Papelbon finishes job for Lee in Phils' win over Red Sox

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Papelbon finishes job for Lee in Phils' win over Red Sox

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BOSTON -- You never know with Charlie Manuel. Sometimes he manages right by the book. Other times he manages straight from the gut. Sometimes he’s just a sucker for a good story.

This was one of those nights.

Cliff Lee was at his dart-throwing best Tuesday night. For eight innings, he put the baseball right where he wanted to, striking out eight Boston Red Sox and walking none. He ran off the mound after the bottom of the eighth with a one-run lead and 95 pitches on the hand-held clicker.

Everything pointed to Lee getting the chance to finish off his gem in the ninth, but Manuel went to Jonathan Papelbon and the fiery former Red Sox closer, in his first appearance back in Fenway Park, went through the heart of the Boston order to wrap up a 3-1 Phillies’ win (see Instant Replay).

Manuel was asked why he went to Papelbon when Lee was cruising with plenty of gas left in his tank.

“I kind of wanted to see it, if you want to know the truth,” the Phillies’ skipper said. “What the hell? Pap likes drama. I might as well like it with him.”

Papelbon spent six seasons as Boston’s closer. He saved 219 games and won a World Series with the club before signing a four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies after the 2011 season. He retired Jonny Gomes, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz for the final three outs. Pedroia and Ortiz were longtime teammates of Papelbon. In fact, before Monday’s game, Papelbon envisioned a scenario in which he’d have to face Ortiz. Papelbon said he’d throw the ball right down the middle and get Ortiz to swing and miss. Ortiz ended up grounding out to end the game.

“I loved it,” Papelbon said of his night’s work. “I would say it was more fun than strange. It was like playing against your brother in the backyard. For me, those guys are some of my best friends in the world. At the same time, it was fun. They have a really good lineup over there, so I had to stay focused on the task at hand because I knew at any given moment the game could have been tied up.”

Papelbon received a nice ovation during a brief video-board tribute early in Monday’s game. When he jogged in from the bullpen for the ninth inning Tuesday night, he heard a lot of boos.

“That’s how they love you in this town,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed pitching in this city, off that mound. It really felt like old times, just in a different uniform.”

Paplebon is 10 for 10 in save chances this season. He has racked up 18 straight scoreless appearances after allowing two runs in his first game of the season.

“I couldn’t tell you my stats,” he said. “I just go, man. I don’t think a lot. They don’t pay me to think.”

Lee has a similar mindset: Don’t think a lot. Get the ball and throw it -- to good spots. He was staked to a 1-0 lead on Michael Young’s solo homer off Ryan Dempster in the first, gave back the run in the bottom of the inning, then allowed just two singles after the first inning while he waited for Erik Kratz (RBI hit in the seventh) to break the tie.

Lee improved to 6-2 with a 2.34 ERA. He is 5-1 with a 2.11 ERA in eight starts following a Phillies’ loss this season.

“Regardless of what happens yesterday, when it’s my day to pitch I want to go as deep as I can and put up as many zeroes as I can,” Lee said.

Lee was surprised when pitching coach Rich Dubee told him he was done after eight innings.

“Yeah, I wanted to finish,” he said. “But Pap has been throwing well, so it’s hard to argue with that, especially with him being back in Boston. That was a big win for us and I’m sure he wanted the opportunity. It’s hard to question it when you win.”

Compelling storyline notwithstanding, Manuel said his decision to go to Papelbon was completely baseball-related. In a close game, in the shadow of the Green Monster, he liked the idea of the right-handed Papelbon going after Gomes and Pedroia, both right-handed bats, to start the inning.

“Lee was fantastic,” Manuel said. “If he was pitching a shutout, it would have been tough. But I wanted Pap on those right-handed hitters so they’d hit the ball to right field.”

Manuel was going to Papelbon even before Domonic Brown turned a one-run lead into a two-run lead with a solo home run in the top of the ninth. If Papelbon had given up the lead, Manuel would have ripped apart by his critics. When you’re a manager, the only good decisions are the ones that the players make work. Papelbon made this one work. Good win. Good theater.

