MLB Notes: Rivera pitches first simulated game

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MLB Notes: Rivera pitches first simulated game

TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees closer Mariano Rivera was all smiles after throwing 18 pitches Thursday in his first simulated game since knee surgery last spring.

"I feel good," Rivera said. "I feel real good. Getting stronger and stronger."

The 43-year old pitched one inning against Yankees' minor leaguers. He also fielded and covered first base.

"That's what I wanted to do, field some bunts, go after some balls in between first and the mound," Rivera said.

Rivera pitched in nine games last year, his season ending when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while tracking down a fly ball during batting practice in Kansas City on May 3. He had surgery on June 12 (see full story).

Not much hope for Astros, Marlins
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Spring training is supposed to be a time of hope.

Unless you're the Houston Astros. Or the Miami Marlins.

With no-name rosters and in the midst of massive rebuilding jobs, Houston and Miami are more likely to be remembered as among the worst teams in recent history than make an improbable run at the playoffs.

The Astros lost 107 games last year, after 106 defeats in 2011. Houston's main goal will be trying to avoid becoming the first team since the expansion New York Mets in the 1960s to lose at least 106 games in three straight seasons.

"No one expects us to do well," Lucas Harrell said Thursday, after pitching in a spring training game against the New York Yankees. "So, when we do well, it's going to be kind of like, `Oh, wow.' I definitely think we have a chance to shock a lot of people this year."

Brave words, especially when the Astros face the additional burden of moving from the NL into what looks like the toughest division in baseball, the AL West. They'll be matched regularly against two 2012 playoff teams -- Oakland and Texas -- plus the high-priced Los Angeles Angels, who have three of the game's most dynamic players: Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Mike Trout (see full story).

Beltran, Westbrook hurt in Cards' win
JUPITER, Fla. -- Carlos Beltran and Jake Westbrook limped to the St. Louis Cardinals' clubhouse moments apart Thursday, which made manager Mike Matheny glad it was still only February.

Beltran bruised the little toe on his right foot when he was hit by a pitch in the first inning of the Cardinals' 8-2 victory over the Miami Marlins. Westbrook bruised his left leg below the knee on a grounder hit by Casey Kotchman in the second inning.

Beltran's X-rays were negative, but he said the injury was painful, and he was unsure whether it would affect his plans to play for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. Westbrook didn't undergo X-rays.

Beltran scored after being hit then left the game (see full story).

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Bases-loaded walk caps Phillies' comeback win over Diamondbacks

Bases-loaded walk caps Phillies' comeback win over Diamondbacks

BOX SCORE

PHOENIX — When Arizona ace Zack Greinke was unable to open the third inning with tightness in his left oblique Tuesday night, the first thought indicated this game may tilt in Jerad Eickhoff’s favor.

When Eickhoff last faced Arizona at Citizens Bank Park on June 18, Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale called Eickhoff, “the Phillies' best pitcher.” That was before Hale saw the resurgence of Vince Velasquez Monday night, but his observation was not terribly far off the mark. 

In his next start against the Diamondbacks Tuesday night, Eickhoff dazzled Arizona hitters with his usual assortment of off-speed pitches and an occasional hard fastball on the edge of the plate. The result was a no-decision for Eickhoff, but the Phillies were able to rally for two runs in the ninth inning for a 4-3 win over the Diamondbacks before 19,645 at Chase Field (see Instant Replay). Ryan Howard, who usually wins games with his bat, won this one by walking with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth.

With the Phillies down 3-2 coming into their final at-bats, Andres Blanco, who manager Pete Mackanin calls “a super utility player,” singled in Jimmy Paredes, who doubled to open the frame. Blanco’s hit to right tied the game, and left the dramatics for later in the inning. After a single from Obudel Herrera and a walk to Peter Bourjos loaded the bases, Maikel Franco struck out swinging on a pitch well off the plate. But Howard, and his disciplined eye, squeezed out a walk from typically reliable closer Brad Ziegler, who earlier this season had a streak of 43 straight save opportunities converted snapped.

“Great come-from-behind win and reminds me of the kind of wins we were had earlier in the season,” Mackanin said. “Good at-bat from Howard there in the ninth, but I’m sure he would have liked to win this with a grand slam.”

For his part, Eickhoff said the contest was “a struggle and I battled most of the game.” Though his pitch count hit 105 for the five innings of work, the native of Evansville, Indiana, thought every pitch was critical.

Eickhoff was most effective during the middle innings.

With the score deadlocked at 1-1, Jake Lamb led off the fourth with a triple, but Eickhoff managed to get Yasmany Tomas to fly to right, struck out Welington Castillo and forced opposing pitcher Randall Delgado into a groundout to third.

After Franco snapped a 1-1 tie with his 13th homer of the season with two out in the fifth, Eickhoff seemed to pitch with more difficulty. He hit Nick Ahmed with a pitch before a Jean Segura single gave the Diamondbacks runners on first and third with none out in the bottom of the fifth. Eickhoff then struck out Michael Bourn, fanned Paul Goldschmidt on a 91-mph fastball and got Lamb to ground out to Freddy Galvis, who was positioned perfectly behind the bag at second. Approaching the dugout, Eickhoff pounded his glove in an emotional response to vanishing two Arizona scoring opportunities in subsequent innings.

