Phillies' pitcher finally gets his first victory

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Phillies' pitcher finally gets his first victory

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- Cliff Lee was savoring a most elusive win when Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels sneaked up behind him, giving their fellow Phillies ace a Gatorade bath. Now that was one early shower Lee could enjoy. Lee finally posted his first victory of the season and Philadelphia hit three late homers, breaking past the New York Mets 9-2 Wednesday and stopping a six-game losing streak. "Got a win, Fourth of July. Good for Cliff," manager Charlie Manuel said. Lee (1-5) had gone a puzzling 13 starts this year without a victory, a key reason the five-time NL East champions have fallen far behind. The lefty hadn't been awful, nor had he consistently shown good command. "I would've loved to have a win a long time ago," Lee said, adding the slump was a bigger deal to others than to him. "I wouldn't say it doesn't matter, but it's something I can't control," he said. "Sometimes, weird things happen." If anything, he said, he's been disappointed "because I've let innings snowball." That happened in his previous outing at Miami, his poorest start of the season. Manuel said Lee's teammates kidded and joked with him after he broke his hex. Lee's jersey and uniform pants were soaked when he returned to the clubhouse. "That was good," Lee told Halladay. Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz hit consecutive home runs in the seventh inning as the Phillies rallied from a 2-0 deficit. Ty Wigginton's two-run homer in the ninth capped the surge. Facing the Mets for the fourth time this season, Lee came out sharp and struck out three of the first four batters. He wound up going eight innings and struck out nine, most of them looking. "He pretty much dominated us today," Mets star David Wright said. Lee's drought was the longest by a former Cy Young winner since Greg Maddux went 14 starts without a win in 2008 with San Diego -- the worst skid for a Cy winner was 19 starts by Fernando Valenzuela in 1988-89, STATS LLC said. Lee seemed as if he might wind up in the loss column again after the Phillies managed just two singles in the first six innings against Chris Young (2-2). Juan Pierre led off the seventh with a sharp single and Utley followed with a tying drive into the right-field seats, his second homer since missing nearly three months because of knee trouble. Ruiz, set to play in his first All-Star game, then put the Phillies ahead by connecting for the second straight day, hitting his 13th home run. That was plenty for Lee on this afternoon. "Once they took the lead, we saw a different side of him," said Mets catcher Mike Nickeas, who fanned twice. "He's one of the better ones in the game. He was tremendous today." Philadelphia pulled away with a three-run eighth and a three-run ninth against the Mets' bullpen. Jimmy Rollins doubled home a run, Ruiz hit an RBI single and Wigginton hustled home from second on Hunter Pence's single off shortstop Ruben Tejada's glove in the eighth. Rollins added an RBI grounder and Wigginton homered the next inning. Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon made his first appearance in a week and pitched the ninth. "Make sure we nailed that one down," Manuel said, smiling. The six straight losses matched the Phillies' longest slump of the season. They also had lost seven in a row on the road. A day after routing Philadelphia, the Mets lost for the second time in seven games. Scott Hairston put the Mets ahead with a solo homer in the fourth, lining an 0-2 pitch over the left-field wall. As Hairston rounded the bases, Lee scuffed at the dirt and looked out toward center field, where a replay of the pitch was playing on the videoboard. The Mets, as they've done all season, strung together some two-hits and made it 2-0 in the fifth. Wright drove in the run with a single. NOTES: RHP Jeremy Hefner gave up five hits and three runs in 1 1-3 innings and was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo after the game. ... Utley's sixth homer at Citi Field matched Raul Ibanez for the most by a visiting player at the ballpark. ... Pierre stole his 20th base, the 12th straight year he's reached the mark. His 574th career swipe tied Hugh Duffy for 22nd place. ... Mets OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis didn't play. He was a late scratch from the lineup the previous day after hurting his right hand while swinging in batting practice. He said his hand was feeling better. ... Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey goes for his 11th straight win on Thursday night vs. Hamels. Dickey leads the majors with 12 victories. ... Phillies 1B Ryan Howard (left Achilles) was set to have a day off with Triple-A Lehigh Valley in his rehabilitation assignment. He homered Tuesday night.

