Phillies working hard with Andrew Knapp at first base

Phillies working hard with Andrew Knapp at first base

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Every day is a new learning experience for Andrew Knapp as a first baseman.

Knapp, who is trying to make the Phillies as a backup catcher and first baseman, has had his moments, both good and bad, in the field this spring.

He made a start at first base last Thursday with mixed results. He failed to come down with a pop-up foul ball in a swirling wind and later in the game didn't close his glove on a throw from Freddy Galvis after the shortstop made a dynamic play to get a ball deep in the hole.

However, he was back at catcher last Saturday and threw out Kevin Pillar by a couple of steps when the Blue Jays outfielder tried to steal second base.

It's all part of the learning process.

"I think first base is definitely a work in progress," Knapp said recently. "I think I needed more experience over there and just continue to work and take ground balls before the game.

"I feel really good behind the plate. My catching feels good."

Knapp is spending extra time with bench coach Larry Bowa at first base. And with each day, he said he's finding more familiarity with what he needs to do there.

"I think I'm pretty confident in the positioning," Knapp said. "It's just the in-game stuff, like where there's a runner on base and how far I am getting off the bag. Proper double-play depth, stuff like that. And getting reads off the bat. I mean, taking ground balls is fine, but nothing can simulate a live at-bat."

Manager Pete Mackanin believes that in time Knapp could be a reliable option at first.

"He's athletic, he needs work and we're going to continue to work on his play over there," Mackanin said. "He's going to continue to get the work and get better. Larry Bowa won't allow [mistakes]."

Another reason the Phillies want the Knapp experiment to work is because of his history as a solid hitter. Knapp hit .360 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs in 2015 with Double-A Reading and posted a slash line of .266/.330/.390 in Triple-A Lehigh Valley last season.

With Knapp focusing so much time on his defensive development, the numbers at the plate this spring haven't been what he's used to. He struck out in his only at-bat Monday against the Orioles and is batting .056 (1 for 18). 

However, he's been happy with the contact he's made at the plate and believes his offense will come around.

"I'm hitting the ball real hard, but just hitting it right at people," Knapp said. "But they know what I can do offensively, it's just getting the reps over at first."

Although first base isn't a new position to Knapp (he played there some at the University of California), it's still raw to the longtime catcher. However, he's beginning to figure out how to mend the positions and use his knowledge as a catcher to speed up his development as a first baseman.

"When you are catching, you can get a feel for the game and what guys are trying to do, so I think I can take that experience to first," Knapp said. "When holding a runner on at first base, a lot of guys are trying hitting in that four hole, so I am ready for that. Each and every day I'm starting to figure it out more and feel more comfortable."

Phillies show fight in 7-run comeback but see 3-game winning streak snapped in loss to Brewers

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Phillies show fight in 7-run comeback but see 3-game winning streak snapped in loss to Brewers

BOX SCORE

The big-picture implications of Jeremy Hellickson’s start Saturday against Milwaukee — i.e., his trade value, potential destination, etc. — were left to others to ponder.

Hellickson was more concerned about smaller matters.

Like the eight pitches he threw to Eric Thames in the third inning.

Or the three batters who followed Thames.

In Hellickson’s mind, that’s where the game was lost, as opposed to when the Brewers’ Domingo Santana lined a single to left off Hector Neris in the ninth, chasing home the tie-breaking run in a 9-8 Milwaukee victory (see Instant Replay).

Hellickson, left with a messy no-decision after the Phillies wiped out an 8-1 deficit, was more than willing to shoulder responsibility for the result.

“It just sucks, you know, scoring eight runs and you lose,” the veteran right-hander said. “Usually that falls on the starter, which it did tonight.”

Others might point to the decision by manager Pete Mackanin to bunt amid a three-run eighth inning or the sign that was missed by rookie Cameron Perkins on that play. But that was Hellickson’s story, and he was sticking to it.

In his next-to-last outing before the July 31 trade deadline, he was nicked for six runs in five innings. His ERA, 1.80 in April, is 5.81 since. He is in the last year of his contract and thus might have value as a rental to some team looking for an arm.

But again, there’s the small picture.

“That's not a start I want,” he said, “no matter what's going on.”

Lost in the debris was a 4 for 4 night by Odubel Herrera, who’s hitting .331 since June 1, not to mention three-run homers by Cesar Hernandez and Cameron Rupp, the second of which forged the 8-8 tie in the eighth.

“That was a tough one to take,” Mackanin said. “You’re down by seven runs, 8-1. I thought we had the momentum going in our favor, and we just couldn’t get it done.”

Hellickson rolled through the first two innings, and had two outs and a man on in the third when Thames came to the plate.

An eight-pitch duel following, ending with a walk.

“That was a good at-bat,” Hellickson said. “He put a couple good at-bats on me today. Especially with the humidity and (Ryan) Braun coming up, it was a good at-bat.”

Braun, a certified Phillie-killer (.379 lifetime against them, .398 in Citizens Bank Park), had lined a single through the box in the first. This time he roped a double into the right field corner to score the game’s first two runs.

Braun took third on the throw, then scored on a wild pitch with Travis Shaw at the plate. Shaw rocketed Hellickson’s 2-1 changeup to center for a double and came home when Santana singled on a first-pitch curveball.

So, 4-0.

“I think (the start) was good except for that four-batter span there in that third inning,” Hellickson said. “Can't walk Thames with two outs. … I’ve just got to find a way to get out of that inning after the second out.”

