Vet Jason Marquis could fit into Phillies' plans


Vet Jason Marquis could fit into Phillies' plans

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- It’s almost a given that the Phillies will make a few roster moves in the next two weeks. Already 10 games out and in dead last place in a weak NL East, a shakeup is both inevitable and overdue.

For teams in the playoff hunt, pitching is always a commodity this time of year. Back when the Phillies were making a push for the postseason, they bolstered the roster with the acquisitions of guys like Jamie Moyer, Kyle Lohse, Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt.

These days, it’s the Phillies that could be the team that gives up an arm like Lee, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, A.J. Burnett or Jason Marquis.

Wait a second … Jason Marquis?

With an eye to the future, Marquis could figure in prominently with the Phillies’ plans for this season. Signed to a minor-league deal on June 3, just 10 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Marquis has climbed all the way to Triple A Lehigh Valley where he has been nearly unhittable.

Working his way back
In three starts for the IronPigs, Marquis has been charged with one run -- it was an inherited run the bullpen couldn’t hold for him -- in 18 innings with 10 hits and three walks. He also has 18 strikeouts in his 18 innings, which is a new development to Marquis’ repertoire. In 14 big-league seasons, the righty averaged 5.3 strikeouts per nine innings. That climbed to 7.8 whiffs per nine in 27 career games in Triple A, of which he’s pitched just five times since 2003.

He very well could be 3-0 for the IronPigs, considering he left all three of his games without allowing a run.

“I feel like I’m better than I was the last two years,” the veteran big-league pitcher said before Thursday night’s game against Syracuse at Coca-Cola Park.

He should know since there isn’t much he hasn’t experienced in his baseball career. Marquis pitched in the World Series with the Cardinals in 2004 and 2006 and came up through the Braves' system as a highly-touted, first-round draft pick. Marquis was an All-Star in 2009 with the Rockies and has pitched more than 190 innings five times.

Marquis is also a rarity in that he’s pitched in the Major League World Series and the Little League World Series.

“I’m ready. I was ready three weeks ago,” Marquis said. “Maybe when I was a little younger I’d get a little more pissed off [about not getting called up], but I’m down here doing my thing and as you get older you realize that does nothing, so you focus on what you’re trying to accomplish.”

This is a guy coming back from Tommy John surgery?

“I felt like I was past the rehab stage at the end of June,” Marquis said. “I tried to push myself to the limits throughout this whole process and I tried to push myself to where I was a pitcher and not a rehab pitcher. I felt that way mentally and physically since the end of June.”

‘I’m either in the big leagues by the time we say or I go’
A month shy of his 36th birthday, Marquis knows how to pitch. He’s also healthy for the first time in four years. Before undergoing surgery on July 31, 2013, Marquis said he pitched for four years with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. Now that his arm is back together, Marquis not only has his health, but also his velocity has returned.

Marquis rarely cracked 90 mph with his fastball during the last four seasons and figured out ways to be effective for the Nationals, Twins, Diamondbacks and Padres, winning nine games before the All-Star Game twice during that time.

But as soon as Marquis was cleared to start throwing again, he says it didn’t take long to return to his old form from his days with the Braves and Cardinals. Pitching for the IronPigs, Marquis routinely throws his fastball in the 90s. He also pointed out that he has good control of his breaking pitches, which is something that often takes a long time to recover for pitchers coming back from Tommy John.

“I started throwing my breaking ball during this process probably two months earlier than what the throwing program said,” Marquis said. “I talked to the doctor about it and he said, ‘No! Hold up!’ But I threw a bullpen for him during spring training just to show him where I was and how I was feeling. My location on my fastball and slider were all there at an early stage.

“To me it becomes a state of mind more than anything and a trust factor. When it got to the point when the doctor said, ‘Alright, it’s OK to throw a baseball,’ I knew I was healthy.”

For most of his career, Marquis has relied on a sinker and slider during his 18 years in pro ball. Of course the success of those pitches come from his fastball command and he finally has some zip on it.

“My first game back I was sitting 89, 90,” Marquis said. “And I hit 91 five times. That’s the hardest average I’ve thrown in four years.”

Marquis is next scheduled to pitch for Lehigh Valley on Sunday. Since Allentown’s Coca-Cola Park is midway from his home in Staten Island and Philadelphia, friends and family have been able to show up in force for his games.

But will they be able to make the trip down to Philly by the end of the month? Marquis has an out clause in his contract that allows him to leave the organization if the Phillies don’t bring him up to the majors.

