Lee dazzles Reds in Phillies 19th shutout win

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Lee dazzles Reds in Phillies 19th shutout win

BOX SCORE

CINCINNATI Charlie Manuel looked Cliff Lee in the eye.

I want Madson, Manuel said.

You sure? Lee said.

Damn sure, Manuel said.

Lee came within one out one strike, really of his sixth shutout of the season as the Phillies beat the Cincinnati Reds, 3-0, on Monday night.

When Lee loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth on a double, a walk and a hit batsman, Manuel went to Madson, who slammed the door for his 25th save and the teams majors-leading 19th shutout.

Despite pitching a gem for his 15th win, Lee was frustrated with himself for not finishing what he started.

It isnt often you pitch 8 23 innings and not give up a run and somehow not feel good about it when its over, he said. But Madson came in and got the out so its hard to question the move. Obviously I wanted to stay in the game, but I wasnt able to finish them off.

Despite a bit of turbulence in his final inning of August, Lee had a brilliant month. He went 5-0 and allowed just two runs in 39 23 innings for an ERA of 0.45. In June, Lee went 5-0 with an 0.21 ERA as he allowed just one run in 42 innings.

He is just the third pitcher in major league history to have a 5-0 record with an ERA under 1.00 in two separate months in the same season. The others: Hall of Famers Walter Johnson and Bob Gibson. When Lee heard that, he did what he usually does when he gets excited. He shrugged.

I hope I have a good September and October, too, he said.

With Cole Hamels having come off the disabled list, the Phillies believe they have their starting rotation in order for the final month of the season. Hamels, Roy Halladay and Lee have opened this series against the Reds by allowing just one run in 21 23 innings over three Phillies wins. The team looks for continued success and a sweep Thursday with Vance Worley on the mound.

Lee allowed six hits, one walk and struck out seven, giving him 198 on the season. He continued to mix in breaking balls at opportune times, a strategy that has prevented hitters from sitting on his fastball, a pitch he loves to throw.

Lee credited his catcher, Carlos Ruiz, for managing a good game behind the plate. Ruiz had three of the Phillies eight hits and made two big defensive plays.

He was a huge part of this win, Lee said.

Lee has twice been a big acquisition by the Phillies on general manager Ruben Amaros watch. The latest big acquisition Hunter Pence continued to be a huge difference maker with a solo homer, his second in has many nights. Pence has seven homers and 17 RBIs in 27 games since joining the Phillies.

Chase Utley and Ryan Howard drove in the Phils other two runs with ground balls. Otherwise, it was a slow night for the Phils bat against lefty Dontrelle Willis. The Phils went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position.

Lee was on his way to becoming the first Phillies pitcher since Steve Carlton in 1982 to have six shutouts in a season when things unraveled in the ninth. He allowed a two-out double to Joey Votto, walked Jay Bruce with a full-count pitch and hit Miguel Cairo with an 0-2 pitch.

Manuel came onto the field after Lee hit Cairo to load the bases. At first, Manuel went to first-base umpire Jim Wolf to ask if Cairo leaned into the ball. Lee thought there was a chance hed stay in the game when Manuel didnt come straight to the mound. But Manuel eventually got to the mound and took the ball from Lee.

It wasnt a tough decision, Manuel said. I had a guy down there in the bullpen with big stuff. Cliff pitched a real good game, but it was time to get him. I wanted him to go out on a good note. He wasnt going to lose that game.

Madson retired Yonder Alonso on three pitches to end the game.

Lee will have another month of starts to get that sixth shutout.
E-mail Jim Salisbury at jsalisbury@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSalisburyCSN.

Cody Asche: 'I'm close' to being ready to rejoin Phillies

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Cody Asche: 'I'm close' to being ready to rejoin Phillies

READING, Pa. — The stat sheet says one thing, Cody Asche another.

“I’m close,” the Phillies’ once (and possibly future) leftfielder said after going hitless in four at-bats in a rehab assignment game for Double A Reading on Thursday morning. “I’m close, for sure.”

Asche, recovering from a strained left oblique muscle, is just 2 for 16 in four games at Reading, after going 3 for 18 in five games at Single A Clearwater.

But not to worry, he said. There are just “a couple little things” he needs to shore up at the plate, things that have led to “not-so-favorable results,” before he is ready to return to the major leagues.

“But I’m confident,” he said. “They’re easy fixes.”

Asche, a little over a month away from his 26th birthday, said he feels healthy, that he just needs to get his timing back, just needs to face more “good quality pitching.”

Where he will get that opportunity is a matter of conjecture. Immediately after beating Erie, 7-4, in Thursday’s matinee, Reading headed to New Hampshire to begin a road trip. Asche was not expected to accompany the Fightin Phils. Meanwhile, Triple A Lehigh Valley begins a homestand Friday.

