Phillies

Ty Kelly turns into Phillies' unlikely hero against Red Sox ace Chris Sale

Ty Kelly turns into Phillies' unlikely hero against Red Sox ace Chris Sale

Less than two months ago, Ty Kelly wasn't on the Phillies' roster. 

He'd spent his nine seasons in pro baseball with five different organizations. And after the Mets designated him for assignment in early April, Kelly bounced from Queens to Toronto's Triple A team in Buffalo before finally landing in Philadelphia.

So when the same Kelly — who entered Thursday night with just 87 career major-league at-bats under his belt — stepped to the dish in the bottom of the eighth against a lights-out Chris Sale, he was facing one of the hottest arms in baseball, one with a 0.93 WHIP and a 95-plus mph heater.

But it was the career minor leaguer and not the five-time All-Star who delivered, with Kelly slapping a hanging slider from Sale down the left-field line. Phils third base coach Juan Samuel waved Andrew Knapp home for what would wind up being the game-winning run in a 1-0 victory (see game story).

The double was only the seventh hit for Kelly this season. For a guy who has seen little action this year, the moment did not faze him.

"The expectations are kind of tempered a little bit because [Sale's] pitching so well," Kelly said. "You're just going up there trying to do something positive, try to hit a ball hard, and hope it falls ... I'm pretty relaxed going into those kind of at-bats and I don't feel a ton of pressure. If anything, it's less pressure against someone like that."

Sale cruised through the first 7 1/3 frames. The southpaw struck out 10 and had surrendered only two hits before Knapp came up a third time in the eighth and earlier results hadn't been pretty for the first-year catcher against Boston's ace. Yet after striking out and grounding back to the pitcher, Knapp roped one into left to set up Kelly for what would be the crucial point of the night.

Like Thursday's hero, Knapp also has seen limited chances this year. Backing up Cameron Rupp, the Phillies' 2013 second-round selection made just the 27th appearance of his rookie campaign Thursday and entered with only 19 hits in 81 at-bats.

Yet, as Knapp made his way around third, he had nothing on his mind but sending his team on its way to a win, one that ultimately snapped an eight-game skid.

"I knew anything could happen down [in the corner]," Knapp said. "But the mentality you have to have going around the bases is, 'Yes, yes, yes,' and then they stop you. I was going until he stopped me and [Samuel] just kept waving me."

For a struggling lineup, it was another quiet night.

The first seven guys in the Phillies' order mustered only two hits and a walk to go along with eight strikeouts vs. Sale. No one seemed to be able to figure out his side-arm stuff that had already earned him eight wins and a sub-three ERA this season. 

So when Pete Mackanin's team needed a lift and Sale made what he called "the worst pitch of the game at the wrong time," a pair of unexpected offensive outlets got the job done.

"It's always huge when you get a pinch hit and it happens to win the game for you," Mackanin said. "It was a good call by Juan Samuel — late in the game, I like to see him be aggressive like that. ... All in all, there's a lot to be said for [Knapp and Kelly]."

The last time Kelly came to bat in as critical a situation as Thursday's against this caliber of a pitcher was last year's wild-card game when he pinch-hit for the Mets against Madison Bumgarner. Although he did turn that eighth-inning chance into a base knock as well, he was stranded on second.

This time, although Kelly found himself on second at the end of the eighth once again, he'd done his duty — and against one of baseball's best arms, adding to the best moments of his still-short major-league career.

"Those are the at-bats that, as a player, you want," Kelly said. "It's way harder to hit down 10 [runs] or up 10 against somebody because there's nothing riding on the at-bat. So when you've got a chance to just put a ball in play and it could move the guy over, there are tons of positives that can come out of an at-bat like that."

So what's different about this one?

"I don't know. Maybe more of my friends will text me tonight," Kelly laughed.

Phillies' ramped-up rebuild demands starting-pitching upgrade

Phillies' ramped-up rebuild demands starting-pitching upgrade

Let the record show that on a snowy Friday afternoon 10 days before Christmas 2017, the Phillies ramped up their rebuild.

Dramatically.

What other conclusion can be drawn after the club went out and signed Carlos Santana, one of the best offensive players on the free-agent market? With the signing, confirmed by multiple baseball sources, general manager Matt Klentak has attached a new level of importance to the 2018 season.

Just a couple of days ago at the winter meetings in Orlando, Klentak spoke of how 2018 was going to be a time to "find out" more about the team's young core of players. Who would continue to take a step forward? Who would fall by the wayside?

