Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Nats pounce in 7th to derail Braves, Norris

Wilson Ramos' two-out chopper led to a couple of defensive mistakes that spoiled Bud Norris' otherwise impressive Braves debut and enabled the Nationals to complete a two-game season-opening sweep with a 3-1 win on Wednesday night at Turner Field.
Matt den Dekker capped Washington's three-run seventh with a two-run double, but he would not have had the pinch-hit opportunity had the Braves not added to the defensive mistakes that cost them on Opening Day. Shortstop Erick Aybar grabbed Ramos' chopper and made an off-balance and off-target throw to Freddie Freeman, who then saw his relay throw to prevent Ryan Zimmerman from scoring from second base elude catcher A.J. Pierzynski's glove.
While Pierzynski's fourth-inning single accounted for the only costly damage Stephen Strasburg sustained over six innings, Norris had allowed just one Nationals baserunner to reach second base before the seventh frame.
"[Norris] pitched tremendous," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We didn't make a play there, and they scored three runs. They should be all unearned runs, for me."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
den Dekker comes through in a pinch: On the day he was called up from Triple-A Syracuse, den Dekker broke a 1-1 tie by hitting a two-run, pinch-hit double, scoring Ramos and Danny Espinosa.
"It felt great to help the team win," den Dekker said. "It's good to be back here with the team. Coming here with a bunch of guys who are welcoming, it makes it easy for me to come out here and do stuff like that."
So far, so good: Given that Norris posted a 6.79 ERA in the 11 starts he made before being released by the Orioles last year, the Braves took a gamble when they signed him to a one-year, $2.5 million deal in December. But the right-hander made a good first impression as he limited the Nationals to four hits before his defense squandered the effort and a 1-0 lead.
Strasburg solid: In his first start of the season, Strasburg pitched six innings, allowed one run on six hits and struck out four batters. He also put himself in the record books by becoming the all-time club leader in strikeouts with 905. Strasburg struck out Norris in the third inning to break the record set by Jordan ZimmermannMore >
"Yeah, it's pretty cool," Strasburg said about the record. "I don't know how long it will last. It's cool to get the ball and add it to the collection."
Doubly impressive grab: Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte aided Norris' effort in the fourth inning, when he ranged far into right-center field to make a diving catch of Zimmerman's sinking liner and then throwing to first base to double up Bryce Harper, who had rounded second base before the catch was made. More >
"It was good I was able to make that play, but it never feels good when you don't win," Inciarte said.
QUOTABLE
"He just got off the plane and came through for us. Man, that was something. ... He came through with a big, big hit. That was huge because that was a close game. Both pitchers [Strasburg and Norris] were dealing. We got a couple of guys thrown out, they got a couple of guys thrown out. It wasn't really a game you could teach the kids about baserunning." --Nationals manager Dusty Baker on den Dekker 
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Nationals have won 23 of the past 32 games played against the Braves, dating back to June 21, 2014. Atlanta won 24 of the 31 games played against Washington from Aug. 22, 2012, through June 20, 2014.
WHAT'S NEXT
Nationals: The club returns to Nationals Park to play its home opener against the Marlins at 4:05 p.m. ET. Tanner Roark gets the start against Miami. He has a 3.32 ERA in 12 appearances against the Marlins. Roark was productive during Spring Training, allowing four runs in 18 innings (2.00 ERA) with 17 strikeouts.
Braves: Matt Wisler will make his season debut when Atlanta begins a three-game series against the Cardinals on Friday at 7:35 p.m. ET. Wisler refined his changeup with Hall of Famer Tom Glavine's assistance this past winter and impressed Atlanta's coaches with the enhanced mound presence he showed during Spring Training.

