Phillies

Clay Buchholz continues work to fine-tune high fastball

Clay Buchholz continues work to fine-tune high fastball

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Clay Buchholz is continuing to refine his latest weapon in the battle to get batters to swing and miss -- the high fastball.

Buchholz struck out six in 3 1/3 innings of work against the Yankees on Friday. He gave up four hits, including a three-run homer to Chase Headley in the first inning, but he also showed he can sit batters down if he can keep his four-seamer high and out of danger.

"I started [throwing high fastballs] last year and I don't know why it took me 10 or 11 years to figure out that could help but it did," Buchholz said. "It's one of those things to where if you don't get it up there high enough, it's an easy pitch to hit. You have to make sure that you set your target high above the belt and at the letters and try to make it a pitch that's good enough to offer at."

The pitch that Headley took deep over the right-field wall wasn't a high fastball but rather a breaking ball that caught too much of the plate.

"Yeah, it was the one pitch I didn't quite get it where I wanted it to and it was a homer," Buchholz said. "I've faced a pretty big group of those guys throughout my career ... if you don't make your pitches against the veterans in that group, they will make you pay."

Buchholz started the game by using the high fastball to retire Aaron Hicks swinging and slowed things down to get Gary Sanchez with a 78-mph breaking ball off the plate. Greg Bird was able to reach for a first-pitch fastball and get a single to shallow right field and Matt Holliday walked on four straight pitches to set the table for Headley, who took the breaking ball right over the 330-foot sign in right field.

But Buchholz was able to bounce back and get Headley with the high fastball the second time he faced him.

All of Buchholz's strikeouts were swing-and-misses.

"It's good when you're getting swings-and-misses against a team that doesn't have a lot of free-swinging guys," Buchholz said. "And they can be dangerous if you aren't in command of your pitches. Getting strike one and getting them in a swing mode is key to getting quick at-bats and not letting them stay out there and see more pitches."

Buchholz said he began tinkering with the placement of the pitch to try to get batters to climb the ladder when his sinker wasn't effective. And now he's focused on trying to control both pitches to force batters to adjust their eye levels.

"I've been a sinker-ball guy my whole career," Buchholz said. "You don't want to throw sinkers up, you want to throw them down. So, whenever the sinker started getting hit we had to switch it up a little bit, so we went back to four seams and it's working."

MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

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MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

CHICAGO -- Javier Baez snapped an 0-for-20 skid with two home runs, Wade Davis hung on for a six-out save and the Chicago Cubs avoided a sweep, holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

Jake Arrieta pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning to held the defending World Series champion Cubs close their deficit to 3-1. Manager Joe Maddon got ejected for the second time in this series in the eighth, and a packed Wrigley Field crowd watched Davis get Cody Bellinger to ground into a game-ending double play.

Maddon was heavily criticized for not using Davis during a 4-1 loss in Game 2. This time, the Cubs closer threw 48 pitches to finish the job.

Willson Contreras also homered for the Cubs. Bellinger and Justin Turner connected for the Dodgers, who had won a team-record six straight playoff games.

Game 5 is Thursday, with Jose Quintana pitching for Chicago against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (see full recap).

Tanaka, Yankees blank Astros to take ALCS lead
NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven innings of three-hit ball and the New York Yankees finally solved Houston Astros nemesis Dallas Keuchel, beating the ace lefty 5-0 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Gary Sanchez hit an RBI single off Keuchel and later homered to help the wild-card Yankees win for the third straight day at home and move within one victory of their first trip to the World Series since 2009.

The teams head back to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night, when Justin Verlander and the reeling Astros will try to regain their footing following an off day and force a decisive Game 7. Luis Severino is scheduled to start for New York.

Just days ago, Houston was up two games to none and appeared to be closing in on its second World Series appearance. But the Astros, like defending AL champion Cleveland before them, have been unable to put away these poised Yankees, who improved to 6-0 at home in this postseason in front of their cheering, chanting fans (see full recap).

MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

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MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge ignited a rousing rally with a home run, then doubled during a four-run eighth inning to spur the New York Yankees over the Houston Astros 6-4 Tuesday night and level the AL Championship Series 2-2.

The Yankees trailed 4-0 against starter Lance McCullers Jr. until Judge homered leading off the seventh. He tied it with a line drive that nearly left the park in the eighth and scored on Gary Sanchez's go-ahead two-run double off loser Ken Giles.

The Yankees have rallied from a second straight 0-2 series deficit -- they beat Cleveland in the Division Series by winning three in a row to take that best-of-five matchup.

Aroldis Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth, and New York improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs.

Masahiro Tanaka pitches for New York against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5 Wednesday and rematch of the opener, won by the Astros 2-1 (see full recap).

Dodgers on brink of World Series after shutout
CHICAGO -- Yu Darvish pitched sparkling ball into the seventh inning, Chris Taylor homered again and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Tuesday night to open a commanding 3-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

Andre Ethier also went deep and Taylor added an RBI triple in the fifth as Los Angeles set a franchise record with its sixth consecutive playoff win. Yasiel Puig had two more hits in another entertaining performance that included an impressive bat flip -- on a long foul ball in the first inning.

Looking for a four-game sweep and their 22nd NL pennant, the Dodgers will send Alex Wood to the mound Wednesday night at Wrigley Field with a chance to reach the World Series for the first time since their last championship in 1988. Jake Arrieta, eligible for free agency after the season, pitches for the Cubs in what could be his final start with the team.

Los Angeles was eliminated by Chicago in the NLCS last year, but this is a different group of Dodgers. The lineup is patient and pesky and the pitching staff is much deeper, especially since Darvish was acquired in a trade with Texas in the final minutes before the July 31 deadline (see full recap).