MLB Notes: Nationals trade Morse to Mariners

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MLB Notes: Nationals trade Morse to Mariners

The Mariners added some much-needed power to their lineup Wednesday, acquiring Michael Morse from Washington in a three-team deal that moved catcher John Jaso from Seattle to Oakland.

The NL East champion Nationals reacquired pitching prospect A.J. Cole, dealt from Washington to Oakland 13 months ago in the trade for Gio Gonzalez. Washington also got minor league pitcher Blake Treinen and a player to be named.

Morse hit .291 with 18 home runs and 62 RBIs last year in an injury-shortened season, playing mostly as a corner outfielder. He was with the Mariners from 2005-08 before he was traded to the Nationals for Ryan Langerhans in June 2009.

"I'm just glad this whole thing has unfolded the way it has," Morse said on a conference call, noting he was aware he might be traded by Washington.

"I knew there were teams involved and I knew Seattle was one of them. That was one of the teams I was hoping for. I love it out there and I always felt like I had an unfinished-business feeling in Seattle. I never got to prove myself completely what kind of player I could be or who I am," he said.

The deal clears up a logjam in the outfield for Washington and at designated hitter for Seattle (see full story).

Jeter cleared for baseball activity
TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter says he's been cleared to start baseball activity in his recovery from a broken left ankle.

The 38-year-old team captain reiterated Wednesday that he is on track to be in New York's starting lineup for the opener on April 1.

Jeter won't take the field for workouts until later this month. The 13-time All-Star said that is his normal pre-spring training routine.

"I've got the OK to start," Jeter said before a launch party for his Turn 2 Foundation Celebrity Golf Classic. "But I don't start until next week or the week after, anyway. In terms of baseball activity, I'm right where I need to be."

Jeter broke his ankle lunging for a grounder in Game 1 of the AL championship series against Detroit on Oct. 13. He had surgery a week later and the Yankees said recovery time would be four to five months (see full story).

Padilla signs with team in Japan
FUKUOKA, Japan -- Free-agent pitcher Vicente Padilla has signed with The Softbank Hawks of Japan's Pacific League.

The 35-year-old right-hander, who was 4-1 with a 4.50 ERA in 56 relief appearances for the Boston Red Sox last season, agreed to a 3.25 million, one-year contract with the Hawks, Kyodo news agency reported Thursday.

Padilla, born in Nicaragua, was a major league All-Star in 2002 with the Philadelphia Phillies when he went 14-11 with a 3.28 ERA.

He has also pitched for the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks during a 14-year big league career, going 108-91 with a 4.32 ERA.

The Hawks also signed former Chicago Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair to a 4.5 million, two-year contract in November (see full story).

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Phillies-Diamondbacks 5 things: Vince Velasquez returns in a hitter's park

Phillies-Diamondbacks 5 things: Vince Velasquez returns in a hitter's park

Phillies (32-45) at Diamondbacks (36-42)
9:40 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies move on to the third and final series of their nine-game road trip Monday night when they begin a three-game series at Chase Field with the Diamondbacks.

It was just over a week ago that the D-backs came into Citizens Bank Park and swept the Phillies in a four-game series. The three pitchers the Phils face in Phoenix are the first three they faced in Philly.

Let's take a look at the opener:

1. Velasquez returns
Vince Velasquez (5-2, 3.65) was activated off the 15-day DL Monday and will make his return to the Phillies' rotation. Velasquez ended up missing 17 games and three starts, but it could have turned out much worse after he was diagnosed with a right biceps strain. A biceps injury can sometimes be a precursor to more serious elbow issues, but Velasquez appears to have avoided long-term damage.

Velasquez was sharp last Wednesday in his one and only rehab start at Reading, sitting in the mid-90s with his fastball and touching 97. There was little left to prove, health-wise, following that start, and the Phillies elected to bring him back to the majors and send struggling Adam Morgan to the bullpen.

Velasquez had been scuffling in his own right before going on the DL. He had a 2.42 ERA and .197 opponents' batting average through his first eight starts, but in his last four he allowed 12 runs in 13⅓ innings and his opponents hit .379 with five home runs.

The time off was good for Velasquez, he said. He used it to clear his head and chose not to go back and watch the film of his three poor starts against the Tigers, Cubs and Brewers.

If Velasquez, who threw 76 pitches in last week's rehab start, can get through six innings tonight, it will be his first time doing so since May 12 in Atlanta. His last quality start came on May 1 at home against the Indians.

2. Playing the dimensions
Chase Field in Phoenix is not the ideal location for Velasquez's first start back. With the dark green batter's eye in center field and the way the ball carries, it's one of the game's most hitter-friendly ballparks.

There have been 103 home runs hit in 38 games this season at Chase Field, third-most among NL stadiums behind — surprise, surprise — Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati and Coors Field in Colorado. It's about as far from AT&T Park as it gets — the stadium in San Francisco the Phillies are coming from has seen just 50 home runs all year.

