Ouch, that hurt: Cleveland Indians blown out, 17-1, by Toronto Blue Jays

TORONTO — After Corey Kluber beat Atlanta on Tuesday at Turner Field, he was asked about the Indians’ winning streak, a streak that would grow to 14 games.

Kluber said all the right things, but added it was important to remember that the Indians were going to lose a game sometime in the near future. Then he said the key would be how the Indians could use the momentum of the streak to continue to play good baseball.

Well, the Tribe’s franchise-setting winning streak ended Saturday in a 9-6 loss to Toronto. As for Sunday, well, let’s just say momentum has a big head start on Kluber and his teammates.

Toronto pounded Kluber and the Indians, 17-1, at Rogers Centre to split the four-game series. And always remember, what goes around comes around.

The Indians extended their winning streak to a franchise-record 14 games with a 19-inning victory Friday. The Blue Jays’ final two pitchers were position players Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney.

In Sunday’s loss, catcher Chris Gimenez pitched the last two innings for the Indians after entering the game in the sixth at third base.

Kluber (8-8, 3.79) was on fire coming into the start. He’d won four of his last five starts, but he had no answer for the Blue Jays.

Russell Martin hit a three-run homer in the first. Kluber allowed two more runs in the fourth before manager Terry Francona removed him and put the game in the bullpen’s hands.

Kluber allowed five runs on seven hits in 3 1/3 innings. He walked four and struck out four in his second shortest start of the season. He pitched 2 2/3 innings against Houston on May 9.

“All day it was just a fight for him,” said Francona. “That’s why I probably worry more about guys putting some stress on themselves. So we tried to get him out of there, because he had thrown a lot (of pitches) and they were all high-intensity, just because there were so many men on base.”

Kluber said he couldn’t make the ball go where he wanted it to go.

“I commanded the ball terribly,” he said. “It all starts with fastball command. I didn’t command it all day and that makes everything else tough to throw for strikes as well.”

Lefty J.A. Happ (11-3, 3.54) had his way with the Indians. He allowed one run in seven innings, striking out 11 and not walking a batter.

The Blue Jays put the game away by scoring eight runs in the sixth, their biggest inning of the season. Tom Gorzelanny absorbed most of the damage on the Indians’ side, allowing seven earned runs on four hits in 1/3 of inning.

After that Francona went to bullpen protect mode, which put Gimenez on the mound. He entered the game at third base in the sixth and moved to the mound in the seventh.

“I felt much more comfortable on the mound,” said Gimenez. “At third there was a ball hit and it was at me, but I didn’t even see it off the bat.”

Gimenez retired the Blue Jays in order in the seventh.

“I was throwing super changeups,” he said.

They were waiting for him in the eighth. Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion hit consecutive doubles. Russell Martinez singled home another run and Justin Smoak added a two-run homer.

“When there were two outs, I was think, ‘Can we just end this now,'” said Gimenez.

Gimenez allowed four runs on four hits in two innings. In 2014, he threw a scoreless inning against the Angels.

“There goes my 0.00 ERA,” said Gimenez.

PITCHf/x, which charts all MLB’s pitches, registered Gimenez’s 33 pitches as knuckleballs or changeups. Gimenez doesn’t throw a knuckler and said the changeups were fastballs.

“I was humping up on them, too,” said Gimenez, whose velocity ranged from 65 to 82 mph.

What it means

The Indians ended this 10-game trip with an 8-2 record. The 17 runs the Indians allowed were their most since allowing 17 against the Cubs last year on June 17.

The Tribe bullpen allowed 12 earned runs, the most since they allowed 13 against the A’s on July 10, 2004.

We scored one run?

The Indians scored their only run in the seventh when Yan Gomes singled home Carlos Santana with two out. Santana had two of the Tribe’s five hits.

The pitches

Kluber threw 95 pitches, 53 (56 percent) for strikes. Happ threw 101 pitches, 65 (64 percent) for strikes.

Thanks for coming

The Indians and Blue Jays drew 45,962 fans to Rogers Centre. It was Toronto’s 15th sellout. First pitch was at 1:08 p.m. with a temperature of 68 degrees. The roof was open.

What’s next?

The Indians open their final homestand before the All-Star break with a three-game series against the Tigers and a four-game visit from the Yankees.

Danny Salazar (10-3, 2.33) will face Detroit lefty Daniel Norris on Monday night in from of a sold-out crowd at Progressive Field. Salazar has won six straight decisions.

Best, worst of Tigers’ minor leagues at midseason

Reviewing a big-league team’s farm system at midseason is like being graded at midsemester. If a particular players has shined, be sure to keep it up. If a student hasn’t, there’s still time to catch fire.

The Tigers overall get a necessary “Incomplete” at the halfway mark of the 2016 minor-league system. They receive, in any necessary discussion, a grade of no better than “C,” although that’s an assessment made on a curve, given the thin ranks of a system that has been pulverized by trades, forfeited draft picks – and plenty of bad choices.

A look at the highs, lows, surprises, tumbles, injuries, and potential storylines that will play out during the final nine weeks of the 2016 season.

BEST START

Christin Stewart, Single A Lakeland: Stewart was last year’s draft pick gained as compensation for losing Max Scherzer to the Nationals. For much of the spring he led all of America’s minor leagues in home runs. He sits at 18 today, and that’s striking, considering the Florida State League’s large ballparks, and the way in which pitchers have been avoiding him. Note his .388 on-base percentage, and what it says about a left-handed power hitter. Pitchers are being careful with him. And Stewart is being careful about pitches he attacks.

BEST PITCHING RUN

Joe Jimenez, Double A Erie: This is a bit too much to digest, even if it’s the minor leagues. Jimenez has pitched in 29 games in 2016 at Single A Lakeland and then at Erie. It wasn’t until nine days ago he gave up his first, and only, run of the season. The Tigers will be making room for him at some point in 2017 and might invite him to Detroit for a September audition. But they aren’t rushing, all because he is 21 and still needs to polish a couple of secondary pitches. They are being delicate, also, with his innings and pitch counts. They know they have a prize here, a probable closer. And soon.

Gerson-Moreno-jerseys

FAST TRACK

The Tigers promoted two more pitchers in June, relocating Matt Hall and Gerson Moreno from Single A West Michigan, where everyone but Whitecaps manager Andrew Graham was getting bored by their dominance, and upgrading them to Single A Lakeland. They are on two different levels of development. Hall, a left-hander from Missouri State who was the Tigers’ sixth-round pick in 2015, is a starter and curveball maestro. Moreno is younger (20) and is a fire-throwing reliever. Follow their pitching lines the remainder of this summer. Interesting prospects.