Schebler's walk-off double lifts Reds over Phils

That's two late-inning comeback wins for the Reds in two games of 2016.
Scott Schebler delivered a walk-off double with the bases loaded to give the Reds a 3-2 victory over the Phillies and the first two games of the season-opening series.
Once again, the Phillies bullpen did not get the job done. As Cincinnati was trailing, 2-1, in the ninth against reliever Dalier HinojosaEugenio Suarez hit a leadoff single and Devin Mesoraco squibbed a one-out infield hit between the mound and third base. Jay Bruceloaded the bases with an opposite-field single that rolled into left field.
Schebler, who was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts on the night entering his last plate appearance, drove Hinojosa's 2-2 fastball to the wall in left field, easily scoring Suarez and pinch-runner Tyler Holt with the go-ahead run.
"We really didn't get things going until the eighth inning in the opener and the ninth inning tonight," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "But, I think the guys feel like we have that ability. It's not going to be like this all year. I think we have a really nice offensive ballclub, but in the games like this, I don't think anyone in our lineup feels that we're going to be behind, even with the tough setup guys coming in and closers, that we can't still beat them. It's a good sign. It's a great way to start the season."
Phillies starter Aaron Nola gave his team seven innings of one-run baseball with one earned run, four hits no walks and eight strikeouts. Brandon Finnegan also had a strong night with two earned runs on three hits. Finnegan walked one and tied a career-high with nine strikeouts.
Caleb Cotham worked two scoreless innings in relief for the Reds and Blake Wood's scoreless top of the ninth earned him the victory.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Nola deals: If the Phillies want to speed up their rebuild they will need pitchers like Nola to take another step forward this season. He opened his 2016 season the right way, pitching well against the Reds. He allowed four hits and one run and struck out a career-high eight in seven innings. More >
"I kept thinking he threw too many strikes, but he just pinpoints that fastball and it is tough to square up," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said.
Be Like Maik: Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco had a fantastic spring, hitting a Major League-best nine home runs in Florida. He hit his first of the regular season in the first inning, when he ripped a two-run home run through the wind to right field to give the Phillies a 2-0 lead.
"Franco hit the crap out of that ball," Mackanin said. "[Finnegan] was throwing fastballs up in the zone to the previous hitters and it was like Franco was looking for a high fastball and he got it."
Suarez responds: After the Franco homer, Suarez lifted Nola's 1-0 pitch in the bottom of the first for a solo homer to left field -- his first of the young season. According to Statcast™, Suarez's drive had a 102-mph exit velocity from the bat and traveled 389 feet.
Fine Finnegan: In his first-ever home start for the Reds, Finnegan had a fine showing. The two other hits besides the Franco homer on a high first-pitch fastball were a two-out infield single by Jonathan Herrera in the first and a double off of Suarez's glove at third base in the third. After that, Finnegan retired 10 of his last 11. Over his first four innings, Finnegan threw first-pitch strikes to 11 of 15 batters. After relying on the fastball early, he showed more changeups in the second and third innings to keep Philadelphia off balance.
"I can't do anything about those hits," Finnegan said. "I wasn't too happy about it. Franco got a pitch out and up and he went with it. Luckily I came back and battled and kept the ball down in the zone. It kept us in the game."
QUOTABLE
"These things happen. We're going to have more opportunities to do the right things. We're just getting started here." -- Hinojosa, who blew the Phillies' one-run lead in the ninth.
"It's unfortunate that we let one get away again. Over the course of the season, it will even out. We definitely have the arms in the bullpen to get guys out. It's just early. We'll bounce back and be all right. If starting pitching keeps going like that, we'll be just fine." -- Phillies right-hander David Hernandez
Phillips scratched
Less than an hour before first pitch, the Reds scratched second baseman Brandon Phillipsfrom the lineup, citing a stomach bug. Ivan De Jesus Jr. replaced Phillips in an adjusted lineup.
First hit for Finnegan
Finnegan notched his first big league hit in the fifth inning, but really had to earn it with a 10-pitch at-bat vs. Nola. After he fouled off five-straight 2-2 pitches, Finnegan rolled a seeing-eye single up the middle with two outs.
"I pictured a scorched line drive or maybe a home run but if I get hits like that all the time, I doesn't matter -- they're hits," Finnegan said. "As a pitcher, people kind of doubt you as a hitter for sure. I'm not going to always get hits. I'm not Jay Bruce. I'm not Joey Votto. I'm going to go up there and battle and do my best to run his pitch count and hopefully get on base."
WHAT'S NEXT
Phillies: Right-hander Charlie Morton makes his Phillies debut in Thursday afternoon's series finale against the Reds. Morton is 4-2 with a 3.83 ERA in nine career starts against the Reds at Great American Ball Park.
Reds: It's viewed as likely a one-start turn in the rotation, but it will still be Robert Stephenson's Major League debut when he faces the Phillies at 12:35 p.m. ET. Stephenson, the Reds' No. 2 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, was inconsistent in Spring Training but the club believes he will be up for the challenge.