The Diamondbacks have felt the brunt of that damage. They're 13-25 at home and have allowed nine more home runs than their opponents, who have an .817 OPS at Chase Field.

The D-backs have a 5.28 ERA and 1.46 WHIP at home. The three starting pitchers they'll face this week — Robbie Ray, Zack Greinke and Archie Bradley — have respective home ERAs of 5.89, 5.06 and 5.79.

3. Another crack at Ray
The Phillies faced Ray, a 24-year-old lefty, 10 days ago in Philly. Ray allowed two runs over six innings with seven strikeouts in a 10-2 D-backs win.

Ray's fastball averages 93.6 mph, the highest average velocity of any left-handed starter in baseball. You just don't see too many southpaws throwing heat these days — Ray (16th) and Steven Matz (17th) are the only two lefties in the top 20.

According to Pitch/FX, Ray threw just two pitches against the Phillies in that June 17 start: 89 four-seam fastballs and 19 sliders among 108 pitches. His velocity ranged from 85 mph with the slider up to 97 with the heater.

Current Phillies are 7 for 24 (.292) against Ray with two extra-base hits, a Cameron Rupp triple and a Cody Asche double. 

4. Offensive momentum
Had I told you before the Phillies' road trip began that they'd score a total of 22 runs in Minnesota, beat Madison Bumgarner and hang six runs on Johnny Cueto, you'd have assumed they'd be something like 4-2, right? Well, they're 2-4 so far because they haven't pitched well or caught the ball consistently this last week.

Still, it's been pleasant to see the Phillies' offense bounce back after all the time it spent at rock bottom. The key cogs in June have been Peter Bourjos, who's hit .404 in 51 plate appearances; Rupp, who's hit .283 with five homers, four doubles and a triple; Asche, who has eight doubles and two homers; and Andres Blanco, who has seven extra-base hits. 

The Phillies have hit .273 over their last seven games with 30 extra-base hits and a .798 OPS. They've out-homered their opponents 10-2.

5. This and that
• The All-Star game is creeping up and it's not easy to figure out which Phillie will get the nod (see story).

• The Phillies are 8-8 this season against left-handed starting pitchers. The only team in the majors to play fewer games against lefty starters has been the Red Sox (5-8).

• The Phils might want to try a new plan of attack with D-backs third baseman Jake Lamb. At CBP, he went 9 for 17 with a double, triple, two homers and five RBIs. Lamb, hitting .285/.364/.570 with 15 homers and 51 RBIs, could be an All-Star in two weeks.

• The D-backs have allowed 42 runs in six games since that Phillies series, in which they allowed five runs in four games.

Phillies president Andy MacPhail says Ryan Howard issue is not an issue at all

Phillies president Andy MacPhail says Ryan Howard issue is not an issue at all

Phillies president Andy MacPhail does not see the issue of Ryan Howard's staying with the team in a diminished role for the remainder of the season as being an issue at all.

Over the weekend in San Francisco, MacPhail echoed remarks made by general manager Matt Klentak two weeks ago: The way things stand right now, there's no reason to release Howard. Barring an unforeseen development, both sides can make things work for the remaining three months on Howard's contract.

"I agree with Matt," MacPhail said. "To me, he's one of our 25 best guys right now in the role he's in.

"My experience is, not to be critical of the media, but if they think something is going to happen they like to push the action a little bit. You know what I mean? If they see something teetering, everybody is going to weigh in on one side or another and I don't think Matt or I see this thing as teetering.

"Pete (Mackanin) has done a magnificent job of handling the situation. I know people are sometimes critical of us (the front office) for not getting involved, but we don't want to emasculate the manager or the coaching staff. He has to write the lineups. We can't get him off the hook on certain things. That's the beauty of being a manager. When the players know the manager writes the lineups, the manager has an opportunity to influence the events."

Mackanin has given most of the recent playing time at first base to Tommy Joseph. Howard, hitting .153 with 11 homers and 24 RBIs, has picked up at-bats as a part-timer at first and as a designated hitter in road interleague games, of which there are just two more.

Howard, 36, is still owed over $22 million in 2016 salary and a buyout of the 2017 option in his contract. He has said he will not retire.

While Howard does not like his current role, he understands it and seems willing to ride things out for the remainder of his final year with the club.

"I just try to be upbeat and keep positive," he said. "I understand the game. I understand what takes place in the game. I've been around the game for a long time. You have ups and downs. Right now, when I get out there and play, I try to do what I can and try to help these guys learn and become better ballplayers."

Phillies president Andy MacPhail sees progress, remains committed to rebuild

Phillies president Andy MacPhail sees progress, remains committed to rebuild

It was a year ago this week that the Phillies went through some startling changes.

Ryne Sandberg, beaten down by the losses that come with managing a team in strip-down-and-rebuild mode, resigned as manager.

