Phillies walk on wild side in sloppy loss to Nats

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Phillies walk on wild side in sloppy loss to Nats

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With just 28,826 in the house Tuesday night, the Phillies had their lowest attendance since the first week of the 2008 season.

Back then the Phillies were in the infancy of a season that would end with a World Series title. Now, they are in the final stages of what will be their first losing season since 2002.

Back then a championship core was beginning to come to flower. Now, the last vestiges of that nucleus are getting nights off so some young players can gain experience and be evaluated to determine if they fit on future rosters.

Those who stayed away from Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night didn’t miss a whole lot.

On a night when their pitchers had a load of trouble throwing strikes, the Phillies suffered a 9-6 loss to the Washington Nationals (see Instant Replay).

“It was a frustrating game on the pitching side,” interim manager Ryne Sandberg said. “There were a lot of pitches and a lot of walks. The walks gave them baserunners and they answered with hits.”

Phillies pitchers walked nine batters and hit another.

They threw 180 pitches. Just 88 of them were strikes.

No wonder the game lasted three hours, 38 minutes. It was the longest nine-inning game of the season.

The Nationals didn’t exactly play clean ball, either. They made three errors, leading manager Davey Johnson to say, “That was an ugly game, one of the ugliest I’ve seen.”

With Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins getting a night off from the starting lineup (both pinch-hit late in the game), Sandberg -- and the folks up in the executive box -- went into full evaluation mode for this one.

They had to like what they saw from rookie third baseman Cody Asche, who had three hits, including a line-drive homer into the right-field seats. The young middle-infield tandem of Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez looked pretty good in the field, too. They turned a blink-of-the-eye double play in the seventh.

Sandberg and the big cheeses upstairs could not have liked what they saw from rookie starting pitcher Ethan Martin. The 24-year-old right-hander has a bazooka for an arm, but control is major issue. He lasted just 4 2/3 innings, walked five and hit a batter. He allowed a three-run homer to Wilson Ramos in the second inning. The homer was preceded by a hit batsman and a walk. Later in the game, Martin walked home a run on four pitches. He was one of two Phillies’ pitchers to do that.

In seven big-league starts, Martin is 2-4 with a 6.90 ERA. He has walked 21 in 30 innings.

“It’s frustrating because I have one or two good innings every start,” Martin said. “I just haven’t been able to keep it going.”

At this stage of the season, the Phillies are likely to keep running Martin out there as they try to determine whether he has a place on the 2014 pitching staff. Still to be determined is whether Martin’s future is as a starter or a reliever (see story). Either way, he needs to throw more strikes or he’ll be starting or relieving in the minors.

“I want to be a starter," Martin said, "but wherever they put me I’ll do the best I can.”

After Martin, the Phils used five relievers, all of which spent time in Triple A this season. The bullpen allowed seven hits and four walks.

There could be more of these nights as this month plays out. Sandberg has made it clear that he wants to look at some younger players. That’s why he started Galvis at shortstop on the day he arrived from Triple A and Hernandez at second.

“It’s all about getting a look and evaluating and seeing who is a fit for 2014,” Sandberg said. “The only way to do that is to get them out there. All of them will get a chance to show what they can do.”

Sandberg will keep trotting Asche and Darin Ruf out as regulars. Both could be just that next season. He will try to get Galvis and Hernandez as many reps as possible because both could be fits on the bench next season. If Sandberg gets the full-time manager’s job, he will use his bench. Charlie Manuel was known for riding his regulars.

“I believe with a long season, you need the best quality bench guys you can have,” he said.

A few strike-throwers would be nice, too.

Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

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ATLANTA — Jeremy Hellickson made his final start of the season for the Phillies on Thursday night.

Now he becomes the team’s first big offseason decision.

Hellickson had long left the game with a sore right knee by the time struggling reliever Jeanmar Gomez was tagged for four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning in what ended up as a 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves (see Instant Replay). The Phillies were swept in their final trip to Turner Field — the Braves will move into a new ballpark in April — and have lost six of their last seven games heading into the final weekend of the season and a three-game series against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

“It’s a bad time to be in a rut and we’re in a rut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “We’ve got to go home and snap out of it.”

Besides supporting his rotation mates, Hellickson won’t make any contributions this weekend. The 29-year-old right-hander, acquired in a November trade with Arizona, finished his season 12-10 in a career-high 32 starts. He tied a career high with 189 innings. His final ERA of 3.71 was his best since he recorded a 3.10 ERA in 31 starts for Tampa Bay in 2012.

Though he left the game in the fourth inning after tweaking his knee while running the bases (see story), Hellickson achieved his season goal.

“This isn’t anything that’s going to linger,” he said, looking down at his knee. “So I came out healthy. That was my main thing, try to throw 200 innings — I fell just short of that — and stay healthy. So as far as those two goals go, it was good.”

By staying healthy and pitching well, Hellickson built himself a nice free-agent platform. But before Hellickson heads out on the open market, the Phillies must make a decision: Do they offer him $17 million to retain him in 2017 or simply let him go. As a rebuilding team, the Phils would love to get a draft pick as compensation for Hellickson’s leaving. But to get that pick, they must make Hellickson that one-year qualifying offer and he must reject it and sign elsewhere. 

It seems likely that the Phils will make the offer to Hellickson. If he takes it, he will return in 2017 and fill the same veteran stabilizer role he did this season. If he rejects, the team will get a pick between the first and second rounds of next year’s draft. The value of that draft pick is significant and was seen as a reason the Phillies did not trade Hellickson in July.