The Phillies ended their road trip at 4-4 and are 25-27. They have the Red Sox at home Wednesday and Thursday night.

“I feel like we’ve still got a long way to go, but things are starting to click,” Papelbon said. “Our pitching and hitting are starting to sync up a little bit. If we do that we can create damage in the National League. This division is still anyone’s by a long shot. If we keep grinding it out we have a good chance.”

Future Phillies Report: J.P. Crawford finding his groove in Triple A

Future Phillies Report: J.P. Crawford finding his groove in Triple A

Three prospects to appear on the Future Phillies Report this season have graduated to the majors: 1B Tommy Joseph on May 13, SP Zach Eflin on June 10 and RP Edubray Ramos on June 24.

All three have experienced some degree of success, with Joseph homering eight times in his first 110 plate appearances, Eflin settling in after a terrible debut, and Ramos beginning his career with three straight scoreless appearances and five strikeouts.

The Phillies have shown a willingness early in this season to promote young players who may play integral roles in their resurgence, but they haven't gone and won't go overboard. They're not going to call up Nick Williams or J.P. Crawford tomorrow and replace them in Triple A with someone like Dylan Cozens. There is a developmental track and plan for each individual prospect and GM Matt Klentak has shown he won't rush someone up just to fill a major-league spot where production has been scarce.

Still, top pitching prospect Jake Thompson acknowledged how excited he was to see Eflin get the call-up and what it might mean for him.

"For me, seeing the Phillies are actually — especially this early in the season — willing to go get a young guy that's not on the 40-man roster and give him a chance ... not that I need any more incentive to go out and work harder, but seeing that, it gives you a little extra boost," Thompson said earlier this week.

With that, let's take a look at what's going down on the farm:

SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
You can tell Crawford has settled into the International League by looking at how many multi-hit games he's had lately. Crawford, still hitting just .229 with a .317 on-base percentage at Triple A and .246 with a .358 OBP on the season, has seven multi-hit games in his last 15. Over that span, the Phillies' top prospect has hit .311 with four extra-base hits and five walks. He's been batting second mostly, in front of Williams. 

For the first time since Crawford ended 2014 at High A Clearwater, he doesn't have more walks than strikeouts. He's walked 18 times with 25 K's with the IronPigs, giving him 208 walks and 209 strikeouts in his four-year minor-league career.

Defensively, Crawford has been strong with Lehigh Valley, committing just two errors in 330 innings and 174 defensive chances. That's been a major key to Crawford's progress through the Phils' system. They wanted more consistent defense from him this season and he's answered the call, improving his fielding percentage from .953 to .975. 

C Jorge Alfaro (AA)
While the bash brothers, Cozens and Rhys Hoskins, continue to jockey for the Eastern League lead in home runs, Alfaro keeps hitting out of the three-hole for Reading. The powerful, strong-armed catcher has a six-game hitting streak and had a five-game extra-base hit streak snapped on Wednesday night. Alfaro has three doubles, two homers, five RBIs and nine runs over his last six games.

The torrid start Alfaro got off to — 18 for 36 in his first eight games — has allowed his batting average to stay over .300 most of the season. He's at .301/.317/.502 through 231 plate appearances. 

He's still a force in the middle of the Fightin Phils' order, but since returning in early May from an oblique injury that cost him three weeks, Alfaro has hit .262 with just three walks and 44 strikeouts in 43 games. His power hasn't disappeared during that stretch — he has nine doubles, a triple and eight homers in 193 plate appearances — but that .262 batting average more closely aligns with his .266 career mark. Alfaro has not hit .300 or better since he was at Low A Spokane in the Rangers' system in 2011.

Numbers aside, the tools continue to pop out. Alfaro has thrown out 22 of 48 base stealers, a 46 percent success rate.

But that abysmal walk-to-strikeout ratio Alfaro has posted this season needs to improve, at least slightly. Jim Salisbury outlined on Wednesday how concerned the Phillies have become with the walks and strikeouts of their hitters and pitchers (see story).

OF Dylan Cozens (AA)
Reading is on an absolute tear. The Fightin Phils have scored at least seven runs in each of their last six games, totaling 56. 