Braun, 3 for 3 in the game, also hit a two-run homer in the fifth. Herrera, who also doubled twice, answered with a solo shot in the bottom of that inning.

Milwaukee’s lead grew to 8-1 in the seventh. Braun drew a walk from reliever Adam Morgan, but Morgan later had him dead to rights on a pickoff attempt. Trouble is, first baseman Tommy Joseph overthrew second base, and leftfielder Howie Kendrick allowed the ball to get through him. Braun, as a result, came all the way around to score.

The paying customers, you may be sure, were not thrilled — even less so when Shaw followed with a homer.

The comeback followed. Four runs in the seventh, including Hernandez’s tracer into the seats in right-center. Rupp’s opposite-field shot an inning later.

Perkins singled after Rupp’s homer, the Phillies’ fourth straight hit off struggling reliever Jacob Barnes. Mackanin then asked Hernandez to sacrifice, but he popped up to Shaw, who was charging from third.

Perkins “misinterpreted” the sign, according to Mackanin, thinking the hit-and-run was on. He was, as a result, doubled off first. Inning over. Comeback, too.

“It was fun to watch,” Hellickson said of the rally. “Just got to find a way to get that third out with nobody on base.”

That’s how things looked from his vantage point, anyway. Others were, in the meantime, scanning the big picture.

Best of MLB: Cubs rally in 8th, edge Cardinals after pitchers' duel

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Best of MLB: Cubs rally in 8th, edge Cardinals after pitchers' duel

CHICAGO -- Kris Bryant galloped home from first base on Anthony Rizzo's bloop double, capping a three-run rally in the eighth inning that sent the Chicago Cubs over the St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 Saturday in the ever-tightening NL Central race.

A classic pitchers' duel between Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright kept it scoreless into the eighth. The Cubs began the day one game behind shaky Milwaukee for the division lead, with the Cardinals 3 1/2 back of the Brewers.

After Paul DeJong and Randal Grichuk hit two-out homers off Lester for a 2-0 lead, the Cubs came back.

Ben Zobrist's RBI double with two outs made it 2-1 and chased Wainwright. Bryant greeted reliever Matt Bowman (2-4) with a broken-bat single that tied it.

Brett Cecil then relieved and on a 3-2 pitch, Rizzo followed a looper toward left-center. Bryant ran hard the whole way and slid home as catcher Yadier Molina couldn't control center fielder Dexter Fowler's one-hop throw.

Lester (7-6), who had a perfect game until Wainwright singled with two outs in the sixth, struck out 10. Wade Davis walked a pair with two outs before striking out Molina for his 19th saves in 19 chances (see full recap).

Hundley's single lifts Giants past Padres in 12
SAN FRANCISCO -- Nick Hundley singled in Kelby Tomlinson with two outs in the 12th inning, lifting the San Francisco Giants to a 5-4 victory over the San Diego Padres on Saturday.

Pinch-hitter Tomlinson reached on a fielder's choice and took second on a wild pitch from Kevin Quackenbush (0-2). After Hunter Pence flied out, Hundley lined an 0-1 pitch over the head of left fielder Jose Pirela as Tomlinson rounded third and scored without a throw.

It was the Giants' second win in the last nine games against their division rivals at AT&T Park.

Eduardo Nunez had three hits and two RBIs, Hundley singled twice and San Francisco took advantage of an error by San Diego shortstop Allen Cordoba that led to three unearned runs.

Will Myers hit his second homer in two days as part of San Diego's four-run fourth but the Padres wasted multiple opportunities and lost for the fourth time in six games (see full recap).

Rangers turn 3 Rays miscues into win
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Texas turned three Tampa Bay miscues into a three-run sixth inning and the Rangers beat the Rays 4-3 on Saturday night.

The Rangers took a 4-3 lead during the decisive sixth when two runs scored after center fielder Mallex Smith misplayed Adrian Beltre's two-out deep fly ball, and Beltre scored on two wild pitches by Chris Archer with Mike Napoli at the plate.

Elvis Andrus, who entered the series hitless in 16 at-bats, homered in his second consecutive three-hit game for the Rangers, who have won two straight following a five-game skid.

Andrew Cashner (5-8) gave up three runs and four hits over six innings. Alex Claudio, the third Rangers reliever, got four outs for his fourth save.

Claudio went two scoreless innings in Texas' 4-3, 10-inning win over the Rays Friday night to get his second win.

Archer (7-6) allowed four runs, four hits and struck out 11 to set a team record with his 24th career game with double-digit strikeouts. game. David Price had 23 double-digit strikeout games with the Rays (see full recap).

Lindor's home run in 10th inning lifts Indians past Toronto
CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor hit a leadoff home run in the bottom of the 10th inning and the Cleveland Indians defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 2-1 on Saturday night.

Lindor hit a 2-2 pitch from Danny Barnes (2-3) to right field for his 15th homer of the season just as a hard rain began to fall. Lindor dashed around the bases and was mobbed his teammates at home plate and was doused by several coolers of water.

The Progressive Field grounds crew put the tarp on the field while Cleveland's players were still celebrating the victory.

Bryan Shaw (3-4) retired Kevin Pillar on a groundout with two on to end the 10th.

Danny Salazar came off the disabled list and held Toronto to one hit in seven innings. Cleveland led 1-0, but Justin Smoak homered on Andrew Miller's first pitch in the eighth (see full recap).