Relievers' pivotal eighth inning ensures Phillies' win

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Relievers' pivotal eighth inning ensures Phillies' win

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Carlos Ruiz pumped his fist once toward pitcher Jeremy Horst, and dashed back to the dugout as if he was part of a big prank and that he couldn’t believe he got away with it.

Perhaps as a result of the Phillies’ 6-2 victory over the hard-hitting Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay), maybe they did get away with something.

Horst fired just four pitches — all fastballs — to escape a first-and-third jam in the eighth inning with a strikeout against the Indians. As a result, Horst was the unlikely setup man in manager Charlie Manuel’s patchwork maneuvering of the bullpen. With regular setup man Mike Adams unavailable because of back spasms for the second straight game, Manuel needed three pitchers to get the three outs in the inning.

It came together brilliantly.

Antonio Bastardo faced the first three batters in the eighth, allowing a leadoff triple to Asdrubal Cabrera and a walk to Carlos Santana sandwiched around a strikeout against cleanup hitter Nick Swisher.

With runners at the corners and one out, Manuel turned to righty Justin De Fratus in his second outing of the season after throwing six pitches for the win in his debut last Sunday in Arizona. On Tuesday against slugger Mark Reynolds, De Fratus threw two fastballs. One was a strike and the other was a broken-bat pop out for the second out.

De Fratus gave way to Horst and four pitches later, Ruiz was grinning and running away from the batting circle after an inning-ending strikeout. In the bottom of the eighth, the Phillies added a pair of runs to ensure that rookie Jonathan Pettibone picked up his third straight win in five starts.

Pettibone is the first Phillies starting pitcher to begin his career 3-0 since Randy Wolf went 5-0 before his first loss in 1999.

Regardless, Pettibone doesn’t get that third win if it wasn’t for the work in the eighth inning from the bullpen. Better yet, in a big spot of the game, the much-maligned Phils' relievers stepped into a crucial spot and came through.

“Those are the spots you want to pitch in as a reliever,” De Fratus said. “You just go out there and attack the zone and hope for the best.”

For a relief corps that entered the game with a 4.00 ERA, an opponents’ batting average that ranked 12th in the National League and the worst success rate with inherited runners, the eighth inning was a true confidence builder.

So with Adams unavailable, Manuel said he leaned on the matchups when deciding which pitcher to use in the eighth. Considering De Fratus has faced only one player on the Indians in the big leagues and Horst retired Brantley two weeks ago in Cleveland, those were Manuel’s best options.

Though the sample size was miniscule, the amount of confidence gained was immeasurable.

“We got the guys some experience and if they do the job, we build their confidence, too,” Manuel said. “That’s not bad.”

That was especially the case for De Fratus, who was making just his 20th big-league appearance and just his second appearance in a game that wasn’t played in September or October. To step in a situation with runners on first and third to face the hitter leading the American League in homers was no small feat.

That is if De Fratus was even thinking about whom he was facing when he reared back and gave Reynolds heat.

“The plan there knowing we never faced each other is to go out there and give him a good heater and see if he sees me,” De Fratus said. “Then I’d throw pitches off of that. So based on the first pitch I felt confident enough to come back with the heater.”

De Fratus needed just two of them to splinter Reynolds’ bat.

“The goal is to go out there and get outs and preserve the lead,” De Fratus said. “But it’s definitely a cool feeling to go out there in the eighth inning in a tight situation against a big-time hitter. It’s a lot of fun and I hope to get the chance to do it again.”

Depending on when Adams is next available, De Fratus could find himself back in another tight spot soon. In two appearances, the right-hander has thrown eight pitches for two outs and already has a win and a hold.

Talk about efficiency.

Meanwhile, the Phillies showed a bit of offense in holding off the Indians. Kevin Frandsen opened the game with a homer in the first inning and the Phillies tacked on two more to take the lead they would never relinquish with John Mayberry’s two-run double in the fourth.

