Salisbury: Phillies Mayberry is aiming high

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Salisbury: Phillies Mayberry is aiming high

John Mayberry Jr. is playing as if hes trying to take over the Phillies starting leftfielders job.

Thats not the only job Mayberry wants.

Down the road, after he has concluded what he hopes is a successful playing career, one that he hopes includes a World Series championship in 2011, Mayberry would like to work in a major-league front office.

Id definitely like to stay in baseball in some capacity, the 27-year-old outfielder said.

As a general manager, perhaps?

Why not? he said.

If you havent drawn the comparisons by now, you might find it interesting to see how much in common that Mayberry has with current Phils GM Ruben Amaro Jr.

Both of their fathers played in the major leagues.

Both are Stanford grads.

Both speak Spanish, baseballs second language.

One runs the baseball operations of a major league club. The other hopes to someday.

So, would Mayberry the GM be a stats guy or a scouting guy?

Probably some of both, he said. Id use all the information I could in order to make the best decision. I wouldnt want to categorize myself too early. Id probably stress pitching and defense.

Amaros eyes widened when he was told of Mayberrys post-playing career aspirations the other day.

Really? Amaro said. Thats great. Good for him. Hopefully hell hire me because you can be damn well sure Ill get fired at some point.

If Mayberry ever hires Amaro he will in a sense be returning the favor. In Nov. 2008, Amaro acquired Mayberry from the Texas Rangers for outfielder Greg Golson. It was Amaros first trade as Phils GM, and it is just now paying major dividends. After a lengthy Triple-A gestation, Mayberry has emerged as a strong big-league contributor. Brought up for bench depth in early July, Mayberry has seen his playing time soar, as he has hit .312 (29 for 93) with nine homers and 29 RBIs in his last 32 games, 21 of which have been starts. Eighteen of Mayberrys 29 hits since coming up on July 5 have been for extra bases.

Thats how you win jobs, manager Charlie Manuel said. Hes a good looking hitter right now.

As far back as high school, Mayberry, a 6-foot-6 athletic specimen, had been a good-looking hitter. He was twice a first-round draft pick. In pro ball, however, the good-looking hitter was not a consistently productive hitter. Witness the month of May: Mayberry played in 27 games with the Phillies, 17 of them starts, and hit just .194. That earned him a trip back to Triple A, a level he first played at in 2008 in the Rangers system.

At the time of Mayberrys demotion, some scouts wondered if he was destined to be a fringe big-leaguer. Actually, the jury is still out on what he will end up being. But Mayberry still believes he can be a major-league regular and that belief motivated him to spend his most recent stint in Triple A making a few adjustments in his game that are now paying off.

Using the combined wisdom of Manuel, Phils hitting coach Greg Gross and minor-league coaches Sal Rende and Steve Henderson, Mayberry, a right-handed hitter, opened his batting stance slightly and began using a bit of a crouch. He says the adjustment has allowed him to stay on the ball better, especially against breaking balls from right-handed pitchers.

We tried moving him closer to the plate, we tried spreading him out, a leg kick, a little open, Gross said. It evolved into a combination of things and what youre seeing now.

Gross said the crouch and the more open stance have made Mayberrys stride to the ball a little shorter.

Consequently hes quicker to the ball for the most part, Gross said. Hes handling inside pitchers better, too, and hes laying off bad breaking balls. Some of that might just be from getting more at-bats, too.

Any hitter will tell you theres no substitute for real, game-time at-bats for a guy looking to find his groove.

But a hitter has to produce to earn those at-bats.

Mayberry has done that.

Hes not just getting hits, Gross said. Hes driving in a lot of runs. Hes been very productive. His success has equaled confidence. Id say hes our most improved player.

Though Mayberry is still far from proven, his play over the last two months has Phillies officials believing he could hold down at least a share (and maybe more) of the left field job next season. Heck, Mayberry has taken strides toward taking over the job now and for the rest of the season. He hit two big home runs in the recently concluded series against the Mets as Raul Ibanez rested a strained groin muscle. Before that, Mayberry had pretty much moved into a left-field platoon with the left-handed hitting Ibanez.

Im just trying to put my best foot forward when I get an opportunity, Mayberry said.

