Phillies

Phillies acquire lefty specialist Luis Avilan from White Sox

Phillies acquire lefty specialist Luis Avilan from White Sox

The Phillies may have found the left-handed specialist they've needed for several years.

GM Matt Klentak made another trade Wednesday, acquiring veteran lefty reliever Luis Avilan from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for minor-league right-hander Felix Paulino.

Avilan, a 29-year-old out of Venezuela, has a 3.33 ERA the last three seasons. He's held lefties to a .212 batting average throughout his seven-year major-league career.

Avilan had a 3.86 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 39⅔ innings for the White Sox, who are in rebuilding mode and don't have as much of a need for a lefty specialist as the Phillies.

Avilan is under team control next season, so this move could bear fruit in 2019 as well. Avilan and the White Sox avoided arbitration this season with a one-year, $2.45 million deal. About $500,000 of the 2018 salary remains.

Paulino is a 23-year-old reliever who has spent this season at Single A Clearwater and Double A Reading.

On July 31, the Phils acquired veteran lefty Aaron Loup from the Blue Jays, though he landed on the DL last week with a forearm strain. 

The same day Loup went on the DL, so did lefty Austin Davis with lower back tightness.

The Phillies' other lefty in the 'pen is Adam Morgan, who has struggled throughout the season. He has a 4.30 ERA and has allowed 11 of 34 inherited runners to score. 

Avilan goes mostly with a low-90s fastball and low-80s changeup. He also has a curveball.

The Phillies will need all the left-handed pitching help they can get with seven games remaining against Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis and the Braves. They'll also face Bryce Harper eight more times, Anthony Rizzo and Daniel Murphy three times and Charlie Blackmon four times.

Avilan hasn't faced Freeman or Markakis much but has plenty of experience against the others.

Harper: 2 for 12, four walks, five strikeouts

Blackmon: 1 for 11, two strikeouts

Murphy: 7 for 20, double, six RBI, two strikeouts

Rizzo: 2 for 7, two strikeouts

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O-H, yeah, Bryce Harper gives Indians fans a little something to remember him by

O-H, yeah, Bryce Harper gives Indians fans a little something to remember him by

CLEVELAND — Bryce Harper knows how to play a crowd. He’s done it all season at Citizens Bank Park with his pre-game bow to the fans in the right-field seats followed by his heaving of a warm-up ball into the upper deck.

The fans love it.

They love it even more when he hits home runs.

Harper belted his 33rd homer of the season to lead a 9-4 Phillies’ win over the Cleveland Indians on Saturday night. The home run was an impressive one, a three-run shot that put the Phils ahead, 5-4, with one out in the fifth inning.

The Phillies have played 153 games and they are in the midst of an 11-game road trip. At this time of year, the days seem to become a blur. Sometimes players don’t even know what day it is, or what city they’re waking up in. All they know is that there is another game to play.

But Harper was keenly aware of his surroundings Saturday night, keenly aware of what state he was in. As he crossed home plate after his go-ahead homer, he raised his arms and made the "O-H” sign above his head. And as he spoke with reporters after the game, he wore an Ohio State cap — backwards, of course.

“Big win for the Bucks today,” he said of the 76-5 whooping that Ohio State’s football team put on Miami of Ohio.

Harper’s wife, Kayla, played soccer at Ohio State. That was the birth of his fandom.

The fans in Cleveland appreciated the love that Harper showed for the Buckeyes.

They just would have preferred that he’d done it after, say, a harmless single.

Phillies starter Jason Vargas really appreciated the homer. He gave up four runs in the first two innings — two were unearned after Jean Segura’s error in the first inning — but kept his club in the game until the bats got going in the middle innings. Vargas pitched 6 2/3 bullpen-saving innings and ended up with his first win since July 28, when he was a member of the Mets.

Brad Miller hit the first of his two homers in the fourth inning and Harper put the Phils ahead with his three-run shot in the fifth. Harper’s homer was preceded by hits from Adam Haseley and J.T. Realmuto. 

With his team up, 4-2, Cleveland manager Terry Francona brought in lefty Oliver Perez to face Harper. Perez had retired Harper the night before. This time, Harper fouled off five pitches before hitting the ninth pitch, a full-count slider, over the wall in right field.

“It’s nice to be able to stay competitive and keep us in position to get back into the game and then, golly, I mean I can’t say that I’ve seen a more professional at-bat than the one Harper had against Perez right there,” Vargas said. “I think that any time you see an at-bat like that from your main guy, it’s just — he really didn’t give in and he really made the effort to stay in the at-bat and do everything he could do to get his pitch and he really capitalized and made a difference for us.”