“I think the plan right now is maybe go up to Lehigh [Friday], but that’s still in the air,” Asche said, adding that he still must consult trainer Scott Sheridan, as well as his rehab coordinator, before a decision is finalized.

It’s not clear if the organization also believes Asche is close to returning to the big leagues. Manager Dusty Wathan was not available for comment after Thursday’s game.

Wathan did address Asche’s situation after he played his first game at Reading on Sunday.

“It’s like his spring training,” the manager told reporters. “He’s trying to get himself back, get himself comfortable in left field, get himself comfortable at the plate and back into baseball shape.”

Asche, the Phillies’ fourth-round pick in 2011, hit .252 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs in 121 games at third base in 2014. Last year he began the season at that position before making the transition to left, in the wake of Maikel Franco’s emergence. But when Franco broke a wrist late in the year, Asche returned to his natural position.

Overall he hit .245 with 12 homers and 39 RBIs in 129 games. Five of his homers came in his last 18 games.

“I came in to spring training as confident as anybody in myself, and building on last year and going forward this year,” he said.

But he injured his oblique (which is near the rib cage) while swinging a bat on the eve of spring drills. Then he rehabbed, returned and promptly reaggravated the injury while swinging through a pitch the final week of camp.

It only hurt when he did … well, everything.

“Imagine everything you do during the day, you feel pain in your abdomen,” he said. “Just small things, like sneezing and coughing, are uncomfortable. Getting in and out of cars.”

Nor was his anguish merely physical.

“We’d be here all day if I tried to explain how frustrating it is,” he said. “It’s been a long process. It’s been tiring. It’s been stressful. A lot of sleepless nights during it, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I can see it. I know I’m close. It’s just a matter of time, from here on out. Once it clicks, it will click, and I’ll be ready to go.”

Asche began swinging a bat on May 1, and started his rehab assignment at Clearwater on May 13. He made the move to Reading nine days later.

“I’m kind of over the frustration part,” he said. “I had eight weeks to be frustrated while I was rehabbing. Right now I’m just solely focused on playing baseball, and preparing myself to go up there and compete when it’s my time.”

The Phillies could use him, to add punch to the anemic corner outfield spots. And he believes he can help. 

“There’s still plenty of time,” he said. “We’ve still got a long season left. It’s not even June yet. I’ve got plenty of time to leave my mark on this year.”

Future Phillies Report: Power from Alfaro, Cozens; Crawford settles in at AAA

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Tug Haines, Don Holohan/Reading Fightin Phils

Future Phillies Report: Power from Alfaro, Cozens; Crawford settles in at AAA

J.P. Crawford is settling in at Triple A, Jorge Alfaro and Dylan Cozens continue to show power, and Zach Eflin threw seven more shutout innings for the IronPigs.

All of that and more in this week's Future Phillies Report:

C Jorge Alfaro (AA)
The home run Alfaro hit Monday in Reading was such a no-doubter that Erie centerfielder JaCoby Jones didn't even turn around. Alfaro's blast landed on the top of the hill in center at FirstEnergy Stadium, his third of the season.

The hard-hitting catcher continues to impress at Double A. He's gone 11 for 29 (.379) with a homer and five RBIs since our last check-up, posting four multi-hit games in his last seven. Alfaro is up to .353 on the season with an .897 OPS that would be higher if he had walked more than twice on the year. 

Alfaro has never been the most patient hitter. He has one goal at the plate and that's to do damage, and so far this season he's been Reading's top run producer. Alfaro has 11 extra-base hits and 21 RBIs in 24 games.

He also continues to stand out behind the plate. Alfaro has thrown out three more base-stealers over the last week to make him 8 for 18 on the season.

Alfaro finds himself in a tricky situation. He's hitting enough to warrant a call-up to Triple A, but the Phillies aren't going to promote him and create a logjam behind the plate at Lehigh Valley with Andrew Knapp. And even if Knapp may eventually have to switch positions, it's in the Phils' best interest to keep developing both players as catchers in the meantime.

Instead, look for Alfaro to stay at Double A, where the Phillies will hope he can stay healthy and build confidence by continuing to torch Eastern League pitching.

SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
Six games into his Triple A career, the Phillies' top prospect is 6 for 20 (.300) and has walked four times. Of course he has. Crawford's walked nearly once a game this season, with 34 in 42 games, one every 5.6 plate appearances.

He's converted all 20 defensive chances in his first week with the IronPigs.

Crawford earned the promotion last Friday after hitting .265 with a .398 on-base percentage for Double A Reading. This is his last stop before the majors, which Crawford figures to get a taste of this September. From there, you could see him battle for the Phillies' opening day shortstop job next spring.

