Phils use three starters, still come up short

Leave a comment

Pedro Martinez has made an impressive late-season comeback, but Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ still looked like the Phillies’ third- and fourth-best starters, if not second- and third-best, entering the postseason. That’s why it was such a surprise to see both pitch in relief in Thursday’s Game 2 loss to the Rockies.
It was Cole Hamels who started the game. There was really no arguing against it, even if he pitched worse than both Blanton and Happ all season long. The 2008 postseason hero turned in one of his typical 2009 outings against the Rockies, giving up four runs over five innings despite striking out five and walking none. He allowed a two-run homer to Yorvit Torrealba in the fourth. It was Torrealba’s first homer since May.
Carlos Gonzalez played key roles in the other rallies. The second-year outfielder singled, stole a base and scored in the first and doubled with Aaron Cook on first in the fifth. Anyone else would have scored on the play, but Gonzalez was denied an RBI. Cook instead came around to score on Dexter Fowler’s sacrifice fly.
Hamels exited a 4-0 game, and Blanton came on to pitch a scoreless top of the sixth. The Phillies went on to rally for three in the bottom of the inning, knocking Cook from the game.
From there, manager Charlie Manuel could have stuck with a full rested Blanton and seen if he could have finished the game or at least taken it to the ninth. The Phillies, though, were already warming up Happ. They turned to the left-hander after a double and a mistake on a grounder put two on with none out in the seventh.
Happ’s outing turned out to be far shorter than Blanton’s. Seth Smith hit one back through the middle that got the left-hander in the shin, knocking him from the game with a bruise. Worse, it loaded the bases with no outs.
Fortunately, Scott Eyre was able to minimize the damage, pitching out of the jam while allowing just one run. Down by two, the Phillies still had chances to come back. However, they were limited to Jayson Werth’s solo homer in the eighth. They stranded the go-ahead run on base in the ninth as they lost 5-4.
Now the Phillies face a Game 3 in Colorado potentially started by Martinez. Both Blanton and Happ should be ready to start Game 4. The Phillies could go back to Lee on short rest then if they want, but it would mean scheduling Hamels on short rest in Game 5 and that hardly seems like an ideal situation right now. Reserving Lee for Game 5 remains the smart strategy.
Pedro in Coors will be fascinating to watch, assuming that it materializes. There is one more chance for upheaval, as there’s the possibility of snow in Denver on Saturday. If the game gets postponed, the Phillies would again have three starting options in Game 3. Martinez seems likely to take a backseat in that scenario.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.