Nicasio dazzles as Bucs sweep Cards

The Spring Training sensation is for real, and so too are the Pirates. Right-hander Juan Nicasio fired six strong innings and the Bucs wrapped up a season-opening three-game sweep with a 5-1 win over the Cardinals on Wednesday night at PNC Park.
Nicasio, who earned a spot in the Pirates' rotation after an unexpectedly dominant spring, held the Cards to two hits and struck out seven in his Pittsburgh debut. Formerly a struggling starter with the Rockies and a middling reliever for the Dodgers, Nicasio blew past St. Louis' lineup with the same high-90 mph fastball and wipeout slider that propelled him through the spring.
Right-hander Mike Leake, making his Cardinals debut, battled through a 42-pitch first inning and wound up allowing four runs on seven hits and three walks over 4 1/3 innings. He walked in a run in the first then served up a Little League homer to John Jaso and a two-run double to Francisco Cervelli in the fifth.
Led by their latest successful reclamation project, the Pirates finished off their first three-game sweep of the Cardinals since September 2008. It's the first time since 2007 the Bucs have opened a season with three straight wins -- the same year the Cardinals last lost three straight to begin the season.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Easy as Juan, two, three: Nicasio enjoyed a breakthrough spring, striking out 24 batters in 15 scoreless innings, but such performances are often met with skepticism. Did it mean anything? Could he carry that success into the regular season? Nicasio immediately showed his stuff, striking out the first two batters he faced in a perfect first inning.
Labor intensive: Leake, who was so efficient and effective this spring, extended himself during a 42-pitch first inning. He navigated through the inning with only one run allowed but was limited in how deep he could pitch into his Cardinals debut because of the early workload. In contrast, Leake followed that with three scoreless innings on 39 pitches.
Leadoff speed? The Pirates slotted Jaso atop the order for his on-base percentage, not his speed. But Jaso wheeled around the bases in a hurry in the fifth inning, banging a triple off the right-field Clemente Wall and hustling to third base. Second baseman Kolten Wongsailed a throw into the camera well by the Pirates' dugout, and Jaso trotted home to complete the Little League "homer.''
Hazelbaker homers: A day after collecting his first Major League hit, Jeremy Hazelbaker drew his first Major League start on Wednesday. He made the most of it, too, connecting for a solo homer to get the Cardinals on the scoreboard in the sixth inning. Hazelbaker led the team in home runs this spring.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Pirates have tripled in each of their first three games this season. The last time that happened? The year was 1910, when Honus Wagner was still manning shortstop in Pittsburgh.
With his 1,381st career start on Thursday, Yadier Molina passed Ted Simmons to become the Cardinals' all-time leader in starts by a catcher.
The Pirates have won nine of their last 12 games against the Cardinals at PNC Park.
This was Leake's first loss to the Pirates since May 8, 2012. In 17 starts against Pittsburgh between then and Wednesday, Leake was 7-0 with a 3.08 ERA.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Pirates lost their challenge in the fourth inning when they tried to get a caught-stealing call on Gregory Polanco overturned. Instead, a one-minute, 45-second review of the call confirmed the ruling.
Crew chief Jerry Layne initiated another instant replay review in the eighth inning after Hazelbaker had been ruled out on a bang-bang play at first. What had been ruled as an inning-ending double play was eventually overturned, and Hazelbaker was awarded the base. The Cardinals could not turn the second chance into a run.
WHAT'S NEXT
Cardinals: After an off-day on Thursday, the Cardinals will return to the field on Friday to open a three-game series against the Braves at 6:35 p.m. CT. Barring an October visit, this series will mark the Cardinals' final time playing at Turner Field, where they are 24-43 all-time. Lefty Jaime Garcia will make his season debut against Atlanta's Matt Wisler.
Pirates: After taking Thursday off, the Pirates will travel to Cincinnati on Friday to begin a three-game series against the Reds at Great American Ball Park. Opening Day starterFrancisco Liriano will pitch the opener at 7:10 p.m. ET against Reds righty Alfredo Simon.