Jimmy Rollins remains confident despite slow start for White Sox

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Jimmy Rollins remains confident despite slow start for White Sox

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Jimmy Rollins isn’t happy with his offensive production so far this season. But a slow start hasn’t made the veteran White Sox shortstop any less confident.

Through 142 plate appearances this season, Rollins is hitting .231/.289/.346 with 10 extra-base hits and eight RBIs. But Rollins -- who has played in 33 games -- said prior to Thursday’s rainout he feels fresh. He also doesn’t see a huge difference between how he has been pitched in his first tour of the American League after 15-plus seasons in the National League.  

“I don’t think I’ve done enough,” Rollins said. “I could be hitting .400 and I’d still be wanting to hit .500. But I’m only .200 and some change. I haven’t done enough to help the team and I’ve had plenty of opportunities. The good thing is, that will change also as the season goes along and I start catching that rhythm again.”

Rollins has a career .825 OPS in 2,232 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.

This season he’s hitting at a .417 clip in 30 plate appearances with seven RBIs. Rollins also struggled with RISP in 2015, hitting .464. But he spent part of that season dealing with injuries.

Nearly 30 percent through the campaign, Rollins feels healthy.

He has appeared in 33 games as White Sox manager Robin Ventura has given him routine days off to stay sharp. Rollins likes how Ventura has employed those days off, sometimes two at a time to allow Tyler Saladino to develop a rhythm and get at-bats. So far, Rollins said his playing time is what he expected when he opted to sign with the White Sox instead of the San Francisco Giants and others.

As far as switching leagues, Rollins doesn’t know a lot of the pitchers he’s facing but he does know the hitters, which has helped him line up in good position. He thinks the defensive side is a more important component.

“I don’t think it really makes a tremendous difference (hitting),” Rollins said. “If you’re putting good swings on the ball, no matter what league you’re in, you’re going to get hits.”

He expects those hits will come shortly.

Before Thursday’s game was wiped out, Ventura dropped Rollins from second to sixth in the lineup for the second time in a week. Melky Cabrera was scheduled to start in the No. 2 hole and Jose Abreu hit there several times on the team’s last homestand.

“I’ll be able to contribute more and that’ll make the job easier on everybody,” Rollins said. “It goes down the line. One guy is doing good, hitting becomes contagious. The next guy wants to hit, the next guy wants to hit and that turns into nobody wants to make an out and then you grind out those at-bats and you find a way to execute. You might catch the ball, but I’m not making an out. And that’s the difference. Sometimes when you’re trying to get hits, it’s like pitching --- you’re trying to make the pitch. You’ll do whatever it takes, even if that means going outside your box, and when you do that you’re not going to be successful.”

GM Jed Hoyer on how Cubs were built and where they go from here

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GM Jed Hoyer on how Cubs were built and where they go from here

The St. Louis Cardinals talked about how hard they played until the end against the Cubs, claiming a moral victory, yet another sign of how much this rivalry has changed.

“Do something!” is always the natural reaction when a team struggles, even one with the best record in baseball, even when a three-time Manager of the Year fills out the lineup card, and even coming off a 97-win season and an all-out winter.  

But scoring 21 runs within 23 hours against the Cardinals on Tuesday and Wednesday again showed how the Cubs were built (and how much St. Louis might miss John Lackey). The next time the Cubs fail to hit with runners in scoring position, or get shut out by a Madison Bumgarner, or experience a three-game losing streak, those offensive answers will have to come from within.

“No question,” general manager Jed Hoyer.

Between the final out of the National League Championship Series and getting swept by the New York Mets last October – and their first Cactus League game this spring – the Cubs committed $253 million combined to Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and Dexter Fowler.

The Cubs have gone 4-for-4 with hitters in their top draft picks – Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ – every year since president Theo Epstein took over baseball operations at Wrigley Field. Plus taking Javier Baez with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft during the final weeks of the Jim Hendry regime.

The Cubs invested $30 million in the Cuban market to sign Jorge Soler and used pitching trade chips (Andrew Cashner and Jeff Samardzija) to acquire half of their infield (Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell) potentially through the 2021 season.   