HURT AND OVERLOOKED

Three higher-profile pitchers have been missing from most 2016 box scores. Spencer Turnbull, a right-handed starter and second-round pick in 2014 (University of Virginia), has finally resumed work following some shoulder issues. Kevin Ziomek, a left-handed starter who was a second-round pick (Vanderbilt) in 2013, had thoracic surgery last month similar to procedures experienced by former Tigers pitchers Jeremy Bonderman and Kenny Rogers and is recovering smoothly. Also, Trey Teakell, a ninth-rounder in 2015 (Texas Christian), is resuming work after an elbow strain.

BEST YOUNG POSITION PLAYER

Jose Azocar, West Michigan’s 20-year-old outfielder, who has been hitting .300-plus and wearing out video cameras with assorted plays. No shocker here. He came into the season with plus skills and potential and is on track.

BEST TURNAROUND

Derek Hill, another of West Michigan’s turf-sprinters who can make spectacular catchers and who, during the past month, has been swinging a better bat. He had a robust June (.327, .824 OPS) and, two summers out of high school, could re-establish himself as a serious prospect and first-round draft pick.

BEST OVERALL PROSPECT WHO’S NOT HITTING

JaCoby Jones was beating up pitchers at Double A Erie when he returned from suspension, but since he was shipped to Triple A Toledo, he’s been ice-cold. He’ll snap out of it. A decent chance he could be the Tigers’ everyday center fielder in 2017.

PITCHER POISED FOR BETTER SECOND HALF

Adam Ravenelle has been slapped around since he was promoted to Erie. But he’ll adjust. Ravenelle has a healthy chance of pitching, at some point next season, in Detroit’s bullpen. He was a fourth-round pick from Vanderbilt (2014) who has the arm and stuff to be a long-term, big-league reliever. Was sick and injured last year. Has rebounded this season and should settle in quickly at Erie.

PLAYER POISED FOR BETTER SECOND HALF

Cam Gibson. Kirk’s son has been on the ropes a bit with his bat in his first full season of professional baseball. But he’s making progress at Single A West Michigan as part of a defensively dazzling outfield in which he lines up alongside Azocar and Hill. In two months, compare Gibson’s July and August with his April, May, and June. It’s likely the numbers will be significantly different.

PLAYER POISED FOR BETTER SECOND HALF (CONT.)

Catcher Shane Zeile has had some fractures and hamstring issues since last season, but there’s a reason the Tigers grabbed him in the fifth round of the 2014 draft out of UCLA. He’s the son of former big-leaguer Todd Zeile and was batting .333 in June until his hamstring tightened. Expect him to flourish during the season’s second half.

BEST SUPER-YOUNG RELIEVER

Right-hander Moreno is only 20 and throws on the brink of 100-mph. Has secondary stuff and fires just enough strikes to avoid trouble. Should get better on that front. He, Jimenez, and Ravenelle are the best trio of relievers in the Tigers system.

SO STEADY HE’S OVERLOOKED

Beau Burrows, last year’s first-round pick out of suburban Dallas. Twelve games, 11 starts, and Burrows, who is 19, owns these numbers at West Michigan: 2.79 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, .214 opposing batting average. A young pitcher very much on track.

Royals’ rotation questions push to the forefront as Yordano Ventura struggles in 7-2 loss to Phillies

On the day before Yordano Ventura’s latest escapade — an injurious dud of a start in a 7-2 loss to the Phillies on Sunday — Royals manager Ned Yost sat inside his office at Citizens Bank Park and mulled the state of his starting rotation. As he evaluated the embattled unit, running through the names of his five-man rotation, he offered few noticeable signs of concern.

In the Royals’ first 80 games, the team’s starters had posted a 4.91 ERA, a number that was aided by Danny Duffy’s 8  2/3 -inning gem on Saturday night, but was still relegated to dead-last status in the American League. If the season had ended on Sunday morning, before an afternoon loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Royals still would have faced off against the Boston Red Sox in the American League Wild Card Game, the franchise’s third straight playoff appearance. But as the club hit the halfway mark of the season on Sunday, a familiar malady pushed to the forefront.

In a turbulent season marked by a rash of injuries and a crew of plucky fill-ins — a season defined by peaks and valleys, winning streaks and dead zones — a World Series title defense is being threatened by the scourge of mediocre starting pitching.

“I’m not panicking about any of our starters,” Yost said, tapping his fingers on the armrest of his office chair. “They’ve kept us in games.”

On Sunday, the statement was true in the most literal sense. When Ventura exited because of an ankle sprain in the third inning, he had surrendered four runs on two homers and the Royals still had requisite time to crawl out of the hole. But that is the charitable view. On the whole, the performance of Ventura sparked renewed questions about his reliability and shined a harsh light on the struggles of a rotation.

The Royals, 43-38, slipped into third place in the American League Central at the halfway point. Ventura allowed four runs in 2  2/3 innings, falling to 6-6 as his ERA jumped to 5.26. And here is the big picture: Entering the day, only 11 qualified starters in the American League had been worse than Ventura.

On Sunday, his day was wrecked by a three-run homer by Philadelphia’s Cameron Rupp in the bottom of the first and a towering solo shot from Cody Asche in the third. After two promising outings following a brawl in Baltimore, Ventura has allowed 11 runs across two starts since serving an eight-game suspension.

“He was in good rhythm and maybe the extra days that he was suspended kind of threw him off rhythm a little bit,” said Royals coach Pedro Grifol, who translated for Ventura. “But again, he’s going to continue to work to see if he can get back into that rhythm.”

The ankle sprain came while Ventura ran the bases in the top of the third inning. He had reached base on a single to right off Philadelphia starter Vince Velasquez, the second hit of his career. Moments later, Alex Gordon slapped a ground ball to second base, and Ventura attempted to avoid the tag from Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez. He rolled his ankle in the process, limping back to the dugout.

Ventura returned to the mound in the bottom of the third, only to allow his second homer of the day. Yost emerged from the dugout with assistant trainer Kyle Turner. Ventura’s day was over after just 36 pitches in 2  2/3 innings.

For the Royals, who boarded a flight to Toronto on Sunday evening, the series loss represented a missed opportunity against a rebuilding Phillies team. For half the season, the starting rotation has served as a restrictor plate on a team built to return to the postseason.

