Vet Jason Marquis could fit into Phillies' plans

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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.

Mistake-prone Odubel Herrera: 'I have to slow down and be smarter'

Mistake-prone Odubel Herrera: 'I have to slow down and be smarter'

SEATTLE — Two days after being fined for ignoring a manager's order and one day after failing to run out a dropped third strike on one of his three strikeouts, enigmatic Phillies centerfielder Odubel Herrera was not in the starting lineup for Tuesday night's game against the Seattle Mariners.

Benched?

No, said manager Pete Mackanin.

"Just a day off," he said.

Benched?

No, said Herrera.

"No, no, he talked to me today and said just a night off," Herrera said. "He told me I will play tomorrow."

With a tough lefty, James Paxton, pitching for Seattle, Mackanin went with a lineup heavy on right-handed bats and switch-hitters. Herrera hits left-handed. Paxton was holding lefty hitters to a .194 batting average this season.

Interestingly, Herrera has hit lefties (.272) better than righties (.250) this season and he's in the midst of a month of June that has seen him stroke 16 extra-base hits while hitting .333 for a team that scored just four runs while losing its last three in Phoenix.

Nonetheless, Mackanin held Herrera out.

"It gives me a chance to play the other guys," said Mackanin, who used an outfield of Daniel Nava in left field, Aaron Altherr in center and Cameron Perkins in right.

So it has nothing to do with Herrera's three punch outs and effort on Monday?

"No," Mackanin said.

Is Herrera tired?

"It just gives me the opportunity to get the other guys some at-bats," Mackanin said.

Despite a big month of June at the plate — a .359 on-base percentage and a .545 slugging percentage — Herrera has committed a series of frustrating mistakes, from running through a stop sign at third base, to getting picked off, to not running out a dropped third strike, to ignoring a sign.

Herrera often has a green light to steal bases, but Mackanin put a hold on him with two outs in the sixth inning of Saturday night's game. Herrera ignored the hold and was caught stealing while the Phils trailed, 3-2. They ended up losing, 9-2.

Herrera's transgression resulted in Mackanin's taking disciplinary action: He fined the player several hundred dollars. (It will be donated to charity.)

Herrera confirmed that he was fined.

"I understand the fine," he said in English. "I have to learn."

Herrera confirmed that he ignored Mackanin's red light in Saturday's game.

"I saw the sign," Herrera said. "I just took a chance because I saw the catcher's sign (for a breaking ball) and I thought I could make it. But the pitcher didn't throw to home, he threw to first."

Herrera acknowledged his rash of recent mistakes.

"Not concentrating," he said. "A lack of concentration. Sometimes I use too much aggressiveness, you know? I have to slow down and be smarter and just learn from things."

The Phillies signed Herrera to a five-year, $30.5 million contract over the winter. That kind of money can dull a player's edge, but Herrera insists that he's as hungry as ever.

"No, no, no," he said. "I'm not like that. I still want to play hard, still want to be aggressive. Sometimes you don't get the results that you are looking for."

MLB Notes: Tim Tebow ready for next step through Mets' system

MLB Notes: Tim Tebow ready for next step through Mets' system

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Tim Tebow knows he can still improve on everything.

Given his numbers, that's obvious.

If he's the world's most popular minor league .220 hitter, that's just fine with the new left fielder for the St. Lucie Mets. Called up to the New York Mets' advanced Class A affiliate in the Florida State League earlier this week, Tebow was supposed to bat eighth and debut with his new club Tuesday.

First, though, an unplanned day off: The game was postponed after a deluge hit just before the scheduled first pitch. A doubleheader was set for Wednesday.

For St. Lucie, Tebowmania will wait another day.

"We're all as eager as anyone else is to see what the overall impact is going to be," St. Lucie general manager Traer Van Allen said.

Tebow went through batting practice -- under bright sun, incidentally -- and shook hands on the field with some of his new teammates.

He said he isn't looking ahead, and for now remains just focused on the process of getting better.

"It's a scary place to get caught up in, the `where's this going to lead,' `what's going to happen to my future,' `what is the next day,'" Tebow said. "I get today. Tomorrow's not promised. I'm going to make the most of today.

"And that sounds cliche, but gosh, I hope when you look at my life 10, 20, 30 years from now, you can see somebody that they really took advantage of that day," (see full story).