Mayberrys father, John Sr., was a big, lefty-swinging, power-hitting first baseman for four major-league clubs from 1968-82. He hit 255 home runs, made two all-star teams, and finished second to Fred Lynn for the 1975 American League MVP award.

The younger Mayberry wasnt born until the year after his dad retired, but the iPad on his lap many Phillies players use them while unwinding in front of their lockers in the clubhouse reveals a stellar career.

With all the information on the Internet, Ive looked at the numbers and gotten an appreciation for his career, Mayberry said of his father, who was Kansas Citys hitting coach after his playing days. It would have been nice to see him play, but I still got to hang around when he was coach and that was a lot of fun.

Like his father, Mayberry was a first-round draft pick (Mayberry Sr. was the sixth overall pick in the 1967 draft) out of high school. The Mariners, under then-GM Pat Gillick, drafted him 28th overall out of Rockhurst High School in Kansas City in 2002, but were unable to sign him. After much reflection, Mayberry attended Stanford, choosing the highly regarded institution over Notre Dame and several Big 12 schools.

It was difficult to pass on pro ball, but my family always stressed education, Mayberry said. I think the decision worked out well.

Mayberry described college-vs.-pro-ball decision as being intense. He recalled the Mariners rights to him expiring when he attended his first day of class at Stanford.

It was almost like that scene in Field of Dreams where the doctor stepped over the line and was transformed, he said. You cant go back.

But Mayberry could go back. After playing in the College World Series, earning a Political Science degree, and taking some Spanish at Stanford he has honed his Espanol in clubhouses and on minor-league bus rides Mayberry was selected again in the first round of the 2005 draft by Texas. The Rangers ultimately werent sure whether Mayberry would contribute in Texas, so they made him available for a trade after the 2009 season. Amaro received recommendations on Mayberry from scout Charley Kerfeld, who had worked for Texas, and aides Gillick and Benny Looper, both of whom were in Seattle when the Mariners drafted Mayberry. In a swap of former first-rounders, the Phils sent Golson to Texas for Mayberry. Golson has gone on to play in the majors with Texas and the Yankees.

They were two guys who werent progressing the way their organizations had hoped, Amaro said. Were happy with the way it worked out. John has earned his way here. He has become a better hitter.

Someday, Mayberry may make trades like the one Amaro did back in Nov. 2008. The guy really wants to a big-league GM after, of course, a good, long playing career.

That playing career seems to be turning a corner in 2011.

So, how would John Mayberry Jr., the GM, assess the season that John Mayberry Jr., the player, is having?

Mayberry chuckled at the question and said: He would be succinct and say, Its gone OK so far. Finish strong.

E-mail Jim Salisbury at jsalisbury@comcastsportsnet.com.

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

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Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg (9-0) won his 12th consecutive decision dating to last season, pitching six innings of one-run ball as Washington salvaged a four-game split.

Strasburg improved to 12-0 in 15 starts since losing to the Mets on Sept. 9, and the Nationals have won all 15 of those games. The 12 consecutive winning decisions is a franchise record for a starter, breaking a mark shared by Livan Hernandez (2005) and Dennis Martinez (1989).

Jayson Werth connected for a pinch-hit grand slam. Wilson Ramos had three hits, including a two-run homer, and drove in four runs. Bryce Harper hit an RBI single during a three-run fourth off Michael Wacha (2-6), who lost his sixth straight decision (see full recap).

Dodgers score twice in 9th to top Mets
NEW YORK -- Adrian Gonzalez snapped a ninth-inning tie with a two-run single off suddenly struggling closer Jeurys Familia, and Los Angeles beat New York.

Curtis Granderson hit a tying triple for the Mets immediately after Clayton Kershaw was lifted with two outs in the eighth. But the Dodgers quickly regrouped for their sixth victory in seven games since losing four straight.

Kershaw struck out 10, walked none and capped a magnificent May with another sublime performance.

Adam Liberatore (1-0) got the win. Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save.

Familia (2-1) allowed two runs on two hits and two walks (see full recap).

