Phillies

Former Phillies setup man Ryan Madson plays key role in Nationals' win

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Former Phillies setup man Ryan Madson plays key role in Nationals' win

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WASHINGTON — It was a sight we'd seen before, Ryan Madson mowing down hitters in the eighth inning with a big fastball and a baffling changeup for one of the best teams in baseball.

Only this wasn't 2008 and Madson wasn't wearing a Phillies uniform.

Nine seasons after he helped the Phillies win the World Series as the bridge to Lidge, Madson, now 37, is back in the National League East pitching for the playoff-bound Washington Nationals. He got three big outs — two via strikeouts — in a one-run game in the eighth inning to help the Nats beat the Phillies, 4-3, on Thursday night (see observations).

The Nationals' magic number for clinching a fourth straight NL East title is down to four.

Madson joined the Nats in a July trade deadline deal with Oakland. Lefty closer Sean Doolittle also came over in that deal. The duo has been sensational. Doolittle racked up his 16th save in as many chances for the Nats on Thursday night. Madson has collected 12 scoreless innings for his new club. He has allowed six hits and a walk while registering 17 strikeouts. And he's still hitting 97 mph on the radar gun, just like he did in 2008 when he was the setup man for Brad Lidge.

"It's a big gift, a huge gift, coming over here," Madson said after the game. "I just feel very fortunate to have been pitching well enough to be invited over here."

Madson is a survivor. He left the Phillies as a free agent when the Phils signed Jonathan Papelbon to be their closer in November 2011. Shortly after that, Madson was beset by elbow problems and did not pitch in the majors for three seasons. He spent the 2014 season at home before signing with Kansas City in 2015 and helping the Royals win the World Series.

He will get a chance to win a third ring next month.

"My career could have been done very easily," he said. "Thankfully, I found some trainers that got me healthy and got me strong."

Madson said this Nationals team, which also features 2008 Phillies Jayson Werth and Joe Blanton, reminds him of that championship Phillies club.

"And the 2015 Royals," he said. "Any good team is going to have that vibe."

Madson was drafted by the Phillies in 1998. Nineteen years later, he finally pitched against them.

"Pretty crazy," he said. "Somebody just texted me and said that was the last team I hadn't pitched against. Now I've pitched against them all. I didn't even know it."

While he was on the mound, Madson felt no special sentiment pitching against his former team. But after the game ...

"I think it's been so long there was nothing really crazy about it, but after the game I did think about Larry Bowa being over there and I want to say hi to him tomorrow and give him a big hug," Madson said. "He had faith in me and brought me up from Triple A when I was a starter and made me a reliever. So him and Matt Stairs, of course. I need to say hi to them."

Bowa, now the Phillies' bench coach, was the team's manager when Madson came up in 2003. Stairs, now the Phils' hitting coach, was a teammate in 2008. He hit a pretty big home run in the NLCS, if you recall.

Madson worked with a one-run lead Thursday night after Phillies starter Aaron Nola and reliever Adam Morgan could not hold a two-run lead in the bottom of the sixth inning. Nola went 5 1/3 innings and gave up seven hits and three runs, one of which was unearned.

"It wasn't the best we've seen Nola," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He pitched well enough to win. We just didn't score enough."

Two weeks after saying he wanted to keep catcher Cameron Rupp with Nola, Mackanin used rookie Jorge Alfaro behind the plate.

"I just changed my mind," Mackanin said. "I want to see more of Alfaro and let these guys pitch to a different catcher."

Alfaro belted a home run in the third inning. Mackanin believes Alfaro has made strides defensively, though he was charged with a passed ball in the Nationals' three-run sixth.

Alfaro is out of minor-league options and could be the Phillies' primary catcher next season. He needs reps with Nola, the team's most dependable pitcher and a building block for the future.

"He's making a great impression," Mackanin said. "As I always say, everybody is auditioning all the time and he's having a very good audition."

As for Ryan Madson, he is long past the audition stage of his career. But nine years after helping the Phillies win the World Series, he's still going strong and has a chance to win another one in Washington.

Carlos Santana is ready to show Maikel Franco the way

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Carlos Santana is ready to show Maikel Franco the way

CLEARWATER, Fla. – The numbering is a little off in the Phillies’ spring training clubhouse. Usually lockers are assigned in numerical sequence, clockwise around the room. But this spring, No. 41 comes immediately after No. 7.

Why?

Because that’s the way Carlos Santana wanted it.

“I told the team that I wanted Maikel Franco right next to me,” the new first baseman said after his first workout with the club Saturday. “That's something that I wanted. I really like him. He's a special kid. I appreciate him a lot. And, not only him, the whole group is nice. But I really want to work with him and help him out.”

Santana, 31, and Franco, 25, are both natives of the Dominican Republic. They bonded this winter. After Santana signed with the Phillies in December, he worked out at the Phillies' academy in the DR with Franco.

