With Twins, Vance Worley could start opener

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With Twins, Vance Worley could start opener

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Vance Worley managed to become a fan favorite in Philadelphia despite pitching on a staff that included Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.

Now with the Minnesota Twins, the 25-year-old Californian will have a chance to stand out again. In fact, he could end up being the team's opening day starter.

"It means a lot. It means they trust me to come over from another organization, one," Worley said. "But two, to take the ball on Game 1 -- that's big. That means you mean something to the organization."

It's still a hypothetical for now. The Twins made wholesale changes to their starting rotation, which was a mess last year aside from left-hander Scott Diamond. Worley was acquired in December when Minnesota sent outfielder Ben Revere to the Phillies, and he could be the Twins' top starter if Diamond isn't healthy by the opener.

After a couple starts in 2010, Worley won 11 of his first 12 decisions the following season for Philadelphia. The right-hander's glasses, mohawk and nickname "Vanimal" were all part of his charm. He finished that year 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA and was third in the Rookie of the Year vote.

He went 6-9 with a 4.20 ERA last year, and when the Phillies wanted to acquire a center fielder, they figured they had enough depth behind Halladay, Lee and Hamels that they could deal Worley.

"Don't get me wrong, I think Vance Worley a couple years ago had a huge rookie year, then last year I think he showed he can pitch," Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said.

The Twins were happy to take him. Diamond went 12-9 with a 3.54 ERA last season, but he had surgery in December to remove a bone spur and chips from his pitching elbow. Minnesota seemingly left no stone unturned while looking for rotation candidates. The Twins signed Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey -- and even brought in Rich Harden on a minor league deal after the right-hander missed all of last season following shoulder surgery.

There was little risk in giving those pitchers a chance, but Minnesota parted ways with a speedy young outfielder to acquire Worley and pitching prospect Trevor May. The Twins also traded center fielder Denard Span to Washington for minor league pitcher Alex Meyer. The pitching makeover is still in progress during spring training.

With the season opener against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers less than six weeks away, the Twins have a lot of decisions still to make. And Worley has a lot of work to do. He reported back Tuesday from a live batting practice session.

"I was telling everybody what was coming, so they were all hacking," Worley said. "Everything came out fine. Everything did what I wanted it to. I was in or around the zone like I wanted, so I felt like I got something accomplished."

Since Worley pitched in the National League, Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire hasn't had much of a chance to watch him up close.

"Seen video of him, and that's about it. I think we might have seen him in spring training a little bit, but not very much," Gardenhire said. "We know that he wants the ball, he's going to go at them, he can punch a few guys out here and there. He's pitched in a pretty tough ballpark in Philadelphia, so I think he knows how to work his way around that stuff. We'll see."

Worley has also had a chance to learn from some of the best. With Halladay, Lee and Hamels anchoring the Phillies' staff, he couldn't help but take in a bit of wisdom.

"Go after guys. That's the biggest thing -- pitch with a purpose," Worley said. "Know what you're going to throw and feel confident that you're going to throw it for a strike or locate it where you want it. Make them hit you."

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Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies’ bullpen continued its ugly, late-season collapse on Tuesday night. It was tagged for six runs in a 7-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves. The Braves rallied for the tying and go-ahead runs in the bottom of the eighth inning (see Instant Replay).
 
The loss came two days after the bullpen gave up 14 earned runs in four innings in a 17-0 loss to the New York Mets on Sunday and it left manager Pete Mackanin more than a little bit frustrated.
 
“The bullpen has just not been doing the job,” Mackanin said.
 
Jerad Eickhoff gave up just one run (on a solo homer by Freddie Freeman) over four walk-free innings to open the game. He was up 6-1 after four innings when the rains came and stopped the game for an hour and 53 minutes.
 
With Eickhoff bounced by the weather, Mackanin had to go to his bullpen. He used four relievers — Severino Gonzalez, Luis Garcia, Joely Rodriguez and David Hernandez — and all gave up runs.
 
Phillies relievers have pitched 77 1/3 innings this month and allowed 69 earned runs for an ERA of 8.03. So that’s one more thing Matt Klentak has to fix this winter, along with the offense that Mackanin wants to see addressed (see story).
 
Ultimately, Hernandez took the loss when he gave up three hits and a run in the bottom of the eighth. The other run in the inning was charged to Rodriguez.
 
As unbelievable as it may sound with rosters being expanded in September, the Phillies played this game shorthanded.
 
They did not have reliever Edubray Ramos. He had a sore elbow, Mackanin said.
 
They did not have outfielder Peter Bourjos, who had gone home to be with his wife for the birth of their child.
 
They also did not have outfielder Tyler Goeddel, who is out with a concussion.
 
Not having Bourjos or Goeddel forced Mackanin to use Darin Ruf in left field after Roman Quinn went out with an oblique injury in the sixth inning. Ruf failed to make a catch on a long fly ball by Tyler Flowers to the gap in left-center. The non-play extended the eighth inning and fueled the Braves’ comeback.
 
