Phillies

Phillies 9, Braves 0: Brock Stassi shines -- so what else is new?

Phillies 9, Braves 0: Brock Stassi shines -- so what else is new?

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Brock Stassi's campaign to make the Phillies' opening day roster gained more steam on Tuesday.

In the very role that he is auditioning for, one that would have him come off the bench to offer some good glove work at first base and some timely hitting, Stassi did a little of both in the Phillies' 9-0 win over the Atlanta Braves at Spectrum Field.

The 27-year-old career minor-leaguer replaced Tommy Joseph in the field in the third inning and made two nice defensive plays and added two more hits, including a two-run home run. The homer was Stassi's fifth of the spring, moving him into a tie for the most in the majors this exhibition season.

"I think everybody likes him," manager Pete Mackanin said. "You have to like him. Not only has he had a good spring offensively, but the at-bats he gives us are quality at-bats versus righties and lefties. And he's a well-above-average defender. He's fun to watch play."

Stassi is 13 for 31 (.419) for the spring. He is bidding to win a spot on the Phillies' bench as a backup first baseman/outfielder.

Eick is sharp
Jerad Eickhoff, who lines up to start the second game of the regular season, was sharp and economical in his fourth start of the spring. He needed just 62 pitches to get through five shutout innings. He gave up three hits, a walk and struck out five. Eickhoff was so economical with his pitch count that he threw 13 pitches in the bullpen after the outing to stretch his total to 75.

Benoit ramping up
The Phillies wanted to improve their bullpen in the offseason. They hope the additions of veterans Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit will do that. 

Neshek is pitching for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. 

The Phillies, meanwhile, have eased the 39-year-old Benoit into action. He made just his second appearance Tuesday and was rusty. He walked a batter and hit two others, but did not allow a run.

Benoit showed plenty of arm strength, pitching out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth by striking out Emilio Bonifacio on a 95-mph fastball.

"He threw the ball hard," Mackanin said. "I was surprised. He had great velocity. He was rusty, but I liked what I saw coming out of his hand."

Williams improving
Plate discipline was a big problem for prospect Nick Williams at Triple-A Lehigh Valley last season. He drew just two walks over his final 66 games and had a woeful .236 on-base percentage over that span.

Williams, who will open back at Triple-A this season, is focusing on improving that aspect of his game this spring, and there have been signs of progress. He drew two walks on Tuesday and now has four in 29 plate appearances.

"Matt Stairs has been working on his approach, to soften his approach instead of jumping out after the ball," Mackanin said. "He seems to be showing improvement."

Up next
The Phillies play the Yankees in Tampa on Wednesday night. The team will get a look at utility man Chris Coghlan at second base in that game. Coghlan is bidding to make the team as a non-roster player.

Clay Buchholz will start on the mound against Michael Pineda.

Here is the posted lineup for the game, though there surely will be some changes after Joseph was hit on the left hand (see story) by a pitch Tuesday:

Chris Coghlan, 2B
Freddy Galvis, SS
Howie Kendrick, LF
Maikel Franco, 3B
Michael Saunders, RF
Tommy Joseph, 1B
Cameron Rupp, C
Aaron Altherr, CF
Andrew Knapp, DH

MLB Playoffs: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees to force Game 7 in ALCS

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MLB Playoffs: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees to force Game 7 in ALCS

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HOUSTON — Justin Verlander remained perfect with Houston, pitching seven shutout innings when the team needed him most, and Jose Altuve homered and drove in three runs as the Astros extended the AL Championship Series to a decisive Game 7 with a 7-1 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Acquired in an Aug. 31 trade, Verlander has won all nine outings with the Astros. And with his new club facing elimination in Game 6 against the Yankees, he delivered again.

After striking out 13 in a complete-game victory in Game 2, Verlander threw another gem. The right-hander scattered five hits and struck out eight to improve to 9-0 with 67 strikeouts since being traded from Detroit. George Springer helped him out of a jam in the seventh, leaping to make a catch at the center-field wall and rob Todd Frazier of extra bases with two on and Houston up 3-0.

