Got defense? Brown, Young had it on Thursday

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Got defense? Brown, Young had it on Thursday

CLEARWATER, Fla. – There were a number of reasons for the Phillies’ disappointing season last year.

Injuries.

Poor bullpen work.

Don’t underestimate defense.

In their 102-win season of 2011, the Phils had the best fielding percentage in the major leagues and made just 74 errors.

Last season, they slipped to 15th in fielding percentage and made 101 errors while losing their five-year hold on the NL East.

Coming into this camp, defense loomed as a large question mark for the Phils because some of the players they were adding to their lineup had shortcomings on that side of the ball, and because, well, the team is getting older and age can rob a player of range.

Defense is still an issue for this team. Charlie Manuel moaned about it after some sloppy games early in camp. But Manuel had no complaints Thursday. His team played excellent defense in a 10-6 loss to the Minnesota Twins at windy Bright House Field.

What had to make Manuel happiest were the guys who played the good defense. Question mark Domonic Brown made two nice running plays in the outfield. Question mark Michael Young made two nice plays at third base. And Chase Utley, the man whose knees are always a quiet concern, showed big hops as he rose high in the air to knock down a line drive and save a run.

“That’s what you want,” said starting pitcher Cliff Lee, speaking for all the pitchers.

Six percent of the runs allowed by the Phillies in 2011 were unearned. That number rose to nine percent in 2012.

How discouraging is it on a pitcher when he’s not backed by good defense?

“Very,” Lee said.

Lee acknowledged that the Phillies could have played better defense last year but added that there were a lot of shortcomings to the team’s game in 2012. How much can the Phils improve on defense this season? Time will tell. Young and Brown will have a lot to say about that and so will Delmon Young and Darin Ruf in the outfield. One thing is clear: If the Phillies play as porously as they did last season, they will be in trouble. It could seriously impact the strength of the team -- the pitching staff.

“We want guys to make plays,” Lee said. “This is the big leagues. We expect guys to make plays. If they don’t, you have to get the ball back and try to make another pitch and hopefully they make the plays. I think everyone holds each other accountable as far as that goes. It’s not like you’re mad at him or he did it on purpose, but I think all of us expect each other to make fundamentally sound plays. When you’re giving outs away, you’re giving the other team a chance to win.

“It’s about focus and making sure you’re in the moment and anticipating the ball more than anything. You’ve got to do that on the mound, too. It’s not just the position players. It’s the pitchers, too. It’s everyone. It’s something we can all do a better job on.”

Brown continues to have an excellent spring. A 2-for-4 performance Thursday left him hitting .400. His swing looks easy and strong. The ball is jumping off his bat. Gone is the uptightness of previous spring auditions. He is playing with a relaxed, confident gait. That confidence is also showing in the field. Brown is running all-out for balls. He’s not tentative.

On Thursday, Brown cut off one ball in left-center, saving a double and made a long run to snare a sinking line drive. He said he wouldn’t have made either play last year. Of course, sore knees would have been part of the reason for that. He’s healthy now. But he’s also throwing caution to the wind, playing full speed and letting things happen instead of forcing them. That comes from confidence.

“He ran like he wanted to get those balls,” Manuel said.

“I’m feeling good, feeling healthy, that’s the key,” Brown said. “I’m out there having fun, trying to make good reads.”

On Thursday, Brown did more than try. He succeeded. His work -- and Young’s at third base -- was a step in the right direction for a team that needs to improve its defense.

MLB Notes: Rangers' Rougned Odor's suspension reduced to 7 games

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MLB Notes: Rangers' Rougned Odor's suspension reduced to 7 games

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor started serving his suspension Friday for punching Toronto's Jose Bautista after the penalty was reduced from eight to seven games.

Odor was out of the lineup for the series opener against Pittsburgh. He will be eligible to return June 4 when Texas is home against Seattle.

Bautista was suspended one game, and he was serving that Friday, when the penalty was upheld a day after his appeal was heard.

The Rangers promoted former top prospect Jurickson Profar from Triple-A Round Rock, and he was in the lineup against the Pirates as the leadoff hitter playing second base. Odor had been leading off.

Odor's penalty was cut by Major League Baseball special assistant John McHale Jr. The appeal over Odor's role in a May 15 brawl between the Rangers and Blue Jays was heard Tuesday. The league disciplined 14 players and staff over the melee in Arlington (see full story).

Red Sox: Struggling RHP Clay Buchholz to bullpen
TORONTO -- Struggling Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz is being moved to the bullpen and left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will take Buchholz's spot in the rotation, starting Tuesday at Baltimore.

Buchholz is 2-5 with a 6.35 ERA in 10 starts and has allowed five earned runs or more six times. He gave up season-highs of six runs and three home runs in Thursday's 8-2 loss to Colorado.

Rodriguez (right knee) is on the 15-day DL has not pitched for the Red Sox this season. He's 0-3 with a 3.54 ERA in five rehab starts at Triple-A Pawtucket. He went 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA as a rookie in 2015.

Buchholz has made two career relief appearances, one in his rookie season in 2007 and another in 2008.

Manager John Farrell said Buchholz will make multi-inning appearances in order to remain stretched out and could return to the rotation later in the season.

Best of MLB: Mets spoil Urias' debut in 6-5 walk-off win

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Best of MLB: Mets spoil Urias' debut in 6-5 walk-off win

NEW YORK -- Curtis Granderson homered leading off the bottom of the ninth inning to give the New York Mets a 6-5 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night.

Chase Utley, who was booed all night in his return to Citi Field, hit a tying three-run double off Jeurys Familia with two outs in a four-run ninth inning for the Dodgers.

