Veteran Cesar Ramos off to good start in Phillies' lefty reliever derby

Veteran Cesar Ramos off to good start in Phillies' lefty reliever derby

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Cesar Ramos did not sign with the Phillies until the first week of January.

But the ink-to-paper part was just a formality.

Deep down inside, the 32-year-old relief pitcher had known for a couple of months that he would take his shot with the Phillies in 2017.

"Once Philly reached out early in the offseason, I knew I wanted to come here," Ramos said. "We talked for a while and eventually got something done."

Ramos, a veteran of eight big-league seasons, had a strong season pitching in relief for the Los Angeles Angels in 2015. He recorded a 2.75 ERA in 65 games that season and his work was witnessed up close by Matt Klentak, the former Angels assistant general manager who became the Phillies head man in October 2015.

Klentak made a bid to sign Ramos before the 2016 season, but the left-hander went with the Texas Rangers because they offered a chance to work as a starting pitcher and he wanted to give the role a shot.

Ramos bounced in and out of the Rangers' rotation in 2016. He spent some time in the minors and was eventually released before finishing the season with Detroit's Triple A Toledo club.

After the season, Ramos realized that the bullpen was the place he needed to be. He crossed his fingers that the Phillies would call again -- and they did. He is in camp on a minor-league contract, one of four left-handed relievers vying for one or two spots in the bullpen. The others are Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez and Sean Burnett, who, like Ramos, is a veteran on a minor-league deal.

Ramos knew the Phillies were thin on lefty relievers.

"I did my homework a little bit," said the Los Angeles-area native, a former teammate and roommate of Evan Longoria and Troy Tulowitzki at Long Beach State University. "I’m trying to put myself where I have the best chance to have success coming in on a minor-league deal.

"I believe in myself. I've always had to fight for a spot so it’s nothing new for me. I have to come in and perform."

So far, so good.

Ramos has pitched five innings this spring and given up just two hits and a run. He pitched two scoreless innings against the Tigers in Lakeland on Tuesday.

Burnett checked in with two scoreless frames against the Braves on Wednesday afternoon, giving him four straight scoreless innings since giving up two runs in his first outing of the spring.

Morgan, who has been a starter most of his career, offers the Phillies length, the ability to pitch multiple innings, and that could help his chances of making the club.

Rodriguez showed power stuff in climbing from Class A ball to the majors last season. He has pitched 3 1/3 innings this spring and given up two hits, a run and a walk. He has registered three strikeouts.

With 23 days left in Florida, it's too early to predict which lefties will end up in the bullpen. Heck, the field of candidates could grow as the front office is surely keeping tabs on which lefty relievers become available in other camps.

"Out of the four that we have, I'd like to pick two, if possible," manager Pete Mackanin said. "But nothing is for sure on that side right now. I'm anxious to sort that out once we start having our meetings on the structure of the team. There's definitely a need. It's wide open."

Being in spring training with the Phillies has been a bit of a homecoming for Ramos. He pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays from 2011 to 2014 before being traded to the Angels when Klentak was in that front office.

"My best year as a reliever was in front of his eyes in Anaheim," Ramos said. "Hopefully I can still be that same guy.

"Hopefully I can be here in April."

Best of MLB: Matt Kemp walk-off HR lifts Braves over Giants

Best of MLB: Matt Kemp walk-off HR lifts Braves over Giants

ATLANTA -- Matt Kemp hit a two-run homer off Cory Gearrin in the 11th inning to lift the Atlanta Braves to a 5-3 win over the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday night.

The homer, the third of the game for Atlanta, was Kemp's seventh game-ending shot of his career.

Gearrin (1-2) walked Nick Markakis with one out before Kemp's homer barely cleared the right field wall..

Matt Adams hit a two-run homer and Tyler Flowers also homered off Jeff Samardzija.

Braves Sean Newcomb, who gave up one run in six innings, was denied his first win when Hunter Pence's homer off Braves closer Jim Johnson tied the game at 3-3 in the ninth. It was Johnson's fifth blown save in 18 chances (see full recap).

Diamondbacks ride 10-run 4th inning to victory
DENVER -- Taijuan Walker pitched six solid innings and slapped an RBI single during Arizona's biggest inning ever on the road -- a 10-run fourth -- and the Diamondbacks went on to beat the Colorado Rockies 16-5 on Wednesday night.

Shaking off Tuesday's tough loss in which Colorado rallied late for a one-run win, the Diamondbacks sent 14 men to the plate and pounded out nine hits, including a two-run double and RBI single by Brandon Drury in his two at-bats in the inning. Drury finished with four hits and career-high six RBIs and the Diamondbacks established season highs in run and hits (20).

David Peralta and Paul Goldschmidt also connected for two hits in the inning and combined for three RBIs, helping the Diamondbacks snap the Rockies' winning streak at six games and setting up Thursday's match between the NL West rivals as the decisive game in the series (see full recap).