Crawford has been batting second for the IronPigs, a lineup spot he figures to occupy once he sticks in the majors. Crawford doesn't have a ton of speed, but his ability to work counts, make contact and reach base at a high clip make him a prototypical No. 2 hitter.

He's faced some solid pitching prospects so far at Triple A. Crawford went 3 for 4 Friday in a game started by lefty Henry Owens (Red Sox). Earlier in the series against Pawtucket he faced left-handers Eduardo Rodriguez and Roenis Elias (Red Sox). Crawford went 1 for 2 with two walks over the weekend against Toledo's Daniel Norris (Tigers). 

RHP Zach Eflin (AAA)
Ho-hum, another dominant start from the Phillies' 22-year-old right-hander speeding toward The Show. Seven more shutout innings from Eflin Tuesday at Pawtucket improved him to 5-0 with a 2.05 ERA in eight starts. He's struck out 45 and walked eight in 52⅔ innings and held his opponents to a .182 batting average. 

Lefties are hitting just .191 against Eflin with one extra-base hit in 71 plate appearances. In fact, he's allowed just seven extra-base hits all season, or one every 28.3 plate appearances. 

Eflin's 0.80 WHIP leads the International League.

The 6-6 sinkerballer just continues to go deep into games and pitch low-stress innings. In his last three starts, Eflin has pitched 21 innings and allowed one run on just 10 hits. He's walked one batter each game and struck out 17. He's been very efficient, averaging 14.7 pitches per inning.

Eflin is six months younger than Aaron Nola, who debuted with the Phillies last season a month after turning 22. Eflin could follow suit this summer. If he keeps rattling off performances like this, he could eventually crack the Phillies' rotation. A spot would open if a pitcher is injured, if Jeremy Hellickson is traded, if Adam Morgan struggles or if the Phillies limit Vince Velasquez's innings.

RHP Jake Thompson (AAA)
Thompson gave up three home runs last Friday and another on Thursday, but all were solos. He followed an eight-inning, three-run, eight-strikeout performance last Friday by allowing three runs in 5⅔ innings Thursday.

After allowing 13 earned runs in his first four starts, Thompson has given up just seven in his last five. He has a 1.93 ERA and a .193 opponents' batting average over that span, and his groundball rate has risen from 35 percent to 48 percent.

The homers Thompson allowed last Friday were to Casey McGehee, Tyler Collins and Chad Huffman. The one he allowed Thursday was to Rusney Castillo. All have played in the big leagues at some point.

Thompson was not sharp early on Thursday but eventually settled in, as he did last week, jamming lefties in and utilizing a two-seam fastball that broke down and in to righties.

In nine starts with Lehigh Valley, Thompson is 3-4 with a 3.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.7 walks.

RHP Mark Appel (AAA)
Though Appel was having some early-season success in his first year in the Phillies' system, the number of men he was putting on base and stranding foretold some eventual regression and that's been the case his last four starts. Appel recorded just two outs on Sunday before exiting for Lehigh Valley.

Appel's velocity was down to the 88 to 90 mph range, which is problematic given the relative flatness of his fastball. If he's sitting in that range he is going to get hit around, period. 

The trouble began when he walked Anthony Gose on a full count to start the game. Dixon Machado followed with a double down the left-field line on a high, 88 mph fastball. After a groundout, Appel hung a curveball that was nearly hit out of the park by Huffman for an RBI double. Three of the next four batters reached and Appel was removed for Severino Gonzalez, having allowed four runs on four hits and two walks in just two-thirds of an inning. 

There was just nothing special about Appel's stuff. His velocity early in games had been 93 to 95 mph, which helped him avoid allowing any runs in the first inning prior to last weekend. But if you were to just arrive at the ballpark Sunday and watch Appel without knowing his name, you'd have never guessed he was a former first overall pick. Is it fair to mention his draft status after each start? Probably not, but that's part of the deal when you get taken first overall and make all that money before reaching the bigs. Appel is aware of that and doesn't fight it — he's learned to accept it.

Through eight starts with Lehigh Valley, Appel is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP, and he's trending in the wrong direction. Let's put it this way: It's no fluke that he's put 60 men on base in 38⅓ innings.

OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Williams went 0 for 7 with four strikeouts in a 15-inning game for the IronPigs earlier in the week but has hit in all five games since, going 8 for 18 with three doubles and a homer. Good to see him finally striking the ball with authority. Prior to the last four nights, Williams had just one extra-base hit in his previous 33 plate appearances.

The 22-year-old is hitting .276/.311/.428 this season with seven doubles, two triples, four home runs, 20 RBIs, eight walks and 38 strikeouts. 

