Daily Dose: Philly close to signing Pedro?

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Reports surfaced early this week that the Phillies had renewed interest
in Pedro Martinez and now it sounds like the two sides could be close
to a deal. Martinez said Thursday that his agent is negotiating with
the Phillies after they scouted his workout Tuesday and a report out of
the Dominican Republic even claimed that a one-year deal worth $4
million was already in place.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. refuted reports of a done deal, but
clearly the Phillies are seriously interested in Martinez and an
official announcement by the end of the week wouldn’t be surprising. If
healthy he remains capable of being a solid fourth or fifth starter for
a contending team like the Phillies, but Martinez will probably need
some time to shake the rust off before being an NL-only option.

While the Phillies hope that Martinez has another half-dozen wins
left in the tank, here are some other notes from around baseball …

* Joel Pineiro tossed his third complete game of the year Thursday
as Milwaukee managed just one run on three hits and no walks. Pineiro
is having a career year with a 3.20 ERA through 17 starts, yet with
just 48 strikeouts in 115.1 innings his strikeout rate is horrible
after previously just being poor. Instead of missing more bats he’s
simply become the most extreme ground-ball pitcher in the league.

He recorded 19 ground-ball outs Thursday and is the only starter in
the league to induce a ground ball on over 60 percent of his balls in
play, which is remarkable given that Pineiro never even cracked 50
percent grounders from 2000-2008. In the past hitters have teed off on
his low-90s fastball, but now he’s working in the high-80s with
significantly more sink and the results are amazing.

* Ozzie Guillen was very pessimistic Thursday when asked about
Carlos Quentin returning from his foot problems, saying that he expects
him to remain out for “a while.” Quentin has already played multiple
games on his rehab stint at Triple-A, so Guillen admitted that he
“maybe” ready shortly after the All-Star break despite wanting to avoid
rushing him back until “he’s ready to help us here.”

* Dusty Baker announced Thursday that he’s benching Jay Bruce for at
least two days in an effort to break the recent slump that has his
batting average down to .209. “I’m letting him clear his head, like
Jimmy Rollins … and Magglio Ordonez,” Baker said. While his average
isn’t pretty, Bruce is actually showing more power and plate discipline
than last year and his OPS is only down about five percent.

* David Price showed how great he can be when he actually throws the
ball over the plate Thursday, holding Toronto to one run over six
innings while out-dueling Roy Halladay with seven strikeouts and one
walk. Price has been maddeningly inconsistent while going 3-3 with a
4.70 ERA overall, but has 47 strikeouts and a .241 opponents’ batting
average in 44 innings. He’s very close to breaking out.

AL Quick Hits: J.P. Howell received Thursday off, so Dan Wheeler
picked up his first save of the season … Brandon Inge won the “Final
Vote” competition for the AL’s last All-Star roster spot, beating out
Ian Kinsler … Clayton Richard is in danger of being replaced in the
rotation by Bartolo Colon after struggling again Thursday … Ryan Garko
started in the outfield Thursday for the eighth time this season and
went 4-for-5 at the plate … Kevin Slowey (wrist) is slated to begin a
throwing program Friday … Mark Teixeira took Francisco Liriano deep
Thursday for his first homer since June 12 … Cardinals general manager
John Mozeliak indicated Thursday that he’ll contact the Blue Jays about
Roy Halladay … After having his rehab delayed by a knee injury, Jed
Lowrie (wrist) is set to come off the disabled list within the next two
weeks … Handed nine runs of support, David Huff couldn’t make it
through five innings to get the win Thursday.

NL Quick Hits: Manny Parra returned to the Brewers’ rotation
with seven shutout innings Thursday … Manny Ramirez went 2-for-2 with
two RBIs and two walks Thursday … Shane Victorino won the “Final Vote”
competition for the NL’s last All-Star roster spot, beating out Pablo
Sandoval … Raul Ibanez (groin) is slated to come off the disabled list
Friday after being out since June 18 … Matt Kemp went 3-for-4 while
again batting eighth in the Dodgers’ lineup Thursday … Javier Vazquez
has been scratched from his scheduled Sunday start due to a strained
abdominal muscle … Fernando Martinez (knee) and his .517 OPS landed on
the disabled list Thursday … Kyle Lohse (forearm) is scheduled to
rejoin the rotation Sunday … Orlando Hudson left Thursday’s game after
being hit on the knee by a pitch … Livan Hernandez coughed up eight
runs on 11 hits Thursday, finishing the first half at 5-5 with a 5.10
ERA … John Bowker could have some NL-only value after being called up
Thursday by the Giants.

The Phillies are trying out prospect J.P. Crawford at third base

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On Sunday, for the first time in his professional career, Phillies shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford started at third base. He picked up three hits in five at-bats, continuing his torrid pace. Since the start of July, he’s hitting .306/.397/.595 with 11 home runs, 28 RBI, 33 runs scored, and a 37/25 K/BB ratio in 199 plate appearances.