“It should have been caught,” Mackanin said. “If Quinn's out there, he catches it. He wasn't out there.”
 
Hernandez was the only free agent that the Phillies signed to a major-league contract this winter. The Phillies signed him with an eye toward using him as the closer. But Hernandez struggled much of the season and slipped into the middle innings while Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez rose to high-leverage roles.
 
Gomez lost the closer’s job last week and Mackanin was saving Neris to close out this game. That meant Hernandez had to pitch the eighth. He couldn’t protect the lead. He gave up the game-tying hit to Mallex Smith and the go-ahead hit to Emilio Bonafacio.
 
“Neris was going to close for us,” Mackanin said. “I thought about using him with two outs in the eighth. But, at some point, somebody else has to do a (bleeping) job. Somebody else has to (bleeping) step up. In two games now, every reliever I brought in has given up a (bleeping) run. That's unheard of.”
 
The bullpen’s unraveling threw cold (rain) water on Eickhoff’s solid start and Ryan Howard’s big night. Howard belted his 24th homer, a grand slam in the first inning, to highlight a 14-hit attack and help the Phils jump to a 6-0 lead.
 
“Eickhoff looked like he was having one of his best games and then the rain came. So that was our first disappointment,” Mackanin said. "Other than that, Howie swung the bat great. Hit that grand slam. We got 14 hits, but we stranded 12 runners. We have to keep adding on.”
 
Quinn had three of the Phillies’ 14 hits then added to his collection of injuries with the oblique strain that bounced him from the game in the sixth. He hurt himself taking a swing.
 
Oblique injuries generally keep a player sidelined for at least three weeks, so Quinn’s season is likely over. He missed six weeks with a similar injury at Double A Reading this summer. The 23-year-old outfielder came up from the minors on Sept. 11 and has been auditioning for a spot on next season’s opening day roster.
 
“It looks like it,” Mackanin said when asked if Quinn was done for what remains of the season.
 
Injuries have been a consistent hurdle for Quinn ever since he was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft. He has missed significant time with a ruptured Achilles tendon, a wrist injury that required surgery, a torn quad muscle and an oblique strain. Now he has another one.
 
“It’s the same one I hurt before,” Quinn said. “It’s frustrating.”
 
Right now, just about everything is frustrating with this team. Good thing there are only five games left.

Best of MLB: Blue Jays beat Orioles in opener of AL wild-card showdown

Best of MLB: Blue Jays beat Orioles in opener of AL wild-card showdown

TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson hit a two-run homer, Aaron Sanchez struck out 10 and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-1 on Tuesday night in the opener of their AL wild-card showdown.

Ezequiel Carrera also homered as the Blue Jays won for the sixth time in eight games. They lead the wild-card standings by two games over the Orioles with five to play.

Baltimore began the day two games ahead of Detroit and Seattle for the league's final playoff spot.

Orioles slugger Chris Davis was ejected for arguing with plate umpire Will Little after striking out against Joe Biagini in the seventh, the third time in three at-bats Davis was caught looking. Baltimore manager Buck Showalter also was tossed after he came out to argue (see full recap).

Syndergaard, Mets pound grieving Marlins
MIAMI -- With time running out in the playoff race, the New York Mets set sympathy aside.

Noah Syndergaard struck out eight and allowed one run in six innings Tuesday night, and the Mets totaled 19 hits to beat the grieving Miami Marlins 12-1.

Jay Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes each hit his 31st homer for the Mets, who began the game with a half-game lead over the Giants in the battle for the first NL wild-card berth, with the Cardinals 1 1/2 games behind.

The game was the Marlins' second since the death of ace Jose Fernandez in a boating accident. One night after a heart-tugging victory over New York filled with tributes to their teammate, emotions were more subdued, and Miami's bats were too.

Syndergaard (14-9) had a lot to do with that. After missing a scheduled start Saturday with strep throat, he threw 93 pitches and lowered his ERA to 2.60, third-best in the majors. He'll return to pitch the regular-season finale Sunday at Philadelphia if needed (see full recap).

Cards beat Reds to tighten wild-card race
ST. LOUIS -- Playing with a heavy heart, Aledmys Diaz hit his first career grand slam and the St. Louis Cardinals finished with five home runs Tuesday night in a 12-5 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Chasing the Giants and Mets in a tight race for the two NL wild cards, St. Louis moved within a half-game of San Francisco for the league's final playoff spot -- pending the Giants' late game against Colorado.

New York, which beat Miami 12-1, leads the wild-card standings and remained 1 1/2 games ahead of the Cardinals.

Jhonny Peralta had a three-run homer and drove in four runs for the Cardinals, who had lost four of five. Matt Carpenter, Randal Grichuk and Matt Adams also homered (see full recap).