As the Royals’ rotation is constituted now, only Duffy will enter the second half with an ERA under 4.00. Among starting staffs in the American League, the Royals have allowed the most homers (81) and the third most walks (174).

The homers have been glaring, but pitching coach Dave Eiland says the Royals’ issues are more nuanced.

“I’ve always been taught: You can recover from solo home runs,” Eiland said this week. “You get into those three-run innings, that is what’s been hurting us. It isn’t the home runs, it’s the big innings.

“You look at our innings. We cruise along then, boom, we have a three-run inning. It’s killing us.”

The Royals believe Ventura’s issues are largely mechanical. His delivery has been inconsistent, which has led to an erratic release point. An increase in walks has crippled his performance.

The same goes for right-hander Chris Young, who signed a two-year contract in the offseason and has produced a 6.24 ERA. In a decision that signals the club’s unyielding faith in Young and a lack of suitable options, he will start Tuesday in Toronto after recording a 6.75 ERA during the month of June.

“I look at Ventura and I look at Chris Young and I do expect those guys to get better in the second half,” Yost said this weekend. “I think Ventura is making really good strides with his mechanics and staying within himself. I look for that to be more consistent in the second half and once (Young) gets into sync with his mechanics, I look for him to be better.”

Other than Duffy, who has been a revelation since his return from the bullpen, the Royals’ most dependable starters have been Edinson Volquez (4.90 ERA) and Ian Kennedy (4.04), who have mixed solid performances with occasional blowups. But club officials believe there is still upside in both pitchers. Kennedy is on pace to allow a career high in homers, a number that could regress during the second half. Volquez is well off his pace from last season, when he posted a 3.55 ERA in 200  1/3 innings. He is coming off a shutdown performance in St. Louis on Wednesday.

The hope underscores a larger belief among team officials. If the Royals’ rotation is going to improve in the second half, it will likely come largely from internal improvements. The club figures to be active in looking for rotation upgrades before the trade deadline, yet it remains unclear which pitchers will be available or whether Kansas City has the pieces to acquire one of the top arms on the market.

The Royals currently have two possible internal replacements in right-hander Kris Medlen and left-hander Mike Minor. But both have question marks. Medlen was roughed up in his last rehab start at Class AAA Omaha and was ineffective for a stretch after beginning the season in the rotation. Minor is coming off major shoulder surgery and is currently in a holding pattern after experiencing some shoulder fatigue during a rehab assignment.

Club officials have longed viewed Minor as a rotation possibility for 2017. But after signing him to a two-year deal during spring training, they viewed his potential contributions in 2016 as a bonus.

In an interview earlier this week, Royals general manager Dayton Moore said the progress of Medlen and Minor would not affect the club’s strategy before the trade deadline.

“It’s as much a product or a function of who’s available,” Moore said. “We have several internal options. We won’t hesitate to give them an opportunity.”

For now, the Royals will move forward, five games over .500 and just six games out of first place as the second half begins. On late Sunday afternoon, Ventura stood before his locker in Philadelphia, his right ankle wrapped in white athletic tape. He did not know if he would make his next start, he said. But he was hopeful.

At the moment, that’s all the Royals can be.

Twins Minor League Hitter Of The Month: June 2016

There’s no need to even tease our Minor League Hitter of the Month. It’s Daniel Palka. He was named the Southern League Hitter of the Month yesterday, and today we’ll just formalize something that’s been pretty clear since the second week of the month. What a month it was for the slugger in Chattanooga. However, one of his teammates deserves a lot of consideration for the top honor, and find out who else was considered for the award and others that deserve some honorable mention as well.

June is always such an interesting and fun month in the minor leagues. Players get named to and play in their league All-Star games in most of the affiliates. The draft adds several players to the organization. The players who have been in Ft. Myers for extended spring training get to start seasons that really count and show up in places like Baseball Reference. We are just past the halfway point of the minor league season, and it’s time to hand out some more awards!

Image-courtesy-of-Seth-Stohs-photo-of-Daniel-Palka

Before we jump to the top five hitters of the month, here are other hitters who are very deserving of recognition. These guys had a strong June performances. Congratulations to all of the players mentioned below.

  • C John Ryan Murphy (Rochester) – .279/.346/.456 (.802). 19-68 with nine doubles, a homer and 14 RBIs.
  • IF Leonardo Reginnato (Chattanooga) – .318/.367/.432 (.799). 28-88 with two doubles, one triple, two homers and nine RBIs.
  • 1B/OF Trey Vavra (Ft. Myers) – .296/.359/.423 (.782). 21-71 with three doubles, two homers and nine RBIs.

THE TOP FIVE HITTERS

Number 5 – Rochester – 1B Kennys Vargas – .213/.368/.468 (.836). 20-94 with seven doubles, a triple, five homers and 20 RBIs.

Overall, I think it is very fair to say that 2016 has been a disappointing season for Vargas. In 80 overall games, he has hit .231/.348/.415 (.764). Certainly not terrible, but clearly he would prefer to be in the big leagues. He has hit 13 doubles and 12 home runs, and he has driven in 51 runs. He’s done a better job of taking walks too. He has 51 walks to go with 74 strikeouts. He was a bit better in June, though the average was still very low. He got on base and he produced a lot of extra base hits and drove in runs.

Number 4 – Cedar Rapids – 2B Luis Arraez – .330/.359/.409 (.768). 29-88 with seven doubles and eleven RBIs.

The 19-year-old second baseman from Venezuela was in this exact spot in May when he hit .340 in Cedar Rapids. He continued to do a nice job setting the table at the top of the Kernels lineup. He participated in the Midwest League All-Star Game, held in Cedar Rapids. He led off and had two hits. After playing well in the GCL last year, I don’t think anyone was expecting him to play this well in Cedar Rapids this year. Overall, he is hitting .328/.380/.430 (.810) and made himself into a legit prospect.

Number 3 – Rochester – OF Eddie Rosario – .305/.342/.524 (.866). 32-105 with eight doubles, five home runs, and 15 RBIs.

OK, I was wrong. Eddie Rosario was not the rare exception of a guy who refuses to walk who still finds success in MLB. A sophomore slump hit him and hit him hard. He, like Vargas and Danny Santana and Oswaldo Arcia, found himself back in Rochester after early success in MLB. However, Rosario didn’t sulk. Instead, after a few games, he has been hitting great. Sure, he still isn’t walking a ton, but he has his stroke back and hopefully he has learned enough to know what he can and can’t hit. He should be back for another opportunity with the Twins very soon.

Number 2 – Chattanooga – OF Zach Granite – .363/.420/.529 (.949). 37-102 with four doubles, two triples, three homers and 10 RBIs.

