Phillies pitchers shut out 'best club in baseball'

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Phillies pitchers shut out 'best club in baseball'

Thursday, March 3, 2011
Posted: 4:28 p.m. Updated: 5:13 p.m.
By Jim Salisbury
CSNPhilly.com
BOX SCORE

FORT MYERS, Fla. It wasnt all that long ago when the Phillies played in front of scores of empty seats at Veterans Stadium and could barely see daylight from the National League basement.

Now, they are baseball royalty, winners of four straight NL East titles, the 2008 World Series and, in case you hadnt heard, the Cliff Lee Free-Agent Sweepstakes.

Thursdays visit to the spring-training home of the Boston Red Sox was a reminder of how far the Phillies have come as a franchise.

Terry Francona, in his eighth season managing the Red Sox, presided over the Phillies during the dark days of 1997 to 2000, when the team had low payrolls, high loss totals and not a fraction of the talent it does now.

Theyve done a terrific job, Francona said of the Phillies, who led the majors with 97 wins last year and enter this season with a payroll of 160 million, one of the highest in the game.

Theyre in a different place now. They have the ballpark. Theyre a big market. And people are hungry for a good team. Those people deserve a team like that. Theyre rabid baseball fans. Its good for baseball. I dont know if Id want to be in the NL facing those pitchers every day, but theyve got a good thing going.

Those pitchers, of course, are Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton.

On paper, its the best rotation in baseball.

But the best team in baseball belongs to Francona.

Thats what Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Thursday.

This is the best club in baseball, I think, he said, motioning toward the Red Sox. Their combination of speed, power, pitching, bullpen. They're a hell of a ball club. They don't have a whole lot of holes.

The Red Sox added perennial all-stars Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to their lineup in the offseason.

The Phillies added former AL Cy Young winner Lee to their rotation.

Two good teams got even better, and that led some to wonder if Thursdays Grapefruit League matchup between the two clubs the Phillies won, 2-0, as four pitchers combined on a one-hitter could be a little preview of a possible meeting in late October.

That prospect agreed with Francona.

If thats the case it means we got there, he said. Were excited about our club and Im sure the Phillies are too. But regardless, theres a right way to go about getting ready for the season and were trying to do that.

From Day 1 of spring training, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and his players have tried to tame expectations surrounding the team. They badly want to get to the World Series, but they know theres a lot of baseball to navigate and it has to be played well and with good health for that to happen.

Expectations are high and I look at that as good, Manuel said. Our guys want to go to the World Series. Thats where we want to go. I know Terry Francona. I imagine thats where he wants to go so Im sure our thinking is alike.

Managing high expectations can be a challenge, but it beats the alternative for Francona, who led the Sox to World Series championships in 2004 and 2007 and might be just one more title away from finding himself in the Hall of Fame someday.

Id much rather have high expectations than those days back in Philly where if we played well wed get to .500, he said. Id much rather have people think we have a good ballclub.

Francona recalled his time in Philadelphia, how, in 1997, he sent pitcher Calvin Maduro to Triple A at the end of spring training only to recall him a couple of days later and make him the No. 2 starter after injuries ravaged the staff. He mentioned that his handling of the Phillies bullpen was questioned by a Red Sox official when he interviewed for the Boston job before the 2004 season. After the interview he called the Red Sox official and read him some of the names that made up the Phillies bullpen in those days.

I dont know who any of those guys are, the official said.

Point made.

Franconas current team has some of the most recognizable names in the game. The Sox spent 142 million in signing outfielder Crawford to a seven-year deal. The four-time AL stolen base champ hit .307 with 19 homers and 90 RBIs with Tampa Bay last season. Gonzalez, a Gold Glove first baseman, came in a trade with San Diego. He has averaged 32 homers and 100 RBIs the last five seasons with an on-base plus slugging percentage of .888.

Fantastic, Amaro said of the Red Sox offseason. Any time you bring that kind of talent to your club, you're doing a heck of a job.

Boston got a taste of the Phillies pitching staff on Thursday. Hamels led off the gem with four shutout innings. A one-hitter, even in spring training, is impressive. The stakes will be higher when the two teams meet again in June in an interleague series.

And after that, maybe theyll see each other again in October.

E-mail Jim Salisbury at jsalisbury@comcastsportsnet.com

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Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

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Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

Mark Appel, whose fastball velocity was down considerably in the first inning of his last start, was placed on the disabled list Friday with a shoulder strain.

