Phils use three starters, still come up short

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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.

Astros sign Carlos Beltran to one-year, $16 million deal

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 9: Carlos Beltran #36 of the Texas Rangers hits an RBI against the Toronto Blue Jays in the first inning during game three of the American League Division Series at Rogers Centre on October 9, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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The Astros have reportedly agreed to terms with free agent DH/outfielder Carlos Beltran for a one-year, $16 million contract, per ESPN’s Buster Olney. The deal includes a complete no-trade clause, according to a report from Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

Beltran elected to return to the Astros after fielding offers from the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Red Sox. He appeared in Houston during the second half of 2004, batting .258/.368/.559 with 23 home runs in 399 PA and making his first postseason run to the tune of a .435 average and eight homers as the Astros battled their way through to a seven-game loss in the Championship Series. Beltran also played with Houston manager A.J. Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora in separate stints with the Royals and Mets, which the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan cited as possible influences in the Astros’ decision to pursue the free agent.

In 2016, Beltran split the season between the Yankees and Rangers after getting dealt at the deadline for a package of right-handed pitching prospects. He was stationed in right field for the majority of his time in New York, but was almost exclusively utilized as a designated hitter over 52 games in Texas. Between the two clubs, he batted an impressive .295/.337/.513 with 29 homers and earned his ninth career All-Star designation to boot.

The veteran slugger is expected to fill a similar role on the Astros, who need a full-time DH but could use some additional support in the outfield corner. Olney envisions a lineup with Beltran in the five-spot, per an earlier report:

Rays and Braves reportedly interested in Welington Castillo

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Welington Castillo #7 of the Arizona Diamondbacks hits an RBI double in the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on September 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
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Catcher Welington Castillo was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks on Friday, making him one of 35 additional players to enter the free agent pool. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported that Castillo was drawing interest from the Rays, among a bevy of major league clubs, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien added that the Braves have “some interest” as well.

The Rays’ trifecta of catchers — Curt Casali, Luke Maile, and Bobby Wilson — did little to inspire confidence behind the plate in 2016, and with top free agent Wilson Ramos sidelined after suffering a torn ACL in September, it makes sense that they’d explore more affordable options. Castillo profiled well at the plate during his first full season with the Diamondbacks, slashing .264/.322/.423 with 14 home runs in 457 PA. Behind the dish, he placed third among all qualified major league catchers with seven DRS (Defensive Runs Saved), though his league-leading 10 passed balls weren’t anything to write home about.

Unlike the Rays, the Braves have a serviceable catching platoon in Tyler Flowers and Anthony Recker. Beyond that, their catching depth is fairly shallow despite the recent addition of former Mariners’ outfield prospect Alex Jackson. Jackson, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Mark Bradley, has not played behind the plate since high school, though GM John Coppolella is reportedly interested in trying him there again. A.J. Pierzynski is also rumored to be seeking a deal elsewhere in free agency, which could open the door for a multi-year deal with Castillo.