Phillies sweep Astros behind Ryan Howard slam

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Phillies sweep Astros behind Ryan Howard slam

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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 7, Orioles 5: Brock Stassi continues to make a difference

Phillies 7, Orioles 5: Brock Stassi continues to make a difference

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Baltimore Orioles led the majors with 253 home runs last season.

The Phillies ranked 24th with 161.

On Tuesday, however, the Phillies out-homered the O's en route to a 7-5 victory. The Phils hit four homers, the Orioles one.

Reality check: The Orioles brought a watered-down lineup to Clearwater. No Mark Trumbo (a majors-leading 47 homers last season), no Chris Davis (38), no Manny Machado (37).

Nonetheless, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin was pleased with the power his team showed. Tommy Joseph bombed a homer off the tiki bar beyond the left field wall. Aaron Altherr crushed one out to left. And non-roster players Scott Kingery (more here) and Brock Stassi both homered.

Of course, Stassi homered.

All he has done in the first week of games is get big hits. He's played in four games and has two homers and a double. His three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning came with the Phillies down two runs and gave them the lead. The home run came on a 2-0 pitch from Cody Sedlock. The 21-year-old righty was the Orioles' first-round pick (No. 27 overall) out of the University of Illinois last year. He looked a little overwhelmed as he allowed five hits, including two homers, and four runs in losing the lead.

Stassi was the Phillies' 33rd-round draft pick in 2011. He is 27 years old and bidding to win a spot on the roster as a backup first baseman/outfielder.

"He's caught my eye," said Mackanin, who seems to say something good about Stassi every day.

After Tuesday's game, Stassi recalled how he lost 30 percent of his signing bonus the same day he received the check in 2011.

"But my signing bonus was just $1,000," he said, laughing.

All these years later, he's putting himself in a position to hit the dream-come-true jackpot that would come with making the Phillies' opening day roster.

"Today was a good day," he said. "Put it behind me and come back tomorrow."

On the mound
Clay Buchholz made his spring debut with two scoreless innings. He gave up two hits and a walk.

With five weeks to go before his first start of the regular season, Buchholz tried to pace himself. There's plenty of time to let it loose.

"You hear the slogan saving bullets and I think that's a big thing," said Buchholz, 32. "If you go out max effort before your body is ready to do that, that's when injuries happen."

Herrera excused
Obudel Herrera missed Tuesday game's because he needed to travel to New Orleans to complete some paperwork for the upcoming World Baseball Classic. He will return Wednesday.

Herrera will play left field for Team Venezuela. Mackanin said he may get Herrera some work at the position before the player departs for the WBC next week.

The Phillies play the Rays in Port Charlotte on Wednesday. Vince Velasquez will make his first start of the spring. Here is the Phillies' posted starting lineup:

Cesar Hernandez, 2B
Chris Coghlan, LF
Andres Blanco, 3B
Tommy Joseph, 1B
Daniel Nava, DH
Andrew Knapp, C
J.P. Crawford, SS
Roman Quinn, CF
Aaron Altherr, RF

2B prospect Scott Kingery 'might be on fast track to big leagues'

2B prospect Scott Kingery 'might be on fast track to big leagues'

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies' Double A Reading club had 89 wins last season, the second most in all of minor-league baseball.

With Roman Quinn, Jorge Alfaro, Rhys Hoskins, Dylan Cozens and others, the Reading club was loaded with top prospects.

That's why it was so remarkable late last season when a Phillies' official said, "You know, there are nights when Scott Kingery is the best player on the field."

Kingery, a second baseman who turns 23 in April, was the Phillies' second-round pick in the 2015 draft, a former walk-on at the University of Arizona who blossomed into a Pac-12 batting champ (.392) his junior year.

Kingery, 5-10 and 180 pounds of pure ballplayer, was so impressive his first two seasons in the Phillies' minor-league system that he earned an invite to big-league camp this spring.

He is making the most of it.

He had a huge game in the Phillies' 7-5 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. He singled, doubled and homered in four at-bats. He also made a couple of nice plays in the field, including a backpedaling, over-the-shoulder grab in shallow right field to end the top of the eighth inning.

The Phillies rallied for four runs to come back from two runs down in the bottom of that inning. Of course, spring star Brock Stassi had the big hit, a three-run homer to put the Phillies ahead.

Stassi, who has two homers and a double in the four games in which he has played, is a serious candidate to win a spot on the Phillies' bench.

Kingery -- who has just 37 games and 156 at-bats of experience above the Single A level -- is not a candidate to break with the big club. But manager Pete Mackanin thinks he might not be that far away.

"I heard a lot about Scott Kingery and how good a player he is and he sure looks like one," Mackanin said after Tuesday's game. "He's made a good impression on me and the coaching staff. Today was a good example of what he can do. He might be on the fast track to the big leagues."

Kingery is a pretty levelheaded kid. As happy as he was with his game Tuesday, he was quite realistic. He needs more seasoning. The blueprint calls for him to open back at Double A and build on the six weeks he spent there last year.

"I feel I need to spend some more time in Double A," Kingery said. "I didn't get much time there last year. I think that's what I'll head back to and just try to figure out that pitching and climb up the ladder from there."

Jesmuel Valentin is expected to open the season as the second baseman at Triple A Lehigh Valley. He is a prospect, as well. He has been slowed in this camp by a sore shoulder.

The Phillies' depth at second base will put some heat on Cesar Hernandez to continue the improvement he showed in the second half of last season. It could also eventually turn Hernandez into a trade chip. According to multiple baseball sources, the Phillies were willing to listen on Hernandez this offseason, though the price was very high.