Phillies

Phillies take winning ways on the road with victory over Rays

Phillies take winning ways on the road with victory over Rays

BOX SCORE

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Phillies stayed hot, rallying for a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in the opener of an interleague series Friday night at Tropicana Field.

Two rookies came up big in pushing across the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning.

Scott Kingery belted a one-out double and Jorge Alfaro followed with a two-out single as the Phillies broke a 1-1 tie against hard-throwing right-hander Alex Colome.

Hector Neris pitched the bottom of the ninth for the save. The bullpen collected seven big outs after starter Vince Velasquez departed. The right-hander hooked up in a nice pitchers’ duel with Jake Faria. Velasquez pitched well in a no-decision.

The Phillies have won four in a row and six of seven to improve to 7-5 under new skipper Gabe Kapler (see story).

Kapler started Kingery at third base over Maikel Franco (see story). Kingery struck out in two of his first three at-bats. In the ninth, he lined a 95-mph fastball from Colome to the wall in center for a double. The hit came on an 0-2 pitch up and out of the strike zone. Two batters later, Alfaro singled off third baseman Matt Duffy’s glove to score Kingery.

Velasquez strung together his second straight strong start in holding the Rays to four hits and a run over 6 2/3 innings. He walked one and struck out seven. Economy of pitches has been a problem for Velasquez in his two-plus seasons with the Phils, but it wasn’t in this game. His pitch count was a manageable 93.

In his previous outing, Velasquez pitched six innings of one-run ball. Velasquez faced little pressure in that game as it was a 20-1 blowout of Miami. This affair was much tighter and he responded.

Velasquez gave up his only run in the second inning — he did not help his cause with a wild pitch in the frame — but kept the Rays off the board the rest of his stay. He handed off to Luis Garcia with a runner on third and two outs in the seventh. Garcia retired Wilson Ramos on a fly ball to center for the third out, preserving the tie. Adam Morgan and Edubray Ramos also got important outs.

Faria bounced back from a dreadful start his previous time out. He threw 73 pitches in 1 2/3 innings and was tagged for eight runs on five hits and five walks. He was a different guy against the Phillies, holding them to two hits and a run over 5 1/3 innings. He walked two and struck out seven.

Faria gave up a double to J.P. Crawford then walked Cesar Hernandez to open the sixth. Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash then summoned lefty reliever Jose Alvarado to face Carlos Santana with two men on base. Santana lofted a soft flare to right. The hit would have loaded the bases but it bounced wildly off the artificial turf, allowing Crawford to race home with the tying run. The Phils continued to threaten in the inning, but Alvarado pitched out of trouble and struck out Nick Williams on three pitches with the bases loaded for the third out.

Aaron Nola overpowers Mookie Betts, Mike Trout in All-Star Game debut

Aaron Nola overpowers Mookie Betts, Mike Trout in All-Star Game debut

Aaron Nola vs. Mookie Betts, Jose Altuve and Mike Trout. Welcome to the All-Star Game.

Nola made his ASG debut Tuesday night in D.C., pitching the top of the fifth inning with the National League trailing 2-1.

He opened the frame by striking out Royals catcher Salvador Perez on a low-and-away curveball well off the plate.

Next up was Betts, the AL MVP favorite. On a 3-2 count, Nola struck Betts out swinging on a high-and-tight 96 mph fastball.

The next batter, 2017 AL MVP Altuve, singled to right-center on the first pitch. 

And that brought up Trout, who had homered in his previous at-bat against Jacob deGrom. 

Trout had no such luck against Nola, popping up to first base in foul territory on the third pitch he saw.

Nola threw 15 pitches, 10 strikes. 

This was a pretty cool moment for Nola, facing arguably the three best hitters in baseball and retiring two of them. Looked like he belonged.

He made some new friends, too. Here's Nola planning an offseason sleepover with Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin.

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Phillies' other trade options if they can't land Manny Machado

Phillies' other trade options if they can't land Manny Machado

There's no player on the trade market who could replicate for the Phillies the impact Manny Machado would make in August and September. 

There's definitely no player who would invigorate the fan base as much.

But if the Dodgers do end up beating the Phillies' offer for the best available player, the Phils will still look to make other upgrades.

That could involve acquiring a solid, non-star player for the left side of the infield, in addition to pitching help.

If the Phils can't add huge run production to their lineup, their focus could shift to players who'd assist in run prevention.