Cubs: Champs to make informal trip to White House
WASHINGTON -- Manager Joe Maddon and some of the Chicago Cubs will visit the White House on Wednesday, though it's not an official visit with President Donald Trump.

Maddon said Tuesday that he was going out of respect for the Ricketts family, which owns the Cubs and donated to Trump's campaign. Maddon said it was voluntary for Cubs players and not an official trip.

"I don't have any rules to begin with," Maddon said. "I just want you to run hard to first base. As long as you run hard to first base, they can make up their own mind whether they want to go to the White House or not. As long as my pitchers work on defense, they can do whatever they want tomorrow."

The Cubs are in Washington to play the Nationals.

The White House visit is so unofficial that Maddon said it's only "a possibility" that he and the Cubs will see Trump. The team visited President Barack Obama at the White House as World Series champions in January before the end of his term.

Amid questions about whether the NBA champion Golden State Warriors will visit Trump, Maddon said he isn't making a political statement by going.

"I like the United States a lot, I like living here a lot and I like everything that it represents a lot," Maddon said. "When you get a chance as a citizen to get to go to the White House, you go. I think you go. And whether you like the person that's running the country or not, out of respect to the office itself, you go" (see full story).

Yankees: Castro on DL; prospect Wade recalled
CHICAGO -- The New York Yankees placed Starlin Castro on the 10-day disabled list on Tuesday with a strained right hamstring.

Castro was injured running out a ground ball in the third inning of New York's 6-5 win over the Chicago White Sox on Monday night. The second baseman is batting .313 with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs in 73 games.

Although an MRI on Tuesday morning revealed a Grade 1 strain, Castro doesn't believe he'll be sidelined long.

"I don't think it's serious," he said. "When I woke up, I was walking normal."

The Yankees recalled infielder Tyler Wade -- one of the organization's top prospects -- from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to take Castro's roster spot.

Wade, 22, wasn't in the lineup Tuesday because Chicago started left-hander Jose Quintana. Yankees manager Joe Girardi plans to start Wade against right-handers.

Indians: Manager Francona hospitalized, misses game
CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona missed Tuesday night's game against Texas after his second trip to the hospital this month.

The Indians said doctors for now have ruled out major health issues and Francona will be monitored the next several weeks.

The 58-year-old Francona left Monday night's game because he wasn't feeling well. He spent several hours at Cleveland Clinic and underwent a series of tests.

Francona was released from the hospital on Tuesday and spent the rest of the day at home. He was expected to return to the dugout Wednesday when the Indians host the Rangers.

Bench coach Brad Mills is running the team in Francona's absence. Cleveland began the day in first place in the AL Central after rallying for a 15-9 win Monday.

"Tito actually wanted to come back to the ballpark today," team president Chris Antonetti said Tuesday. "I told him he can't come back to the ballpark today. He only got a couple hours of sleep last night, so despite his desire to want to be here, I thought it was best that he gets some rest tonight and just come back tomorrow. His plan when he was getting released from the hospital was to come over here."

"I don't think he was exceedingly happy with me," Antonetti said with a laugh. "That's OK."

Francona was hospitalized June 13 following a game at Progressive Field. He underwent tests and was released a few hours later, returning to work the following night. Last August, he missed a game after experiencing chest pains but was back the next day.

"Thankfully, we've got some great doctors that are coordinating his care," Antonetti said. "They've done every test they can possibly imagine. They've all come back clean. They're now working to try to figure out what are some of those things that are causing him to not feel so well."

Francona, a close friend of Mills for several years, has retained his sense of humor through his health issues.

A statement released by the team Tuesday read, "Mr. Francona also wanted to express that medical personnel have not yet ruled out an allergy to Bench Coach Brad Mills."

Brewers: Braun, Villar activated from disabled list
CINCINNATI -- The Milwaukee Brewers have activated outfielder Ryan Braun and second baseman Jonathan Villar from the 10-day disabled list before opening a three-game series at Cincinnati.

The Brewers on Tuesday designated infielder-outfielder Nick Franklin for assignment. Milwaukee already had a spot open on the 25-man roster after optioning catcher Jeff Bandy and outfielder Lewis Brinson to Triple-A Colorado Springs and adding catcher Stephen Vogt on Sunday.

Braun missed 31 games because of a left calf strain. He hit .262 with seven home runs and 19 RBIs in 30 games before going on the disabled list for the second time this season with the same injury.

Villar has missed the last 16 games because of a lower back sprain. He hit .213 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 59 games.