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.

Report: Rays having “advanced talks” with free agent reliever Tommy Hunter

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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported this morning that free agent reliever Tommy Hunter required core muscle repair surgery earlier this offseason. Coming off a disappointing 2015, it’s understandable why he’s still on the market, but it sounds like he has at least one significant lead.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times hears that the Rays are having “advanced talks” with Hunter as they attempt to add an experienced arm to their bullpen. Nothing is considered close and Hunter is also talking to other clubs. Meanwhile, the Rays have been in touch with veteran reliever Ryan Webb while monitoring the trade market.

Hunter posted a 2.88 ERA as a late-inning arm from 2013-2014, but he compiled a mediocre 4.18 ERA over 58 appearances last season between the Orioles and Cubs. On the bright side, his velocity has held steady and his control is still very good. Despite the down year and core muscle surgery, Topkin writes that Hunter may be holding out for a multi-year deal.

Pirates sign left-hander Cory Luebke

Cory Luebke Getty
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Eric O'Flaherty wasn’t the only reclamation project added by the Pirates today, as the club also announced that they have signed left-hander Cory Luebke to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Luebke once looked like a solid rotation piece for the Padres, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since April 27, 2012. He’s undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries since. Now 30 years old, he logged seven innings in the minors last season before requiring a procedure to remove loose bodies around a nerve in his forearm. The Padres cut ties with him in November after declining a $7.5 million club option for 2016.

It’s hard to count on much from Luebke at this point, but he told Adam Berry of MLB.com that he feels healthy and hopes to compete for a bullpen job in the spring.

White Sox reportedly considering Ian Desmond

Ian Desmond
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
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Many have speculated on a potential match between the White Sox and Ian Desmond this winter, but we haven’t heard much in the way of legitimate interest. That could be changing with spring training right around the corner, as MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports that Chicago is among the teams considering the free agent shortstop.

After turning the page on Alexei Ramirez this offseason, the White Sox currently have Tyler Saladino in line to serve as their starting shortstop in 2016. The 26-year-old is considered a strong defender, but he batted .225/.267/.335 with four homers over 254 plate appearances as a rookie in 2015. Desmond is coming off a nightmare of a walk year and has seen his strikeout rate climb by 8.5 percent since 2012, but he possesses more offensive upside and it’s not hard to imagine a bounceback campaign while calling U.S. Cellular Field home.

Similar to fellow free agents Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler, Desmond is attached to draft pick compensation after turning down a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Nationals. It’s a big reason why a potential deal with the Rays is reported to be a “long shot.” Chicago’s No. 10 overall pick in this year’s draft is protected, so they would give up their No. 28 overall pick if they sign a qualifying offer free agent like Desmond.

Pirates sign reliever Eric O’Flaherty

Eric O'Flaherty
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Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates that includes an invitation to spring training.

O’Flaherty was one of the best relievers in the league for the Braves from 2009-2013, posting a combined 1.99 ERA in 249 innings, but Tommy John elbow surgery derailed his career and he struggled for the A’s and Mets in 2015 while dealing with shoulder problems.

It’s tough to know if O’Flaherty is healthy at this point, but the 31-year-old southpaw certainly has a chance to be a nice reclamation project for the Pirates on a no-risk contract.