Harper has 15 homers and 36 RBIs in his last 40 games.

“He has been tremendous in the second half of the season for us,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We win when Harper hits.

“That nine-pitch at-bat felt determined to me. Like he was determined not to fail. He was determined to put the ball in play and put it in play hard. He just did a good job of getting up underneath that baseball and putting it in the air.”

The Phils hit four homers on the night and they got excellent work from the bullpen, which has a 2.69 ERA — second-best in baseball — over the last 20 games.

A smiling Vargas stood in the dugout and greeted reliever Jared Hughes when he retired dangerous Francisco Lindor to end the seventh.

The victory was the 99th of Vargas’ career and it kept the Phils mathematically alive in the NL wild-card race at five games back with nine to play.

Vargas, 36, intends to pitch next season — the Phillies hold a $6 million option on his contract, though it’s unclear if they will pick that up — but he would prefer to get his 100th win before then.

He lines up to make one more start this season.

“I’d definitely like to get it sooner than later, obviously, but I’ve gone this long without having 100,” Vargas said. “It will be nice when it comes and hopefully it comes. It would definitely be a nice thing to have.”

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Bryce Harper hits go-ahead home run as Phillies power past Indians

Bryce Harper hits go-ahead home run as Phillies power past Indians

BOX SCORE 

CLEVELAND — The math says the Phillies still have a chance at making the postseason.

But sitting five games back in the National League wild-card race with just nine games remaining has turned them into spoilers.

With that, the Phils threw a little hurdle in the way of the Cleveland Indians with a 9-4 win on Saturday night.

The 91-win Indians entered the night tied with Tampa Bay for the second American League wild-card spot. They had won five in a row.

The Phils trailed 4-1 after two innings, but they came back to take the lead on the strength of home runs by Brad Miller and Bryce Harper. Harper’s three-run shot in the fifth gave the Phillies the lead.

Jay Bruce and Miller — he blasted his second homer of the game in the ninth — padded the lead with solo homers.

Jason Vargas gave a tired bullpen a break with 6 2/3 strong innings.

The Phillies are 79-74. They need to win three of their final nine games to have their first winning season since 2011.

Vargas’ night

The veteran lefty came into the game with a 7.17 ERA in his previous five starts and he lasted just three innings in his previous two.

Vargas survived a costly error in the first inning and held the Indians to four runs, two of which were unearned. His fastball topped out in the mid-80s, but he was able to change speeds off of that on his way to eight strikeouts. His changeup was a good pitch.

The win was Vargas’ first since July 28, when he was with the Mets. He has 99 career wins.

Good job by the ‘pen

Jared Hughes, Jose Alvarez and Edgar Garcia teamed on 2 1/3 scoreless innings to protect the lead.

Over the last 20 games, the Phillies’ bullpen has posted a 2.69 ERA. That’s second-best in the majors over that span.

Win the battle

On Friday night, lefty reliever Oliver Perez came out of the bullpen and retired Bryce Harper on a ground ball. Cleveland manager Terry Francona went back to Perez when Harper came up with two men on base and one out in the fifth inning. This time, Harper won a long, nine-pitch battle against Perez. He fouled off five pitches before clubbing a full-count slider over the wall in right-center. The three-run homer gave the Phillies a 5-4 lead. Jay Bruce lengthened the lead to 6-4 with a solo homer later in the inning. Bruce, who has missed time with an elbow injury, has just two hits since the All-Star break. Both are homers.

Harper has 33 homers on the season.

No excuse

Shortstop Jean Segura committed a first-inning error that eventually cost Vargas two runs. Cleveland leadoff man Francisco Lindor hit a ground ball right at Segura and he made a low throw across the diamond that Rhys Hoskins could not pull out of the dirt. It was a play that a top defensive first baseman makes, but that’s not the point. The error was completely avoidable and never would have happened if Segura had not been so nonchalant in flipping his throw across the diamond. His lack of intensity on the play cost the team two runs.

Later in the game, Segura made an excellent play when he ranged behind the second-base bag, spun and fired to first base to get Franmil Reyes. Segura can do it when he wants to.

Up next

Vince Velasquez (7-7, 4.89) gets the ball in Sunday night’s series finale. He will go up against Cleveland right-hander Adam Plutko (7-4, 4.34).

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