Phillies-Mets 5 things: Thriving top-of-order faces deGrom; swaggy Cespedes

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Thriving top-of-order faces deGrom; swaggy Cespedes

Phillies (3-3) vs. Mets (3-3)
7:05 p.m. on TCN; streaming live on and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies over the weekend won an April series against the Nationals for the second straight year, taking two of three behind an unforgettable offensive display Saturday and a dramatic, sigh-of-relief walk-off win Sunday.

Every NL East team except the Braves (1-5) has begun the season 3-3.

The Phillies welcome in the other division heavyweight this week, beginning a three-game series Monday against the Mets.

Let's have a look:

1. New week, new closer?
Pete Mackanin will announce today who the Phillies are moving forward with in the ninth inning.

Jeanmar Gomez had an ugly outing Sunday, blowing a three-run save by allowing a mammoth blast by Ryan Zimmerman. It was the second homer Gomez has allowed already in three appearances. Going back to last September, he's given up 10 extra-base hits in 66 plate appearances -- scary numbers for a closer.

Through the All-Star break last season, Gomez had 24 saves, a 2.59 ERA and his opponents hit .237/.283/.355.

Since that point, Gomez has a 9.00 ERA in 30 innings and his opponents have hit .356/.418/.534.

The candidates to replace Gomez as closer are Hector Neris, Joaquin Benoit and Edubray Ramos. The thought here is that it should be Benoit -- Neris is the best of the bunch but he's also extremely valuable as a setup man. Sunday was a perfect example: Neris came into a seventh-inning jam, picked up a huge third out, then retired the top of the Nationals' order in the eighth.

2. Top of the order getting it done
Optimists looked at the Phillies' 1-2-3 of Cesar Hernandez, Howie Kendrick and Odubel Herrera and saw three hitters capable of hitting .290 or better and two guys in Hernandez and Herrera who can post .360-plus on-base percentages.

So far, all three have hit. 

Hernandez is 7 for 26 (.269) in the early going with two doubles, a triple, a homer, two walks and a walk-off hit.

Kendrick is 9 for 21 with three doubles, a triple and five RBIs. 

And Herrera has a hit in every game, going 8 for 22 with five walks. His 13 times on base ranks second in the National League behind only Paul Goldschmidt (14).

3. Eye-cough
Jerad Eickhoff, a 6-foot-4 model of consistency if ever there was one, makes his second start tonight against a good Mets team.

Eickhoff allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings last week in Cincinnati. The Phillies, as they're prone to do, didn't help him offensively and he took the loss.

Eickhoff has faced the Mets in seven of his 42 career starts. He's pitched well, posting a 2.66 ERA in those games with a 1.00 WHIP and 43 strikeouts in 44 innings, numbers that mean more than the 1-4 record.

Current Mets have hit just .218 with a .279 OBP against Eickhoff. Only Michael Conforto (5 for 14, two doubles and a homer) and Asdrubal Cabrera (4 for 9) have had success.

Yoenis Cespedes is 2 for 12 off him, Curtis Granderson is 2 for 15 and Neil Walker is 1 for 8.

4. Another tough righty
The Phillies missed Noah Syndergaard, who pitched Sunday night, but they draw Jacob deGrom tonight and Matt Harvey tomorrow. That means that in the span of five games, they'll have faced Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, deGrom and Harvey. 

What a joy the NL East is.

First up is deGrom (can you start a sentence with a lower-case letter?), who allowed two hits in six shutout innings last week against the Braves in a no-decision.

Syndergaard gets most of the headlines because of his 99 mph fastball and the fact that he looks like he was created in a lab somewhere, but deGrom has been every bit as good since debuting in 2014. In 77 starts, deGrom has a 2.71 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP, 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.2 walks.

The 28-year-old deGrom has faced the Phillies seven times and never lost, going 4-0 with a 2.42 ERA. The Phils have hit .188 off him in three games at Citizens Bank Park.

I remember deGrom's first year, his first start against the Phils, just thinking, "This guy is going to be really damn good."

Maybe it was the classic, wiry frame for a pitcher. Maybe it was the hair. Maybe it was the 11 strikeouts. It was probably the 11 strikeouts.

He has a five-pitch mix that includes a 94 to 96 mph fastball, a sinker at nearly the same velocity, an 89 mph slider, a changeup in the mid-80s and a curveball around 80. DeGrom gets swings and misses with all of them.

5. This and that
• ESPN did a hilarious segment last night on all the gear Cespedes wears at the plate. It's completely ridiculous -- lime green arm band, elbow pads, knee pads, foot pads, multiple chains. It looks like it must take him 15 minutes to get ready for an at-bat. Swaggiest player in the majors?

• Jose Reyes (1 for 23, seven strikeouts) is a shell of the player he used to be. He's been playing third base every day for the Mets. 

• David Wright suffered a setback getting ready for the season and it's unclear whether he'll play or not this season. As much as he kills the Phillies, it'a shame to see such a competitor have his career derailed by injuries.

MLB Notes: Braves lose 13 international players in sanctions

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MLB Notes: Braves lose 13 international players in sanctions

ATLANTA -- Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred hit the Atlanta Braves with heavy sanctions, including the loss of 13 players, on Tuesday for rules violations committed by the team in the international player market.

Manfred also placed former Braves general manager John Coppolella on the permanently ineligible list. Former Braves Special Assistant Gordon Blakeley, who was the team's international scouting chief, is suspended from performing services for any team for one year.

Manfred said an investigation conducted by Major League Baseball determined the Braves circumvented international signing rules from 2015 through 2017 by moving bonus pool money from one player to boost another player's contract.