Game 7 is Saturday night in Houston, with the winner advancing to the World Series against the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

Dusty Baker fired by Nationals after 2 NL East titles

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Dusty Baker fired by Nationals after 2 NL East titles

WASHINGTON -- Dusty Baker's time as the manager of the Washington Nationals is over after two seasons, two NL East titles and zero playoff series victories.

The Nationals announced Friday that they would not be bringing Baker back. His two-year deal with the club is expiring.

The contracts for the members of Baker's coaching staff also are finished. The team said it will work with its new manager to fill those positions.

The moves come the week after Washington was eliminated from its NL Division Series against the Chicago Cubs with a 9-8 loss at home in Game 5. The Nationals also were bounced from the postseason in the NLDS round in 2016 -- also with a Game 5 loss at home by one run, that time against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

This outcome, essentially, is what Baker was worried about as far back as spring training in February, when he made clear his desire for a new contract, knowing his was up after 2017.

Before the series against the Cubs began, Baker was asked about his possible future in Washington.

"I've given some thought to some things, but we were told that we were waiting until after the season to make a determination," he said at the time. "There's a good chance I'll be back."

He expected negotiations to pick up after the season ended (see full story).

Turner, Taylor repay Dodgers' patience by sharing NLCS MVP
CHICAGO -- Justin Turner and Chris Taylor shared MVP honors in the NL Championship Series, repaying a Dodgers organization willing to roll the dice on players whose big league careers were stalled.

In Turner's case, it was then-bench coach Tim Wallach who rediscovered him playing in a Cal State-Fullerton alumni baseball game four years ago, after his career appeared all but over.

In Taylor's case, it was Los Angeles' willingness to gamble that an offseason of grueling workouts would enable the young utilityman to rebuild his swing in a matter of months.

The co-MVPs turned up in the interview room together after the Dodgers eliminated the reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs 11-1 in Game 5. They were champagne-soaked with hats turned backward, a pair of goggles still perched on Turner's head. Fittingly, they doused each other with praise.

"He's a dynamic player and a table setter," said Turner, who hit .333 for the series, with two home runs and seven RBIs. "When he goes, we usually go as a team."

"I talk to him as much as I can. He's one of the reasons I decided to make the changes I did," said Taylor, who finished at .316 with two homers and three RBIs. Both men also walked five times, as many as the entire Cubs roster (see full story).

Rare Jackie Robinson rookie jersey up for auction
NEW YORK -- A rare jersey from Jackie Robinson's historic rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers 70 years ago could be available for someone with a few spare millions.

The jersey, part of a Heroes of Sports offering by Heritage Auctions, has been certified by Mears, one of the top memorabilia authentication companies. It is accompanied by a letter from Robinson's widow, Rachel, saying it is the one brought home by the Hall of Famer at the end of the 1947 season, when he became the first black player in the majors and earned Rookie of the Year honors.

"This is the only one known from the `47 season, the only one that survived," Chris Ivy, Heritage's director of sports auctions, told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "It stayed in his closet for five decades plus until it was eventually sold to a private collector in the early 2000s."

The online auction opened Friday and closes at 11 p.m. on Nov. 19. The entire collection is from one owner and can be viewed on Heritage's website. Other items available for bidding include Babe Ruth's pants from the Hall of Fame induction in 1939, Keith Hernandez's 1978 Gold Glove award, a Wilt Chamberlain jersey from 1966, Bill Vukovich's Indianapolis 500 trophy from 1953 and Muhammad Ali's shoes from his fight against Ken Norton in 1973.

Ivy said the Robinson jersey has been valued at more than $3 million. He wouldn't be surprised to see it exceed that.

"It's tough to estimate a piece like this -- it's a one of a kind," he said. "As far as collectibles a rookie (jersey) is always sought after, something that's significant."