Phillies

MLB Playoffs: Dodgers outlast Nationals in Game 5 to reach NLCS

MLB Playoffs: Dodgers outlast Nationals in Game 5 to reach NLCS

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WASHINGTON -- A little past midnight in Game 5 of the NL Division Series, Clayton Kershaw emerged from the bullpen to pitch in relief for the first time in seven years.

Two outs later, the only save of his major league career in the books, Kershaw's arms were raised and teammates were rushing to celebrate with a guy whose postseason performances have never carried the luster of his regular-season success.

Coming in with two runners on base and the outcome in the balance, Kershaw got Daniel Murphy to pop out, then struck out Wilmer Difo to end it, finishing the Los Angeles Dodgers' 4-3 victory over the Washington Nationals to win their NL Division Series in game that ended in the wee hours of Friday.

The Dodgers won the last two games of the best-of-five NLDS and now head to the NL Championship Series to face the Chicago Cubs. That opens at Wrigley Field on Saturday night.

The Nationals, meanwhile, still have never won a postseason series.

Kershaw worked two days after throwing 110 pitches over 6 2/3 innings in Game 4, when he had the benefit of only three days' rest following his win in Game 1 against the Nationals.

Several hours before Thursday's game began, Dodgers first-year manager Dave Roberts was asked whether Kershaw might be available at all -- maybe just for one out, say?

"No," came Roberts' reply. "Absolutely not."

Turned out the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner would get a pair of outs in his first relief appearance since the 2009 playoffs.

He came in after regular Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen threw a career-high 51 pitches while getting a career-high seven outs after entering in the seventh. Jansen walked Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth with one out in the ninth -- and that's when Roberts went to Kershaw.

Kershaw wound up with his second pro save. His other one came in 2006, the Gulf Coast League.

LA's scoring all came in a four-run seventh off six Nationals pitchers, including Joc Pederson's homer off Max Scherzer and Justin Turner's two-run triple off Shawn Kelley.

Washington was leading 1-0 in the sixth, when Werth walked and Ryan Zimmerman smacked a two-out double to left. But third-base coach Bob Henley -- whose propensity for waving runners home led to a popular T-shirt among Nationals players that says, "Send `em short, send `em tall, send `em one, send `em all" -- sent Werth and saw him get thrown out easily on shortstop Corey Seager's relay.

Wasn't even close.

And in the sort of blink-and-you-missed-it game-shifting sequence, Werth's inning-ending, overzealous bid to score was followed immediately by Pederson's homer on Scherzer's first -- and, it turned out, only -- pitch of the seventh. Pederson connected with a 96 mph slider, sending it to the opposite field and over Werth's head in left.

That began a rally that included a pinch-hit RBI single by 37-year-old pinch hitter Carlos Ruiz, helping LA go up 4-1.

Then came Heisey's homer.

Then came Jansen.

And then came Kershaw.

The West champions Dodgers are back in the NLCS for the first time since 2013, but they've lost in their past three trips to that round, failing to make it to the World Series since they won their most recent championship in 1988.

The East champion Nationals, under first-year manager Dusty Baker, are one-and-done in the playoffs yet again. They won their third NL East title in the past five years, but each time were eliminated in the NLDS. Washington was beaten in five games in 2012 by the St. Louis Cardinals after leading 6-0, then 7-5 entering the ninth, at home in Game 5, and in four games in 2014 by the San Francisco Giants.

Take it back further, and a baseball club based in the nation's capital hasn't won a postseason series since the old Senators were the 1924 World Series champions.

Young Urias
Dodgers LHP Julio Urias, who turned 20 in August, became the youngest pitcher to appear in the postseason since Cincinnati's Don Gullett was 19 in the 1970 World Series, the Dodgers said, citing STATS. Urias entered in the fifth and threw two scoreless innings. He walked Harper, then picked him off first base.

`RIP' Harambe
According to the Cut4 Twitter feed, Harper paid tribute to Harambe, the gorilla killed at the Cincinnati Zoo, with an "RIP" decal on his bat knob during batting practice before the game.

Trainer's room
Nationals: Baker said before the game that RHP Stephen Strasburg would not be able to pitch in the NL Championship Series if Washington were to advance. "He won't be available for the next series," Baker said. "It would be a miracle if he was." That doesn't really come as a surprise, given that Strasburg has been sidelined since hurting his pitching elbow in early September and cut short a bullpen session Tuesday.

Phillies willing to sign Jake Arrieta if ...

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AP Images

Phillies willing to sign Jake Arrieta if ...

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Longstanding rumors linking the Phillies to free-agent pitcher Jake Arrieta continue to percolate. On Tuesday morning, baseball reporter Jon Heyman tweeted that the Phillies and Arrieta were engaged in "dialogue."

Here’s what we know: At the winter meetings in December, Phillies officials met with Arrieta’s agent, Scott Boras, to go over a number of Boras’ clients. At the time, Arrieta was looking for a deal in the neighborhood of seven years and $180 million to $200 million. Those parameters were not a fit for the Phillies, who have placed a premium on short-term contracts while they move their rebuild forward.

The Phillies have remained engaged with the Arrieta camp throughout the winter and they have made it clear that if the pitcher’s price tag comes down, they would have interest in a union. It is believed the Phillies would be willing to sign Arrieta, who turns 32 in March, to a two- or three-year contract, at a significant salary and possibly with some creative structure such as an out after one year.