Castro's homer Yanks' only hit in victory
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Starlin Castro's two-run, seventh-inning homer off Jake Odorizzi was the Yankees' only hit of the game, enough to give New York a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

According to Baseball Reference data going back to 1913, the Yankees' only other one-hit win was when Charlie Mullen had an RBI single to beat Cleveland in six innings in a doubleheader nightcap on July 10, 1914.

Nathan Eovaldi (6-2) gave up one run and six hits in six innings to win his career-best fifth consecutive start and beat Odorizzi (2-3).

Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman each pitched a perfect inning and combined for seven strikeouts. Chapman got his seventh save (see full recap).

Deitrich hurt on odd play in Marlins' win over Braves
ATLANTA -- Derek Dietrich hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer and drove in four runs before getting hurt on a foul ball hit into Miami's dugout.

Dietrich's homer landed deep in the lower section of the right-field seats in the sixth, giving Miami a 3-1 lead. A former Georgia Tech star, Dietrich added a two-run double off Eric O'Flaherty in the seventh inning, then was hit by a foul ball off the bat of Christian Yelich in the ninth.

The team said X-rays were negative and Dietrich was to remain in Atlanta on Sunday night for further evaluations.

Tom Koehler (3-5) allowed three runs -- two earned -- three hits and five walks in seven-plus innings. Julio Teheran (1-5) gave up three runs, five hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings (see full recap).

Correa's home run lifts Astros over Angels in 13
ANAHEIM, Calif.  -- Pinch-hitter Carlos Correa had a three-run homer off Mike Morin (1-1) in the 13th inning.

Correa got a run-scoring hit in the 13th inning for the second time in six games, following up his game-ending single against Baltimore on Tuesday.

Albert Pujols had three hits for the Angels, who blew an eighth-inning lead and stranded 14 runners while losing for the fourth time in five games.

Michael Feliz (3-1) pitched the 12th for Houston (see full recap).

Simmering issue: Pete Mackanin says he will continue to trim Ryan Howard's playing time

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Simmering issue: Pete Mackanin says he will continue to trim Ryan Howard's playing time

CHICAGO – The Ryan Howard drama continues to simmer.
 
Howard’s dwindling production has led to dwindling playing time. He did not start against a right-handed pitcher for the second time in eight days on Sunday (see game recap).
 
After the game, manager Pete Mackanin addressed the uncomfortable situation and said he would continue to trim Howard’s playing time against right-handers because he wants to look at Tommy Joseph, who has 10 hits, including three homers and a double, in his first 35 big-league at-bats.
 
“We brought Joseph up here for a reason, to get a look at him,” Mackanin said. “I can’t let him stagnate on the bench like (Darin) Ruf ended up doing, so he’s going to face some right-handed pitchers to keep his timing. I don’t know when the next time we’re going to face a left-handed pitcher is, but I’m going to use (Joseph) a little bit more often than I did Ruf.”
 
Since the end of last July, Howard has gone from being a full-time player to a platoon guy, facing just righties. Now, he’s migrating toward more of a reserve role.
 
Taking away playing time from a club icon – Howard is a former NL MVP and World Series champion -- is not easy, but Mackanin has little choice. Howard is hitting .154 with eight homers and 18 RBIs in 136 at-bats over 44 games. He has struck out in 33 percent of his plate appearances. Howard’s average for the month of May is .097 (6 for 62) and he has 25 strikeouts. He recently used the word “brutal” to describe how the month of May has been going.
 
Mackanin was asked about Howard’s mindset in relation to losing playing time.
 
“I don’t know how he feels,” Mackanin said. “I’m sure we’ll talk to him and we’ll go from there. The important thing is that we brought Joseph up here to get a look at him, and as I said, if he sits on the bench for a week or 10 days and we don’t get a look at him, what’s the point of bringing him up?”
 
Howard started Saturday against Cubs’ righty Kyle Hendricks and went hitless.
 
After Sunday's game, Howard was asked if he was surprised to see he was not in the lineup.
 
“I guess, yeah,” he said. “But I don’t make the lineup. The manager makes the lineup. I just show up. If I’m in there, I’m in there, if I’m not, I’m not."
 
Howard said he was unaware of Mackanin’s intention to sit him more against righties.
 
“I haven’t heard anything about sitting more against righties,” he said. “I haven’t been called into the office and talked to about it, so you guys apparently have breaking news before I do.”
 