In many months, the numbers that Granite put up in June would likely win this award. There was some surprise when Granite began the season in Chattanooga, but he has established himself as a terrific leadoff hitter and even generated a little power. But first and foremost, Granite does a great job of just getting on base. He definitely has led the way, initiating the offense for the Lookouts all season. Granite takes very professional at-bats, stays back well and uses the whole field. The hitter whose stock has grown most in the first half of the season just might be Zach Granite. If you want, you could say he’s been Rock Solid!

And the Twins Minor League Hitter of the Month is:

Chattanooga – OF Daniel Palka – .302/.372/.802 (1.174). 29-96 with three doubles, three triples, 13 home runs and 30 RBIs.

This award was won fairly early in the month. Palka was the Twins choice for Twins minor league hitter of the month in April, but he had a very quiet May. He began June with some big power and won the Southern League Player of the Week during the first week. For the most part, he remained hot throughout the month and ended the month on another home run tear. 13 home runs. 30 RBI. That type of production will win a lot of awards. Will it also get him some time at Rochester this season?

 

The Twins acquired Palka from the Arizona Diamondbacks back in November. Chris Herrmann was out of options and likely would have been removed from the Twins 40-man roster. Somehow, inexplicably, Terry Ryan was able to steal Palka in return. Now, Herrmann is playing very well in Arizona, but Palka is looking like he has the makings of a future 30-home run hitter in the big leagues.

 

Palka, who will turn 25 in October, was Arizona’s third-round pick in 2013 out of Georgia Tech where he was a teammate of Luke Bard. Last year in High-A ball, Palka hit .280/.352/.532 (.885) with 36 doubles, 29 home runs and 90 RBI. He even stole 24 bases, something he hasn’t done much of this season.

 

He made a good impression on the big league club this spring. The first time they had him dress with the big league team in a spring game, Palka hit two home runs. He hit another in a later game with them. He is almost certain to be added to the Twins 40-man roster this November. Will he have a spot in the Twins big league lineup in the next couple of years? We shall see.

June can be a tough month for these awards since generally players get fewer at bats due to All-Star games and such. But Daniel Palka and Zach Granite led the way with great performances, helping the Lookouts to a terrific month.
Congratulations to the June Twins Daily Minor League Hitter of the Month for 2016, Daniel Palka.

Freudis Nova among 12 international players signed by Astros

On the first day of the new international signing period, the Astros substantiated the expected by blowing past their $2.197 million allotment.

The team on Saturday signed the first 12 players of their 2016-2017 class, a group of 16-year-olds headlined by Freudis Nova, a right-handed hitting shortstop from the Dominican Republic. Nova, the fifth-best player in the class according to Baseball America, commanded a signing bonus of $1.2 million.

Venezuelan shortstop Yorbin Ceuta and Venezuelan righthander Angel Macuare were the next most-touted Astros signees. Ceuta, inked to a $1 million bonus, was ranked 11th by Baseball America and Macuare ($695,000) was ranked 40th.

The Astros also injected into their system two other shortstops, a second baseman, three other righthanders, two catchers and a center fielder.

Each of their signings hailed from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. All 12 will report to the Astros’ complex in the Dominican but won’t make their pro debuts until next year.

The Astros plan to continue to add players until the end of this international signing period, which runs through June 15. Their classes have averaged about 40 players a year.

This is the first time under fifth-year general manager Jeff Luhnow the Astros have exceeded their bonus pool, which means they will not be able to sign a player for more than a $300,000 bonus in each of the following two international periods. Ten teams are operating under that penalty for this period so the Astros decided to try and capitalize on the thinned competition pool.

“We feel great about the class and we feel very fortunate that ownership and Jeff and the front office have given us resources to go over our pool and pursue these players,” said Oz Ocampo, the Astros director of international.

Nova, the marquee name in the Astros’ class so far, was previously linked to the Miami Marlins before reportedly testing positive for steroids in February. Ocampo said the Astros conducted their own physical and medical assessments of Nova and were comfortable signing him based off all the information they collected.

“He’s one of the best athletes we’ve seen, one of the best athletes in this class,” Ocampo said. “He’s a shortstop with good defensive actions and a plus arm. Offensively, he’s got the tools to hit. He’s got a lot of bat speed.”

Ocampo called Ceuta one of the best pure hitters in the class, and said the Astros were especially impressed with his performance in games. Macuare is a 6-foot-3, 185-righthander with a fastball that already ranges from 90 to 94 mph and a power curveball, according to Ocampo.

The Astros’ first group of signings did not include any Cuban players despite multiple reports in April indicating the team agreed to commit $3.5 million to sign 22-year-old Cuban shortstop Anibal Sierra.

Ocampo said he could not comment on those reports.

“We’ve aggressively scouted all of the Cuban players in the market,” he said, “and certainly have and will continue to do our due diligence on all of those players.”

Matt Shoemaker and Angels get roughed up by Red Sox, 10-5

Matt Shoemaker’s run as the Angels’ unexpected ace tumbled to an unceremonious end Sunday afternoon, just as the Angels’ improbable stay atop Boston and the baseball world did the same.

A day after rattling the Red Sox for 21 runs, the Angels were routed, 10-5, at Fenway Park. Shoemaker, the 29-year-old right-hander who has forced front offices across the sport to watch attentively, was never as sharp as he had been for six weeks running. His functional fastball-splitter combination betrayed him.

“Those guys were a little more patient,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “He had to work a little more for outs.”

Initially, it worked. The first pitch he threw was a down-the-middle fastball to Mookie Betts, taken for a strike. The first pitch he threw to Dustin Pedroia, Boston’s next hitter, was a hanging slider whacked down the left-field line, foul. He fell behind, 3-0, to David Ortizafter Xander Bogaerts doubled, but battled back to 3-2 and fired a sharp splitter to induce an out.

Shoemaker stranded all of the baserunners he permitted over the next three innings, five in all. In the fifth, he gave up a one-out single to Betts, then gathered a groundout from Pedroia and was one more out from escaping another inning unscathed.

Instead, he walked Bogaerts and, on a first-pitch splitter, yielded a crushed double to Ortiz. Hanley Ramirez followed with a double, and the Red Sox had three runs. Pitching coach Charles Nagy visited the mound. Jackie Bradley Jr. singled, scoring a fourth. Scioscia visited the mound. Jose Alvarez entered the game and walked Brock Holt. Two more men notched hits before Scioscia returned to replace Alvarez with another reliever. Seven runs scored.