Royals rally past Red Sox on Perez grand slam
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Salvador Perez hit his first career grand slam, connecting in the eighth inning to rally the Kansas City Royals over the Boston Red Sox 6-4 Wednesday.

The Royals have won nine of 11 and moved within a game of .500.

Perez homered over the Kansas City bullpen in left field on the ninth pitch from Robby Scott (0-1). With Boston leading 4-2, reliever Matt Barnes started the inning by walking Jorge Bonifacio and Lorenzo Cain on 12 pitches.

Scott was summoned to face Eric Hosmer, but walked him on four pitches to load the bases for Perez. The All-Star catcher fouled off three full-count deliveries before hitting his 15th home run of the season.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Perez was the first Kansas City player to hit a grand slam in the eighth inning or later with the Royals trailing since Frank White in 1986.

Jorge Soria (3-2) worked a spotless eighth. Kelvin Herrera pitched the ninth for his 17th save in 19 chances (see full recap).

Phillies on pace for 111 losses after bizarre late-game bullpen meltdown

Phillies on pace for 111 losses after bizarre late-game bullpen meltdown


In the big picture — and that's what has really mattered right from the beginning of this season — something quite positive happened for the Phillies on Wednesday night: A young, promising pitcher took a nice step forward and for the second straight start offered hope that he might just be a reliable piece of the rotation when this rebuilding club is ready to be relevant again.

But in the narrow view, it was easy to look right past Nick Pivetta's six innings of three-run, 10-strikeout ball. That's how bad the losing has been. Every night offers a gaper delay on the highway to 100 losses.

Did we say 100?

How about 111? That's the Phillies' current pace after an ugly 7-6 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals (see Instant Replay) — and 111 losses would match a franchise high set in 1941 when Doc Prothro's club went 43-111.

It's bad, folks.

But you already knew that.

This one was especially unsightly for how the Phillies lost it. They blew a five-run lead under the weight of a barrage of home runs — two against the bullpen in the eighth and ninth innings — had the potential winning run cut down at the plate by 20 feet in the bottom of the ninth then lost it in the 10th after a troubling meltdown by reliever Edubray Ramos.

You almost had to see it to believe it. And if you didn't see it, don't bother looking for a replay. It will only hurt your eyes.

"We let that five-run lead get away from us," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Real disappointing night. Pivetta did a really good job for us, gave us six good innings. And we had 16 hits; you have to win a game when you get 16 hits. We couldn't push any more runs across until that 10th inning. Very disappointing."

Pivetta — 19 strikeouts in his last two starts — took a 5-0 lead to the mound in the fifth and was tagged for a home run on a 3-2 fastball in that inning. No problem. He issued a two-out walk in the sixth then served up a first-pitch, two-run homer to Jedd Gyorko. Little problem, but not fatal.

Things started to turn bad in the eighth when reliever Joaquin Benoit served up a first-pitch homer to Jose Martinez to make it a one-run game and they got worse when Hector Neris blew his second save in three games when he gave up a game-tying homer to Tommy Pham (his second of the game) on a 1-1 fastball in the ninth.

In the 10th, Ramos gave up a leadoff double to Martinez. The reliever then balked Martinez to third and gifted him home plate on an errant pickoff throw to first base. (It sailed way over Tommy Joseph's head.) The Cards ended up scoring two runs in the frame. The second one came in handy when the Phils pushed across one in the bottom of the inning.

Ramos looks like a pitcher who needs to go to the minors to clear his head. In his last three outings, he has faced eight batters and allowed three hits, three walks and seven runs. He has also committed a costly balk and a costly error, signs that's he becoming a little overwhelmed.

"I don't know what to tell you," Mackanin said. "It looks like he's mixed up or something. He's not the same guy."

Ramos declined to speak with reporters after the game.

But Odubel Herrera and Pat Neshek did agree to chat.

Neshek, the Phillies' best reliever, was conspicuously absent from a close game. He threw 28 pitches Sunday, had a day off Monday and threw 11 on Tuesday. He was not available. What was curious was that Mackanin said Neshek had told him he was sore. Neshek said he never said such a thing, that he showed up to the ballpark and was told he was getting a day off, which he actually thought was a good idea. But sore? Not so, he said.

As for Herrera, he drew attention for running through third base coach Juan Samuel's stop sign in the bottom of the ninth inning and getting nailed at the plate for the final out. Samuel said it was the first time a player had ever run through one of his stop signs. In this case, Herrera almost ran him over.

"It's just bad timing for it," Samuel said.

There was some question as to whether Samuel's stop sign went up too late, but Herrera dismissed that. He said he was simply running with his head down.

"I was playing aggressive," he said. "I wanted to win the game. So when I was rounding third, I put my head down. I kept going to home plate. I saw [the stop sign]. But I saw it late. I put my head down. That's my mistake."

Making a mistake didn't make Herrera unique Wednesday night.

"The mistakes we're making are giving the other team too many pitches to hit," Mackanin said. "Those are our mistakes. Especially late in the game."