With September looming, the Phillies may be considering a promotion for Crawford. Shortstop, however, is currently taken by Freddy Galvis who has appeared in every game this season and has taken on a leadership role with the team. Meanwhile, third baseman Maikel Franco has been mired in a season-long slump as he’s carrying a devilish .666 OPS.

The Phillies haven’t been averse to trying their prospects out at new positions. Prior to his recent promotion, Rhys Hoskins had played only first base throughout his professional career, but the Phillies moved him to left field for a few games, then called him up to the majors. Hoskins has made nine starts in the outfield and two at first base in the majors thus far.

As MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki notes, the Phillies are also considering trying out second base prospect Scott Kingery at shortstop or third base before the end of the minor league season.

These aren’t long-term plans; it’s just a way for the Phillies to find meaningful playing time for their prospects and giving manager Pete Mackanin potential flexibility. Assistant GM Ned Rice said, “It benefits the player and benefits the team when more guys are able to play multiple positions. It just gives Pete [Mackanin] a lot more options at the big league level. The more guys we can bring up who have been exposed to different positions, the better.”

Players having great seasons under the radar

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Yesterday, I watched a myriad of defensive highlights from Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons (who also homered). Curious, I looked up his stats and found him among the leaders in Wins Above Replacement. And then I found a handful of other players having great seasons and realized I’ve hardly heard anything about them. Let this be my contribution towards raising them into the spotlight.

Andrelton Simmons (Angels): The 27-year-old is having the best offensive season of his career. He posted a .751 OPS in his rookie season, but that spanned only 49 games. From 2013-16, he had an aggregate .664 OPS. His defense never wavered, of course, which is why he kept getting regular playing time and why the Angels were eager to trade for him in November 2015. This season, however, he’s been a terrific hitter, batting .292/.345/.451 with 13 home runs, 57 RBI, 62 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases in 502 plate appearances. He’s four home runs away from matching a career-high. Simmons is 11th in baseball in FanGraphs’ version of WAR, heavily predicated on the valuation of his defense, but it’s not too outlandish for me to believe Simmons has added nearly two wins above replacement on defense alone. While Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout will fight for the lion’s share of AL MVP votes, Simmons could get some down ballot consideration.

Gio Gonzalez (Nationals): Gonzalez nearly threw a no-hitter earlier this season against the Marlins, which brought some eyeballs to his stat line. Still, he hasn’t been talked about much somehow. He’s 12-5 with a 2.39 ERA and a  150/62 K/BB ratio in 162 innings. It’s nothing new for Gonzalez, as he won 21 games with a 2.89 ERA en route to finishing third in Cy Young balloting in 2012. There’s also some reason to believe Gonzalez’s performance is in some part due to great fortune as his batting average on balls in play is about 50 points below league average and his rate of stranding runners on base is more than 11 percent higher than his career average. Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have had better seasons and will be the first and second place finishers in this year’s balloting, but Gonzalez is looking at likely finishing third again, which is no small feat.

Aaron Nola (Phillies): After a dismal June 16 start against the Diamondbacks, Nola stood with a disappointing 4.76 ERA. After the first two innings of last Thursday’s start against the Giants, he briefly brought it under 3.00. Currently, it’s at 3.26 along with a 128/38 K/BB ratio in 124 1/3 innings. Since that June 16 start, he’s made 11 starts with a composite 2.21 ERA across 73 1/3 innings. The right-hander out of LSU showed promise in his rookie year in 2015, then struggled last year before succumbing to injury. Finally, it’s appearing that Nola is showing the promise the Phillies believed in when they took him in the first round (seventh overall) in the 2014 draft. Perhaps more importantly, he looks like a pitcher the Phillies can build around. If there’s one thing the Phillies have lacked since trading Cole Hamels, it’s a starter capable of throwing seven or eight innings and holding the opposition to one or two runs.

Chris Taylor (Dodgers): On a team that features Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Alex Wood, and recently added Yu Darvish, it’s understandable that Taylor would slip under the radar. He’s played five different positions this season — left field, second base, center field, third base, and shortstop — while batting .311/.383/.549 with 17 home runs, 58 RBI, 69 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 413 plate appearances. He’s played average to above-average defense at most of those positions, which is why his 4.6 fWAR ranks 13th in baseball and 10th in the National League. Before the Dodgers acquired him from the Mariners last June in a very little talked about trade, Taylor had been a weak-hitting utilityman. Now, he’s the starting center fielder for baseball’s best team.

Felipe Rivero (Pirates): The Pirates acquired Rivero from the Nationals last year in the Mark Melancon trade. It worked out well for the Buccos. Though the club sits at a disappointing 60-64 in fourth place in the NL Central, Rivero has been a bright spot, owning a major league best 1.31 ERA with 14 saves and a 73/16 K/BB ratio in 61 2/3 innings. The lefty took over the closer’s role when Tony Watson began to struggle in the first half. While Rivero has been terrific against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a .547 OPS, he’s been death to lefties (.227 OPS). After the season, Rivero will be eligible for arbitration for the first of four years, so it wouldn’t be shocking if he got traded at some point, but for now, they’ll enjoy his outstanding 2017 campaign.