Crush powers O's past Twins in Gallardo's debut

The Orioles used a combination of power and bottom-of-the-lineup production to back Yovani Gallardo's Baltimore debut in Wednesday night's 4-2 win over the Twins at Camden Yards.
The Major League leader in home runs last year, Chris Davis gave a power-heavy Baltimore lineup its first homer of 2016 with a blast to deep center field. Davis, who picked up his first RBI in the process, went 2-for-4 on the night and showed no signs of letting up after signing a record-breaking seven-year deal this winter.
"I notice very early on, I think Chris seems to be in a rhythm about a lot of things in his life. You always wonder how things like that are going to affect people, but early on in the spring, you could tell he was the right kind of comfortable," manager Buck Showalter said. "He had a great spring all the way around, work-wise, engaged and everything. He's been in a good place since he got to Spring Training. He just seems to be in a good rhythm about his life. I'm real proud of him."
Red-hot Rule 5 Draft pick Joey Rickard picked up his first career RBI on a sac fly, whileJonathan Schoop and Matt Wieters each doubled in a run for the O's off Twins starter Kyle Gibson.
Minnesota's Joe Mauer drove in a run on a third-inning sacrifice fly, the only run allowed by Gallardo, while Trevor Plouffe hit a solo homer off O's reliever Mychal Givens.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Gallardo's Orioles debut: The right-hander, signed to a two-year deal with a one-year option, shook off any concerns of a lackluster spring. Gallardo held the Twins to one run on two hits and three walks over five innings, striking out four.
"It's exciting, it's always a good feeling overall," Gallardo said of his O's debut. "Just had to battle. Got into some pretty deep counts, they fouled off some good pitches. We got the victory, so that's the most important thing at the end of the day." More >
Sano can't handle shallow fly ball: Miguel Sano, who was moved to right field for the first time in his career this season, was challenged in the second inning, when Schoop hit a blooper to right. Sano was playing deep and couldn't quite get it to it, and he made an ill-advised diving attempt that allowed the game's first run to score.
"In that play where I dove, if I stay up, it's not an extra-base hit," Sano said through translator Carlos Font. "I have to stay back. I have to make sure not to give up any extra bases."
Brach, Britton wriggle free: Brad Brach, who relieved Givens to end the sixth inning, issued a pair of walks in the seventh to put the Twins in a threatening spot with two outs. But he responded by punching out Sano, striking out the side to end the frame. Zach Britton -- who picked up the save -- also pitched out of a precarious spot in the ninth, with a leadoff double leading to runners on first and third.
" A lot of guys, seems like the better a guy's stuff is, the more they're going to take pitches," Showalter said. "That's a tough game to finish a game with Mauer. Brach got some big outs, Mychal got a couple. We're lucky we had a day off. We're going to have to start passing the load around a little bit."
Buxton hits pair of doubles: Byron Buxton had one game with at least two extra-base hits in his first taste of the Majors last year, but he matched that total in just his second game of the year. He scored on a sacrifice fly from Mauer in the third after his double, but his second at-bat was more impressive, as he worked his way back from an 0-2 count to run the count full before lacing a double into the left-center field gap.
"It was good," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "He converted his first couple into doubles, and his second particularly, he really hung in there. He saw a lot of pitches before he got one out there to the gap." More >
QUOTABLE
"It's a little frustrating. You never want to start the season like that in your first outing. Part of the frustration is that I left Fort Myers with all my pitches feeling good, but tonight, my curveball was just all right and my slider wasn't very good at all. So it was a battle for five innings, having only two pitches." -- Gibson, who gave up four runs on four hits and five walks over five innings.
"So far, it's been good. And Minnesota's an organization that habitually through the years has always [had] guys who don't walk people, so it's a real tribute to our guys the last two games. But we have 160 more. So far, so good." -- Showalter, on his team's early high-walk totals.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
J.J. Hardy's fourth-inning double, which was upheld after a manager challenge, was the 250th of his career.
WHAT'S NEXT
Twins: Right-hander Phil Hughes gets the nod in the series finale, and he is looking to bounce back after a down year that saw him post a 4.40 ERA in 155 1/3 innings. Hughes lost 15 pounds this offseason, and he is hopeful his improved conditioning will keep him healthy after he missed time with a back injury in the second half of last year.
Orioles: The Orioles will send Ubaldo Jimenez to the mound for the series finale on Thursday night. Jimenez is looking to get back to last year's fantastic first-half form, and the righty last pitched at the team's spring facility over the weekend.