“In those innings, you have to think one pitch at a time,” Eickhoff said. “Overall, I didn’t go as deep as I wanted, and the game was like a chess match.”

After retiring the sides in the fourth and fifth, Eickhoff was reached for a game-tying blast from Tomas leading off the sixth. The home run was the 13th of the season for Tomas, and came on a full count. The ball carried an estimated 460 feet by Statcast, and was the longest homer for any Arizona player this season.

Still, Eickhoff was able to hang around and battle through adversity, while his counterpart in Greinke was forced to the clubhouse with that oblique strain.

“That really made no difference to me,” Eickhoff said of Greinke’s departure. “I’m just trying to execute pitches myself. Nothing changed for me, and I just want to attack hitters.”

Notes
Howard appeared in his 1,521st game for the Phillies, which tied him for ninth place on the all-time franchise list with Sherry Magee (1904-1914). … With a 1-for-4 game, Bourjos extended his hitting streak to eight games (15 for 31, .484). Over his last 19 games, Bourjos is hitting .442 (23 for 52). … With the victory Tuesday, the Phillies are guaranteed of winning their first series since May 16-18. That’s when they took two of three games from the Miami Marlins. After that series, the Phillies started a stretch of 0-10-2 in their last 12 series.

Best of MLB: Giolito sharp in rain-shortened debut as Nats beat Mets

Best of MLB: Giolito sharp in rain-shortened debut as Nats beat Mets

WASHINGTON -- Lucas Giolito threw four scoreless innings in his rain-shortened major league debut, and the Washington Nationals beat the New York Mets 5-0 on Tuesday night.

Baseball's top pitching prospect allowed just one hit -- a leadoff single -- struck out one and walked two before a lengthy rain delay ended his outing. The 21-year-old Giolito threw 29 of his 45 pitches for strikes and was in command against the Mets like a seasoned veteran.

Bryce Harper hit a two-run home run, his team-leading 16th of the season, Wilson Ramos drove in two and Anthony Rendon had an RBI triple to provide the run support.

Mets right-hander Matt Harvey (4-10) was the hard-luck loser despite striking out three and allowing just four hits in 3 2/3 innings (see full recap).

Cubs outlast Reds in 15 innings
CINCINNATI -- Kris Bryant singled home the tiebreaking run in the 15th inning and the Chicago Cubs used three pitchers in left field while beating the Cincinnati Reds 7-2 on Tuesday night in the longest game of the season for both teams.

With the Cubs out of position players, relievers Travis Wood and Spencer Patton (1-0) alternated between left field and the mound in the 14th inning, which ended with Patton getting the final out. Wood then finished it off with reliever Pedro Strop in left.

Bryant's only hit on Tuesday -- a single off J.J. Hoover (1-2) -- snapped the tie. Javier Baez added a grand slam in the 15th, the sixth career allowed by Hoover, which is a Reds record.

The National League's top team went 1-6 last week but has pulled out of the downturn by winning the first two games of a series against the Reds. The Cubs hit five homers -- three by Kris Bryant -- while taking the opener 11-8 (see full recap).

Indians top Braves for 11th straight win
ATLANTA -- Carlos Santana hit a tie-breaking single in Cleveland's three-run ninth inning, Corey Kluber allowed only three hits in eight innings and the Indians beat the Atlanta Braves 5-3 on Tuesday night for their 11th straight win.

The winning streak is Cleveland's longest in 34 years.

Arodys Vizcaino (1-3) walked Tyler Naquin to open the ninth and then walked Juan Uribe on four pitches. With pinch-runner Rajai Davis at first base, pinch-hitter Michael Martinez struck out.

Vizcaino was in danger of issuing another walk when Santana lined a 3-1 pitch to right field, driving in Naquin from second base.

Braves shortstop Erick Aybar mishandled Francisco Lindor's grounder for an error, allowing Davis to score. Jose Ramirez added a run-scoring single up the middle.

Kluber (8-7), coming off a shutout of Tampa Bay, didn't allow a hit through five innings. The right-hander allowed two runs on three hits and one walk with seven strikeouts (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Diamondbacks 3

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Diamondbacks 3

BOX SCORE

PHOENIX — Over the years, Ryan Howard made his living swinging a lethal bat. This time on Tuesday night, he used his eye to help the Phillies to victory.

Howard walked with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning to cap a two-run rally. That pair in their final at-bats gave the Phillies a 4-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks before 19,645 at Chase Field.

The Phillies (34-45) came from a run down to first tie this one. Jimmy Paredes led off with a double against the left field fence. Andres Blanco followed with a single to right to tie the game, and that set the table for Howard’s game-winning RBI in the final inning. Jeanmar Gomez then came on in the bottom of the inning and retired the Diamondbacks (36-44) in order to record his 21st save.

