Veteran Cesar Ramos off to good start in Phillies' lefty reliever derby

Veteran Cesar Ramos off to good start in Phillies' lefty reliever derby

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Cesar Ramos did not sign with the Phillies until the first week of January.

But the ink-to-paper part was just a formality.

Deep down inside, the 32-year-old relief pitcher had known for a couple of months that he would take his shot with the Phillies in 2017.

"Once Philly reached out early in the offseason, I knew I wanted to come here," Ramos said. "We talked for a while and eventually got something done."

Ramos, a veteran of eight big-league seasons, had a strong season pitching in relief for the Los Angeles Angels in 2015. He recorded a 2.75 ERA in 65 games that season and his work was witnessed up close by Matt Klentak, the former Angels assistant general manager who became the Phillies head man in October 2015.

Klentak made a bid to sign Ramos before the 2016 season, but the left-hander went with the Texas Rangers because they offered a chance to work as a starting pitcher and he wanted to give the role a shot.

Ramos bounced in and out of the Rangers' rotation in 2016. He spent some time in the minors and was eventually released before finishing the season with Detroit's Triple A Toledo club.

After the season, Ramos realized that the bullpen was the place he needed to be. He crossed his fingers that the Phillies would call again -- and they did. He is in camp on a minor-league contract, one of four left-handed relievers vying for one or two spots in the bullpen. The others are Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez and Sean Burnett, who, like Ramos, is a veteran on a minor-league deal.

Ramos knew the Phillies were thin on lefty relievers.

"I did my homework a little bit," said the Los Angeles-area native, a former teammate and roommate of Evan Longoria and Troy Tulowitzki at Long Beach State University. "I’m trying to put myself where I have the best chance to have success coming in on a minor-league deal.

"I believe in myself. I've always had to fight for a spot so it’s nothing new for me. I have to come in and perform."

So far, so good.

Ramos has pitched five innings this spring and given up just two hits and a run. He pitched two scoreless innings against the Tigers in Lakeland on Tuesday.

Burnett checked in with two scoreless frames against the Braves on Wednesday afternoon, giving him four straight scoreless innings since giving up two runs in his first outing of the spring.

Morgan, who has been a starter most of his career, offers the Phillies length, the ability to pitch multiple innings, and that could help his chances of making the club.

Rodriguez showed power stuff in climbing from Class A ball to the majors last season. He has pitched 3 1/3 innings this spring and given up two hits, a run and a walk. He has registered three strikeouts.

With 23 days left in Florida, it's too early to predict which lefties will end up in the bullpen. Heck, the field of candidates could grow as the front office is surely keeping tabs on which lefty relievers become available in other camps.

"Out of the four that we have, I'd like to pick two, if possible," manager Pete Mackanin said. "But nothing is for sure on that side right now. I'm anxious to sort that out once we start having our meetings on the structure of the team. There's definitely a need. It's wide open."

Being in spring training with the Phillies has been a bit of a homecoming for Ramos. He pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays from 2011 to 2014 before being traded to the Angels when Klentak was in that front office.

"My best year as a reliever was in front of his eyes in Anaheim," Ramos said. "Hopefully I can still be that same guy.

"Hopefully I can be here in April."

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


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


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."