Rizzo is coming off a 3-for-35 road trip where the Cubs lost series to the Milwaukee Brewers and San Francisco Giants before closing strong in St. Louis. But Rizzo is also so much more mature and competitive than the overmatched hitter Hoyer rushed to the big leagues in 2011 with the San Diego Padres.

“As he goes, sometimes offensively we go,” Hoyer said. “With Anthony, when he’s good, he can carry you for a week to 10 days. He’ll get it going again. He knows he’s good now. He knows he can do it. When he goes to bed at night, he knows he’s an All-Star first baseman.

“That’s important when a guy’s going through a slump, that they have that confidence in themselves. (Now) it’s just a matter of that one swing that’ll click.”

Imagine what manager Joe Maddon described as “the butterfly effect” on the lineup once Heyward (.596 OPS) starts hitting the ball with authority to augment all the other subtle aspects of his game.

“He’s just a winning player,” Hoyer said. “Our players know that. He has that presence. Offensively, he’s been a slow starter like three of the last four years. There’s no question he’ll get it going.

“Once he (does), I think everyone will see the kind of player he’s been for most of his career. Everyone appreciates the defense and the baserunning. But the offense is a big part of that, too, and it will come here very shortly.”

If Heyward can’t be measured by batting average and RBIs, then the Cubs also dug into Zobrist’s peripheral numbers and underlying performance and found the super-utility guy had actually gotten better with age.

Zobrist turned 35 on Thursday and is hitting .346 and leading the majors with a .453 on-base percentage in the first season of a four-year contract.

“We love youth, (but) having some veterans is important,” Hoyer said. “With Ben, we felt like his skill set matched us perfectly. But we did really dig into the numbers to make sure that was the case.

“One of the things we look at is his ability to hit fastballs – it’s kind of gotten better and better throughout his career. Guys that can still hit a really good fastball don’t show a lot of signs of aging.”

It will be impossible to match the infusion of youth and energy Schwarber brought to the Cubs last summer, when he hit 16 homers in 69 games plus five more during the playoffs. 

The Cubs are 31-14 with Schwarber getting only five plate appearances during the first week of the season and now recovering from major knee surgery. 

Schwarber comparisons are unrealistic/unfair, but the next wave at Triple-A Iowa includes Almora, a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s hitting .326 and top catching prospect Willson Contreras (.933 OPS).

“We knew we were going to miss Kyle,” Hoyer said. “There’s no question about that. You take a guy like Kyle (away) – that’s like taking Michael Conforto out of the Mets’ lineup.

“He’s that good a left-handed hitter. He kills right-handed pitching. We knew we were going to miss it. I think our guys have done a great job of filling that hole.

“As for Contreras and Almora, I look at those two guys and I think there’s a little development left. We know that they’re doing a great job at Triple-A. If the need arises, those are guys that might get forced into action.

“But right now, we want those guys developing. Obviously, if the major-league team needs that player at that moment, (Kyle) will be the precedent. But right now, I think they’re still developing, still learning.”

A 10-game homestand begins Friday afternoon against the rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field. As the Cardinals know by now, the Cubs are no longer a franchise that keeps score with minor-league updates or prospect rankings or moral victories.

White Sox opener with Royals postponed by rain

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White Sox opener with Royals postponed by rain

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The White Sox will remain in first place for at least another day.

With the Cleveland Indians off Thursday and their own contest washed away, the White Sox will maintain their half-game lead in the American League Central.

Set to open a four-game series against the Kansas City Royals, the White Sox instead received an unexpected day off as Thursday’s contest was rained out.

No makeup date has been announced, but a Royals spokesperson said the game wouldn’t be made up this weekend. The White Sox make two more trips to Kansas City later this season.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura said he wouldn’t make any changes to his rotation, which means Chris Sale will face the New York Mets on Monday instead of the Royals on Sunday.

Miguel Gonzalez, Carlos Rodon and Mat Latos will instead be pushed back one day, starting Friday with Gonzalez.

The Royals altered their rotation, removing Ian Kennedy from Saturday’s start. Thursday’s scheduled starter, Danny Duffy, will move back one day to Friday and Yordano Ventura will not pitch on Saturday. Edinson Volquez will start on Sunday as previously scheduled and Kennedy will start again on Monday.