Most notable among the players the Braves will lose is Kevin Maitan, an infielder from Venezuela who signed for $4.25 million in 2016 (see full story).

Yankees: Judge has left shoulder surgery
NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees say slugger Aaron Judge had arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder and is expected to be ready for spring training.

The operation was performed Monday by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles. The Yankees say the procedure involved a loose-body removal and cartilage cleanup.

The 25-year-old Judge hit .284 with 52 homers and 114 RBIs in 155 games this season, helping New York make it to the AL Championship Series, where they lost to the eventual World Series champion Astros. He was a unanimous selection for AL Rookie of the Year and finished second to Houston infielder Jose Altuve in the AL MVP race.

MLB: Morgan urges voters to keep steroid users out of HOF
Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is urging voters to keep "known steroid users" out of Cooperstown.

A day after the Hall revealed its 33-man ballot for the 2018 class, the 74-year-old Morgan argued against the inclusion of players implicated during baseball's steroid era in a letter to voters with the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The letter from the vice chairman of the Hall's board of directors was sent Tuesday using a Hall email address.

"Steroid users don't belong here," Morgan wrote. "What they did shouldn't be accepted. Times shouldn't change for the worse."

Hall voters have been wrestling with the issue of performance-enhancing drugs for several years. Baseball held a survey drug test in 2003 and the sport began testing for banned steroids the following year with penalties. Accusations connected to some of the candidates for the Hall vary in strength from allegations with no evidence to positive tests that caused suspensions (see full story).

Cubs: Venable leaves front office to be base coach
CHICAGO -- Will Venable is leaving the Chicago Cubs front office to be their first base coach.

The former major league outfielder was hired last summer as a special assistant to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

The 35-year-old Venable replaces Brandon Hyde, who has been promoted to bench coach for manager Joe Maddon.

The Cubs also announced Tuesday that they had hired Jim Benedict as a special assistant to baseball operations. Benedict spent the previous two seasons as the vice president for pitching development for the Miami Marlins.

Phillies add 4 pitching prospects to 40-man roster

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Phillies add 4 pitching prospects to 40-man roster

The Phillies added four promising pitching prospects to their 40-man roster on Monday. In a corresponding move, they subtracted a notable name.

Right-handers Franklyn Kilome, Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Taveras and lefty Ranger Suarez were all added to the roster, protecting them from being selected by another club in next month's Rule 5 draft.

The Phillies also added an infielder, Engelb Vielma, to the roster. He was claimed off waivers from the San Francisco Giants.

To make room for these additions, the team needed to clear three spots on its roster, which had been at 38. Left-handed pitcher Elniery Garcia cleared waivers and was sent outright to the minor leagues while right-handers Alberto Tirado and Mark Appel were designated for assignment. The Phillies will try to trade Tirado and Appel before placing them on waivers. If they clear waivers, they could stay in the system.

The Phillies cut Appel loose after he'd struggled with injury and ineffectiveness during two seasons in the organization. The 26-year-old right-hander from Stanford University had twice been a first-round draft pick, by Pittsburgh in 2012 and by Houston — No. 1 overall — in 2013. The Phillies acquired him from the Astros as part of the package for Ken Giles in December 2015, but he never lived up to his huge potential.

"A lot of the tools that Mark showed as an amateur that led to him being the No. 1 overall pick are still there," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. "He has simply struggled with performance. It's certainly not for lack of effort on his part. We think the world of the kid and wish him well. It was a tough decision."

Tirado, 22, was acquired from Toronto in July 2015 as part of the return for Ben Revere. He arrived with a fastball that could reach triple digits on the radar gun and that promise earned him a spot on the 40-man a year ago. Tirado suffered a shoulder injury early last season and struggled in the minors.

All four of the pitchers that the Phillies protected are products of the team's international scouting department. Taveras, 24, was a standout at three levels in the minors last season and could be in the picture in Philadelphia in 2018. He led the system in strikeouts in 2016 and 2017.

"He knows how to get guys out and often times that comes via the strikeout," Klentak said. "No matter where he pitches, he rises to the occasion and puts up a strong performance."

Kilome, 22, and Dominguez, 22, are both power arms who project to see significant time at Double A in 2018. Suarez, 22, should also get to Double A at some point in 2018. He had a 2.27 ERA in 22 starts at two levels of Single A ball in 2017.

"He may have been the breakout pitcher of the year for the Phillies," Klentak said. "We'd always heard a lot about him and this year he took his performance to another level.

"We're really excited for all four of these guys. All have worked extremely hard and they are all deserving of being added to our roster. Our international scouting operation, Sal Agostinelli and his group, continues to crank out players. They've done a great job. These four pitchers have earned this through their work ethic and performance. By no means is this the ultimate goal for them, but it's one step closer. We believe really strongly in the futures of these four pitchers."

Vielma, 23, is a top defensive shortstop who can also play second and third base. He was waived by Minnesota in September and claimed by the Giants, who let him go in a roster crunch.

"He's an intriguing claim," Klentak said. "He adds depth to our infield."

The Phillies’ roster is at 40. The team will have to clear space if it wants to add a player in next month's Rule 5 draft. Last November, the Phils added 11 players to the 40-man roster and still lost lefty reliever Hoby Milner to Cleveland. Milner failed to make the Indians' opening-day roster, returned to the organization in March and ended up making 37 appearances for the big club after coming up in late June. He was one of 12 rookies to make their big-league debut with the Phillies in 2017.

Notable players who were not protected include outfielders Carlos Tocci and Andrew Pullin and pitcher Brandon Leibrandt.

"One of the byproducts of a strong system is every year there are some tough omissions," Klentak said. "There are always tough calls. But we look at that as a good problem to have."