“That’s the most frustrating part about that: they did all that with two outs,” Shoemaker said. “All of it.”

The free pass to Bogaerts was the second Shoemaker issued on the day and the seventh since his remarkable run began May 21. In his last eight starts before Sunday, Shoemaker had struck out 68 opponents and walked five. He had averaged more than seven innings a start and given up just one dozen earned runs.

“Don’t like that walk,” he said.

The Angels walked into three early outs on the bases. Yunel Escobar began the game with an ill-advised attempt to reach second after singling. Mike Trout tried to take third on a wild pitch and was thrown out by two feet. And Jett Bandy was caught ranging too far from second on a caught line drive.

Sean O’Sullivan opposed the Angels, called up from triple-A Pawtucket to make the start. Drafted and developed by the Angels, his track record was not good. Yet they could not score against him until they trailed by a ton.

Leading off the sixth, Andrelton Simmons singled off Bogaerts’ glove and stole second. Escobar then singled through to left and Kole Calhoun and Albert Pujols doubled. The Angels amassed three more hits to score their final two runs in the seventh, after which the Red Sox responded with three runs against Joe Smith. The Angels’ six pitchers let Red Sox on base almost as many times they retired them — 21 to 24.

For the Angels, Saturday was paradise, the day everything went their way. They scored 21 runs and limited a great-hitting team to two. Sunday represented a return to the disappointing norm of their 2016 season.

Eighty-two times they’ve played. Thirty-three times they’ve won.

More injury woes for A’s before and during loss to Pirates

OAKLAND — The day started for Oakland with the A’s putting catcher Josh Phegley on the disabled list.

It ended with a 6-3 loss to Pittsburgh, completing the Pirates’ weekend sweep, and with the likelihood reliever Fernando Rodriguez is heading for the D.L. with a shoulder injury.

“It’s getting old. As soon as we get a couple of guys healthy, we get a couple of guys banged up,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “It’s the nature of the game, but it’s frustrating, very frustrating. It’s just been ridiculous.”

Sunday’s bit of ridiculousness came on Rodriguez’s 1-1 pitch to Jordy Mercer in the eighth inning with Pittsburgh holding a 4-3 lead. Mercer swung and fouled it away, but Vogt was less interested in the pitch result than in the pitcher. Less than halfway to the mound, Vogt signaled to the dugout something was wrong.

Oakland Athletics’ Daniel Mengden (67) pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first inning of their game at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, July 3, 2016. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group) ( SUSAN TRIPP POLLARD )

“I could tell something was wrong from his body language,” the catcher said. “He called me out and I knew it wasn’t to talk about a pitch. Obviously knowing his body language, I knew something wasn’t right. It’s not good, but let’s hope it’s not serious.”

Rodriguez was still in the trainers’ room as his teammates packed up and headed to the airport for their flight to Minneapolis for a three-game set with the Twins. Manager Bob Melvin said first up for Rodriguez would be an MRI. Given the Fourth of July holiday, it wasn’t immediately clear how quickly an MRI could happen.

“It’s a shoulder strain,” Melvin said. “We’ll know more a little later about how bad it is.”

Melvin said there was “the potential” of a move to the D.L. for Rodriguez. And while the veteran right-hander had been struggling in giving up 12 runs in his last 6.2 innings, the manager said there was no indication before Sunday of any shoulder problem.

“We did some bullpen stuff with him to try and get him right, because he had been struggling,” Melvin said. “It looked like better stuff today but no (shoulder pain before the eighth inning).”

It’s been that kind of year for the 35-47 A’s, who simply cannot keep players healthy. Phegley is on the D.L. for the second time with the same right knee sprain. Rodriguez hasn’t been on the D.L. to this point, but 10 other pitchers have.

“And they’ve all been freak things,” Vogt said. “They happen on one individual pitch or play. They’re trauma-type things. We are getting key pieces hurt just as we get key pieces back.”

The A’s have used the D.L. 18 times already, Rodriguez would be the 19th, and Oakland still has a seven-game road trip through Minnesota and Houston before getting to the All-Star break. By way of comparison, the A’s used 23 D.L. trips all of last season.

It’s getting difficult to keep track of who is wearing an A’s uniform and who isn’t. In patching the roster together, the A’s have made at least one roster move on seven consecutive days and nine of the last 10. And that’s before knowing Rodriguez’s status. Five times in the last six days the A’s have either taken players off the D.L. — Josh Reddick, Sean Manaea and Hill — or put them on — Sean Doolittle and Phegley.

“I can’t speak for other guys, but my injury was very freakish,” said Reddick, who came back this week after missing five weeks with a fractured thumb suffered on a headfirst slide at second base. “I’m not going to point fingers. It may be that this is just one of those freakish years.”

What isn’t freakish is the A’s inability to capitalize with the game on the line. In the sixth and seventh innings alone Sunday the A’s went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. For the game, it was two hits in 12 chances with men at second or third.

“We had runners at third with less than two out,” Melvin said. “In close games like that, we could have had a little different dynamic.”

 

  • After winning six of seven against the Angels and Giants, the A’s have now lost four in a row. That’s part of a season-long pattern of yo-yo baseball, win a bunch, lose a bunch more. Already this year the A’s have followed a 6-0 winning streak by losing nine of 11, gone 5-1 followed by 2-7, gone 5-0 followed by 3-13 and now 6-1 followed by 0-4.
  • Starter Daniel Mengden got through the first four innings without allowing a run but gave up four runs in the next two frames to fall to 1-4.

    “I stopped being able to execute my pitches,” Mengden said, pointing to an Adam Frazier triple and a bases-loaded Gregory Blanco bases-loaded single.

  • Rich Hill was the subject of attention from the scouts of more than half a dozen contending teams, but even with the trade deadline four weeks away, the lefty says he’s unconcerned and doesn’t want to leave.

    “I know they’re here, but they’re nothing I can control, so it doesn’t have any impact on me,” Hill said Sunday morning. “My focus is right here, right now. I don’t want to be traded. I’d love to stay here. It’s a good place, the A’s gave me the opportunity and I thank them for that. Things are looking up here.”