Appel, 24, is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in eight starts for Triple A Lehigh Valley in his first year in the Phillies' system. He's struggled his last four times out, allowing 18 runs (15 earned) in 16⅓ innings on 20 hits and 11 walks.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2013 out of Stanford, Appel has had a disappointing pro career to this point. In 62 minor-league games (61 starts), he has a 5.04 ERA. The Phillies acquired him from Houston as part of the Ken Giles trade this past winter.

Appel's trip to the DL creates an opportunity for right-hander Ben Lively, who was promoted from Double A Reading to Triple A to take Appel's place in the IronPigs' rotation. Lively, acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, is 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA this season.

Rehab updates
Leftfielder Cody Asche and left-handed reliever Mario Hollands had their rehab assignments transferred to Triple A Lehigh Valley. 

Asche is 5 for 34 (.147) with two home runs and 12 strikeouts during his stints with Clearwater and Reading. 

Hollands has been sharp, posting a 1.04 ERA in 8⅔ innings with 12 strikeouts and one walk.

Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Challenging series begins with Jon Lester

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Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Challenging series begins with Jon Lester

Phillies (26-21) at Cubs (31-14)
2:20 p.m. on TCN

After their having their second straight Thursday off, the Phillies open up a challenging three-game weekend series Friday afternoon against the Cubs, owners of the majors' best record.

Let's take a look at what to expect:

1. Best in the bigs
The Cubs are three games better than any team in baseball. Their run differential of plus-119 is 47 better than the next-best team. They've scored the most third-most runs (256) and allowed just 137, which is 12 fewer than any other club.

With Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs probably have the deepest starting rotation in baseball. 

With Dexter Fowler, Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Jason Heyward and Addison Russell, they have the National League's top offense.

With guys like Tommy La Stella, Matt Szczur and David Ross making key contributions, they have one of the best benches in baseball.

There is no real weakness with this team. Even the mostly anonymous bullpen has been among the game's best, posting a 3.09 ERA with 135 strikeouts in 122⅓ innings.

This is, however, the right time to be playing the Cubs. Chicago is 4-6 in its last 10 games and 6-8 in its last 14. The Cubs did appear to get back on track by beating the Cardinals in the final two games of a nine-game road trip that ended Wednesday.

At Wrigley, the Cubs are 14-6. They've lost two home series this season to the Padres and Rockies.

2. Cool Lester Smooth
Props if you get The Wire reference.

The Phillies open the series against left-hander Jon Lester, who is 4-3 with a 2.60 ERA this season but is coming off his worst start. Lester allowed five runs in just 2⅔ innings in last weekend's loss at San Francisco.

Aside from that, he's enjoyed another very good season. The 32-year-old joined the Cubs in free agency prior to last season on a six-year, $155 million deal, and has gone 15-15 with a 3.18 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 41 starts with Chicago. He's struck out 259 batters in 260⅓ innings.

The Phillies have faced Lester six times — five when he was with the Red Sox — and they've never beaten him. He's 4-0 with a 1.76 ERA against them and has allowed just 30 hits in 41 innings. He's gone seven innings in five of the six starts.

Lester's repertoire has remained consistent through the years. He throws mostly four-seam fastballs, cutters and curveballs. He'll also mix in sinkers and changeups, but 85 percent of his pitches this season have been four-seamers, cutters and curves.

Lester's cutter is his great equalizer against right-handed hitters, who have hit .240 against him the last four seasons. He can back-door it, starting it outside and having it break back over the outside corner, or start it over the middle and have it break in to jam a righty.

Current Phillies are 10 for 55 (.182) against Lester with two walks and 18 strikeouts. Ryan Howard and Freddy Galvis have each homered off him. Carlos Ruiz is 0 for 11, Cameron Rupp is 0 for 3 and Maikel Franco is 0 for 6. Odubel Herrera has never faced him.

3. Tommy time
Facing a lefty means an automatic start for Tommy Joseph at first base. Joseph went 4 for 11 in the Tigers series with a double and a homer, hitting the ball hard even when he made outs. 

What will be interesting is how Pete Mackanin uses Joseph the rest of the series. The Phillies will face right-handers on Saturday and Sunday in Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey. Only once since Joseph came up from Triple A has he started against a right-hander in place of Howard. Joseph faced two righties in the Tigers series, but Howard was the designated hitter. The only game in which Joseph replaced Howard at first base against a right-hander was last Sunday in the Phils' win over Casey Kelly and the Braves.

Joseph hit .324 with seven extra-base hits against right-handed pitchers at Triple A this season, and is 4 for 18 (.222) with a double and a homer against them with the Phils. Both extra-base hits came Monday off Mike Pelfrey.