Here are some names to keep in mind:

Royals super-utilityman Whit Merrifield

There has been reported interest from the Phillies in Merrifield, and the two organizations have already scouted each other because of the earlier interest in Mike Moustakas.

Merrifield can play all over the diamond — first, second, third and all three outfield spots. If Maikel Franco is going well, you could play him in the outfield. If Franco is slumping, he could play third base. But acquiring Merrifield would be just as much about the future as this year.

Merrifield doesn't have nearly the raw power of a Machado or a Moustakas, but he's a proven .290-.300 hitter with gap power, speed and defensive versatility. He led the AL in steals (34) last season and has the third-most doubles (30) in the majors this season.

He would not be cheap to acquire. Merrifield is making $570,000 this season and will be inexpensive again in 2019 before his arbitration years begin. All told, Merrifield is under club control through the end of 2022. These are his prime years and he'll be underpaid for them relative to his performance.

Merrifield is not the same caliber player as Machado, but the cost in trade could end up being similar because Machado is a two-month rental and Merrifield comes with 4½ years of team control. That is a major, major difference that might offset the gap in talent between the two players.

Twins 3B/SS/2B Eduardo Escobar

Another name connected to the Phillies. Escobar, 29, is having a career year, hitting .271/.327/.507 for the Twins with a majors-leading 35 doubles, 14 homers and 57 RBI. 

He's been one of the most clutch players in baseball this season, hitting .367 with a 1.112 OPS with runners in scoring position. That's not exactly a sustainable long-term skill, but it's worth mentioning.

The switch-hitting Escobar would be a rental. He's a free agent at season's end. Thus, it would be cheaper to acquire him than Merrifield.

Top-tier relievers

If the Phils don't get Machado, they could instead land a combination of a bat and a bullpen piece to try to match his overall value.

Zach Britton. Jeurys Familia. Brad Hand. Raisel Iglesias. Felipe Vazquez.

Britton would be the cheapest option because he's a free agent after the season. We've known the Phillies have interest in him, and they could still pursue him even if Machado heads out West.

Britton's velocity has returned. He's back to throwing that power sinker in the mid-to-high 90s. His left-handedness would give the Phillies the matchup reliever they need, along with an experienced ninth-inning option that could allow Seranthony Dominguez to be used in a high-leverage role earlier in the game.

If you can't make a move that allows you to comfortably outscore your opponents moving forward, shortening the game is another way to remain in contention.

Baseball has changed. Having upper-echelon relievers in October is more meaningful now than ever before.

Blue Jays pieces

Jim Salisbury reported Monday that as the Phillies await an answer from the Orioles, they're also interested in Blue Jays lefty and former Phillie J.A. Happ.

Acquiring Happ would give the Phils a left-handed starting pitcher, which they haven't had since September 2016. That move could then allow them to move a Vince Velasquez or Nick Pivetta to the bullpen. Both are high-velocity, strikeout pitchers and both could thrive in a bullpen role. Their velocity and K-rates may even increase.

Imagine the Phillies being up 3-2 with two outs in the sixth inning and their starter at 105 pitches. A combination of Pat Neshek and Velasquez or Pivetta could get you all the way to the ninth. It would also give the Phillies a look at one of those young starting pitchers in that different role to gauge whether it makes the most sense for them long term.

Happ isn't the only Blue Jay to monitor, though. Yangervis Solarte has power and can play every infield position. He also has fair-market club options beyond this year — $5.5 million next season, $8 million the following season.

Curtis Granderson could help, too, as the missing power bat off the bench. Granderson was 0 for 13 heading into the All-Star break, but from June 7 to July 7, he hit .319/.373/.623 with six doubles and five homers.

No, he's not some big-time difference-maker in 2018, but Granderson is a markedly better and more dangerous hitter than the Phillies currently have on the bench.

It's not nearly as sexy of a trade, but acquiring a package of Happ, Granderson and Solarte could improve the Phillies in four different areas: rotation, bullpen, infield and bench.

Josh Donaldson, a much bigger name and more impactful power bat when healthy, is also worth keeping in the back of your mind. Donaldson has been out with a calf injury since Memorial Day but has resumed running and doing baseball activities and could be back by the end of the month. 

He's a free agent after the season as well. The contract status combined with all the time missed over the last two seasons will decrease the price tag. 

But if he's healthy and ready to go, this is a former MVP who hit .282/.377/.524 over the last five seasons with an average of 33 homers and 98 RBI.

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