“When I signed the contract Ruben (Amaro, Jr.) was clear that I wasn’t here to be a Triple A pitcher or for depth,” Marquis said. “I’m either in the big leagues by the time we say or I go. I don’t want to come off sounding like I’m arrogant, but I’m going to be 36 in August and I’m not sitting around just to pitch in Triple A.”

Chances are he will be pitching in the big leagues very soon.

“I had a goal in my head that I wanted to be back in the big leagues by 11 months. I felt like I could compete in the big leagues in 11 months, but that decision is out of my hands,” Marquis said. “But I know with the heart of all hearts with the way I’ve been pitching over the last three weeks, that gets big-league hitters out.”

Whether he’s getting outs for the Phillies or another big-league team remains to be seen.

MLB Playoffs: Cubs beat Dodgers, move one win away from World Series

MLB Playoffs: Cubs beat Dodgers, move one win away from World Series


LOS ANGELES -- One win away. Two chances at home. Seven decades of waiting.

The Chicago Cubs closed in on their first World Series trip since 1945 by beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-4 on Thursday in Game 5 of their National League playoff.

Jon Lester pitched seven sharp innings, Addison Russell hit a tiebreaking homer and the Cubs grabbed a 3-2 lead in the NL Championship Series.

On deck, a pair of opportunities to wrap up that elusive pennant at Wrigley Field.

"The city of Chicago has got to be buzzing pretty much right now," manager Joe Maddon said. "We're not going to run away from anything. It's within our reach right now."

The Cubs' first opportunity to clinch comes Saturday night in Game 6, when Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw faces major league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks.

"That's a game we expect to win," Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said.

Of course, the Cubs were in the same favorable position 13 years ago -- heading home to Wrigley with a 3-2 lead in the NLCS.

But even with ace pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood starting the final two games, Chicago collapsed against the Marlins in one of its most excruciating failures.

More than a decade later, the franchise is still chasing its first World Series championship since 1908.

"We've heard the history," center fielder Dexter Fowler said, "but at the same time we're trying to make history."

Budding star Javier Baez was in the middle of everything for the Cubs, a common theme this October. The second baseman made a sensational defensive play when the game was still close in the seventh, and his three-run double capped a five-run eighth that made it 8-1.

After busting out of his postseason slump Wednesday, Russell hit a two-run homer for the second straight game. This one was a sixth-inning drive off losing pitcher Joe Blanton that gave Chicago a 3-1 lead.

"Just rounding the bases, it was pretty exciting," Russell said. "Pumped up, not only for myself but for the team and that little cushion that Jonny had to go forward from that."

Baez had three of Chicago's 13 hits, matching the team's total in Game 4, when the Cubs snapped a 21-inning scoreless streak and won 10-2.

Lester allowed one run and five hits, improving to 2-0 in three playoff starts this year. He has given up two runs in 21 innings.

The left-hander struck out six and walked one in a slow-paced game that lasted 4 hours, 16 minutes.

"These guys won the game for us," Lester said, nodding toward Russell and Baez. "I was just kind of along for the ride."

Anthony Rizzo's run-scoring double gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the first.

Los Angeles tied it in the fourth on Adrian Gonzalez's RBI groundout.

Russell homered on an 0-1 pitch from Blanton, who gave up a single to Baez leading off the sixth. Baez stole second before Russell's shot to left-center put the Cubs ahead on another unusually hot night at Dodger Stadium.

Blanton took his second loss of the series. The veteran right-hander gave up consecutive homers in the eighth inning of Game 1, including a tiebreaking grand slam by pinch-hitter Miguel Montero.

"Our confidence hasn't wavered," Roberts said. "This series certainly isn't over."

With the Dodgers trailing 3-1 in the seventh, Gonzalez found himself on the wrong end of a replay review for the second consecutive night.

With Baez playing way out on the outfield grass in shallow right, the slow-footed Gonzalez tried to take advantage with a drag bunt leading off the inning. Baez rushed in for a barehanded scoop and off-balance throw, but Gonzalez initially was called safe by first base umpire Ted Barrett. The Cubs challenged and the ruling was overturned.

In Game 4, Gonzalez was tagged out at home to end the second after diving with his left hand stretched toward the plate while catcher Willson Contreras applied a tag. The Dodgers challenged, but the video review upheld umpire Angel Hernandez's out call.

Chicago jumped on struggling Dodgers rookie Kenta Maeda from the start. Fowler singled leading off the game and scored on Rizzo's double to right two batters later.

Maeda gave up one run and three hits over 3 2/3 innings. The right-hander has allowed eight earned runs in 10 2/3 innings this postseason.

The Dodgers' defense fell apart in the eighth.

Gonzalez tried flipping Russell's slow roller to reliever Pedro Baez, who came over to cover first and bobbled the ball for an error.

