MLB Wrap: Harvey outdueled in first loss of year

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MLB Wrap: Harvey outdueled in first loss of year

Cliff Lee earned the win for the Phillies on Thursday to snap their five-game skid, but will he want to stick around on a struggling club all season (see story)?

Despite 16 hits in the game, the Phils were only able to score three runs. However, they'll take as many runs as they can get (see story).

Wainwright, Cardinals take down Mets
NEW YORK -- Adam Wainwright became the major leagues' first 10-game winner by pitching seven scoreless innings and sent Matt Harvey to his first loss of the season, leading the St. Louis Cardinals over the New York Mets 2-1 Thursday in a classic pitching matchup.

Wainwright (10-3) retired his first 11 batters before David Wright's single, and allowed four hits with six strikeouts and two walks. Wainwright matched his career best by winning his fifth straight start, dropped his ERA to 2.18 and got his 1,000th career strikeout when Wright was called out on a first-inning curveball.

Known best in New York for freezing Carlos Beltran with a called third strike to end Game 7 of the 2006 NL championship series, Wainwright had been 0-4 with an 8.46 ERA in four starts against the Mets since beating them on April 18, 2010 (see full recap).

-The Associated Press

Zimmerman pushes Nats past Rockies
DENVER -- Ryan Zimmerman homered and drove in three runs, Ian Desmond got four hits and the Washington Nationals beat the depleted Colorado Rockies 5-4 on Thursday.

The Rockies lost four players and a coach, as well as the rubber match of the three-game series.

Outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler were injured early and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki left for an undisclosed reason in the eighth. Reliever Wilton Lopez and pitching coach Jim Wright were ejected in the seventh.

Craig Stammen (4-2) threw two scoreless innings. Rafael Soriano got his 17th save after giving up an RBI single to pinch-hitter Todd Helton with two outs (see full recap).

-The Associated Press

A's win in 18 innings
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Nate Freiman singled home the winning run in the 18th inning against Mariano Rivera, lifting the Oakland Athletics to a 3-2 victory over the New York Yankees on Thursday for a three-game sweep.

John Jaso singled off Preston Claiborne (0-1) to start the rally.

Freiman ended the 5-hour, 35-minute game on New York's getaway day to Anaheim for a weekend series with the Angels. A day game after a night game turned into a night game after a day game.

Moments before, Rivera issued just the 39th intentional walk of his 19-year career to Jed Lowrie.

Oakland became the first American League team to play two 18-inning games in one season since the A's and Washington did so in 1971 (see full recap).

-The Associated Press

Cubs top Reds in 14 innings
CHICAGO -- Pinch-hitter Julio Borbon had a two-out RBI single in the 14th inning, helping the Chicago Cubs beat the Reds 6-5 Thursday and end Cincinnati's record 12-game winning streak at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs hadn't beaten the Reds at Wrigley since last August 9. With the win, the Cubs avoided a four-game sweep and improved to 3-10 against the Reds this season.

Hector Rondon (1-0) pitched two of the Chicago bullpen's eight scoreless innings. Jonathan Broxton (2-2) was the loser in the longest game for both teams this season.

Starlin Castro led off the 14th with a single off Broxton, stole second when Anthony Rizzo struck out and got to third on Alfonso Soriano's groundout to first. Nate Schierholtz was intentionally walked before borbon's hit (see full recap).

-The Associated Press

Controlling strike zone the key to advancement in Phillies’ minor-league system

Controlling strike zone the key to advancement in Phillies’ minor-league system

Minor-league teams recently passed the halfway point of the season and clearly some good things are happening in the Phillies’ system, particularly as it relates to the organization’s rebuild and eye toward the future.
 
The Double A Reading club is on a rampage, sporting the best record in all of minor-league baseball with a lineup that includes two sluggers, Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins, in a nightly duel for the minors’ home-run lead, and a catcher, Jorge Alfaro, who makes even the crustiest of old baseball men gush over his power arm and thundering power bat.
 
The Triple A Lehigh Valley club is among the best in baseball with a handful of players — J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Jake Thompson, Ben Lively and others — who could get to the majors later this summer, joining a group — Tommy Joseph, Zach Eflin, Edubray Ramos — that has already made the jump.
 
There have been successes at the Single A level. For instance, the Clearwater Threshers had the second-best record in the Florida State League in the first half of the season and sent eight players to the league’s All-Star game.
 
Through Monday, teams in the Phillies’ minor-league system had a winning percentage of .555, third-best in baseball behind the Yankees and Mariners.
 
The Phillies’ four full-season clubs — Lehigh Valley, Reading, Clearwater and Lakewood — had a .576 winning percentage, trailing only the Yankees and Mariners. Those Phils clubs ranked second in all of baseball in run differential at plus-189, trailing only the Yankees (plus-223).
 
Just two seasons ago, the Phillies had the worst winning percentage in minor-league baseball at .419.
 
