Tony Gwynn Jr. gets ovation as Phillies snap skid

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Tony Gwynn Jr. gets ovation as Phillies snap skid

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On a night when the Phillies snapped a three-game losing streak, their rookie pitcher won his third straight start and Cody Asche and Marlon Byrd had big hits, it was a pinch-hit groundout by a .155 hitter that made this such a special night.

Tony Gwynn Jr. returned to the Phillies Tuesday, eight days after his father, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, died of cancer.

Gwynn Jr. spent the last week on the bereavement list, but he was called on to pinch-hit in the eighth inning of the Phillies’ 7-4 win over the Marlins (see Instant Replay), and when the fans at Citizens Bank Park saw No. 19 striding slowly toward the plate, a loud, prolonged ovation began rising from the stands.

Realizing what was happening, Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia walked to the pitcher’s mound to give Gwynn Jr. some time to take in the moment.

The ovation just got louder and louder. It was an unforgettable moment during what so far has been a middling season.

“Needless to say, it was pretty awesome,” Gwynn Jr. said. “Made the at-bat a little more difficult, had to fight the emotion and the tears and stuff like that.

“But that’s why guys who play here like to play here. When things are going well or regardless of whether they’re going bad or good, I think the fans stay behind us. Much appreciated by the Gwynn family.”

Gwynn Jr.’s dad hit .338 with 3,141 hits in a 20-year career, all with the Padres. He retired after the 2001 season.

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007, his first year of eligibility, receiving 532 of 545 ballots.

Gwynn Jr. is a .239 career hitter in eight seasons with the Brewers, Padres, Dodgers and Phillies. But none of that mattered Tuesday night.

Gwynn Jr.’s first at-bat since June 13 was the hardest of his life.

“It was really hard,” he said. “Really hard. I was fortunate enough to get two balls to regroup a little bit, but I’ve never been through anything like that before.

“Under these circumstances, it was even tougher, but like I said it was much appreciated.”

Saltalamacchia is an eight-year veteran, and he knew immediately what to do when Gwynn Jr. was announced.

Give him as much time as he needed. Saltalamacchia said after the game that’s why he went out to the mound.

“Yes, I did,” he said. “I don’t know what it must be like to lose a father, especially a guy who brought so much to this game.”

Phils manager Ryne Sandberg was a contemporary of Gwynn’s, and the two were teammates on nine National League All-Star teams.

He said he spoke to Gwynn Jr. before the game to make sure he was ready to play, but he was clearly moved by the emotion everybody felt in the bottom of the eighth.

“That was a special moment,” Sandberg said. “I thought it was outstanding by the fans, and Saltalamacchia went out there to the mound, that was classy.”

Gwynn Jr. broke down crying at his locker talking to writers after the game. He said he couldn’t even describe what all the support has meant to him -- from the fans at Citizens Bank Park and back home in San Diego.

“I don’t even know if I could come up with a word to describe it,” he said. “Obviously, at home, in San Diego. My teammates … I don’t think there was a guy I didn’t get a text from.”

At this point, he put his head down and wept, then finished by adding: “Needless to say, it’s been nice.”

Then there was the game.

David Buchanan pitched in and out of trouble all night, allowing 10 baserunners in five innings, but he gave up just two runs and earned his third straight win. He’s only the seventh Phillie rookie to go at least five innings in each of his first seven starts.

“One of those nights where the ball just wasn’t going where I wanted it to,” he said. “I probably fell behind 95 percent of the guys tonight. But you continue to battle.

“My job is try to give the team a chance to win and it wasn’t pretty, but I tried to do the best I could tonight. Obviously didn’t throw the ball where I wanted to or go as deep as I wanted to go, but it’s just one of those days.”

Byrd’s two-run homer in the first and Asche’s two-run double in the sixth were the big hits for the Phils.

Asche is 7 for 18 (.389) with three doubles and five RBIs in five games since returning from a month-long layoff with a hamstring injury.

“Just coming up in spots with teammates on base,” he said. “I think those guys are really doing it. It’s easy to hit when you’ve got guys on base, more times than not.”

Sandberg gave Asche a little more credit than Asche gave himself.

“He’s really on the ball,” he said. “He’s got a real good stroke in the zone and stinging the ball consistently. He’s an added bat, and it’s good to have. Since he came back, he’s using the whole field and showing some good pop.”

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

READING, Pa. — Perhaps the most important issue facing the Phillies as they get set to open spring training is the health of pitcher Aaron Nola.

It won’t be possible to fully gauge the right-hander’s condition until he starts firing pitches against hitters in a competitive situation in February and March.