Cozens contributed to that attack again on Wednesday, hitting a two-run homer after Alfaro lined a single past the shortstop in the first inning. The left-handed hitting Cozens crushed a fastball on the outside corner to the opposite field for home run No. 21 and RBIs 61 and 62. His power is legitimate and to all fields.

But as Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan noted earlier this week, there's no reason Cozens should be in triple-digits already with 101 strikeouts in 339 plate appearances. There have been just three games in Cozens' last 37 that he didn't strike out. A lot of nights, he's whiffing multiple times. And it's not like it's just lefties overpowering him — Cozens has also punched out 72 times against righties, or once every 3.6 plate appearances.

Hitting lefties would be the next step for the 6-foot-6 Cozens, who's also 14 for 15 in steals. He's hit just .197 with six extra-base hits in 77 plate appearances vs. same-handed pitching.

1B Rhys Hoskins (AA)
Hoskins is another Phillies prospect striking out a lot, but there's been enough production to offset all the whiffs. Not to be outdone by Cozens, Hoskins homered again on Wednesday, his 21st of the season, as his insane month of June continued. 

In his nine games, Hoskins is 16 for 36 (.444) with four doubles, four homers, nine RBIs and 14 runs scored. In June, he's hit .358 with 12 homers, 29 RBIs and a 1.207 OPS. He's hit righties and lefties alike, and you can't even argue that Reading's home park has been the sole reason for his surge — Hoskins has 21 extra-base hits on the road compared to 19 at home.

Hoskins and Cozens have homered in the same game nine times for Reading, which is 56-23 on the season.

OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Williams returned from his latest hustle-related benching with a two-hit, two-RBI night for Lehigh Valley Wednesday. He's hit .322 with a .907 OPS over his last 29 games as the power has returned. 

Williams is up to .288/.330/.461 on the season. He said Wednesday that he expected the production to increase as the weather heated up, and that there were times in April and early May when the conditions in central Pennsylvania made him think, "I'm a long way from home."

Williams is another player striking out too much, with K's in 25.8 percent of his plate appearances, but he doesn't seem fazed by that growing total. "I do strike out a lot but I make contact a lot, too. It's not like I just go up there and strike out all the time," Williams said. "I work the count."

In a 1-on-1 interview earlier this week, Williams also gave reasons for his recent success vs. lefties (see story).

RHP Jake Thompson (AAA)
Thompson has a 0.76 ERA in June, having allowed three earned runs in 35⅓ innings. He's lowered his season ERA from 4.23 to 2.88. Even though Thompson is striking out just 6.3 batters per nine innings, he's dominating the opposition because he's generating so much weak contact. 

His groundball rate also continues to rise. Thompson's sinker is quite a weapon. He's induced nine double plays in his last three starts.

Read more about Thompson's hot streak here.

RHP Mark Appel (AAA)
Appel's first season in the Phillies' system ended Wednesday when he underwent elbow surgery. It was not the type of scenery change Appel wanted after falling well short of expectations with the Astros. In eight starts with the IronPigs, Appel went 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP.

In 291⅓ minor-league innings since being drafted first overall by Houston in 2013, Appel has posted a 5.04 ERA and allowed 30 more hits than innings pitched.

And so he'll have to wait until 2017 to get his career on track. Appel turns 25 in two weeks.

C Andrew Knapp (AAA)
Knapp was named an International League All-Star Wednesday, even if his numbers don't really jump out at you. He's hit .258/.327/.402 with 18 extra-base hits in 254 plate appearances. He's also in another mini-skid, going 4 for 22 with 10 strikeouts over his last six games.

Knapp hasn't found his footing yet at Triple A. He'll need some more developmental time offensively and defensively. And the Phillies won't rush either of their young catchers to the majors with Cameron Rupp playing so well anyway.

OF Mickey Moniak (GCL)
Moniak made his rookie ball debut for the Gulf Coast League Phillies this week, going 1 for 7 with a walk, an RBI and two strikeouts in his first two games. He should get about 50 games in at rookie ball as his pro career begins.