Earlier this winter, the Phillies had reservations about meeting free agent Carlos Santana’s original contract demands of upwards of five years. When Santana’s demands were lowered to three years, the Phillies pounced and signed him for $60 million. Such a lowering of demands could make Arrieta a Phillie. Of course, there are other teams interested. Arrieta has long been linked to the Cardinals and Nationals.

Arrieta would come with some risk. All pitchers of his age and odometer reading do. He won the National League Cy Young Award in 2015 while going 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA for the Chicago Cubs. He went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA the following season and slipped to 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA in 2017. That trend downward has coincided with a slight drop in velocity and that has given teams pause at signing Arrieta to a long-term deal. It would seem that even the Cubs had reservations about Arrieta as they let him walk and signed free agent Yu Darvish.

In the last few days, a couple of big-name Boras clients have signed. Eric Hosmer went to the Padres and J.D. Martinez to the Red Sox. Arrieta might be next. If he would come at the Phillies’ price he might end up being a Phillie.

Signing Arrieta would cost the Phillies a second- or third-round draft pick in June.

Phillies tell hulking power hitter Dylan Cozens to tone it down

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Jim Salisbury/NBCSP

Phillies tell hulking power hitter Dylan Cozens to tone it down

CLEARWATER, Fla. – At 6-6, 245 pounds, Dylan Cozens was the biggest player in Phillies camp last spring.

This year, he's bigger.

“Yeah,” Cozens said with a laugh. “I’m 270 pounds now.”

And it’s all muscle.

Cozens, a 23-year-old corner outfielder, hit the weight room hard this offseason. So now, his muscles have muscles.

There is a plan behind the added strength. Cozens struggled at Triple A last season. He hit just .210 and struck out 194 times. He still has awesome power from the left side, as evidenced by 27 homers and 74 RBIs last season. But he needs to make more contact if he’s going to board the same Philadelphia-bound train that Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro did last season.

More contact is the reason for the added strength.

“Just to have easier power,” Cozens said. “The plan is easier swings with two strikes.

New manager Gabe Kapler spent significant time digging into the Phillies' roster this winter, learning everything he could about his new players. That included players who hadn’t reached the majors yet, prospects like Cozens, the Double A Eastern League MVP from 2016.

Kapler and the Phillies' staff, which includes new hitting coach John Mallee, are looking for Cozens to simply swing a little easier. That could equal more contact, and more contact – for a man of Cozens’ size – will equal more home runs.

“Effort level is always big when it comes to making contact,” Kapler said. “I’m not trying to hit the ball 500 feet. I can hit it 400 feet and it’s still a homer. And by the way, I’m this big and strong and all I really need to do is make flush contact with the baseball. So thinking about being a good hitter first and a power hitter second will actually increase his home run totals and increase his on-base capabilities, which are both things I think he’d be happy with.”

Kapler trotted out an analogy in talking about Cozens.

“Effort level speaks to how hard I’m swinging,” Kapler said. “Am I coming with my 90 percent effort level or am I coming with my 100 percent effort level? If all my muscles are firing and my jaws are clenched and I’m going full speed ahead, I might not be running as fast as if I was more like a cheetah, right? I think that’s the message we would send to Dylan. You’re more a cheetah than a brute. Let it fly, be easy, and that’s going to create loud contact for him because he’s as strong as any individual I’ve been around. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a guy with that level of strength and power ever on a baseball field before.”

Cozens arrived at camp early and has been working with Mallee and Charlie Manuel.

Manuel never met a power hitter he didn’t love. He raves about some of the moon shots that Cozens has hit in batting practice.

“He’s got talent,” Manuel said, emphasizing the last word. “He hits balls completely out of the ballpark. If he controls his swing, he’ll be fine.”

Cozens was recruited to play defensive end by the University of Arizona, but instead signed with the Phillies after being selected in the second round of the 2012 draft. He looked to be on a fast track to the big leagues when he pulverized Eastern League pitchers in 2016. Despite striking out 186 times, he hit .276 with 40 homers, 125 RBIs and a .941 OPS. Last season, his OPS dipped .719. He hit .217 against right-handers and .194 against lefties.

“It was terrible,” Cozens said of his season. “I lost my core mechanics. Just a lack of confidence. I doubted myself. Mentally and mechanics-wise, I felt like it was a mess. I was all over the place. I wasn’t consistent at all. I got in my own head.

“I was trying all sorts of different things. I was in on the plate, off the plate, bigger leg kick, smaller leg kick, toe tap, no stride.”

As Cozens fiddled with his mechanics he saw several friends and longtime teammates – players that he’d always been mentioned with as the next generation of Phillies – go to the majors. A year ago at this time, Cozens was thinking he’d play in the majors in 2017. Looking back now …

“I didn’t deserve it,” he said. “I don’t think where I was at with my mechanics being all over the place, and where I was mentally being all over the place, it would have been a good start for me. You don’t want to go up there and fail. You want to be ready for when you’re up there and I didn’t feel like I was ready.”

Cozens’ current swing mechanics are closer to what they were in 2016: Small leg kick. A little hand movement.

“Toning it down,” he said. “I know I can play better than I did last year.”

And so does Kapler.

“You don’t ignore the fact that he needs to make more contact,” the manager said. “That’s 100 percent true.

“If you ask him, he’ll say, ‘If I make more contact I will hit more home runs and be much more valuable to my team. I will reach base more and I will give myself a better chance to be a Philadelphia Phillie.’ “

That’s the goal for Dylan Cozens. One bad season hasn’t changed that. He still has the tools to make it happen.

"I want to have an amazing spring training and force them to make a decision to keep me up there," Cozens said. "It’s probably unlikely, so go to Triple A, hit the ground running and make the decision hard on them.”