Best of MLB: Springer, Astros top Mets in return to Houston

AP Images

Best of MLB: Springer, Astros top Mets in return to Houston

HOUSTON -- George Springer hit his career-best 30th home run and J.D Davis also went deep to lead Houston over the New York Mets and Matt Harvey 12-8 Saturday in the Astros' first game at Minute Maid Park since Hurricane Harvey devastated the area.

A crowd of 30,319 attended the doubleheader opener. The Astros had moved a home series against rival Texas to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. The AL West leaders, who lost two of three to the Rangers, then postponed Friday's game by a day, allowing players time to work in the community.

Harvey (4-4) was pounded for seven runs and eight hits in a career-low two innings as Houston romped to a 7-0 lead. Harvey had not pitched for the Mets since June 14 because of a stress injury to the scapula bone in his right shoulder.

Jose Altuve had an RBI single and Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-run single, then scored on Cameron Maybon's single as Houston built a four-run lead in the 37-pitch inning. Maybin was claimed on waivers from the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday.

Springer hit a two-run homer in the second, when Harvey threw a run-scoring wild pitch (see full recap).

Holliday returns with 3-run HR, Yankees beat Red Sox 5-1
NEW YORK -- Matt Holliday made a smashing return to the Yankees' lineup, hitting a three-run homer that led Masahiro Tanaka and New York over the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox 5-1 Saturday.

The Yankees, already holding the top spot in the wild-card race, pulled within 4 games of Boston. The rivals close their season series Sunday night.

Holliday hadn't played in the majors since going on the disabled list almost a month ago with a back injury. He was activated Friday but sat out a 4-1 loss.

Holliday was greeted with "Welcome Back" by the public address announcer when the lineups were introduced, drawing a rippling of applause. Later, he revved up the sellout crowd of 46,536 on a holiday weekend.

It was 1-all in the sixth inning when Holliday launched a drive to left off Drew Pomeranz (14-5) estimated at 443 feet. Holliday pointed toward the Yankees dugout on his way toward first base after his 17th home run -- his previous homer was July 16, a tying shot in the ninth off Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel at Fenway Park (see full recap).

Rivera hits grand slam as streaking Cubs top Braves 14-12
CHICAGO -- Rene Rivera hit a grand slam, Anthony Rizzo added a three-run triple and the Chicago Cubs held off the Atlanta Braves for a 14-12 victory on Saturday in Jon Lester's return from the disabled list.

Javier Baez and Jason Heyward also homered for the NL Central-leading Cubs, who have won six straight and 12 of 15 overall. Rivera, Rizzo, Baez and Heyward finished with two hits apiece.

Lester (9-7) allowed four runs and eight hits in five innings in his first start since Aug. 16. He had been sidelined by tightness in his left lat and general shoulder fatigue.

Freddie Freeman, Matt Kemp and Rio Ruiz homered for Atlanta, which has dropped six of eight. Rookies Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson had three hits apiece, and Nick Markakis had two hits and drove in two runs (see full recap).

Solarte homers in 9th to give Padres 6-5 win over Dodgers
SAN DIEGO -- Yangervis Solarte homered with one out in the ninth inning to lift the San Diego Padres to a 6-5 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first game of a split doubleheader on Saturday, the sixth loss in seven games for the NL West leaders.

Solarte's first career walkoff homer came off Pedro Baez (3-3). It was his 15th this season.

It came after Justin Turner's pinch-hit, two-run homer off All-Star closer Brad Hand (3-4) tied the game at five.

The Dodgers blew leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-1, and trailed 5-3 in the top of the ninth. Rob Segedin hit a leadoff double off Hand and Turner hit a one-out, no-doubter into the second deck in left field. It was his 18th of the season and the fifth pinch-hit homer of his career (see full recap).

Aaron Nola another Zack Greinke? A quick call-up for Scott Kingery?

Aaron Nola another Zack Greinke? A quick call-up for Scott Kingery?


BRADENTON, Fla. — Gabe Kapler played most of what figures to be his opening day lineup on Friday and the Phillies responded with one of their best games of the Grapefruit League schedule in beating the Pittsburgh Pirates, 8-2.

The only regular not in the starting lineup was shortstop J.P. Crawford. Bench candidate Jesmuel Valentin played there (see story).

Opening day starter Aaron Nola pitched four shutout innings, gave up four hits, a walk and struck out five. He threw 64 pitches and 45 were strikes.

