Prized prospects Franco, Gonzalez eye big leagues

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Prized prospects Franco, Gonzalez eye big leagues

When looking for inspiration, Severino Gonzalez has a couple of pretty good role models.

One is Mariano Rivera, which is a pretty good choice for a pitcher, regardless of nationality. Given that both are from Panama, Rivera’s status in the game takes on a greater impact for Gonzalez.

Then there is Carlos Ruiz. Well known to all Panamanians, Gonzalez has latched onto Ruiz because they are from nearby towns. But given that Gonzalez is a pitcher in the Phillies organization with pinpoint control and a repertoire of pitches that the Phillies’ brass says is reminiscent of Rivera, perhaps there is a chance the team could have an all-Panama battery.

“In spring training was the first time I met him,” Gonzalez said. “The relationship grew from that.”

Gonzalez said Ruiz took him out for dinner and gave him advice when he could. For a kid who watched the 2008 World Series and felt like he was out there celebrating with his countryman when the Phillies won, it was pretty heady stuff for Gonzalez.

But whatever Ruiz passed on must have been pretty good because the right-handed pitcher put together a phenomenal season. Starting in extended spring training, the 6-foot-1, 150-pounder who still wears braces on his teeth, moved to low-A ball in Lakewood before moving to high-A Clearwater as a roster filler.

As it turned out, Gonzalez was a little more than just a guy on the bench. In 20 outings at Clearwater, including nine starts, the righty posted a 2.02 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 75 innings. By the end of the year, he was at Double A Reading for a start and on Monday and Tuesday he was in Philadelphia with Reading teammate Maikel Franco to pick up his hardware for winning the Paul Owens Award.

Given to the top pitcher and hitter in the Phillies system, Gonzalez won the Paul Owens Award, though he escaped much of the notice that Franco received. Gonzalez’s record wasn’t spectacular at 7-5, but he posted a 2.00 ERA between three teams with 119 strikeouts in 103 2/3 innings with just 22 walks. Gonzalez had 19 walks in 20 games and 75 2/3 innings for Clearwater.

Just 20 years old, Gonzalez understands that good things happen when a pitcher throws strikes.

“I just didn’t want to walk anyone,” Gonzalez said. “I just kept throwing strikes and that was what I was after.”

Like Rivera, Gonzalez throws a cutter that he moves in and out on hitters. He says he needs to work on his changeup, but he has been able to get away without one so far. In the meantime, Gonzalez likely will start the 2014 season at Double A where he can work on his repertoire.

Franco will probably be at Triple A to start the 2014 season, though an invitation to big-league camp in the spring isn’t far-fetched. Franco belted 31 homers with 103 RBIs and a .320 batting average in 134 games with Clearwater and Reading. His 70 extra-base hits led the minors and got some notice from Phils’ interim manager Ryne Sandberg.

If Franco were to get an invite to big-league camp, Sandberg -- if he is still the manager -- would be excited to see what he can do.

“A guy like him, if he’s in spring training next year, it’ll be the first time for a lot of people to get a look at him and see what he looks like on a field with major leaguers and get him a taste of that,” Sandberg said. “I think (Cody) Asche experienced that last year coming to big-league camp. Sometimes they can gauge what they need to work on, and also gauge where they stand compared to big leaguers.”

Of course there is the issue of a position for Franco, who has played third base for all but eight games last year. He dabbled a bit at first base for Reading and said he felt comfortable with it. However, Asche looks to have an inside track on the third base job next spring and Ryan Howard has first base locked up for a couple more seasons.

Where does that leave Franco if he continues to tear up minor-league pitching?

“Whatever position they want me to play, I’ll play,” Franco said. “Everybody wants to play in the big leagues. That’s my point. I want to play in the big leagues. I don’t care what position I play, I want to play in the big leagues.”

Franco is getting closer. In the meantime, he’ll spend the winter playing for San Francisco de Macorís in the Dominican Winter League. But while Franco was hanging around Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday, Sandberg wondered if there was an extra uniform he could use.

Tonight's lineup: Herrera leads off as Hernandez sits

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Tonight's lineup: Herrera leads off as Hernandez sits

With eight games left in the Phillies' season, Pete Mackanin is still playing to win.

After dropping the series opener in Atlanta, 7-2, Friday, Mackanin made several changes to his lineup for Game 2 tonight. His first change is at the top of the order, as Cesar Hernandez sits and Odubel Herrera moves up to the leadoff spot.

The decision to rest Hernandez appears based on his poor career numbers against Atlanta's starter, Julio Teheran. Hernandez is 3-28 against Teheran, while Herrera is 5-23. Teheran is 1-2 this season against the Phillies. He won his previous start against them on Aug. 30, allowing just one run and striking out eight in 6 2/3 innings pitched. 

Herrera has no hits and six strikeouts in his last 12 at-bats. He's also been chasing a lot of pitches outside of the strike zone and has only one walk since Sept. 9. At .281, his batting average is the lowest it has been since Aug. 6.  

J.P. Crawford, who has looked smooth at third base, shifts to second base to accommodate the change. Maikel Franco slots back in at third.