New York took a 3-0 lead in the first against Julio Urias and chased the 19-year-old after 2 2/3 innings in his major league debut.

But in a non-save situation, Familia (2-0) failed to hold a 5-1 lead.

New York moved back into the NL East lead, by percentage points over Washington, giving Mets manager Terry Collins a happy 67th birthday. New York won for the sixth time in seven games, stopping the Dodgers' four-game winning streak (see full recap).

A-Rod, Tanaka lead Yanks to win over Rays
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Alex Rodriguez homered for the first time since coming off the disabled list, Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven shutout innings and the New York Yankees beat the Tampa Bay Rays 4-1 on Friday night.

Rodriguez returned Thursday after missing three weeks with a strained right hamstring. His sixth homer of the season and 693rd overall off Chris Archer came during a three-run sixth.

Tanaka (3-0) scattered two hits and struck out four to run his career-best unbeaten streak to 11 consecutive starts, dating to last season.

Andrew Miller gave up a single and hit a batter during a scoreless eighth. Kirby Yates allowed Steve Pearce's two-out solo homer in the ninth before Aroldis Chapman got the final out.

Carlos Beltran homered in the eighth for the Yankees.

Archer (3-6) allowed four runs -- one earned -- and four hits in eight innings for the Rays, who have lost six of seven (see full recap).

Donaldson HRs spark Blue Jays' victory
TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson hit two home runs and drove in five runs as the Toronto Blue Jays snapped a five-game home losing streak with a 7-5 win over the Boston Red Sox on Friday night.

The reigning AL MVP was 4 for 5, starting the scoring with a first-inning solo shot, and then providing the winning margin with a two-run drive, his 13th of the year in the eighth.

Justin Smoak added a solo shot in the fifth inning. Joe Biagini (2-1) got four outs and Roberto Osuna pitched the ninth for his 11th save.

Koji Uehara (2-2) worked the eighth inning for the Red Sox, allowing Ezequiel Carrera -- starting for the suspended Jose Bautista -- to reach on a bunt before surrendering the home run to Donaldson.

Boston's Xander Bogaerts was 1 for 4, extending his career-best hitting streak to 20 games, the longest active run in the majors (see full recap).

Cubs use three homers to beat Morgan and Phillies' feeble offense

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Cubs use three homers to beat Morgan and Phillies' feeble offense

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs were everything they were advertised to be on Friday afternoon/evening.
 
They pitched.
 
They hit.
 
And they looked like what they are – the best team in the majors – as they put a whoopin’ on Adam Morgan and a Phillies club that is slowly cooling after its hot start.
 
The Cubs rode three home runs to a 6-2 win over the Phils at Wrigley Field (see Instant Replay). It was the Phils’ third loss in four games on this road trip and fifth in the last seven games.

As if the loss wasn't enough, the Phillies' misery was stretched out by a pair of late-game rain delays that totaled 1 hour, 33 minutes.
 
Scoring runs continues to be a great challenge for the local nine, which entered the day averaging just 3.3 runs per game. The Phils have been held to two or fewer runs 16 times in their 48 games. For the season, they have been outscored by 35 runs.
 
The Phils are still over .500 at 26-22, but they might not be much longer if they don’t find some offense. They had 10 hits in the game, but only one for extra bases.
 
"We couldn't string anything together," manager Pete Mackanin lamented afterward.

Mackanin was asked if he was worried the offensive shortcomings were catching up with the team.
 
“I wouldn’t say I’m worried about it,” he said. “I’ve been conscious of it the whole season. We certainly would like to have more offense, a little bit more power.
 
“You look at the Cubs, you look at the Tigers, they’ve got power and home-run threats to do damage. We haven’t been able to do that. So, of course, I’m always concerned it might catch up with us, but as long as the pitching does its job we’re going to be in as many games as they allow us to be in.”
 
Starting pitching is a big reason the Phillies came into Wrigley Field five games over .500. It has kept them in games to the point where a big hit or big defensive play can win it.
 
But the starting pitching was not there in this game and that’s a problem when you’re facing the Cubs. They are a team has been built to break a 108-year World Series championship drought. They are averaging 5.7 runs per game, best in the National League, and have outscored their opponents by a whopping 123 runs. Their 32 wins are the most in the majors.
 
The Cubs pounded Morgan for six runs in four innings. He was tagged for eight hits and five were for extra bases, including three homers.
 
Morgan really struggled in the fourth inning. He gave up a mammoth 461-foot homer to Jorge Soler to lead off the frame. Four batters later, David Ross followed a walk and a single with a three-run home run to left and the Friday afternoon Happy Hour was on at Wrigley – at least until the skies opened in the seventh. Morgan gave up a third home run (to Kris Bryant) in the fifth.
 
“You try to be consistent and give your team a chance to win,” Morgan said. “When you put them in a hole like that it’s hard.”
 
Two of the homers Morgan allowed came on 1-2 counts. One was on a slider, the other a fastball. Neither put the hitter away, obviously. Poor location.
 
“Morgan didn’t have it today,” Mackanin said. “He really didn’t have command of any of his pitches. He struggled to make pitches when he needed to. You can overcome a solo home run, but that home run by Ross was the one that got us out of the game.”
 
In six starts, Morgan has an ERA of 6.67.
 
“He’s one good start, one bad start, one good start, one bad start. He's got to be more consistent,” Mackanin said. “At this level you have to be consistent to be successful. He’s capable of doing it. He just has to do it.”
 
Mackanin was asked whether Morgan’s spot in the rotation was in jeopardy. He did not give a direct answer.
 
“Nobody is solid in their spots,” the manager said. “Last year, I talked a lot about how you’re auditioning every day. At this level, consistency is the hallmark of a good major-league player. That includes pitchers.”