Phillies

Phillies 8, Blue Jays 8: Another young middle infielder opens eyes

Phillies 8, Blue Jays 8: Another young middle infielder opens eyes

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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Scott Kingery isn't the only young second base prospect to open eyes in the early stage of the Grapefruit League season.

Jesmuel Valentin has put together a couple of pretty good days lately.

He had a two-run double to go along with a walk and a run scored as the Phillies played to an 8-8 tie with the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday.

Valentin also had a double in Wednesday's game.

A former supplemental first-round pick of the Dodgers (51st overall) in 2012, Valentin joined the Phillies in the August 2014 trade that sent pitcher Roberto Hernandez to Los Angeles.

Valentin hit .269 with nine homers and 52 RBIs at Double A and Triple A last season and earned a spot of the 40-man roster in November. He projects to open the season as the starting second baseman at Triple A while Kingery projects to open at Double A.

Kingery has been a standout early in camp. He has won high praise from manager Pete Mackanin (see story) and is widely considered the Phillies' best second-base prospect.

But Valentin has his fans. And he's actually several weeks younger than Kingery. Kingery turns 23 in April, Valentin in May.

Valentin hails from Puerto Rico. He is the son of former big-league infielder Jose Valentin. The younger Valentin was slowed early in camp by a shoulder injury sustained in winter ball, but he's healthy now and it has shown at the plate the last two days.

Valentin has played mostly second base as a pro, but he was drafted as a shortstop. He's gotten time at that position the last two days as Mackanin and the Phillies staff try to determine whether he could hold down a utility infielder's job on the bench. A utility infielder must be able to fill in at shortstop in a pinch.

"I like what I've seen of Valentin," Mackanin said. "He showed really good base running instincts and that's the way he was advertised. I like his energy. We're going to put him at shortstop a little bit to see what he can do over there. He looks OK over there. It looks to me like he's got enough arm, but I'd have to see him longer.

"We have to make sure we're covered if something happened to Freddy (Galvis), or if (J.P.) Crawford isn't ready at a certain time, we have to have coverage. He's on the roster. We want to see if he can play more than second base."

Said Valentin: "I'm ready to go at any position, anywhere the team needs me."

On Nola
Aaron Nola had a solid spring debut. He pitched two scoreless innings and hit 94 mph on the radar gun. Most importantly, he got out of it healthy (see story).

"The best thing about that game was Aaron Nola," Mackanin said. "He looked really good. He had some good velocity, made some good pitches, went unscathed. I liked that."

Nola missed the last two months of 2016 with an elbow injury, so there's going to be some holding of breath for a while.

"I'd feel totally comfortable if we get into June and there aren't any issues," Mackanin said. "To be honest with you, I don't foresee any, but you never know. I don't know if the workload will catch up to him or not, and if it doesn't, then we have a heck of a good pitcher there. But it's always going to be an issue. I'm always going to wonder if he comes in one day and says it's bothering him. But right now, I'm staying positive and hoping he has no issues."

Brock and roll
Brock Stassi, the 27-year-old career minor-leaguer bidding to win a spot as a backup first baseman/outfielder, started in left field and had three hits, raising his spring batting average to .636 (7 for 11). He also drove in a run.

Up next
The Phillies host the Minnesota Twins on Friday afternoon. Jeremy Hellickson will start against Trevor May, the former Phillies prospect who was traded to the Twins for Ben Revere.

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).