Domonic Brown slugged a solo homer (his seventh) in the sixth before Mayberry singled home an insurance run in the eighth and came around to score on Freddy Galvis’ two-out single just three batters later.

The Phillies go for the sweep of the mini-series on Wednesday afternoon when Cole Hamels (1-5, 4.18) faces righty Cory Kluber (2-2, 5.64).

Best of MLB: Manny Machado in center of bad blood as Red Sox beat Orioles

Best of MLB: Manny Machado in center of bad blood as Red Sox beat Orioles

BALTIMORE -- A tempestuous three-game series between the Red Sox and Baltimore wound up with Matt Barnes being ejected for throwing a fastball behind the head of Orioles star Manny Machado in Boston's 6-2 victory Sunday.

Barnes' ejection was the latest facet of this tense rivalry between AL East rivals. His high, very inside pitch came two days after Machado took out Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia with a spikes-high slide.

Pedroia watched from the dugout for a second straight day Sunday with knee and ankle injuries. Machado apologized with a text message on Friday night, but that evidently wasn't the end of it.

When Machado batted in the sixth inning, Eduardo Rodriguez threw three pitches down and in near the knees. He came up again in the eighth and Barnes' pitch whizzed behind Machado and hit his bat. The ball hit Machado and rolled foul, and plate umpire Andy Fletcher tossed Barnes (see full recap).

Bour's 3-run homer lifts Marlins past Padres
SAN DIEGO -- Justin Bour hit a three-run homer to cap the six-run sixth inning and help the Miami Marlins to a 7-3 victory Sunday against the San Diego Padres.

The first six Marlins batters reached and scored in the sixth, helping Tom Koehler (1-1) to his first win of the season.

San Diego's Luis Perdomo came off the disabled list and shut down the Marlins through five before hitting the wall in the sixth. Martin Prado hit a leadoff single, Christian Yelich walked and Giancarlo Stanton hit an RBI single to chase Perdomo.

Craig Stammen (0-1) came on and allowed Marcell Ozuna's RBI double just past the glove of first baseman Wil Myers and J.T. Realmuto's RBI single to left before Bour hit a no-doubter to right field, his third.

Kevin Quackenbush relieved and got three straight outs (see full recap).

Astros use 2-run 10th to beat Rays
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Brian McCann and Yuli Gurriel both had RBI singles in the 10th inning, and the Houston Astros rallied from an early four-run deficit to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 6-4 on Sunday.

Carlos Beltran opened the 10th by drawing a walk from Ryan Garton (0-1) and went to second on Jose Altuve's single. After reaching third on Carlos Correa's fly to center, Beltran scored to make it 5-4 on McCann's hit to right.

Gurriel's two-out single put Houston ahead 6-4.

Luke Gregerson (1-1) went a scoreless ninth before Ken Giles got three out for his fifth save.

The Astros tied it at 4 on pinch-hitter Evan Gattis' sacrifice fly off closer Alex Colome, who was bidding for a two-inning save, in the ninth.

Brad Miller had an RBI triple, Steven Souza Jr. hit a two-run homer, and Jesus Sucre added a run-scoring single as the Rays went up 4-0 in the first (see full recap).

With new body, new swing, Cesar Hernandez keying Phillies' late-game power surges

With new body, new swing, Cesar Hernandez keying Phillies' late-game power surges

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A constant theme during the Phillies' playoff run from 2007-11 was that even when the offense was sputtering, it never felt like they were out of a game. That group of players picked up so many late hits and mounted so many comebacks that even a five-run deficit heading into the final three innings felt like a winnable game.

The 2017 Phillies are a much different, much less experienced, much less powerful team, but their late-game offense has been a surprisingly fun development this April.

The Phillies used back-to-back-to-back home runs in the eighth inning Sunday to pick up a 5-2 win over the Braves and a series sweep (see Instant Replay). Cesar Hernandez hit a go-ahead, two-run shot off hard-throwing reliever Arodys Vizcaino. Aaron Altherr followed with a solo shot on the next pitch. The Braves switched pitchers, then Odubel Herrera hit a solo homer of his own.