  • McBride took Phegley’s spot on the roster. The club is hoping Phegley will just need rest and maybe another cortisone shot to get right, but Melvin said the medical crew is “mulling over” the latest MRI on Phegley’s right knee. Melvin said that “the potential for surgery” is still on the table, although the A’s aren’t sure that’s needed now.
  • McBride was in the starting lineup, but it was a close call for him because he had to fly in from Nashville and arrived at the park about 90 minutes before game time. It’s his third jump up from Nashville to Oakland this year, and he celebrated with a double and a run scored in two at-bats.
  • Melvin said the next time out Hill, who was limited to 85 pitches in his return from the D.L. on Saturday, will not have pitch-limit restrictions.
  • Crisp made a throw to the plate in the 10th inning Saturday for an out, something unusual for the center fielder, who doesn’t have a great arm. But Melvin said Crisp’s throwing has been better now that he’s no longer bothered by the neck pain that ruined so much of 2015 for him.

 

Seattle Mariners rank 25th in ESPN’s MLB Future Power Rankings

The latest edition of ESPN’s MLB Future Power Rankings was hard on the Seattle Mariners.

According to Dan Szymborski, the Mariners ranked 25th out of 30 major-league teams.

The story, which is behind the ESPN Insider paywall, attempted to determine “how well each team is set up for sustained success over the next five years.”

Szymborski used a formula that weighed current talent (25 percent), future talent (45 percent), financial support (20 percent) and the front office (10 percent) to determine an overall score. Each club was ranked from 1-30 in each category, then its score was weighed. For instance, a perfect score across all four categories would be a 30.

Current talent was based on projected performance through 2017, while future talent captured projected performance from 2018 onward.

The No. 1-ranked Chicago Cubs almost earned a perfect score, settling for a 29.0 thanks to being ranked No. 1 in current talent, future talent and front office. They ranked sixth in financial support, but their best projected season is 2016, so I guess that bodes well for baseball fans on Chicago’s North side.

Szymborski was less effusive in his praise of the Mariners, who came in at 25th (9.7), one spot behind the 24th-ranked Kansas City Royals (9.7), but in front of the Los Angeles Angels (8.8) and Oakland Athletics (8.7), who came in at 26th and 27th, respectively. Future talent served as the tiebreaker, which is why the Royals edged the Mariners. Among American League West teams, the Texas Rangers led the way at eighth (22.5) and the Houston Astros were behind them at 11th (18.3).

The Mariners ranked 16th in current talent, 30th in future talent, 12th in financial support and 14th among front offices. Like the Cubs, their best projected season is 2016. Meanwhile, third baseman Kyle Seager is their most valuable asset and second baseman Robinson Cano gets the nod for “worst contract.”

“Some of the things necessary to get Seattle back into contention have happened in 2016,” Szymborski writes. “Most notably, Robinson Cano is playing like Robinson Cano — the end of that contract still looks terrible, but at least he’s a star contributor again. Unfortunately for the Mariners, some other things didn’t happen. Hisashi Iwakuma isn’t having a bounce-back season, Taijuan Walker remains inconsistent and Wade Miley hasn’t been an upgrade on Roenis Elias.

GM Jerry Dipoto isn’t responsible for the long-term issues of the team, only joining the franchise recently, but he still has to deal with the issues. The team’s farm system is very weak and, though the team spends more money than in the days of George Argyros and Jeff Smulyan, the Mariners are still not high rollers. There’s enough here to compete in 2016, but to build a consistent contender will take time and imagination.”

No doubt the Mariners’ farm system, which Baseball America and ESPN ranked 28th entering the season, had a lot to do with Seattle ranking last in future talent. But Baseball America dubbed that farm system No. 2 as recently as 2013, so feel free to be skeptical. The top five prospects that year, in order, were right-hander Taijuan Walker, catcher Mike Zunino, left-handers Danny Hultzen and James Paxton and infielder Nick Franklin.

Walker has yet to prove he can stay healthy through an entire season, Zunino has yet to prove he can hit big-league pitching, Hultzen has never made it past Triple-A because of a myriad of shoulder issues and Franklin, now with the Rays, is a career .205 hitter in parts of four big-league seasons.

This stuff isn’t as always predictable.

In 2016, the Mariners have received an unexpected contribution from reliever Edwin Diaz, who started the season in Double-A Jackson but used moving to the bullpen and a 100 mile-per-hour fastball as an avenue to leapfrog to the big leagues. Also consider prospect D.J. Peterson, who was approaching first-round bust territory by the end of April before catching fire at the plate and earning a promotion this week to Triple-A Tacoma.

It’s tough to find issues with ESPN’s rankings or assertions. If anything, Miley (6-4, 5.58 ERA) has been a downgrade over what Elias (5-8. 4.14 ERA) provided the rotation last season. The Mariners are tied with the Chicago White Sox for the 16th best record in the big leagues, at 40-39. According to Spotrac.com, they have the 12th highest payroll in MLB at about $150 million. ESPN ranks them 12th in financial support.

Dipoto and Co. probably deserve better than 14th, but Szymborski himself noted that the front office evaluation process was subjective, so it weighs less.

What do you think? Were the Mariners unfairly labeled? Feel free to weigh in in our comments section.

Cafardo’s Latest: Yanks, Rays, BoSox, Dodgers

Surprisingly, Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia has revived his career to the point that he might actually have value in a trade, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. The soon-to-be 36-year-old has bounced back from multiple underwhelming seasons in a row to post an excellent 3.17 ERA in 76 2/3 innings in 2016, through his strikeout and walk ratios per nine innings (7.16 and 3.52) are each below average and he’s on a $25MM salary through 2017. In addition to Sabathia, hot-hitting 39-year-old right fielder/designated hitter Carlos Beltran, left fielder Brett Gardner, catcherBrian McCann, third baseman Chase Headley, and starters Michael Pineda andNathan Eovaldi are Yankees who could have value around the deadline (not to mention their much-ballyhooed relievers, of course). The only member of that group who’s set to become a free agent at season’s end is Beltran. As Cafardo points out, it’s currently up in the air whether the playoff hopeful Yankees would move any of these players, though he wonders if clinging to postseason dreams is the right course for the 39-41 club.

