Phillies sweep Astros behind Ryan Howard slam

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Phillies sweep Astros behind Ryan Howard slam

BOX SCORE

The last two weeks have been filled with highs and lows for Ryan Howard.

This was most definitely a high.

Howard capped a terrific at-bat -- “A battling at-bat,” manager Ryne Sandberg said -- with a grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning to lift the Phillies to a 6-5 win over the Houston Astros at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday night (see Instant Replay).

Howard’s 18th homer of the season and team-record 13th grand slam came with two outs in the inning against lefty Tony Sipp. It capped a five-run rally, got emergency starter Sean O’Sullivan off the hook as he was staring at a loss, and gave the Phillies a three-game sweep of the Astros.

“Howie comes through huge like that and it’s a happy clubhouse at the end of the night,” said O’Sullivan, who earlier in the day was summoned from Toledo, Ohio, where he was with the Triple A Lehigh Valley club, to make the start after Roberto Hernandez was traded to the Dodgers (see story). “At the end of the day, all that matters is that we got the W.”

The clubhouse wasn’t the only happy place.

In the seats, 26,609 fans were also pretty happy when Howard connected off Sipp. They pushed Howard around the bases with a standing ovation then lured him from the dugout with a curtain call, quite a different scene than the boos Howard heard when he was struggling in June and landed on Sandberg’s bench for three days.

“It is what it is,” Howard said of the polar opposite reactions. “I mean, it’s unfortunate. I’ll be honest with you, it’s unfortunate that’s what happens. But I’ll go out there and continue to play. I understand what it takes to play the game.”

As Howard reached home plate after his grand slam, he pointed toward the stands.

“I was pointing at my family,” he said. “It wasn’t an I-showed-you.”

Howard was hitless in his first three at-bats with a pair of strikeouts against Houston starter Collin McHugh, who pitched seven innings of one-run ball.

One at-bat turned his and the Phillies’ night around.

“I understand it wasn’t there early, but it only had to be there once,” Howard said of his swing. “It was there with me and I’ll try to build off that.”

Howard was 5 for 14 with two home runs in the series against the Astros. He had come into the series in an 0-for-14 slump that was part of a 1-for-25 road trip.

Howard’s decisive grand slam finished off an at-bat in which he saw eight pitches, laid off two two-strike breaking balls in the dirt and fouled off four pitches. Eventually, Howard powered a full-count, 93 mph fastball over the wall just to the left of center field.

“He was real aggressive (in that at-bat),” Sandberg said. “He had really good swings. It looked like he wanted to do damage. That was a battling at-bat for him. He actually laid off some breaking balls down and that was the whole key, laying off of those pitches and making him come with a strike.”

Howard is just 9 for 47 (.191) in 12 games since his benching, but he does have three homers and 11 RBIs. His four RBIs on Thursday night moved him to third in the league with 71, just three behind NL leader Giancarlo Stanton.

“He’s been making better contact,” Sandberg said. “Even his outs on the road trip -- he was stinging the ball, putting the ball in play. He wasn’t quite lifting them to the gaps, but he was making a lot of contact and cutting down on his strikeouts, so that was really a step in the right direction. This series, he was able to connect on some balls and really gain a lot of confidence with the production and the hits.

“I just know he can be a big bat for us and if he gets rolling like he is he can help us sweep a series. A sweep at home, that’s pretty big for us this year. He was a big part of that.”

All of the Astros’ runs came on three home runs in the first three innings against O’Sullivan. The right-hander finished with three scoreless innings and reliever Mario Hollands added two scoreless frames to keep the game close for the Phillies’ eighth-inning rally.

O’Sullivan was summoned to Philadelphia about 1 p.m. He scurried to get on a flight and landed in Philadelphia at 5:30 p.m. He did not know he was pitching until he landed and turned on his phone. He arrived at the park at 6 p.m. and an hour later was on the mound.

O’Sullivan didn’t get the win, but, thanks to Ryan Howard, didn’t get the loss, either.

Phillies DFA OF Cody Asche, claim LHP David Rollins off waivers

Phillies DFA OF Cody Asche, claim LHP David Rollins off waivers

Cody Asche's time with the Phillies has come to an end.

The Phillies claimed LHP David Rollins off waivers from the Texas Rangers on Friday. To make room on the 40-man roster, Asche was designated for assignment. The Phillies had until 8 p.m. on Friday to tender a contract to the outfielder, but they instead chose to free up the roster spot for Rollins.

Asche played four seasons with the Phillies from 2013-16 after he was drafted in the fourth round in 2011. The St. Charles, Mo. native had a .213/.284/.350 batting line this past season over 71 games. His best season with the Phillies came as their starting third baseman in 2014, hitting 10 home runs and driving home 46 runs in 121 games.

Rollins has been on four different rosters this offseason. He pitched 31 games in relief for the Seattle Mariners over the last two seasons, sporting a 7.60 ERA over 34 1/3 innings. He was claimed off waivers by the Chicago Cubs 15 days after the World Series and then subsequently claimed again by the Rangers. 

Rollins was a 24th round draft pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2011 MLB Draft and was traded a year later to the Houston Astros. Prior to the 2015 season, the Mariners picked Rollins in the Rule 5 draft after the Astros chose not to protect him.

Phillies winter meetings preview: Trades, Rule 5 draft, roster crunch

Phillies winter meetings preview: Trades, Rule 5 draft, roster crunch

The Nation’s Capital will become the center of the baseball world over the next week as the winter meetings get underway Sunday in Washington.
 
The meetings run through Thursday morning, concluding with the Rule 5 draft, and will play out against a backdrop of labor peace as the owners and players agreed on a new five-year labor deal on Wednesday night.
 