It’s no secret this is a big year for Franco (see story). He needs to finally put together his potential or the team may look elsewhere – hello, Manny Machado – for its next third baseman.

Franco’s big area of need is Santana’s area of strength: Plate discipline. Santana walks almost as much as he strikes out. He has registered a career on-base percentage of .365 while averaging 24 homers over the last seven seasons. Franco has pop – he has hit 25 and 24 homers, respectively, the last two seasons – but his career on-base percentage is just .300 after a dip to .281 last season.

Santana has reached at least 100 walks twice in his career and at least 91 four other times. Franco had a career-best 41 walks last season.

Santana praised Victor Martinez for being a mentor to him early in his career. “That’s why I wear No. 41,” he said. Santana wants to be Franco’s Victor Martinez.

“We’re going to work together every single day,” Santana said. “We’re going to make sure he executes the plan he wants to follow. I know he’s a guy that’s very talented and he’s capable of a lot. So I’m going to be there. I’m committed to helping him. I’m going to be in the cage, hitting as many balls as possible. He already told me today that he wants to follow me everywhere he goes. If I have to go to the cage he’s going to go with me to hit some balls. He’s committed and I’m committed, too.”

The Phillies have baseball’s second-worst on-base percentage (.307, San Diego is .303) the last six seasons. The additions of Santana and J.P. Crawford to the lineup – and a full season of Rhys Hoskins, another selective hitter – should help the offense.

“When you have a guy (like Santana) in the middle of the lineup, grinding down the opposing pitcher – just imagine, you’re a pitcher on the other side and you’re delivering pitch after pitch that’s getting fouled off or a ball that is just off the corner and being taken, you get exhausted,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Guess who benefits from that? The next man up and the next man up and there’s this ripple effect. An exhausted starting pitcher or even an exhausted reliever is a really good thing for the Philadelphia Phillies.”

Santana signed a three-year, $60 million contract with the Phillies in December. He said the Phillies’ young core reminds him of the group of youngsters that his former team, the Cleveland Indians, brought to the majors in recent seasons.

Unlike a number of other free agents who are still jobless in this unusual year for free agents, Santana jumped relatively early at the Phillies’ offer. He said it was “shocking” that so many free agents remain unsigned.

“I know baseball is going through a difficult time right now, with all of the free agents,” Santana said. “But it worked out for me. I am happy. I can only speak for myself, and I am happy I did it the way I did it. It's very surprising because there are a lot of talented free agents out there. I thought it would be very different from what it's been.”

To prepare for the new season and the new team, Santana worked with a personal trainer in the Dominican Republic. In one of the drills, he was forced to push a car.

“It was a complete workout,” he said. “It wasn't only to get ready for preseason, it was also to get ready for the season and be successful during the season.

“It's a positive atmosphere here. I see a lot of young guys, very hungry and very eager to win. You can tell everyone is ready to go here.”

Phillies add experienced candidate to their bullpen

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Phillies add experienced candidate to their bullpen

CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Phillies on Saturday added to their stock of reliever candidates with the signing of veteran left-hander Fernando Abad to a minor-league contract. Abad will report to big-league camp and compete for a job on the 25-man roster.

The Phillies are likely to have an eight-man bullpen. The addition of Abad gives the Phillies four left-handed relief candidates. Adam Morgan, Hoby Milner and Zac Curtis are all on the 40-man roster. 

Morgan and Milner both shined in the second half of 2017. Morgan recorded a 1.69 ERA in 21 games over the final two months. He pitched 26 2/3 innings over that span, allowed just 16 hits and five runs, struck out 33 and walked six. Milner gave up just two runs in 21 2/3 innings over his last 27 games. He struck out 15 and managed to pitch around 12 walks. He was tough on lefty hitters (.159), but struggled against righties (.377). Curtis was a late-season waiver claim from Seattle. He pitched in just three games with the Phillies. 

Abad, 32, is an eight-year major-league veteran who has made stops in Houston, Washington, Oakland, Minnesota and Boston. He had a 3.30 ERA in 48 games with the Red Sox last season and lefties hit .227 off him.

From the right side, the Phillies have some bullpen depth with closer Hector Neris, veteran setup men Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, Luis Garcia and Edubray Ramos. Victor Arano, Ricardo Pinto, Yacksel Rios and Seranthony Dominquez are also on the 40-man roster. 

Dominguez hit 100 mph on the radar gun as a starter last season and is being converted to the bullpen. He is likely to open the season at Double A Reading, but “could be a quick mover,” general manager Matt Klentak said.

The list of bullpen candidates also includes two veterans on minor-league contracts: Pedro Beato and Francisco Rodriguez. The latter is a 16-year veteran who has racked up 437 saves – fourth-most all-time – in his career. Rodriguez was released by the Tigers and Nationals last summer and is trying to make the Phillies as a non-roster invitee to big-league camp.