Maikel Franco belted two homers, both bombs to left. One was a two-run shot on a 3-0 fastball, the other a grand slam.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a good showing by the Phils without another impressive performance from the man who has been the best player in camp, Scott Kingery. He came off the bench, played center field, right field and third base, and stroked a hard single to right.

It is doubtful that Kingery will be on the opening day roster, but it’s looking more and more like he could be up with the big club as soon as April 13. If Kingery stays in the minors until then, the Phillies will control his rights through 2024. If he makes the opening day roster, he could be eligible for free agency after 2023. Keeping Kingery down for a few weeks won’t sit well with some fans, but it makes good baseball sense, especially for a team that does not project as a slam-dunk contender.

Kapler raved about a play Kingery made at third.

“Wow, wow,” the manager said. “His ability to go to his left and make that strong throw. He showed off that incredible arm and that versatility.”

Kapler also liked Franco’s power. The third baseman, entering a make-or-break season with the Phillies, is hitting just .192 on the spring, but he leads the club with five homers. Franco has closed his stance by bringing his front foot closer to the plate. He is getting more comfortable with the stance, which the Phillies hope will prompt him to use the middle of the field and stop pulling off balls.

“He attacked that 3-0 pitch,” Kapler said. “That was pretty impressive.”

Nola said he was “ready to go” for the opener.

Kapler concurred and compared Nola to a former Cy Young winner.

“Perfect tune-up for opening day, got him right where we wanted him with pitches — and he got to that pitch count by throwing strikes, a lot of them, and really attacking with pitches," Kapler said of Nola.

“He’s starting to look to me a lot like — I saw Zack Greinke in the American League when he was with Kansas City — kind of a familiar look to the way that he uses the gas pedal and the brake effectively and fills up the strike zone with all his pitches. His calm, easy, collected demeanor is really reminiscent of some of the best pitchers in baseball.”

The Phillies play the Tigers in Lakeland on Saturday.

Questions Phillies face as spring training nears its end

Questions Phillies face as spring training nears its end

BRADENTON, Fla. — Less than a week before opening day, there are still a number of unanswered questions surrounding the Phillies.

About the only thing known for sure is that Aaron Nola will start Thursday in Atlanta. The right-hander made his final spring tune-up Friday afternoon against the Pirates.

Some of the questions that need to be answered before the Phillies pack up and leave Florida on Tuesday include:

• When will Jake Arrieta join the rotation? Will it be April 2, 3 or 4 in New York? Will it be during the team’s first homestand, possibly April 7? Arrieta threw 31 pitches in his first spring start Thursday. A bullpen session over the weekend and his next start, likely 50 or so pitches on Tuesday, will offer team officials a better idea on when he’ll be ready.

• Who else will be in the rotation? Nothing has been announced, but Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta appear to be locks with Nola and eventually Arrieta. Zach Eflin could be the fifth starter, if the Phils use one the first time through the rotation. He could also piggyback with Arrieta in New York if the Phils wanted to get Arrieta going that early. Ben Lively and Drew Hutchison remain candidates to make the club as the fifth starter, should the Phils use one during the first 10 days of the season.

• Who's in the bullpen? Hector Neris, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Luis Garcia and Adam Morgan are locks. That likely leaves three openings. One spot will likely go to a lefty, Hoby Milner or Zac Curtis. Right-handers Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano seem to be vying for one spot and the final one could go to Lively or Hutchison. They are both stretched out and could provide the bullpen length that injured Mark Leiter Jr. would have.

• How about bullpen roles? Manager Gabe Kapler is not one to speak in absolutes. He is loath to define roles in his bullpen or batting order. He’s keeping options open and could assign roles on a nightly basis based on matchups and research that the team’s growing analytics department digs up. Neris went 20 for 20 in save chances while giving up just three runs in 19⅔ innings after June 27 last season. Logic would dictate that he'd be the closer. But will he be every night? Will Kapler use him in a matchup situation in the seventh inning some night? Time will tell. Same for batting order construction.

• Who will be on the bench? Infielder/outfielder Pedro Florimon has played well and looks like a lock. That leaves one or two openings, depending on how many pitchers the Phils open with. Veterans Ryan Flaherty and Adam Rosales were both granted their release. That leaves Jesmuel Valentin and Roman Quinn, both 40-man roster guys, as the two lead candidates. There might be room for both, depending on how many pitchers the Phils open with. It also would not be shocking to see the team send Quinn to Triple A to get more playing time. The Phils appear to be leaning toward carrying Andrew Knapp as their second catcher over Cameron Rupp, who has a minor-league option remaining.