Just like that, ballgame.

The Phillies lead the majors with six home runs in the eighth inning. That's more than the Cubs, Red Sox, Rockies, Angels, Mariners, Pirates, White Sox, Tigers, Rangers, Giants and Astros have combined.

They've scored 14 runs in the eighth inning and 27 in innings 7-9. Both figures rank third-best in the National League behind only the Diamondbacks and Nationals.

Unexpected late-game heroics and unexpected power from some unlikely sources.

"It's always a bonus to have a team like that," manager Pete Mackanin said. "These guys pull for each other. We have a good bench, we have some interchangeable players that can step in and do a good job. ... They're fighters and it's good to see."

Hernandez continues to open eyes with his developing power. He has four home runs through 18 games after hitting six all of last season. He has more extra-base hits (nine) than Giancarlo Stanton, Kris Bryant, Paul Goldschmidt and Robinson Cano, among many others.

And he's done it without sacrificing his eye at the plate and slap-hitting ability. Hernandez is hitting .338 through 80 at-bats.

Hernandez gained muscle over the winter and reported to spring training looking noticeably bigger, but Mackanin credits the power surge to a change in his swing plane.

"He had an uppercut swing," Mackanin said. "He worked underneath the ball, which made him a low-ball hitter. I think the fact that we convinced him to level out his swing and stay on top of the ball -- work above the ball and work your way down through the strike zone -- I think has not only given him more power but also (the ability) to hit more line drives and use the whole field."

Makes sense. Managers, hitting coaches and players talk all the time about how you don't hit a home run when you're trying to hit a home run, you hit one when you're thinking up the middle and catch the ball with the barrel.

Hernandez hasn't lofted more balls because he's trying to loft them, he's done it by getting stronger and developing a more consistent swing.

"He's an on-base guy and a leadoff hitter and now I'm starting to think of him as a cleanup hitter as well," Mackanin said jokingly. "It is nice. It's good to see. He's not trying to hit home runs. He's trying to hit line drives and when you work above the ball and level your swing out and you hit the bottom half of the ball, the ball is going to go up with a line-drive swing. Because of that, he's hitting more gaps and hitting for more power."

In a way, it's similar to what Herrera did last season, jumping from eight home runs as a rookie to 15 as a sophomore as he continued learning the strike zone, learning major-league pitchers and learning of his own capabilities.

"I love watching Cesar hit the ball," Herrera said. "He has a beautiful swing and he makes great contact on the ball. It's great to be behind him."

With Hernandez leading off and Herrera batting third, the top of the Phillies' lineup has gotten on base a ton. They've gotten a .384 on-base percentage from the 1-3 spots in the order. Just imagine how many additional runs the Phillies would have produced to this point if Maikel Franco or Tommy Joseph were hitting consistently.

"I like all three right there," Mackanin said. "I like Howie Kendrick, also. I'm anxious for him to get back (from the DL) and then we'll go from there. We've got some good things going. We've got a good bench. We've got Altherr, (Daniel) Nava, (Andres) Blanco. We've got (Andrew) Knapp who's doing a good job behind the plate. I think we're in pretty good shape that way."

It's not going to be an explosive, league-leading offense, but it's certainly a deeper offense than it was a year ago. An addition like Nava, for example, has proven to be underrated and pay early dividends. Remember, he was one of the last men chosen for the opening day roster. So far this April, he's succeeded in every role in which the Phillies have used him.

Despite not playing regularly, Nava has reached base in 16 of his first 31 plate appearances, something no first-year Phillie has done since Jeremy Giambi in 2002.

"Nava is really valuable to us," Mackanin said. "He's a part-time player that gives you good at-bats, quality at-bats. He works the count, obviously the first game of the season he showed us he's got power. Gap power and the occasional home run from both sides of the plate. 

"Watching a guy like that, you can't help but notice. If it was me and I was a free swinger, I'd go up to him and ask him, 'How do I tone it down a little bit?' He just doesn't get himself out."