Phillies

When could MLB begin? Baseball timelines in Korea and Italy provide some reference

When could MLB begin? Baseball timelines in Korea and Italy provide some reference

Though MLB is trending toward a June return with the regular season beginning in July, no start date has yet been announced. The timelines in two other countries, however, provide some valuable reference.

The KBO, Korea's top level of professional baseball, is set to begin its regular season Tuesday at 2 p.m. local time, which would be 1 a.m. Tuesday here. There will be five games played in five different cities, though each of the five cities are within 100 to 165 miles of each other. The layout of the team sites is somewhat similar to what you'd see in Florida for spring training and all travel is done via bus.

There will be no fans in the stands for games in Korea, at least for now. 

The KBO has made alterations to its season, such as eliminating its All-Star Game and reducing the number of playoff games. The goal is to still play 144 regular-season games with each of the 10 teams meeting 16 times.

Few, if any countries locked down more quickly after the spread of the coronavirus than South Korea, which is a huge reason why the KBO will be one of the first pro leagues around the world to return. Its original opening day was supposed to be March 28, two days after MLB's.

Mark Weidemaier, a former scout for four MLB teams who was also on Matt Williams' coaching staff in Washington in 2014-15, is a bench coach for Williams and the Kia Tigers of the KBO. He said this to MLB Network's Jon Morosi over the weekend:

"Couldn't be better. Very relaxed atmosphere. We are all used to the daily temp scan. Support folks weak masks ... Basebaill is back, albeit in a much different environment. No downside here."

Italy

Italy, which was hit by the virus as hard as any country in the world, will begin lifting the lockdown today that it put into place on March 9. An estimated 4 million people will return to work.

Opening day for the top league in Italy is set for June 14, though it could be pushed back a month to July 12 if needed. The length of the regular season has been significantly reduced and is scheduled to end in mid-August, followed by a championship series. It hasn't yet been announced whether fans will be permitted to attend.

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Hector Neris picks up biggest outs of young season in confidence-builder for Phillies bullpen

Hector Neris picks up biggest outs of young season in confidence-builder for Phillies bullpen

As Phillies manager Joe Girardi maneuvered his way through the middle and late innings with a beleaguered bullpen in a close game Thursday night, one thought weighed uncomfortably on his mind.

Girardi's counterpart, New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone, had decided this was the night to rest one of the most dangerous hitters on the planet. But just because Aaron Judge was out of the starting lineup didn't mean he and his lethal power bat wouldn't be a factor in the game.

Sure enough, with the Phillies desperately clinging to a one-run lead with two outs in the eighth inning and a man on third base, the hulking Judge grabbed his bat and strode toward the plate.

Girardi responded by replacing lefty reliever Jose Alvarez with right-handed closer Hector Neris.

Phillies fans beyond the centerfield gate and those watching on television held their breath.

Five pitches later, they could exhale as Neris got Judge to swing over a splitter for strike three. It was the biggest out of the young season — at least for an inning. Neris allowed a pair of two-out hits in the ninth before retiring Luke Voit on a ball to the warning track to complete a 5-4 victory over the Yankees.

The win gave the Phils a split of the four-game series with one of baseball's most powerful teams.

J.T. Realmuto and Phil Gosselin stood out with the bats and Zach Eflin pitched well in his season debut as the Phillies improved their record to 3-4. 

But the star of the game was an unlikely unit, a bullpen that had been scorched for 17 earned runs in 16⅔ innings in the early part of the season.

The 'pen was handed a 5-2 lead in the fifth inning and got 15 outs to preserve a one-run victory. Nick Pivetta allowed a two-run homer in the seventh for the bullpen's only blemish. But Pivetta did get six of the 15 outs.

Neris got four huge outs, including the strikeout of Judge, who leads the majors with seven homers and 17 RBIs in his first 12 games.

Yes, Girardi thought about having Neris walk Judge and go after Gio Urshela. But he didn't think about it for too long.

"You know, Aaron Judge, as great a hitter as he is, if you make your pitches you have a chance," Girardi said. "I thought Hector and J.T. had a great plan and they executed it."

Realmuto, the Phillies catcher, sensed that Judge would be looking for a first-pitch splitter because Neris is known for that pitch and threw it 66 percent of the time to lead off an at-bat last season. So Realmuto called for two straight fastballs then three straight splitters and it got the job done.

"That's a dangerous at-bat for any pitcher because if you make a mistake he can hit it out of the ballpark anywhere," Girardi said. "Hector was fantastic. 

