Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee hits second homer, denied crack at sixth shutout

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The Phillies’ Cliff Lee, already with a major league-leading five shutouts, was denied a shot at No. 6 on Tuesday.  Having thrown 124 pitches, he was removed after eight scoreless innings in what turned out to be a 2-1 win over the Dodgers.

Ryan Madson closed it out in the ninth, but not before giving up an RBI single to Casey Blake.

At least Lee did have more than the win to celebrate: he hit his second homer of the season off Ted Lilly.

Lee could have become the first pitcher to throw six shutouts in a season since Randy Johnson finished with that many in a 1998 campaign split between Seattle and Houston.  Besides Johnson, the last pitcher to record more than five shutouts in a season was Tim Belcher, who had eight for the Dodgers in 1989.

Lee’s homer was his second in five starts.  He went 107 career at-bats without one before homering for the first time against the Braves on July 9.  He’s the first Phillies pitcher since Randy Wolf in 2004 to hit multiple homers in the same year.

Despite his remarkable success when it comes to shutouts, Lee remains a big long shot in the NL Cy Young competition.  He has just seven wins that weren’t shutouts, and he’s 12-7 with a 2.83 ERA for the season.  His ERA ranks seventh in the NL and third on his own team behind Roy Halladay’s 2.51 mark and Cole Hamels’ 2.53.

Shohei Otani may come to the United States after 2017

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Last week it was widely speculated that Shohei Otani, the highly-touted Japanese pitcher/designated hitter who stars for the Nippon Ham Fighters, would not come to the United States to play due to changes in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The upshot: the new CBA caps money available to international free agents under age 25 at $5-6 million and Otani, 22, would be worth way more than that, so why take the pay cut?

Now, however, Jeff Passan of Yahoo reports that the Fighters are set to post Shotei Otani following the 2017 season. Passan says that his sources have told him that there are potential ways around the limit on spending for under-25 players like Shohei Otani and he links a Japanese article from Sponichi which says the Fighters would post him after the 2017 season.

It’d be interesting to see what that loophole is. Without knowing the exact terms of the CBA on this score it’s impossible to know, but one possibility is that there are different rules applicable to those with professional experience in other countries as opposed to amateur free agents.

Whatever the case, the notion that we could see Otani in the U.S. at age 23 or 24 is pretty exciting.

Report: Phillies close to signing Joaquin Benoit

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Joaquin Benoit #53 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the seventh inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 15, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly reports that the Phillies are close to signing free agent reliever Joaquin Benoit. An announcement is expected before the winter meetings end on Thursday.

Benoit, 39, has quietly been among the better relievers in baseball over the past seven years. This past season with the Mariners and Blue Jays, the right-hander put up an aggregate 2.81 ERA with a 52/24 K/BB ratio in 48 innings. That included a 0.38 ERA in 23 2/3 innings after the Jays acquired him from the Mariners.

Benoit suffered a torn calf muscle during a benches-clearing brawl with the Yankees near the end of the regular season. He’s expected to be healthy for spring training.

The Phillies have now added three relievers this offseason with Benoit, Pat Neshek, and David Rollins.