Pirates 13, Phillies 8: Jeremy Hellickson roughed up; Jeanmar Gomez stretches it out

Pirates 13, Phillies 8: Jeremy Hellickson roughed up; Jeanmar Gomez stretches it out

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- It was one of those days for Jeremy Hellickson.

"He didn't have anything go right," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Hellickson, the Phillies' projected opening day starter, gave up nine hits and eight runs in five innings of work in a 13-8 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday afternoon. Three of the runs were unearned after third baseman Maikel Franco committed a couple of errors (see full story).

"Things like that are going to happen," Hellickson said. "I have to figure out a way to limit the damage.

"Everything felt good. I was just leaving too many balls up."

Hellickson was able to stay on the mound and run his pitch count to 87. He should approach 100 in his next start as he zeroes in on opening day. Mackanin has not announced his opening day starter yet, but Hellickson lines up to get the nod for the second straight season.

"I'm ready to get out of here," he said.

The regular season begins two weeks from Monday in Cincinnati.

Gomez gets extra work
Mackanin began spring training by announcing that Jeanmar Gomez deserved the chance to be the closer after saving 37 games last season. But Mackanin did leave himself a little wiggle room to change his mind.

So, it was notable that Gomez pitched two innings Saturday. Was that a sign that Mackanin was leaning toward changing his mind and using Gomez in a multi-inning relief role?

The manager said no.

Pitching coach Bob "McClure wanted to get him stretched out, not for any particular reason, but just down here -- last year he did the same thing with all the relief pitchers. It's not going to hurt him," Mackanin said.

So Gomez is still the ninth-inning guy?

"Yeah, right now," Mackanin said.

Gomez struggled as closer last September and actually lost the job.

But this spring, he's been very good. He pitched scoreless ball for his two innings Saturday. He gave up a hit and struck out two. For the spring, he's allowed just a run in 7 2/3 innings. He has given up four hits, walked one and struck out four.

Hustling Hanigan
Veteran Ryan Hanigan, who is trying to stick with the team as a backup catcher, had a hit and is batting .429 (6 for 14). He has drawn six walks, tying him for the team high.

Hanigan also made a nice, hustling catch in foul territory. He had to negotiate a protective screen near the dugout and then juggled the ball while falling. But he hung on.

Hanigan is battling another veteran, Bryan Holaday, and rookie Andrew Knapp for the backup catcher's job.

Joseph mending
Tommy Joseph's sore left hand is getting better. He took batting practice and reported no problems. However, he will not play Sunday and Monday is an off day. If he returns to action Tuesday, he will have had a full week off after being hit by a pitch on the hand.

Up next
The Phils play the Rays in Port Charlotte on Sunday. Jerad Eickhoff starts for the Phils against lefty Blake Snell.

Phillies well positioned to make a run at freed Braves' prospects

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Phillies well positioned to make a run at freed Braves' prospects

Teams all over baseball, including the Phillies, are ready to pounce on a bevy of young international talent that became available Tuesday.

Major League Baseball punished the Atlanta Braves for a host of international signing violations by stripping the club of 13 minor-league prospects (see story). MLB also banished former Braves general manager John Coppolella from working in the game for life.

In the summer of 2016, MLB found the Boston Red Sox in violation of international signing rules and stripped that club of five international prospects. Included in that group was Simon Muzziotti, an outfielder from Venezuela. The Red Sox had initially signed Muzziotti for $300,000 in 2015. He was declared a free agent a year later and the Phillies swooped in and signed him for $750,000. Now 18, Muzziotti played for the Phillies' Gulf Coast League team in 2017.

The list of players set free on Tuesday includes 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Kevin Maitan, who received a $4.25 million signing bonus in 2016. Six other players that received signing bonuses of $1 million or more were also set free. The group includes Venezuelan catcher Abrahan Gutierrez, who received a $3.53 million bonus and Dominican infielder Yunior Severino, who received a $1.9 million bonus.

The Phillies are well positioned to make a run at some of these new international free agents and past practice says they will. The club added to its current international signing pool in a couple of trades last summer and has about $900,000 remaining. More money can be acquired in trades and applied to the current pool. A team can also use money from next year's pool — that market opens in July — to sign a player, though those funds cannot be used to augment the current pool.

Japanese pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani is the prize of this winter's international market. While the deep-pocketed Phillies have interest in Otani, he is subject to international signing bonus rules and pool limits. Translation: Signing him is not simply a matter of being the highest bidder. The team that gets Otani will likely be a contender in win-now mode with a history of signing Japanese talent. An American League club that could offer Otani at-bats (he wants to hit, as well as pitch) would be the best fit.

So, the Phillies' international splash this winter could come from the fallout of the Braves' signing controversy.

The former Braves' prospects are eligible to begin signing with new clubs on Dec. 5. They are:

Kevin Maitan, SS
Juan Contreras, RHP
Yefri del Rosario, RHP
Abrahan Gutierrez, C
Juan Carlos Negret, OF
Yenci Pena, SS
Yunior Severino, 2B
Livan Soto, SS
Guillermo Zuniga, RHP
Brandol Mezquita, OF
Angel Rojas, SS
Antonio Sucre, OF
Ji-Hwan Bae, SS

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.