He's holding his own against righties, batting .295 with an .807 OPS, but the left-handed hitting Williams was just 8 for 44 (.182) with one walk and 14 K's against lefties prior to Thursday. That continued a theme from last year, when Williams hit .330 against righties and .210 against lefties.

That's why his game Thursday was so promising. Williams went 3 for 3 with a double, a walk and a hit by pitch, reaching base five times against three different left-handers.

OF Dylan Cozens (AA)
From Williams we go to Cozens, who will not stop crushing the baseball. Since having his 11-game hit streak snapped last Thursday, Cozens has gone 6 for 23 (.261) with three doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs in his last six games. 

The season numbers for the giant lefty are startling: 14 doubles, 13 home runs, 39 RBIs and a .938 OPS in 45 games. Cozens leads the Eastern League in homers and slugging percentage (.587) and is second in doubles and OPS.

Cozens is just 21, but he's powering himself up to Triple A. His success is adding intrigue to the Phillies' future outfield picture.

C Andrew Knapp (AAA)
Knapp is settling back in after a two-week slump, going 6 for 17 with three doubles and a homer in his last five games. The homer came against Tigers lefty prospect Matt Boyd, who went to Detroit from Toronto along with Norris in last summer's David Price trade.

It's pretty apparent that Knapp is going to hit his way up at some point. He has a hit in 12 of his last 13 games, and over the last two seasons is batting .321 with a .574 slugging percentage and 77 RBIs in 90 games combined between Double A and Triple A. 

Knapp is working every day behind the plate to get better defensively. Reading manager Dusty Wathan has said his blocking has improved faster than his throwing. Base stealers are 15 for 18 this season against Knapp, who had Tommy John surgery in 2013.

RHPs Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta (AA)
Lively, the 24-year-old pitcher the Phillies acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, followed up his 12-strikeout effort with a quality start and win on Sunday. He allowed three runs on four hits over six innings to improve to 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA. He's struck out 49 batters in 53 innings and allowed just one home run.

Pivetta, 23, is 4-3 with a 3.99 ERA in nine starts for Reading with 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Lively and Pivetta, who was acquired from the Nationals last summer for Jonathan Papelbon, have flown under the radar the first two months because of how many other top prospects the Phils have acquired. But they add to the organization's list of capable young right-handed pitchers.

At some point in the next few years, some of these guys could be shifted to the bullpen. The Phillies won't have enough room in the rotation if most or all of their right-handers pan out.

Let the bidding begin for Mike Trout, whom Angels must move at some point

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Let the bidding begin for Mike Trout, whom Angels must move at some point

Yes, the Angels are going to trade Mike Trout.

It may not happen this year or even next year, but eventually Angels GM Billy Eppler will accept the reality of the bleak future ahead for his franchise. Albert Pujols, who has five years and $140 million remaining on his contract after this season, has taken the baton from Ryan Howard for the worst contract in baseball. Good luck getting out of that deal. Other than the increasingly rare Pujols hot streak, they have nobody equipped to protect Trout in the lineup. 

The starting rotation has been patched together, with both Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney going down with elbow injuries early this season. Unless one of those guys comes back healthy, there isn’t a No. 1 or No. 2 starter on the roster. Theoretically, the Angels will have money to spend on the free-agent market with both C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver coming off the books after the season. But with Andrew Cashner and Jeremy Hellickson the likely headliners on the pitching market, a quick fix for the rotation seems unlikely. 

The 2017 free-agent market for hitters isn’t much better. Should Yoenis Cespedes opt out of his contract with the Mets, he could provide a potent presence behind Trout, but there will be stiff competition for his services and he’ll be in line for a massive payday. 

Toronto’s once-dynamic duo of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista should be available, but both appear to be trending downward. Giving either player a long-term deal is a risky investment at best. 

Building around the young players in the organization isn’t a viable option. By all accounts, the Angels have the worst farm system in baseball. You can check out those rankings here or here. This is a franchise in dire need of an infusion of young talent. 

We’ve seen the Phillies in a similar situation with Cole Hamels. Once there was no way forward to win with him, the only reasonable option was to trade him. Even the most ardent Hamels supporters have to admit now that moving him made sense.  

Yes, Trout is only 24 years old and is the best all-around player in baseball. The Angels should certainly explore every possible option to build a winner around the South Jersey native, who is in the second season of a six-year deal that will pay him $119 million from 2017 through 2020. But the franchise is trending in the wrong direction. If they cannot honestly see a path to contending with him, they should look to move him and jump-start a rebuild. There will be no shortage of suitors. 

So ignore the notion that you never trade an “inner-circle Hall of Famer,” which Trout certainly is on track to become. He is signed through 2020 and the clock is ticking. 

Let the bidding begin.