But now that Santana is here, 2018 doesn't feel like it's just a find-out season. It feels like a season in which the Phillies can continue to find out about players — separate the studs from the duds — and also start nibbling around that second National League wild-card spot.

Sure, a lot has to go right for that to happen.

And one of the things that has to go right is Klentak has to land a starting pitcher to slot in around Aaron Nola and the rest of the staff, which has the look of a bunch of No. 4 and No. 5 starters — until someone steps forward.

Santana's deal is for three years and $60 million, according to sources. Three years is a nice get — i.e., it's not cripplingly long — for a 32-year-old (in April) who hits for power, produces runs and does what Klentak likes best: controls the strike zone. (You could say that Klentak added two players who control the strike zone to his lineup Friday as the trade of Freddy Galvis to San Diego for strike-throwing pitching prospect Enyel De Los Santos cleared the way for J.P. Crawford to be the regular shortstop.)

The Phillies need to do everything within reason to make sure that the first of Santana's three seasons with the club isn't about simply inching the rebuild forward. The Nationals are the class of the NL East, but the rest of the division ranges from ordinary to awful. The Phils, with an improved offense and bullpen (Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter), can play with the Braves and Mets and clean up on the Marlins, the jewelry store that became a pawnshop, in agent Scott Boras' words.

It's just up to Klentak to get more starting pitching, and he's on the case. He admitted that at the winter meetings. He is particularly fond of young starters with years of control remaining on their contracts. Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer and Michael Fulmer fit this description. It takes talent to get pitchers like that. The Phillies have enough depth of prospects to get one of these guys and their reserves of expendable talent just grew with the Santana signing.

Santana, a switch-hitter who has averaged 25 homers, 85 RBIs and a .810 OPS in eight seasons, is going to be the team's primary first baseman. Rhys Hoskins is going to be the primary leftfielder. That means the Phillies suddenly have a young outfielder that they could deal. Maybe they try to capitalize on Nick Williams' strong half-season in the majors and package him for an arm. Or maybe it's Odubel Herrera or Aaron Altherr.

However it plays out, you can be sure that Klentak will be creative. You can rule nothing out with this guy. The other day, we poo-pooed the Phillies signing Jake Arrieta, who is looking for a long-term deal approaching $200 million. But if Arrieta lingers out there until February and is looking for a two-year landing spot, hey, maybe.

We wouldn't even put it past Klentak to entertain the idea of using Santana at third base a little bit — he did play 26 games there in 2014 — and trading Maikel Franco. The Giants were sniffing around, gathering intel on Franco at the winter meetings. There has to be a reason for that. Also at the meetings, an official from a rival club said the Phillies weren't as aggressive as he expected in trying to move Cesar Hernandez. Could it be that Hernandez would get some time at third if Franco were to be moved? Hernandez is still a trade chip, but he doesn't need to be cashed in until July and by that time Scott Kingery should be here.

There are a lot of ways this thing can go. And with the signing of Carlos Santana — which won't become official until he passes a physical next week — the Phillies have guaranteed that the remainder of this offseason will be a busy one.

It has to be.

The stakes have changed for 2018. The rebuild is still in place, but it has been ramped up. Matt Klentak has improved the bullpen and the offense. Now he has to attack that starting pitching and he has the trade weapons to do it.

Source: Phillies agree to $60 million deal with Carlos Santana

Source: Phillies agree to $60 million deal with Carlos Santana

The Phillies' busy Friday continued with a pricey free-agent signing.

The Phils have agreed to a three-year, $60 million deal with former Cleveland Indian Carlos Santana, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury.

It is by far the most expensive contract the Phillies have given out under the Matt Klentak-Andy MacPhail regime.

They had the money. When the offseason began, the only player the Phillies had signed to a multi-million dollar deal was Odubel Herrera.

Santana, 31, has always been a high-walk power hitter. From 2011 through 2017, he walked between 88 and 113 times each season, all while maintaining relatively low strikeout totals for a man with such power and plate selection.

In 2016, Santana set a career high with 34 home runs. Last season, he hit .259/.363/.455 with 37 doubles, 23 homers and 79 RBIs.

This addition provides the Phillies with much-needed pop to protect Rhys Hoskins and also gives the Phils added versatility. Santana is a switch-hitter who came up as a catcher, but he hasn't caught since 2014. The last three seasons, he has played primarily first base. In his eight seasons, Santana has also started 26 games at third base and seven in right field.

The move likely means Hoskins will play left field, and it could facilitate another Phillies trade of an outfielder such as Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr or Odubel Herrera.