Howard's status in the lineup and with the team has been an issue for almost two years. Before the 2015 season, former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. admitted it would be best if Howard moved on. The Phillies tried to trade him last year, but there was no interest. 

Howard is in the final year of a five-year, $125 million contract that did not kick in until after he suffered a devastating Achilles tendon rupture on his final swing of the 2011 season.
 
He is still owed more that $26 million in salary for 2016 and an option year buyout for 2017.

Howard isn't walking away from that kind of money.

Would the team release him to solve this uncomfortable situation? Or will it ride out the final four months of the season and the contract with Howard as a part-time player?

Time will tell.

Phillies swept out of Chicago with another loss to MLB-best Cubs

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Phillies swept out of Chicago with another loss to MLB-best Cubs

CHICAGO – The Phillies are rebuilding.

The Chicago Cubs are focused on winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

And they have a team that can do it.

So the events of the last three days at Wrigley Field were not that surprising.

The Phillies suffered a three-game sweep, capped off by Sunday afternoon’s 7-2 loss.

When the Phillies departed Citizens Bank Park last week, they had a 25-19 record and were one of the surprise teams in the majors.

But the trip to Detroit and Chicago figured to be a stiff test. The Tigers pound the baseball. The Cubs do everything.

In the end, the Phillies won just one of the six games on the trip. They limp home at 26-24 for a matchup Monday night with the Washington Nationals.

Is the Phillies’ unexpected, early-season magic fading?

“That’s up for debate, I guess,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “Every team goes through a hot streak and a cold streak. How you come out those streaks, especially now with a cold streak, determines how good of a team you are. I choose to believe we’re at the bottom of the roller coaster and on our way up.”

The Phils were outscored 17-5 by the Cubs in this weekend’s series. The Cubs’ starting pitchers – Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey – combined to allow just three earned runs in 22⅓ innings. And Jake Arrieta, arguably the best pitcher in baseball, did not appear in the series.

After Sunday’s game, Mackanin was asked what he learned about his club on the trip.

“I didn’t learn anything about my team,” he said. “I learned first-hand that the Cubs have a lot going for them. They’re a good team, probably the best team in baseball right now and they beat us fair and square.”

They do have the best record in the majors at 34-14.

It was not surprising to hear that Mackanin didn’t learn anything about his club during the trip. He knows the Phillies are rebuilding and have glaring holes. He knows the pitching has kept them in games and allowed them to win a bunch by one run. He also knows it’s difficult to sustain that with a team that averages just 3.22 runs per game, second-lowest in the majors. Sunday marked the 19th time the Phillies have scored two or fewer runs.

Looking for more offense, Mackanin sent Ryan Howard to the bench Sunday against a right-handed pitcher and used Tommy Joseph. Joseph hit a homer in the ninth inning. After the game, Mackanin said he would continue to get Joseph playing time against right-handers.

Power-armed right-hander Vince Velasquez had a difficult trip. Against two of the toughest lineups in baseball, he pitched 8⅔ innings over two starts. He gave up 18 hits, five of which were homers, and 10 earned runs. The Cubs got him for nine hits and seven runs in 4⅔ innings. He gave up two homers, a solo shot in the second and a three-run blow in the third.

The three-run homer, by Ben Zobrist, gave the Cubs a 5-0 lead and ignited the daily Happy Hour in the stands.

Two batters before Zobrist homered, Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis failed to make a play on a hard-hit one-hopper by Kris Bryant. Galvis backed up and gloved the hot smash, but threw quickly, off-balance and wildly to first. It was ruled a hit. Had Galvis made the play, it would have ended the inning. Instead, Velasquez issued a two-out walk to extend the inning further and Zobrist hit the two-out homer.

“I don’t know why Freddy got rid of the ball so quick,” Mackanin said. “I thought he could have planted and thrown it over there. But I’m not going to be critical of Freddy Galvis. He’s been unbelievable, just outstanding.”

Zobrist’s homer was one of six the Cubs hit in the three games. Two of them were three-run shots. The Phillies had just two homers in the series. Both came Sunday after the club was down 7-0.

“We didn’t string hits together,” Mackanin said.