More inside stuff from Cafardo:

  • Led by former Rays general manager and current president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers are in pursuit of Tampa Bay right-hander Chris Archer. The Rays aren’t planning on moving the 27-year-old as of now, though, which backs up FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal’s report from Saturday.
  • The presence of senior vice president of baseball operations Frank Wren, formerly the Braves’ GM, could lead the Red Sox to go after Atlanta right-hander Julio Teheran. Wren – who’s high on Teheran – is Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski’s right-hand man, Cafardo notes, and could push him toward putting together a package for the 25-year-old.
  • If they’re unable to swing a deal for Teheran, the Red Sox might turn their attention to Rays southpaw Matt Moore – in whom they’re interested. Moore, who has three more years of team control left via club options, also intrigues theAstros, Dodgers, Orioles, Royals, Yankees and previously reportedRangers.
  • With the possible exception of right-handed reliever Zach McAllister, theIndians aren’t going to give up pitching to augment their offense. Further, the organization has a reputation for keeping its payroll low and avoiding big-money acquisitions, which could take it out of the running to pick up a well-compensated trade chip. Athletics third baseman Danny Valencia, who’s on an affordable $3.15MM salary this season and has another trip through arbitration scheduled, is a potential target for Cleveland.
  • Hard-throwing Diamondbacks lefty Robbie Ray, who’s eighth in the majors in K/9 (10.42), is drawing interest from teams looking for starters. The 24-year-old has thrown 214 innings of 4.00 ERA ball dating to 2015 and won’t even become eligible for arbitration until after 2017, meaning he has four full seasons of club control remaining.
  • The Marlins are aggressively pursuing pitching, as evidenced already by theiracquisition of reliever Fernando Rodney and reported interest in starters Drew Pomeranz and Jake Odorizzi. However, the Fish might not have the prospects to land a significant arm for their rotation, writes Cafardo.
  • Blue Jays scouts are keeping a close watch over the Astros’ system, so the two AL playoff contenders could have some kind of deal in the works.

Braves take over Fort Bragg for a day

Although that’s not to say he wouldn’t re-enlist if the need arose. Edwards is only 97, after all, an experienced hand with a big gun and, as he’ll be the first to tell you, “I’m in great shape.”

Except for the fact that he is largely deaf thanks to trailing a six-ton, 155 mm howitzer through North Africa, Sicily, Italy and France in World War II. His eyesight certainly wasn’t effected.

“Bobby Cox!” Edwards declared, spotting the former Braves manager. “Let me hug you. I am so glad to see you.” He then sprung up from his seat like was a spry kid of 87. And he wrapped his lean arms around that whippersnapper Cox, a mere 75.

Mostly, the Braves and their company encountered far younger souls as they toured parts of the world’s largest military base (by population) before their game-for-the-troops Sunday night against the Miami Marlins. Quite separate from a unique game — the first professional regular season one ever played at an active military base — was the day-long interaction between those who play and those who serve.

It wasn’t exactly clear who the more interesting people were here Sunday: The nonagenarian WWII veteran or his current favorite Braves player, Freddie Freeman? The shortstop whose mistakes might get noted in the scorebook as an error or the 20-year-old parachute packer whose mistakes, well … he simply can’t make a mistake?

Players splintered this way and that prior to the 8 p.m. first pitch, mixing with the military as it packed parachutes, showed off its special ops chops, tended to its ill and injured and ate a hearty lunch.

A certain hierarchy prevailed in who went where. In high demand was an excursion to a special ops demonstration — not open to the media — which included, according to a deep inside source (OK, it was Braves manager Brian Snitker) “the weapons, the field packs, a video of their training exercises, the armed vehicles, looking through the night vision room, showing us a lot of different training.”

Braves-take-over-Fort-Bragg-for-a-day-photo-2

Players, by the way, were split on whether they could, or would want to, perform some of the usual stuff that goes on at the home of the Army’s Airborne and Special Operations Forces.

Upon hearing that former Bulldog/Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward, working for CNN, was treated to a jump earlier in the week, Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski feigned displeasure. “I’m disappointed Major League Baseball limited that for us. I don’t know why,” he said through a crooked smile.

As for pitcher Julio Teheran, as close as he may ever get to skydiving is Sunday morning, as he tried on a heavy military chute with both feet firmly planted on concrete. “I don’t know, I’m a little scared of heights,” he said. “If you have to one day to save lives, I’d do it.” That is currently not a part of his job description.

Asked how he thought baseball players would stand up to the rigors of special ops training, Fort Bragg’s commanding general, Stephen Townsend, had no reservations.

“I think they’d do great,” he said. “They are incredibly motivated, very fit individuals. I think they’d fit in great as soldiers. In fact I’m going to try to recruit a few of them later.” The pay cut may be more than they are willing to swallow.

The macro view of what this game meant, pointedly staged on the Fourth of July weekend, was evident in every player’s voice. Even players who were not U.S. born.

As Venezuelan outfielder Ender Inciarte put it, “They’re giving their lives for us, too. We live here, too. We work here. We appreciate what they do for us. Every time I see one of them I really feel respect for them and for what they do.

“Us foreign players are blessed to be in a country like this.”

But this was a day for players to get an up-close, micro view of those who wear or who have worn camo to work. This was a day for a 100 different individual transactions, exchanges that underscored the fact that the Army is a team, too, with a slightly larger roster.

They met 20-year-old chute packer PFC Andrew Henschen — not just any chute packer, but Fort Bragg’s chute packer of the month for May. He volunteered to come in on an off day Sunday for the good of his team.

His boss, Colonel Gavin Gardner, is a Georgia man through and through — born at Fort Benning, schooled at Georgia, his parents still living in Villa Rica. A Braves fan to his core. Col. Gardner had his free tickets for Sunday’s game but put them back in the pool for the enlisted men and women. “They’re the ones who do all the work, so they should get to enjoy this with their families,” he said.

Then there was the former artillery man Edwards.

“It’s an honor to meet you sir,” said the Braves first baseman Freemen.

“It’s an honor to be met,” the courtly 97-year-old said. Then, like a grandfather sharing lore with a young ‘un, Edwards launched into the tale of listening to the World Series while on the European battlefield, getting around the fact that the faint light of the transistor radio might give away his position.

A North Carolinian, still living near Fort Bragg, Edwards became like so many southerners a strident Braves fan once they moved to Atlanta and began beaming games everywhere. They retain a standing appointment on his television.

And, yet, he had never seen them in person until Sunday, when they made this unlikely stopover on the way to a road series in Philadelphia. The old artilleryman figured he better try to finagle a pair of tickets to this one. Who knows if he’d be nearly so spry the next time his favorite team dropped in on the home of the 82nd Airborne.

Baseball at Fort Bragg a big hit for MLB, military; Marlins win

There was a sense of wonderment from every perspective Sunday when Major League Baseball staged the first regular-season professional game on an active military base.

The unlikely convergence of efforts that brought the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves together on this field that rose from a ramshackle abandoned golf course in less than four months crystalized when the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade flew four giant military helicopters out of the clouds and over Fort Bragg Field as the national anthem was winding to conclusion.