Teams looking to make a big score on the free-agent market will find sluggers in Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, quality producers in Dexter Fowler, Justin Turner and Ian Desmond and proven closers in Mark Melancon, Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman. The trade market features a big name in former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen.
 
As for the local nine, don’t look for a week of head-spinning activity. The Phillies got most of their heavy lifting out of the way early in the offseason when they re-signed starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson and traded for outfielder Howie Kendrick and reliever Pat Neshek. Hellickson and Kendrick filled two of the team’s stated needs, a veteran innings guy in the rotation and the proverbial professional hitter.
 
This is not to say the Phils won’t be active at the meetings, or in the days leading up to them or following them, because they likely will be. The team still has some secondary areas that need to be addressed, but as for a big, headline-grabbing move, well, nothing like that appears to be cooking — unless, of course, some team wants to give the Phillies multiples of top talent for one of their young core big-leaguers. As we’ve said before, this team has no untouchables and general manager Matt Klentak is willing talk about any player if the return speeds the team’s rebuild and has long-term impact.
 
With that, let’s take a look at some of the matters facing the Phils as they get set to head to the meetings:
 
Backup shortstop/utility infielder
This is an area the team probably needs to address. There are currently five infielders on the 40-man roster: the four projected starters (Tommy Joseph, Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis) and recent addition Jesmuel Valentin. Valentin is strictly a second baseman and projects to play at Triple A. If the Phils had a long-term opening at shortstop, they could push J.P. Crawford. In a pinch, Hernandez could move over from second and play the position. Still, adding a utility infielder is probably a must and that player might have to come on a minor-league contract because the 40-man roster is full. The door has not been closed on the return of Andres Blanco. Even someone like versatile Emmanuel Burris could return.
 
Bullpen help
Klentak made improving the bullpen an offseason priority so it’s likely that he’s looking to make additions beyond just Neshek. As it stands now, the Phils have just one lefty reliever, promising but unproven Joely Rodriguez, so it’s important that Klentak add at least one more lefty through a signing or trade.
 
Backup catcher
The Phils have had longstanding interest in bringing back A.J. Ellis and they've maintained contact with his representatives, but they already have three catchers on their 40-man roster in Cameron Rupp, Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp. If the roster pinch gets solved, possibly by dealing from a position of depth and including Knapp in a trade or other transactions, Ellis could return. Other than that, it’s possible Knapp could be the big team’s backup catcher with Alfaro working every day at Triple A.
 
Another bat?
The Phils were last in the majors in runs scored (610) and second-to-last in batting average (.240), on-base percentage (.301) and slugging (.385) in 2016 so they really need to add more than just Kendrick if they’re going to make a noticeable improvement in their offense. However, management has made it clear that it wants to keep pathways open for young players to advance to the majors.

Barring a trade, seven of the eight starting position spots are pretty much set. Right field is the exception and that would be a nice landing spot for one of those young players, speedy Roman Quinn. There’s a strong possibility that Quinn will be the opening day rightfielder. However, given his health history, it might be wise to add reinforcements beyond Aaron Altherr. So it would not be surprising to see the Phillies add another bat, possibly from the left side, to their bench.
 
Trade rumors
They go hand-in-hand with the winter meetings. Even before the start of the meetings, the Phils have been connected to McCutchen and even power-hitting Minnesota second baseman Brian Dozier in rumors. The feel here is that a deal for either player is unlikely, especially McCutchen, whose defense has become a concern. The Phillies are committed to building a lasting contender with their farm system as the foundation. Acquiring a McCutchen or a Dozier would require giving up multiples of young talent and that’s not the way the Phils want to operate at the moment. They're looking to retain as much young talent as possible.
 
Trade talk
Though the Phillies will be protective of their prospects in trades, the do have money and payroll flexibility. This makes it possible that they could fill a need by taking on salary as long as that salary is attached to a short-term contract. The Phils under Klentak have already done this with Hellickson, Charlie Morton and Neshek. And, as mentioned, if some team wants to send the Phils a big return, players like Hernandez, Odubel Herrera and Hector Neris would be very much in play.
 
The Rule 5 draft
After landing players like Shane Victorino, David Herndon, Ender Inciarte, Herrera and Tyler Goeddel over the last decade or so, the Phils could end up sitting out this year’s Rule 5 draft. It’s not that they wouldn’t like to add a young player to their stocks and build some spring-training competition, more that they’ve already added so many young players that they’re out of room. The Phils added 11 players in maxing out their 40-man roster two weeks ago, thus protecting them from the Rule 5 draft. No other team added more than eight players.

The Phils pushed their number of protected players to 11 because they were fearful the new Collective Bargaining Agreement could increase roster size from 25 to 26 and an extra spot would make it easier for teams to carry a Rule 5 player. In the end, rosters stayed at 25. Maybe that will help the Phils retain one of the players they chose not to protect. Among that group is left-handed-hitting outfielder Andrew Pullin. There is much rumble around baseball that the Phillies could lose him. Relievers Hoby Milner and Miguel Nunez, outfielder Carlos Tocci and first baseman/outfielder Brock Stassi are also names to watch on Thursday.
 
Of immediate concern
Teams have until 8 p.m. Friday to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players or let them become free agents. The Phillies have four such players: Galvis, Hernandez, outfielder Cody Asche and reliever Jeanmar Gomez. Galvis and Hernandez will be tendered contracts. Asche and Gomez are on the fence. Gomez had 37 saves before struggling over the final weeks of the 2016 season. It’s possible the Phils could look to sign him before the tender deadline to a deal below his arbitration salary, projected to be $4.6 million by MLBTradeRumors.com. If Asche is non-tendered, the Phils could pick up a roster spot for a winter-meetings acquisition or a Rule 5 pick.