Castro, Tex lead HR parade; Yanks top Astros

The Yankees chased Collin McHugh early in a six-run first inning, then added a pair of three-run homers from Starlin Castro and Mark Teixeira as they enjoyed a 16-6 rout of the Astros on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.
McHugh recorded just one out in the bottom of the first, which saw the Yankees send 12 men to the plate and took 36 minutes to complete. Castro launched his first homer in pinstripes in the second inning and Teixeira went deep in the third inning, both off Michael Feliz. Every Yankees starter had reached base by the second inning.
"I just wanted to be the player that I used to be, to show everybody that I am a good player," said Castro, who collected four hits and drove in five runs. "I can be a better player if I work hard every day, and that's what I'm trying to do. [We] come in here every day and we focus on the game and try to be ready every day."
Carlos Correa homered twice off Yankees starter Michael Pineda, who permitted six runs and eight hits over five innings. Correa hit a solo blast to left field in the first inning and added a laser toward Monument Park in the fifth that was projected by Statcast™ at 462 feet.
"You never want to have a game like that," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "It was a mess from the beginning."
McHugh, a 19-game winner a year ago, suffered the shortest outing of his career.
"Pretty terrible when you obviously can't throw as many pitches as you want, can't get through the innings you planned for yourself and you set your team behind the eight ball," McHugh said. "Our guys did an amazing job coming back [early], but we've seen that over and over again with this group of guys. We're never out of any game."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Yanks knock McHugh out early: McHugh threw 43 pitches in the first inning and had just one out to show for it as the right-hander headed to the showers sporting a 135.00 ERA.Brian McCann's two-run double highlighted the Yankees' onslaught as the Bombers saw 65 pitches from McHugh and Feliz. Teixeira, Carlos BeltranChase Headley and Castro also drove in runs in the half-inning.
"This is what we're capable of," Teixeira said. "You're not going to do that every night, especially against a good team, but when we have the entire lineup that's clicking, you're going to have a couple of nights like this, and they feel good."
Springer slam: Astros right fielder George Springer launched an 0-1 pitch from Pineda in the second inning and sent it sailing high over the left-field wall Wednesday for his first career grand slam. The Astros didn't hit their first grand slam of last season until Aug. 1.
Starlin is darlin': Castro's seven RBIs are the most by any Yankee in his first two games with the club, and he joined Babe Ruth (1932), Yogi Berra (1956) and Tino Martinez (1997) as the only Yankees to collect seven or more RBIs in the first two games of a season. Castro started the night with an RBI single, hit a three-run homer in the second, doubled in the sixth and lined a run-scoring hit in the seventh. Castro also had a two-run double off Dallas Keuchel on Opening Day.
"Starlin Castro is playing tee-ball right now," Beltran said. "He's just seeing the ball good and hitting the ball where it's pitched. It's good to see him swinging the bat like that. He's a big, big key in our club. It's fun to watch him play. We just hope for him to stay healthy and continue to do what he does well."
Carlos the Great: Correa continued his torrid start, going 4-for-4 with a pair of home runs. He's 5-for-8 so far this season, continuing his ascent to superstardom after winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2015. He hit a solo homer in the second to left field and hit a missile off the batter's eye in the fifth for his third homer in two games.
"I'm seeing the ball very well and feeling good, and hopefully I can keep doing that and find a way to help my team win ballgames," Correa said.
QUOTABLE
"It's not a good way to start the season having used a 'pen like that, but in these situations, you're one good start away from recalibrating and resetting. These guys are pretty resilient." -- Hinch, after being forced to use four relievers, including Feliz for 107 pitches.
WHAT'S NEXT
Astros: The Astros will send right-hander Mike Fiers to the mound to face the Yankees in Thursday's 3:05 p.m. CT series finale at Yankee Stadium. Fiers made 10 appearances (nine starts) for the Astros after coming over in a July trade with the Brewers and was 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA.
Yankees: Nathan Eovaldi (14-3, 4.20 ERA in 2015) will get the ball as the Yankees wrap up their three-game series with Houston, preparing to hit the road after Thursday's 4:05 p.m. ET contest. Eovaldi was 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two starts vs. the Astros in 2015, including eight scoreless innings of four-hit ball on Aug. 24 in New York.