"When you look at what our bullpen did tonight, they gave us five strong innings against arguably the best lineup in baseball. Just an outstanding job."

Girardi admitted that his heart may have skipped a beat when Voit launched his ball to center in the last at-bat of the game. Off the bat, it looked like it had a chance to be a three-run homer and more misery for the bullpen.

"You worry because you know how strong these guys are and how far they hit the ball," Girardi said. "But you feel a little bit better when you see your centerfielder nestle under it."

The bullpen needed a little confidence-builder after a rough start to the season. But there's not much time to savor the performance. The Braves arrive Friday night for a four-game series.

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Phillies' beleaguered bullpen gets the job done to earn series split vs. mighty Yankees

Phillies' beleaguered bullpen gets the job done to earn series split vs. mighty Yankees

The Phillies' beleaguered bullpen got the job done in a 5-4 win over the New York Yankees on Thursday night.

The taut victory gave the Phillies a split of the four-game, home-and-home series with the Yankees, who had won nine of their first 11 games.

The Phillies are 3-4 after seven games. They play their next four in division against the Atlanta Braves.

The Phils got a promising start from Zach Eflin in winning the series finale against the Yankees. They got a three-run homer from J.T. Realmuto and another big hit from Phil Gosselin. But the star of the game might have been closer Hector Neris. He highlighted a good night for the bullpen with a four-out save that included a huge strikeout of one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball with a runner on base in a one-run game in the eighth inning.

Eflin's night

The right-hander did a lot of good things against a powerful lineup in his season debut.

He worked four innings and gave up two runs, but both were unearned after a Scott Kingery error extended the second inning. The error, on a possible double-play ball, caused Eflin's pitch count to soar and that prevented him from going another inning and qualifying for the win. Eflin threw 77 pitches, many of them his bread-and-butter sinking fastball. He allowed just four hits, one walk and struck out five.

The Phillies need Eflin to be a consistent contributor this season. This was a good place to start.

Hold your breath

Eflin's pitch count was being watched carefully because he's still building his workload after a July back injury. After Eflin left the game with a 5-2 lead, manager Joe Girardi had to hope that his struggling bullpen could get 15 outs against possibly the best lineup in baseball to preserve the lead.

It did.

Barely.

But it did.

Deolis Guerra, who failed to keep Monday night's game in New York close, enjoyed some redemption with a scoreless fifth inning.

Nick Pivetta worked the next two innings and allowed a two-run homer to Gary Sanchez in the seventh as the Yanks made it a one-run game.

Things got hairy in the top of the eighth as Giancarlo Stanton doubled against Jose Alvarez with one out and moved to third on a ground out.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone sent up Aaron Judge (he did not start) to pinch-hit and Girardi countered with right-handed closer Neris. In a dramatic showdown with the game on the line, Neris struck out Judge on five pitches to end the threat and preserve the lead.

Judge leads the majors with seven homers and 17 RBIs in 12 games. Neris got him swinging over a splitter. It was the biggest out of the season so far for the Phillies.

Neris survived a pair of two-out singles in the ninth for the save. It was a nervous save as Yankee slugger Luke Voit sent one to the warning track in center for the final out.

Uncle Larry warms up

Before the game, Girardi expressed faith in leadoff man Andrew McCutchen, who had started off 1 for 18 with two walks. McCutchen lined out to shortstop in the first inning but singled and doubled later in the game. His double in the seventh likely would have scored Roman Quinn from first base hadn't Quinn been picked off with his team up a run.

Realmuto stays hot

With a vocal group of fans shouting "Sign J.T." from beyond the centerfield gate, Realmuto homered for the second straight night. His three-run homer in the first inning came against Yankees starter Jordan Montgomery. Rhys Hoskins (walk) and Bryce Harper (single) were on base. 

Realmuto leads the Phils with three homers and eight RBIs.

Realmuto also made a huge defensive play, gunning down a runner trying to steal second base in the fourth to complete a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play.

Also on the hot list

Phil Gosselin got the start as the designated hitter and doubled home two runs in the third to give the Phils a 5-2 lead. Gosselin is 6 for 10 on the season with six RBIs.

Up next

The Phillies open a four-game series with NL East rival Atlanta on Friday night at Citizens Bank Park. Vince Velasquez (0-0, 12.00) will oppose right-hander Kyle Wright (0-1, 7.50) in the first game of the series. Jake Arrieta pitches Saturday night for the Phillies and it's possible that prospect Spencer Howard could get the call on Sunday afternoon.

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