So there has been improvement. And it has not happened with an abundance of help from veteran minor-leaguers. The Phils have legitimate prospects. Those who rate minor-league systems for a living — such as Baseball America — have confirmed that. In just a year, with the help of improved drafting and a couple of big trades, the Phils’ farm system has vaulted from the bottom-third to the top third in baseball-wide rankings.
 
“If you look at an overview of the system I don’t think you could have drawn it up much better,” said Joe Jordan, the team’s director of player development. “From a team perspective and a competition perspective, a lot of good things have happened so far. The records are secondary for me. We have good records because we have good players who are getting better.”
 
Perhaps the biggest theme of this minor-league season, one that has been stressed to players since they reported to Clearwater in early March, has been the concept of “controlling the strike zone,” both from a pitching and a hitting perspective. “Controlling the strike zone” is just a fancy, nouveau-baseball rebranding of an age-old concept, one that can be summed up from a pitching perspective in that old baseball aphorism “walks will kill you” and from a hitters’ perspective in that old Ted Williams line about the key to hitting is selecting a good pitch to hit. Throw strikes. Swing at strikes. Don’t swing at balls. That, in essence, is controlling the strike zone. Always has been.
 
Pete Mackanin has talked about controlling the strike zone often in recent weeks as he looks for hitters that can give him professional at-bats. On the day Crawford was promoted from Double A to Triple A last month with just a .265 batting average, general manager Matt Klentak described Crawford as being ready for the jump because of his history of controlling the strike zone so well. Indeed, Crawford had walked 30 times and struck out just 21 in 166 plate appearances and had a .398 on-base percentage.
 
On the pitching side, it’s no coincidence that the most notable pitchers to stand out this season and receive promotions are big-time strike throwers. Ramos, Eflin, Tyler Viza and Thomas Eshelman walked between just 0.9 and 1.7 batters per nine, and Lively, who is 10-1 with a 2.45 ERA between Double A and Triple A, is walking just 2.4 batters per nine. In 2014, the Phillies’ four full-season minor-league clubs walked 3.6 batters per nine innings; this year the mark is 3.0.
 
“Overall we’ve done a tremendous job controlling the strike zone on the mound,” Jordan said. “We’ve made a big improvement the last couple of years. It’s one of the biggest evaluation tools we use internally in gauging a player’s progress and trying to determine when to promote them.”
 
Phillies hitting prospects have made modest strides in strike-zone management, but their improvements don’t match those made on the pitching side. The hitters’ walk rate is 7.9 percent, up from 7.3 percent last year, and the on-base percentage of .326 is up from .319. From 2014 to this season, the hitters’ strikeout rate has gone from 20.1 percent to 17.4 percent to 20.1 percent.
 
Cozens, a rightfielder, and Hoskins, a first baseman, have had magnificent seasons at Reading and might go to the wire for the Eastern League MVP. Both have 20 homers, tied for tops in all of the minors. Cozens is hitting .273 with 60 RBIs, third most in the league. Hoskins, who had 90 RBIs in Single A last season, is hitting .279 with 61 RBIs. These are big, game-breaking numbers and both players could one day look good bashing balls around Citizens Bank Park. But they will need to cut down on their strikeouts to speed their path to the majors.
 
Through Monday, Cozens had 99 strikeouts, second most in the EL. Hoskins had 78. At Triple A, Nick Williams had 73 strikeouts and just 17 walks. Other top hitting prospects such as highly regarded catcher Andrew Knapp at Triple A and third baseman Mitch Walding at Clearwater have put up relatively high strikeout totals.
 
“We have a lot of hitters having strong years, but we do have a few more strikeouts than we’d like to see,” Jordan admitted. “This is an area we are continuing to stress.
 
“It’s a mindset. Strikeouts will come with power to some degree — I get that— but maybe not the degree they are showing up in certain places.”
 
Cozens is a very exciting prospect. He’s 22 and has mammoth left side power to all fields. He can run. He can throw. But despite his success at Double A this season, Klentak recently said Cozens could “stand to have more time” at Double A. That probably comes down to controlling the strike zone better.
 
Cozens, a second-round pick in 2012, is a sky’s-the-limit talent in Jordan’s estimation.
 
“He’s impacting games with his defense, on the bases and in the batter’s box,” Jordan said. “And we think he’s still just scratching the surface. He can cut down on his strikeouts and be a .300 hitter who steals 25 bases. It’s in there.
 
“He’s got a beautiful swing when he’s just trying to be a hitter. And he’s got every ingredient you need to be a power hitter: strength, bat speed, leverage. But there’s absolutely no reason he should strike out 30 percent of the time. Pitchers are getting him out outside the strike zone. He needs to continue to make improvements and when he does that his walks will go up and his strikeouts will go down.”
 
And when that happens, he will be a “controller of the strike zone” and that appears to be the way to move up in the Phillies’ system, whether you’re a pitcher or a hitter.

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).