Qualifying offers go out in early November, but general manager Matt Klentak isn’t ready to tip his hand on what he’ll do.

“Both are valuable,” he said, weighing Hellickson's returning on a one-year deal versus picking up a draft selection between the first and second rounds. “For the same reason Jeremy Hellickson was valuable to us this year, Jeremy Hellickson or a player like that could be valuable to us again next year. The draft pick at the end of the first round has a real, measurable, tangible value.”

After Thursday night’s game, Hellickson was asked if he believed he’d made his final start with the Phillies.

“I hope not,” he said. “But I don’t really know how to answer that. I would love to be back here next year. I think everyone knows how much I’ve enjoyed my time here and I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

The pitcher was pressed as to whether he could envision himself accepting the qualifying offer if the Phillies made one.

“Yeah, I mean I definitely could see it,” he said. “But …"

Hellickson paused. Then a reporter broke the silence by suggesting the pitcher would rather get a multi-year deal on the open market.

“Yeah, I would love that actually a little bit more,” he said.

The Phillies could look to strike a multi-year deal with Hellickson before he hits the open market five days after the World Series, but that does not appear to be in the club’s plans. The Phils seem to be interested mostly in short-term deals for veterans as they let their kids develop.

In time, this thing will play out.

But for now, the Phillies head home looking to stop a losing streak and scuttle the Mets’ postseason hopes.

Best of MLB: Cardinals top Reds on Molina's disputed double in 9th

Best of MLB: Cardinals top Reds on Molina's disputed double in 9th

ST. LOUIS -- Yadier Molina hit a disputed double that drove in the winning run with two outs in the ninth inning Thursday night, sending the St. Louis Cardinals over the Cincinnati Reds 4-3.

The Cardinals began the day one game behind San Francisco for the second NL wild-card spot.

Matt Carpenter drew a one-out walk from Blake Wood (6-5). With two outs, Molina's one-hop hit appeared to bounce off a sign above the left-field wall and carom back into play.

Carpenter kept running and scored from first. Reds manager Bryan Price ran after the umpires, who left the field as soon as Carpenter touched the plate.

Price later said umpire crew chief Bill Miller told him that teams have 10 seconds to appeal on a game-ending play, and that the complaint wasn't made in time.

"I'm not blaming the umpires. I'm blaming the system," Price said.

Molina and Jedd Gyorko hit solo homers for the Cardinals.

Seung Hwan Oh (6-3) wound up with the win (see full recap).

Jimenez delivers strong start, Orioles blank Blue Jays 4-0
TORONTO -- Ubaldo Jimenez and two relievers combined on a three-hitter and the Baltimore Orioles beat the Blue Jays 4-0 on Thursday night, moving into a tie with Toronto in the AL wild card race with three games remaining.

When he started at Toronto on June 12, Jimenez allowed five runs and six hits in 1/3 of an inning, the shortest start of his career.

The right-hander returned Thursday and carved up the Blue Jays. The only hit he allowed was Ezequiel Carrera's single to begin the first. Josh Donaldson followed with a walk but Jimenez retired the next six batters in order.

Devon Travis walked to open the third and advanced on Carrera's sacrifice, but that was the first of 11 consecutive outs for Jimenez, a streak that ended with Edwin Encarnacion's two-out walk in the sixth. Jose Bautista flied out to end the inning.

Jimenez (8-12) allowed one hit in 6 2/3 innings, improving to 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA in five September starts. He walked three and struck out five (see full recap).

Cubs, Pirates play to rare MLB tie
PITTSBURGH -- The Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates played a rare major league tie on Thursday night when their game was called off due to rain with scores level at 1-all in the sixth inning.

With the Cubs and Pirates not scheduled to play again this season, officials decided the game would not be made up, since its outcome will not affect postseason positioning. Chicago long ago clinched the National League Central, while Pittsburgh is out of playoff reckoning, sitting third in that division.

So instead of becoming a suspended game, the match was declared a tie -- the first since Houston and Cincinnati went seven innings on June 30, 2005, before rain halted them.

Willson Contreras had two hits and scored for the NL Central champion Cubs, who have already clinched the best record in the majors. Josh Bell hit a sacrifice fly for the Pirates.

The game was called in the top of the sixth after a delay of 1 hour, 23 minutes.

Tim Federowicz hit a sacrifice fly in the Cubs second. Pittsburgh tied it in the third.

Cubs rookie Rob Zastryzny gave up one unearned run in 3 2/3 innings in his first major league start after beginning his career with seven relief appearances (see full recap).

Buxton doubles, triples in Twins' 7-6 victory over Royals
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Byron Buxton tripled, doubled, drove in two runs and scored twice as the Minnesota Twins defeated the Kansas City Royals 7-6 on Thursday night.

After Salvador Perez's pinch-hit RBI single with two outs in the ninth pulled the Royals within a run, Terrance Gore ran for him. With Paulo Orlando, who had four hits to match his career high, hitting, Brandon Kintzler picked Gore off first base.

Gore was initially called safe, but after a 1 minute, 15 second review, the call was reversed to end the game.

Buxton's one-out double triggered a three-run ninth off Kelvin Herrera (2-6). Robbie Grossman, Miguel Sano and Max Kepler contributed run-scoring singles in the ninth.

The Twins won for the first time in 10 games this season at Kauffman Stadium (see full recap).