Also with Moniak in the GCL right now are Cornelius Randolph, last year's first-round pick who is rehabbing a shoulder injury, and Jhailyn Ortiz, the 16-year-old Dominican power prospect the Phillies signed last summer. Ortiz went 2 for 4 with two doubles, four RBIs and three runs on Thursday.

SP Nick Pivetta (AA)
Pivetta left Wednesday's start after three innings with groin tightness and Reading manager Dusty Wathan told reporters he's day to day. Pivetta hopes to avoid missing a start because he's pitched so well lately, allowing just four runs in his last 28 innings.

Pivetta, the return from the Nationals in last summer's Jonathan Papelbon trade, has been a nice surprise at Double A this season, going 7-4 with a 3.31 ERA and 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings. He struggled at that level last year, posting a 7.27 ERA in 10 starts at Double A Harrisburg and Reading.

Like Thompson, Pivetta's main pitch is his sinker.

SP Ben Lively (AAA)
The man is human. Lively suffered his first loss of the season on Monday, allowing a season-high five runs in six innings. He's 3-1 with a 3.11 ERA at Triple A and 10-1 with a 2.45 ERA overall in 16 starts this season.

Lively's command has been remarkable this season, as he's held the opposition to a .177 batting average, stifling lefties and righties alike despite rarely throwing harder than 90 mph. His strike-throwing ability could get him a look with the Phillies later this summer. Spots figure to open up for guys like Thompson and Lively if/when Jeremy Hellickson is traded and if the Phils decide to go to a six-man rotation later in the year to preserve the arms of Vince Velasquez, Jerad Eickhoff and Aaron Nola.

Best of MLB: Streaking Indians top Jays, run win streak to 13

Best of MLB: Streaking Indians top Jays, run win streak to 13

TORONTO -- Carlos Carrasco struck out a season-high 14, Jason Kipnis and Rajai Davis hit solo home runs and the Cleveland Indians matched a franchise record by winning their 13th consecutive game Thursday night, beating the Toronto Blue Jays 4-1.

Cleveland's streak is the longest by any team this season, and the longest for the Indians since winning 13 straight in 1951. Cleveland also won 13 in a row in 1942.

Indians starting pitchers are 10-0 during the streak, and Cleveland has outscored its opponents 80-26.

Carrasco (4-2) allowed one run and three hits in 7 1/3 innings to win back-to-back starts for the first time since April 13 and 19. The right-hander was sidelined from April 25 to June 2 with a strained left hamstring.

Cody Allen got the last three outs for his 17th save.

R.A. Dickey (5-9) allowed three runs and eight hits in seven innings (see full recap).

Passed ball gives Yanks 2nd straight walk-off win
NEW YORK -- Chase Headley scored on a passed ball with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and the Yankees won in their final at-bat for the second straight game to beat the Texas Rangers 2-1 on Thursday afternoon.

Four New York pitchers combined to strike out 16 Rangers as the teams split the four-game series. Didi Gregorius, who had the winning home run Wednesday night, hit a solo shot in the fifth to tie the score after Shin-Soo Choo homered to lead off the game.

Tony Barnette (5-3), the third Rangers reliever of the afternoon, walked Headley to lead off the bottom of the ninth. With runners on second and third and two outs, his pitch got through catcher Robinson Chirinos and Headley just beat the throw.

Aroldis Chapman (2-0) earned the win after pitching a scoreless ninth (see full recap).

Espinosa slam helps Nationals clobber Reds
WASHINGTON -- Danny Espinosa hit a grand slam and a three-run homer to finish with a career-high seven RBIs, and the Washington Nationals cruised past the Cincinnati Reds 13-4 on Thursday night for their fifth straight victory.

Espinosa's second career slam put Washington up 8-1 in the third inning, and his next drive made it 13-1 in the fourth. Espinosa ranks second on the team with 15 homers despite usually batting eighth.

The switch-hitting shortstop connected off Brandon Finnegan (3-7) batting right-handed, then went deep from the left side against Josh Smith.

Espinosa's previous career high for RBIs was six, and his only other grand slam came in his fifth major league game on Sept. 6, 2010.

