi and Knapp
Pete Mackanin had already planned to play Brock Stassi and Andrew Knapp Thursday before Wednesday's 2-0 loss, and the Phils are hoping the infusion of two rookies breathes some life into the lineup. Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp were a combined 1 for 15 with seven strikeouts in the first two games.

For Stassi, it's the culmination of a long journey to the majors that was well-documented locally and nationally over the last week. Some nerves will be there for the 27-year-old, but at least he shook some of that off in the season opener with a pinch-hit walk.

With the left-handed hitting Stassi and switch-hitting Knapp in the lineup, Maikel Franco is the only true right-handed hitter in the Phillies' lineup Thursday.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B (S)
2. Daniel Nava, LF (S)
3. Odubel Herrera, CF (L)
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF (L)
6. Andrew Knapp, C (S)
7. Brock Stassi, 1B (L)
8. Freddy Galvis, SS (S)
9. Clay Buchholz, P 

5. This and that
• After sitting through a rain delay last night, some more precipitation is in store for the Phillies and Reds Thursday. There is a 50 percent or better chance of rain through 5 p.m.

• Tommy Joseph sits after going 0 for 8 with five strikeouts in the first two games. Pitchers are usually ahead of hitters this early in the season, but Joseph also had difficulty catching up to fastballs at times last season. Mackanin isn't going to switch things up because of two games, but the situations bears watching. 

• How good has John Kruk been so far?

Best of MLB: Cardinals erupt for 9 runs during 8th inning of comeback

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Best of MLB: Cardinals erupt for 9 runs during 8th inning of comeback

CHICAGO -- Paul DeJong hit a tiebreaking two-run double in St. Louis' nine-run eighth inning, and the Cardinals cooled off the Chicago Cubs with an 11-4 victory on Friday.

Chicago carried a 3-2 lead into the eighth, looking for its seventh consecutive win. But St. Louis sent 14 batters to the plate in its highest-scoring inning of the season, taking advantage of a combined six walks by three relievers while improving to 4-4 since the All-Star break.

Carl Edwards Jr. (3-2) was pulled after the first three batters reached. Hector Rondon then walked Jedd Gyorko, tying it at 3, and DeJong followed with a drive into the ivy in right-center for a ground-rule double. The Cardinals were off and running from there.

Matt Bowman (2-3) got the final out of the seventh for the win.

The Cubs played without third baseman Kris Bryant, who sprained his left little finger on a headfirst slide on Wednesday. X-rays were negative, but Bryant is experiencing soreness and there is some concern about gripping a bat (see full recap).

Andrus' hustle gives Rangers win in 10th inning
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Elvis Andrus homered early, and then snapped a 10th-inning tie with a two-out infield single that gave the struggling Texas Rangers a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.

Andrus, who homered in the first inning, hit a sharp grounder off Brad Boxberger (2-1) that forced Evan Longoria to make a diving stop. Pinch runner Delino Shields scored when the third baseman to was unable to complete the throw to first base.

Alex Claudio (2-0) pitched two innings in relief of Yu Darvish to get the win. The left-hander gave up a leadoff single to Steven Souza Jr. in the 10th, but avoided further damage by getting Adeiny Hechavarria to bunt into a double play and Mallex Smith to fly out.

Texas ended a five-game losing streak.

Rays starter Alex Cobb took a three-hitter and a 3-1 lead into the ninth, but couldn't finish off the Rangers, who erased their deficit with Joey Gallo's double and Shin-Soo Choo's 14th homer within a three-pitch span (see full recap).

Encarnacion powers Indians past former team
CLEVELAND -- Edwin Encarnacion homered and drove in four runs against his former team, and the Cleveland Indians broke open a close game with an eight-run seventh inning to rout the Toronto Blue Jays 13-3 on Friday night.

Encarnacion, who played the last six seasons with Toronto before signing a three-year, $60 million contract with Cleveland in January, hit a leadoff home run in the second, broke a 3-all tie in the fifth with a two-run double and added an RBI single in the seventh.

Encarnacion was 3 for 4 with a walk and nearly added to his total later in the seventh, but center fielder Kevin Pillar tracked down his fly ball on the warning track with two runners on.

Abraham Almonte hit a three-run homer and rookie Bradley Zimmer added a two-run single in the seventh as the Indians won for just the second time in eight games (see full recap).

With evolving changeup and 4-pitch mix, Aaron Nola raising his own ceiling

With evolving changeup and 4-pitch mix, Aaron Nola raising his own ceiling

BOX SCORE

Once upon a time, Cole Hamels was a two-pitch pitcher: fastball and changeup. The changeup was so good so consistently that it didn't matter that Hamels' curveball command was often shaky. Two very good pitches were enough.

It wasn't until Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay arrived that Hamels began incorporating a fourth pitch, the cutter, and along the way, his curveball command improved substantially. Suddenly, a two-pitch lefty had a legitimate four-pitch mix and it took him to another level.

Watching Aaron Nola dominate the Brewers in Friday night's 6-1 Phillies win (see Instant Replay), Hamels' evolution came to mind. Nola allowed one run and struck out nine over seven innings, at one point whiffing eight of nine Brewers. And he did with a four-pitch mix that included 31 sinkers, 27 fastballs, 20 changeups and 18 curveballs.

It's no longer sinker-curveball only with Nola. He's now giving his opponents more to worry about in the form of additional velocity on the fastball and a changeup that is becoming a money pitch.

"Nola was outstanding. He's been working on that changeup all year and it's really one of his better pitches right now," manager Pete Mackanin said. 

With a four-seam fastball that has been maxing out at 95 mph lately, a curveball that buckles hitters from both sides of the plate, a sinker with wicked two-seam movement and a changeup that he's beginning to feel comfortable throwing to righties and lefties alike, Nola may be making his jump to the next level before our very eyes.

"No question about it," Mackanin said. "That changeup, he threw a ton of them tonight to righties and lefties. I talked to him when we took him out of the game and he was real excited about throwing the changeup not just to lefties but to right-handers as well. If he can do that with the rest of the arsenal that he has, I expect a real good performance from him every time out."

The win made Nola 7-6 with a 3.38 ERA, which essentially means he's given up three runs every eight innings. Any team will take that from a starting pitcher. 

Over his last six starts, Nola has been lights-out — 1.70 ERA, .190 opponents' batting average, 50 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings. Perhaps most impressively, he's held his opponents to a .118 batting average with runners in scoring position, second in the National League over that span to only Clayton Kershaw.

"My changeup ... I'm feeling consistent with it right now," Nola said. "It's evolved. I really didn't have much of a feel for my changeup [when I first came up]. It's a thing I worked on in spring training a lot this year, threw it in counts when I usually wouldn't. That's what spring training is for and I think it helped."

The changeup is a feel pitch and its success is usually dictated by the pitcher's arm angle and speed. If he throws it the same way he throws a fastball, that's where the deception of the slower speed comes into play. Nola has worked hard on those aspects of the pitch and it's clearly paying off.

Nola induced 15 swinging strikes on the night, six of them on changeups and five on curveballs. His strikeout numbers stand out because he was not billed as this kind of pitcher when he was drafted or was coming up through the Phillies' system. In the minor leagues, Nola struck out 7.6 batters per nine innings. In the majors, he's struck out 277 in 275 innings (9.1 per nine).

"I'm real happy about the way he's come along, especially after the elbow issues," Mackanin said. "He has increased velocity. His pitches are crisper. He's better now than before. It's really a nice jump for him to make."

Indeed it is. Perhaps Nola's ceiling is higher than No. 2 starter.