Mackanin's final change is swapping catcher Jorge Alfaro for Cameron Rupp. With the Phillies getting an extended look at Alfaro, Rupp's playing time has recently decreased. This is his first start since Sept. 17 against Oakland.

In his second start for the Phillies, Henderson Alvarez won't have to do much to better Ben Lively's outing Friday night. Lively conceded six hits and five runs before recording an out. Alvarez's start Sunday, when he allowed four runs in five innings, was his first major league game in the past 28 months. An All-Star in 2014, Alvarez's career was derailed by injuries. 

Below is Saturday's lineup:

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, RF
4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, LF
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. J.P. Crawford, 2B
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Henderson Alvarez, P

And the Braves' lineup:

1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Ozzie Albies, 2B
3. Nick Markakis, RF
4. Tyler Flowers, C
5. Matt Adams, 1B
6. Dansby Swanson, SS
7. Rio Ruiz, 3B
8. Jace Peterson, LF
9. Julio Teheran, P

Best of MLB: Cubs take control in NL Central with win over Brewers

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Best of MLB: Cubs take control in NL Central with win over Brewers

MILWAUKEE -- Pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella drew a bases-loaded walk off All-Star closer Corey Knebel with one out in the 10th inning, helping the Chicago Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 5-4 on Friday night to tighten their grip on the NL Central.

The Cubs hold a five-game lead with nine days left in the regular season after winning their second straight tense game over the Brewers. Milwaukee dropped into third in the division, 5 1/2 games behind Chicago, after St. Louis beat Pittsburgh earlier Friday.

The Brewers had the tying run at first with one out in the bottom of the 10th, but Eric Sogard was called out at second trying to advance on a ball in the dirt. Shortstop Addison Russell appeared to hold the tag as Sogard's foot lifted off second for a split-second, and the call was confirmed on review (see full recap).

Ryan Goins' hidden-ball trick, grand slam lead Blue Jays over Yankees
TORONTO -- Ryan Goins successfully pulled off a hidden ball trick and hit his second career grand slam, leading the Toronto Blue Jays over Masahiro Tanaka and the Yankees 8-1 Friday night and ensuring New York had to wait at least one more day to clinch a playoff berth.

With Todd Frazier on base following a leadoff double in the third, Jose Bautista made a running catch just in front of the right field warning track on Jacoby Ellsbury's one-out drive. Goins caught Bautista's throw while standing near second base, then pretended to toss the ball to pitcher Marco Estrada while slipping in into his glove.

Goins turned his back to Frazier, who had returned to the base, and when Frazier briefly lifted his left foot off the base, Goins tagged him on the left thigh. Frazier insisted he had maintained contact with the base, but umpire Mark Carlson called him out to end the inning (see full recap).

Red Sox rally for win over Reds, extend AL East lead
CINCINNATI -- Rafael Devers hit a three-run homer Friday night, and the Boston Red Sox extended their AL East lead to four games by overcoming Scooter Gennett's fourth grand slam of the season for a 5-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Boston added to its lead with the help of the Yankees' 8-1 loss at Toronto. The Red Sox have won 12 of 15, keeping the Yankees at bay while moving a season-high 25 games over .500 (89-64).

Their AL Cy Young Award winner is still struggling heading into playoff time.

Rick Porcello gave up Gennett's fourth grand slam -- a Reds' season record -- in the first inning. He lasted a season-low four innings, turning a 5-4 lead over to the bullpen. Porcello has lost 17 games -- most in the majors -- after winning 22 last year along with the Cy Young (see full recap).

Cardinals rally past Pirates in 9th
PITTSBURGH -- Randal Grichuk scored after an error by Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer, capping a frantic ninth-rally that lifted the surging St. Louis Cardinals over Pittsburgh 4-3 on Friday night.

The playoff-chasing Cardinals won their fifth straight, despite trailing by a run entering the ninth.

Stephen Piscotty led off with a double to right against closer Felipe Rivero (5-3), and Jedd Gyorko followed with a pinch-hit RBI single. After Tommy Pham's single, Grichuk pinch-ran for Gyorko at third. He scored when Mercer misplayed Dexter Fowler's sharp groundball.

Former Pirates reliever Juan Nicasio (4-5) got the win after working the eighth and ninth. Fowler and Piscotty had two hits each.

David Freese had an RBI double for the Pirates, who have dropped eight of nine. Rivero blew a save for only the second time in 20 chances this season (see full recap).

Twins stay on track in postseason race with win over Tigers
DETROIT -- Max Kepler and Brian Dozier homered, Byron Buxton had three hits and the playoff-chasing Minnesota Twins beat the Detroit Tigers 7-3 on Friday night.

Buxton's two-run double in the fourth put the Twins ahead to stay against a Detroit team that announced before the game that manager Brad Ausmus will not be back in 2018.

Minnesota came into the night leading the race for the American League's second wild card by 2 games over Texas and the Los Angeles Angels.

Kyle Gibson (12-10) allowed three runs and five hits in seven innings for the Twins. He struck out six and walked two.

Daniel Norris (4-8) allowed five runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.

Nicholas Castellanos and Ian Kinsler homered for Detroit, but the Tigers dropped to 4-18 in September (see full recap).