Gio Gonzalez (4-7) gave up four runs and struck out nine over six innings for the NL East-leading Nationals, whose current winning streak comes on the heels of a seven-game skid. Gonzalez was 0-6 with an 8.44 ERA in his previous seven starts (see full recap).

MLB Notes: Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw placed on DL with lower-back strain

MLB Notes: Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw placed on DL with lower-back strain

MILWAUKEE -- Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw received an epidural injection for his sore lower back and will be placed on the 15-day disabled list, manager Dave Roberts said before Thursday's game in Milwaukee.

"Clayton yesterday got an epidural, so at this point we're going to put him on the disabled list," Robert said. "And use the All-Star break, obviously, with the four days. And in the coming days, we should know more how that epidural--how he responds to that--and that will give us some more direction."

Roberts did not know how long Kershaw is expected to be out, or who would make his scheduled start Friday at home against Colorado.

The three-time NL Cy Young winner is 11-2 with a 1.79 ERA this season. He lost his last start on Sunday night in Pittsburgh, giving up four runs and nine hits in six innings (see full story).

Giants: Bumgarner to hit for himself in AL park
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Madison Bumgarner will get to hit for himself -- even in an American League park.

San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy says he plans to use his slugging pitcher instead of a designated hitter Thursday night when the Giants visit the Oakland Athletics. 

It will be the first time a team intentionally used a pitcher to hit instead of a DH since the Chicago White Sox allowed Ken Brett to do it in 1976. The Rays were forced to bat pitcher Andy Sonnanstine in 2009 because of a lineup card mix-up.

Bumgarner is batting .175 this season with two homers and five RBIs in 40 at-bats. He has nine homers in 183 at-bats the past three seasons, a rate that would lead to about 36 home runs if he had a full season as a hitter. Bumgarner has even made a public plea to enter into the All-Star Home Run Derby.

Marlins: Rodney acquired in trade with Padres
ATLANTA -- The Miami Marlins have acquired closer Fernando Rodney from San Diego to bolster their bullpen for the NL wild-card chase. 

Manager Don Mattingly has yet to express a lack of faith in A.J. Ramos, who has converted 33 saves opportunities since last season, so Rodney likely will serve as a setup man. Mattingly was expected to discuss the deal Thursday.

Miami traded minor league pitcher Chris Paddack to the Padres. The Marlins are one-half game ahead of two teams in the wild-card race. 

Rodney, 39, will join his seventh team and sixth since 2011. He has 17 saves with 0.31 ERA in 28 games this year.

The Marlins said Rodney was not expected to arrive for the first of four games against the Atlanta Braves.

Dodgers: Bud Norris acquired from Braves
MILWAUKEE -- The Los Angeles Dodgers have acquired veteran pitcher Bud Norris from the Atlanta Braves.

The move Thursday comes on the same day the Dodgers said ace Clayton Kershaw will be placed on the 15-day disabled list because of a back injury

In the deal, the Dodgers also received minor league outfielder Dian Toscano, a player to be named and cash considerations from Atlanta for minor league pitchers Philip Pfeifer and Caleb Dirks.

Over his last five starts, Norris is 2-1 with a 2.15 ERA, 29 strikeouts and eight walks over 29 1/3 innings. Norris is in his eighth season and this year is 3-7 with a 4.22 ERA. The 31-year-old pitcher has also pitched for Houston, Baltimore and San Diego. He signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Braves in November (see full story).

Yankees: Sabathia's next start pushed back
NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees will push CC Sabathia's next start back a day so he won't have to bat and run the bases in an interleague series at San Diego.

The Yankees will call up Chad Green from Triple-A to pitch Sunday against the Padres. Sabathia will start Monday against the Chicago White Sox.

Manager Joe Girardi said Thursday that he didn't want to risk injury for the 35-year-old left-hander.

The right-handed Green has made one start for New York this season, allowing six runs, four earned, on eight hits in four innings in a May 16 loss at Arizona. He pitched one scoreless inning in relief June 12 against Detroit before being sent down the next day.

The 25-year-old is 6-6 with a 1.54 ERA in 14 starts at Triple-A this season.