Contreras followed with a pinch-hit single, and the runners moved up on pinch-hitter Albert Almora Jr.'s sacrifice bunt. Fowler reached on an infield single to first, with Gonzalez losing a foot race when Fowler slid into the bag as Russell scored.

Kris Bryant reached on an infield single to third, with the Dodgers unsuccessfully challenging the call that he was safe.

The Dodgers thought they'd finally escaped the inning when Rizzo lined out to second baseman Kike Hernandez, who nearly doubled up Fowler at second. But the Cubs challenged the call and it was reversed, prolonging the inning.

Baez got yanked after walking Ben Zobrist to load the bases. Ross Stripling came on to face Baez, who doubled to deep right, driving in three more runs.

"We can grab that momentum by one name: Kershaw," Gonzalez said. "We don't want to put it all on him, but if we score a couple of runs, we'll feel real good."

Scully returns
Vin Scully was back at Dodger Stadium for the first time since ending his 67-year career behind the microphone earlier this month.

The 88-year-old Hall of Fame announcer attended as a spectator and proclaimed, "It's time for Dodger baseball!" from an upstairs suite.

Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur isn't on the NLCS roster, but he's contributing. A day after his bat was borrowed by Rizzo to hit a home run, Szczur revealed during an in-game TV interview that Russell wore a pair of his underwear leggings Wednesday after leaving his own at home.

Up next
Dodgers: Kershaw takes the mound in Chicago on an extra day of rest. The left-hander is 2-0 with a 3.72 ERA in three starts and one relief appearance this postseason. Overall, the three-time Cy Young Award winner is 4-6 with a 4.39 ERA in 17 career playoff appearances.

Cubs: Hendricks' 2.13 ERA was tops in the majors this season. The right-hander allowed a solo homer in 5 1/3 innings of Game 2, his longest career postseason start. The Cubs lost 1-0 to Kershaw.

MLB Playoffs: Indians reach 1st World Series since 1997

MLB Playoffs: Indians reach 1st World Series since 1997

TORONTO -- For the Cleveland Indians, the script was the same every game -- hope for the best from whoever they started, then count on Andrew Miller and the bullpen to close it out.

That plan seemed especially dicey in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series, with lightly used Ryan Merritt on the mound.

But out of nowhere, the rookie delivered.

Merritt coolly kept the Indians ahead until reinforcements arrived, and Cleveland earned its first trip to the World Series since 1997 by blanking the Toronto Blue Jays 3-0 Wednesday.

The 24-year-old lefty defied expectations, shutting down the powerful Blue Jays before exiting in the fifth inning. Thanks to a most unlikely pitching performance, a most unexpected team won the ALCS 4-1.

Cleveland, which has never hosted a World Series opener, will play Game 1 at Progressive Field on Tuesday night against the Chicago Cubs or Los Angeles Dodgers.

Manager Terry Francona's team will try to augment what's already been a scintillating year in Cleveland after LeBron James and the Cavaliers earned the city's first major pro sports championship since 1964.

The Indians' title drought dates to 1948. In 1997, they let a one-run lead get away in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 and lost to the Florida Marlins in the 11th.

"We always said if we could do it with this group it would be so special because this is as close to a family feel as you can get in a professional setting. So for that part of it, it is beyond feeling good," Francona said (see full recap).

Cubs' bats come alive to even series
LOS ANGELES -- Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and the rest of the Chicago Cubs' bats broke out in a big way.

Rizzo homered and ended a postseason slump with three RBIs, Russell's two-run drive highlighted a four-run fourth that stopped Chicago's 21-inning scoreless streak as the Cubs routed the Los Angeles Dodgers 10-2 on Wednesday to even the NL Championship Series at 2-all.

Kenta Maeda is set to pitch for the Dodgers in Game 5 on Thursday against Jon Lester. Before the game, manager Dave Roberts said he will not start Clayton Kershaw on short rest after the Los Angeles ace threw a bullpen session Wednesday.

Chicago ensured the NLCS will return to Wrigley Field for Game 6 Saturday.

To break out of his prolonged slump, Rizzo used teammate Matt Szczur's bat.

"I know Szczur's bat has a lot of hits in it," Rizzo said. "I've done it a few times this year, just switching up the bat, switching up the mindset."

Following consecutive shutout losses, the Cubs rapped out 13 hits on an 80-degree (26 degree Celcius) night with the warm Santa Ana winds fluttering the flags in center field.

Rizzo and Russell had three hits each. Chicago's 3-4-5 hitters -- a combined 2 for 32 in the first three games -- busted out. Every Cubs starter got at least one hit except Kris Bryant, who walked twice (see full recap).