Phillies

In return to Phillies, Zach Eflin shows improvement for 1st win of season

In return to Phillies, Zach Eflin shows improvement for 1st win of season

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ATLANTA — Zach Eflin can now erase the memories of his last two major-league starts — at least temporarily.

Eflin pitched seven strong innings on Tuesday night in the Phillies’ 5-2 win over the Braves (see Instant Replay). He allowed two runs with three strikeouts and one walk. He also went 1 for 3 with an RBI at the plate and won his first big-league game since July 22, 2016.   

“Eflin was really good,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “The first inning, he didn’t look like he had a real good feel for his breaking stuff. After that, he settled down.”

That’s quite different from the last two starts he made in May, when he allowed seven runs to the Reds and eight runs to the Rockies before getting shipped out to Triple A Lehigh Valley. 

And his work in the minors wasn’t exemplary. In seven games (six starts) since being sent down, Eflin was 0-4 with a 5.17 ERA.

Eflin looked nothing like that guy on Tuesday. He limited the Braves to seven hits and was helped out by some outstanding defense.

“I can’t put my finger on anything,” Eflin said. “I’ve pitched very good and I’ve pitched very bad. I worked on some mechanical stuff in Triple A and I feel like I’m back to my old self. I feel comfortable on the mound.”

Eflin gave up a solo homer to Freddie Freeman in the first inning, but avoided any major trouble until the seventh inning. In that frame, Eflin walked Nick Markakis and gave up back-to-back singles to Kurt Suzuki and Matt Adams. 

After a mound visit from pitching coach Bob McClure, Eflin retired the next two batters on soft fly balls and got pinch-hitter Danny Santana on a comebacker to end the threat. 

“I was excited about the way I finished,” Eflin said. “To be able to hunker down and get the guys I needed to get out was big for me. Especially going down, working on everything I needed to work on and to come back and show I could fight back and get through that inning.”

Eflin was the beneficiary of some stellar defense, some of it by his own doing. Freddy Galvis turned a nice double play in the first inning on a bouncer to Eflin. The Phillies turned an inning-ending double play in the second, and Galvis had an over-the-shoulder grab in the fourth. 

Some of Eflin’s issues have been physical; he had problems with his knees, but those are now healthy. The other issues have been mechanical in nature. While working through his problems in the minor leagues, he changed his position on the pitching rubber and now begins his delivery in the middle.
 
“It’s all about finding a consistent release point and finding that consistency,” Mackanin said. “He got his knees fixed and I think that has something to do with his command. He certainly pitched well tonight. Give him a lot of credit for going through the struggles.”

On a team that is desperate for starting pitchers to join ace Aaron Nola, Eflin is eager to become part of the solution. 

“I want to be a part of this team and the future,” he said. “I want to go through the ups and downs with these guys. I want to be here and I want to win a lot of ball games.”

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."