Here's the Phillies' lineup Friday:

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Carlos Ruiz, C
6. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
7. Tyler Goeddel, LF
8. Adam Morgan, P
9. Peter Bourjos, RF

4. Morgan's command must be perfect
It's the same thing every time Adam Morgan takes the mound but it's especially true this afternoon: He needs to throw quality strikes early in counts and command his fastball nearly flawlessly on the inside and outside corners.

Morgan (1-2, 5.61) is coming off a decent start against the Braves in which he allowed two runs over six innings. But the Braves and Cubs are about as different as two offenses can be. 

Morgan held lefties last season to a .225 batting average, but this year they're 8 for 26 (.308) against him with two doubles and a homer. He's not the kind of lefty who makes it uncomfortable for a same-handed hitter, but Rizzo and Heyward are both out of the Cubs' lineup Friday.

Morgan faced the Cubs last season and allowed four runs in five innings in a loss. Fowler, Heyward and Javier Baez all had multi-hit games against him.

5. Model for success?
The Cubs endured several years of losing during their own rebuild and have emerged as one of the most talented teams in recent years. It took a little luck along the way. The Astros drafted Mark Appel first overall and left Kris Bryant at No. 2. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took advantage of a rare win-now move from Billy Beane in trading a half-season of Jeff Samardzija and Hammel for Russell. 

But the Cubs also identified Kyle Schwarber (out for the season, but a very good young hitter) and drafted him higher than most analysts predicted he'd go. They found lights-out closer Hector Rondon in the Rule 5 draft. They clearly won the 1-for-1 swap of Andrew Cashner for Rizzo. Most importantly, they bought low on a highly-touted Arrieta, who was struggling with the Orioles before emerging into one of the three-best starting pitchers in the majors.

And when the prospects began graduating to the majors, the Cubs did what the Phillies will likely do in a year or two: They spent. 

As much as everyone loves to talk about Chicago's young talent, they also spent $184 million on Heyward, $155 million on Lester, $56 million on Zobrist and $60 million on catcher Miguel Montero. They filled in their roster with veterans who fit the plan, and it's allowed them to continue to ease in guys like Baez and Jorge Soler.

It would take a ton of breaks for the Phillies to be as exciting or as successful a team as the Cubs in a few years, but Chicago has shown that this model can work in a major market.

Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez strikes out 12 in Marlins' win over Rays

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Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez strikes out 12 in Marlins' win over Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Jose Fernandez struck out 12 in seven innings Thursday and won his sixth straight start for the Miami Marlins, a 9-1 decision over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Fernandez (7-2) struck out eight of the last 10 batters he faced and struck out every hitter in the Rays lineup at least once. The 23-year-old right-hander from Tampa gave up six hits in beating his hometown Rays for the first time in three tries. He finished the game with 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings, highest among major league starters.

Adeiny Hechavarria and Chris Johnson homered for the Marlins, who won three of four in their annual series against the Rays.

Hechavarria's third home run drove in the final two runs of a three-run second inning off Rays starter Drew Smyly. Johnson made it 5-0 with his second homer an inning later, Johnson's first hit in 22 interleague at bats (see full recap).

Rockies silence Red Sox, Bradley's hit streak
BOSTON -- Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story and Dustin Garneau hit two-run homers and the Colorado Rockies stopped Jackie Bradley Jr.'s 29-game hitting streak with a 8-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Thursday night.

The win ended a three-game losing streak by Colorado and it ended a four-game winning streak for the Red Sox. Bradley's major league-best streak was halted when he went 0 for 4 after moving up to the leadoff spot for the first time this season.

Jon Gray (2-2) gave up a two-run home run to David Ortiz in the first, but pitched six scoreless innings before leaving in the eighth.

Clay Buchholz (2-5) took the loss. He pitched three perfect innings before things came apart in the fourth, when he gave up Gonzalez's homer with the other two coming the following inning (see full recap).

Happ leads Blue Jays past Yankees
NEW YORK -- J.A. Happ pitched seven strong innings, Edwin Encarnacion and Devon Travis had two-out RBIs, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Yankees 3-1 on Thursday to win the three-game series.

CC Sabathia was the tough-luck loser for New York, allowing just two unearned runs. Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in his first game since going on the disabled list May 4 with a strained right hamstring.

Happ (6-2) allowed one run on three hits in seven innings with five strikeouts and three walks. He has given up three earned runs or fewer in 19 of his last 20 starts.

Sabathia (3-3) retired the first seven batters before an error by shortstop Didi Gregorius on Travis' grounder with one out in the third (see full recap).