A few days later, ownership hired veteran executive Andy MacPhail, winner of two World Series as a general manager in Minnesota before moving to top positions with the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles, as a special assistant and elevated him to franchise president at the end of the season.

MacPhail joined the organization just in time to see his new club swept in a four-game series at home by the Milwaukee Brewers, a team that finished last season 26 games under .500.

"That was a wakeup call," MacPhail said over the weekend in San Francisco. "I'm thinking, 'Yow.'"

A year later, the losses are still mounting at the big-league level where the Phillies have lost 28 of their last 36 heading into Monday night's game at Arizona.

Nonetheless, MacPhail sees progress, some at the major-league level, lots in the minors.

The Phillies, who got off to a 24-17 start after six weeks, take a 32-45 record into play Monday night.

"I'm not really surprised by the record," MacPhail said. "I don't think that should come as a surprise to anybody, but I'm very surprised how we got there. I did not anticipate that we would play as well as we did the first seven weeks and just take a dramatic downturn from there and, frankly, play as poorly as we have since that time.

"I'm hoping we can stabilize. We've seen both sides of it. It's a funny game. The Minnesota series (the Phils lost two to the lowly Twins last week) was an example of balls we would have caught the first six weeks that we didn't catch, plays we would have made that we didn't make, balls that got through that we might have had somebody there in key situations. It's just the way the game works. They talk about things evening out over the course of 162 games. That probably says a lot about how our season has gone."

MacPhail pointed to the work of former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and his staff at the trade deadline last July as a reason the organization is in better shape than it was when he watched those four losses to Milwaukee his first week on the job.

The Phillies traded away Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman, who are both making contributions to a Texas Rangers club that has opened a big lead in the AL West and has legitimate World Series aspirations. In return, they got their likely catcher of the future in Jorge Alfaro, a potential middle-of-the-order bat in outfielder Nick Williams, a future big-league rotation arm in Jake Thompson (he's likely the next pitcher to come from Triple A) and a pitcher who has already made significant contributions in the majors in Jerad Eickhoff. It's possible that Alfaro, Williams and Thompson will join Eickhoff as mainstays on the big-league roster as soon as next season. Williams and Thompson could get a look even sooner than that.

"I would really say (the early stages of the rebuild) has gone better than I anticipated," MacPhail said. "And I really think that the trade deadline acquisitions helped springboard this process, accelerate the rebuilding process. Guys are coming along and progressing.

"I'm actually more encouraged today than I ever would have dreamed I would have been after my first month with the Phillies, a lot of through Ruben's efforts at the trade deadline."

This July's trade deadline won't be as busy as last year's for the simple reason the Phillies don't have a player with Hamels' value on the block.

The Phils would be open to dealing a number of veterans — infielder Andres Blanco, catcher Carlos Ruiz and pitchers such as Jeremy Hellickson, Jeanmar Gomez and Andrew Bailey — but are under no pressure to do so, and they certainly won't give anyone away.

MacPhail restated his oft-stated philosophy that he wants to build the franchise with a core of pitching. He will not come off that philosophy.

"My experience has been you can find hitters," he said. "Pitching is the essential component. When you look at this team's success for the first seven weeks of the season, it wasn't offense. It was pitching and playing much improved defense from where we were a year ago.

"In my view, there's never enough pitching and if you have good pitching you have the greatest safety net of good performance. In the places where I've been, we've been able to find a hitter to plug in somewhere. We have resources here. We have ownership that has never had a problem spending on the product. Our park is relatively attractive for hitters to come to."

The resources MacPhail spoke about were a big reason he came out of retirement to join the Phillies. Ownership has big money and has shown a willingness to spend in the past. It wants a winner, but backs MacPhail's intention to do it methodically with lots of young pitching and the addition of bats, either through the system or free agency.

The Phils have only about $25 million committed in payroll for next season. They have the capability to be big spenders on the free-agent market this offseason. Will they be?

"We won't shun the free-agent market by any stretch," MacPhail said. "If we can find something that makes sense for us and is a nice fit, we would do it, certainly in the pitching corner."

MacPhail mentioned the Phils could also look to take on the contract of player that another team is looking to trade. But any additions must fit into the fabric of the rebuild. In other words, they must be young enough and contractually controllable enough to be around for a while. Or they must be veteran-type placeholders on short-term deals, a la Hellickson this season.

"Our baseball operations group is very thoughtful," MacPhail said. "They are not going to shy away from opportunities today if they think it's going to make sense for the future. If something comes up that we think, 'Boy this fits in our window,' let's go."

Many baseball people see the Phillies as being just a couple or three years away from another big run in the NL. They have kids coming and money to spend in some fertile upcoming free-agent markets. It might be difficult to imagine now as the losses are piling up, but the Phillies could be building a power. That's a real belief in baseball circles.

"We've been around long enough to know how things look now, what people's perception of the system is now, and what ultimately happens can be two different things," MacPhail said.

"But I'm aware of that perception and I certainly hope that's the case. We're going to do everything we can to make it the case."