But less than a month before camp opens, Nola is optimistic that the elbow problems that forced him to miss the final two months of the 2016 season are resolved.

“I feel like the injury is past me,” he said during a Phillies winter caravan stop sponsored by the Double A Reading Fightin Phils on Tuesday night. “I feel back to normal.

“My arm is all good. One-hundred percent.”

Nola, 23, did not pitch after July 28 last season after being diagnosed with a pair of injuries near his elbow — a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor tendon.

Nola and the team opted for a conservative treatment plan that included rest, rehab and a PRP injection. The pitcher spent much of the fall on a rehab program in Clearwater that included his throwing from a bullpen mound. He took a couple of months off and recently began throwing again near his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“All through the rehab, I had no pain,” Nola said. “Probably in the middle of the rehab, I started feeling really good. Towards the end, I started upping the intensity a little bit. I knew after I took two months off I was going to be good. I started back up, throwing after Christmas and it felt really good when I cranked up. I’ve been throwing for a few weeks now. No pain, no hesitation. Not any of it.”

The Phillies selected Nola with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft with the hopes that he would be a foundation piece in the rotation for many years. Nola ascended to the majors in the summer of 2015 and recorded a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 big-league starts before hitting severe turbulence last summer. He had a 9.82 ERA in his final eight starts of 2016 before injuring his elbow during his final start.

Nola said he would report to Clearwater on Feb. 1. He does not expect to have any limitations in camp.

Manager Pete Mackanin is eager to see what Nola looks like in Clearwater.

“There's a part of me that’s concerned,” Mackanin said. “When guys don't have surgery and they mend with just rest, that makes me a little nervous. I don't want that to crop up again because then you lose a couple years instead of one year. But I defer to the medical people and believe in what they say and how he feels.”

Mackanin said he expected Nola to be in the five-man rotation along with Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz and Vince Velasquez to open the season. Mackanin also mentioned Zach Eflin and others as being in the mix. The Phillies have some starting pitching depth and that’s a plus because pitchers' arms are fragile. Nola was the latest example of that last season. He said he’s healthy now, but he'll still be a center of attention in spring training.

More seasoning for Quinn
Mackanin acknowledged that the addition of veteran outfielder Michael Saunders probably means that Roman Quinn will open the season in Triple A.

“I don’t think it’s in our best interest or [Quinn’s] to be a part-time player at the big-league level, so I would think if things stay the way they are and if Saunders is on the team, I think it would behoove Quinn to play a full year of Triple A,” Mackanin said. “We have to find out if he can play 120 or 140 games, which he hasn’t done up to this point. We hope he can because, to me, he’s a potential game changer.”

Morgan to the bullpen?
Mackanin suggested that lefty Adam Morgan could be used as a reliever in camp. The Phillies have just one lefty reliever (Joely Rodriguez) on their 40-man roster. If Morgan pitches well out of the bullpen, he could be a candidate to make the club. Non-roster lefties Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos could also be in the mix.

Another chance for Gomez
Jeanmar Gomez saved 37 games in 2016 before struggling down the stretch and losing the closer’s job. Hector Neris finished up in the role.

So how will competition for the job shake out in Clearwater?

“I wouldn’t say it’s wide open,” Mackanin said. “I’m going to give Gomez every opportunity to show that he’s the guy that pitched the first five months and not the guy that pitched in September.”

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

The Phillies are putting the finishing touches on a deal with outfielder Michael Saunders, according to a source.

Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported the deal was close early Monday afternoon.

When the medical reviews and other loose ends are complete, Saunders will end up with a one-year contract for 2017. It is believed that there will be an option for 2018.

According to FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it up to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, will give the Phils the left-handed bat they’ve been looking for in the outfield. Saunders is likely to play right field and his addition will likely push Roman Quinn back to Triple A, where he will get more seasoning.

Saunders is a veteran of eight seasons in the majors. He played in a career-high 140 games with Toronto in 2016 and made the American League All-Star team on the strength of a first half in which he hit .298 with 16 homers, 42 RBIs and a .923 OPS. He fell off in the second half and hit just .178 with 8 homers, 15 RBIs and a .638 OPS. Saunders finished the season at .253 with 24 HR, 57 RBIs and an .815 OPS.

With less than a month to go before spring training, the Phillies are likely done with their significant offseason moves. The offseason began with trades for reliever Pat Neshek and outfielder Howie Kendrick. Later in the winter, the club traded for starting pitcher Clay Buchholz and signed reliever Joaquin Benoit. Now Saunders is on his way.