The Phillies caught a break when Arizona right-hander Zack Greinke left the game before the start of the third inning with tightness in his left oblique. Current Phillies were a collective 14 for 92 (.152) lifetime against the Diamondbacks' ace entering Tuesday. He allowed a run in his two frames before exiting.

Lost in the outcome was another strong outing from starter Jerad Eickhoff, who lasted into the sixth inning and gave up only a pair of runs.

Starting pitching
Eickhoff fell short of his sixth quality start in succession. Leaving in the sixth inning, Eickhoff clearly kept the Phillies in this one. During one sequence of hitters, he was particularly strong. Jake Lamb led off the fourth with a triple, but Eickhoff then retired Yasmany Tomas, who flied to shallow right field, struck out Welington Castillo and pitcher Randall Delgado grounded to third.

As is custom this season, Eickhoff suffered from lack of run support. His 2.75 runs per game is the third lowest of qualified MLB starters this season.

The offense
After banging out a season-high 16 hits Monday night, the Phillies managed only two runs and nine hits in support of Eickhoff. Maikel Franco slammed his 13th homer of the season with two outs in the fifth to give the Phillies a 2-1 lead but home runs from Tomas in the sixth and Jake Lamb in the seventh quickly put the Phillies down, 3-2.

Whitewashes
With the Phillies’ 8-0 victory in the opener of this series in the desert, Phillies pitching now has nine shutouts on the season. That nine is two more than the staff managed all of last season, and this was accomplished in their 78th game this season.

The nine shutouts are the most for the Phillies' staff in five years at this mark of the season. During the 2011 campaign, the combination of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt tossed 21 shutouts and the staff compiled a 3.02 ERA. Also in 2011, the Phillies set a franchise record with a 102 wins.

“I think this is a testament to the kind of arms we have,” reliever David Hernandez said before Tuesday's game. “These guys reached a level of consistency, and that’s what you want from each player. Consistency is the key element to any winning team.”

Aside from the mental game, pitchers are delivering results with precision. After dropping their first four games of the season, the Phillies reeled off five wins in their next six contests, which included three shutouts.

“Since that start, the pitching has been fantastic,” manager Peter Mackanin. “I think the biggest reason for their overall success is each guy is making their pitches. When they’re good, they are good. It’s about consistency.”

Closer in the making?
Lost in the Phillies' blowout victory in the series’ opener was work of the bullpen. After starter Vince Velasquez gathered all the accolades for his performance coming off the disabled list, the bullpen combination of Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Severino Gonzalez shut down the Diamondbacks on two hits over the final four innings.

Ramos was particularly effective and retired six hitters without a hit. After walking Michael Bourn to open the sixth, the fleet Arizona centerfielder was gunned down at second trying to steal. From there, Ramos struck out four of the final five hitters he faced. In three appearances since his recall from Triple A Lehigh Valley last Friday, Ramos has allowed no hits and no runs over 3 1/3 innings.

“I’m not saying this is where [Ramos] could wind up, but he has the stuff and demeanor to be a closer,” Mackanin said. “He has a great fastball and his curve and slide have good bites. I’m excited by what I see.”

Futures Game
On Tuesday, rosters for the Futures Game were announced. In a game which showcases top prospects in San Diego July 10, the Phillies have two players in this contest.

Named to Team USA was left-handed outfielder Dylan Cozens out of Scottsdale, Arizona. At 6-5 and 235 pounds, Cozens was a second-round pick in the 2012 draft. In 75 games at Double A Reading, Cozens is hitting .273 with 20 home runs and 60 RBIs.

“We were in Port Charlotte for a game this spring and needed an outfielder,” Mackanin said. “I heard about Cozens, so we brought him along on the trip. In batting practice, he must have hit 10 out of the park, and that got my attention. I think he had one at-bat in that game, but I’ve followed him this season.”

Also named to represent the World Team was Ricardo Pinto, a right-hander from San Joaquin, Venezuela. Last season, Pinto was named the Paul Owens Award winner as the best pitcher in the Phillies' farm system. Currently at Reading, the 6-0, 165-pounder is 3-3 in 15 games as a starter with a 4.32 ERA.

With warmer weather …
The Phillies have played 79 games and Cameron Rupp has appeared in 48 of them.

The playing guideline for catchers during the course of the season is typically around 135 to 145 games, and Rupp is on target to catch over 100 games. Hitting .270, Rupp leads the Phillies in doubles (14), while 22 of his 48 hits have gone for extra bases.

So far this season, Rupp’s workload was predicated on Mackanin’s desire to get a good luck at his defensive skills and how Rupp handles the pitching staff. Now with that transition complete and the grueling days of summer now upon us, Mackanin wants to change personnel.

Beginning with Tuesday’s game, Carlos Ruiz will get more playing time.

“The weather is getting hotter and I know Cam is a big guy,” Mackanin said. “Plus, Chooch still has a great deal to offer.”

Going forward, Ruiz will catch more games and give the developing pitching staff a comfort zone of experience and knowledge.

Up next
The Phillies go for the sweep Wednesday at 3:40 p.m. when right-hander Zach Eflin (0-2, 6.28 ERA) opposes Diamondbacks righty Archie Bradley (3-3, 4.50 ERA).