The players, accustomed to being the featured attraction, were as awe-struck as anyone as they took the field against a backdrop of emblems of the various units of the 54,000 troops stationed at Fort Bragg lining the outfield fence.

“Both teams are experiencing the same thing. We’re like a kid again,” Marlins closer A.J. Ramos said.

There was a sense of wonderment from every perspective Sunday when Major League Baseball staged the first regular-season professional game on an active military base.

The unlikely convergence of efforts that brought the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves together on this field that rose from a ramshackle abandoned golf course in less than four months crystalized when the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade flew four giant military helicopters out of the clouds and over Fort Bragg Field as the national anthem was winding to conclusion.

The players, accustomed to being the featured attraction, were as awe-struck as anyone as they took the field against a backdrop of emblems of the various units of the 54,000 troops stationed at Fort Bragg lining the outfield fence.

“Both teams are experiencing the same thing. We’re like a kid again,” Marlins closer A.J. Ramos said.

Once the pageantry and interaction with soldiers was concluded, the Marlins put their focus on baseball for a much-needed 5-2 victory before 12,582.

J.T. Realmuto capped a three-hit night with a home run in the ninth inning. Christian Yelich, whose younger brother is in the U.S. Marines, had three hits and drove in a run.

“I think it definitely got the adrenaline going for everybody. I got goosebumps. A couple of other guys were talking about it too,” Yelich said of the pregame unfurling of a giant American flag and the helicopter flyover.

Left-hander Adam Conley, coming off a rocky outing in Detroit, came through with six shutout innings while holding the Braves to four hits.

“I know for sure this has been my favorite place to ever pitch in my life,” said Conley, who skipped the events on the base earlier in the day to concentrate on preparing for the start.

“It’s an honor that it falls on my day that I get to start here today. I knew however it went today was going to be an amazing experience for everybody involved.”

That they were doing it in a game that counted in front of a national television audience created an energy that enlivened players and spectators alike.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Lance Ludwig, 21, a Coral Springs native who serves in field artillery and described his job as “we shoot rockets.”

Ludwig, attending the game with his wife, said, “Not a lot of service members get to come out and see this. This is the first time this has ever been done and there’s only 12,500 seats, so it’s a real blessing to be here.”

Tickets were distributed to all of the units stationed here in proportion to their size. They ended up going predominantly to Braves fans.

Ludwig had help in representing Marlins interests from Miami native Randolph Delapena who wore a cap from their 1997 World Series championship and vowed to “make enough noise for the Marlins.”

Randolph, a command sargeant major, said when he heard about the game, “I was enthralled. I just got home two days ago from Germany from a training event. To make it back home to get to the game is pretty awesome.”

Players from the teams had an opportunity to participate in various activities during the day, including a visit to a parachute packing facility. Some got a primer in special ops training while others met with patients and doctors at the Womack Army Medical Center and dined at a mess hall.

“I saw the gun ranges were really cool, how far they have to hit the target,” Giancarlo Stanton said. “They have one of them where the target pops up and you’ve got to find it in a certain time and hit it. If you don’t pass — hit something like 32 out of 40 — you’ve got to go back down to different training. So that’s pretty cool.”

Kind of the military’s version of getting sent down to the minors.

But the players had a clear appreciation for the distinction between what they do and the work of those who serve here.

“They’re telling us how thankful they are that we’re here,” Marlins left fielder Christian Yelich said. “We’re thankful that they allowed us to be here. It’s the other way around. We appreciate everything they do for us to allow us to play baseball. To do this in honor of them is going to be special for everybody.”

LTG. Stephen Townsend, the base commander, pointed to the cooperative effort that made the unique game possible between the military, MLB, the players association and the community of nearby Fayetteville.

“I think what I want the soldiers and family members to take away is the respect, admiration and love of baseball and America on Independence Day for those who actually provide the independence,” Townsend said. “I want everyone to take away, I think, this team effort. This is a little example of what makes America special.”

MLB and the players’ association spent $5 million to build the ballpark, which took a major excavation to create a major league-caliber field out of an overgrown, unused area.

U.S. Army Special Ops Staff Sgt. Dillon Heyliger, who spent time in Iraq, marveled at the transformation as he surveyed the field a few hours before the game. He passes the site every day going to and from his duties and witnessed the field take shape from a wasteland.

“When they were digging it out they found hives of honey bees. They had to relocate them,” Heyliger said. “It was totally untouched and unused for a long time. People would just jog and walk through this area, and I guess it was the spot to dig up and build this.”

Marlins second baseman Derek Dietrich said the qualify of the infield measured up with any park in the majors.

Fort Bragg Field has the look of a spring training park, but the Jumbotron in left field was impressive. The Braves organist provided the soundtrack with Turner Field melodies.

For one night this Field of Dreams in the nation’s military heartland felt big-league all the way.

“I think it’s a great thing we’re doing, and I think we’ll probably see more of it,” Dietrich said.

Ageless wonder Bartolo Colon outduels Jake Arrieta, continues to prove value to Mets

There was a pitcher keeping a good offense in check on Saturday night at Citi Field, flummoxing a fearsome lineup. And no, it wasn’t Jake Arrieta.

It was Bartolo Colon, the most underappreciated starter in the Mets’ fearsome rotation (heck, maybe in all of baseball), and a player who, in another year, just might be on the cusp of All-Star consideration.

Colon isn’t San Diego-bound this year, not with the likes of Arrieta and Madison Bumgarner and Jose Fernandez leading an overwhelmingly deep collection of National League starters. But the old man on the Mets staff has been quietly impressive (again), continuing a solid three-year run that’s seen him be the perfect fifth starter for a staff full of young guns.

Guess who’s led or tied for the Mets lead in innings and wins in each of the last two seasons?

Yup, Bartolo Colon. And he showed why on Saturday, when he outdueled Arrieta in a 4-3 win over the Chicago Cubs, and really making just one mistake pitch through six innings of understated dominance.

“Sometimes, he escapes words,” Terry Collins said of Colon. “He just never ceases to amaze you, how he just handles the situations, whatever it is.”

“I think there’s a lot of talk about how old he is and the size, but the good thing is in this sport, as long as you’re healthy and have the ability to do it, you can,” added outfielder Curtis Granderson.

Really, every team should have a starter like Colon, a wily veteran who doesn’t take the game too seriously (teammates say he jokes around even on days he starts), but knows how to produce. Saturday’s win marked Colon’s seventh straight start of allowing two runs or less (excluding an abbreviated start against the Royals that he left after being hit in the hand by a line drive).

Colon has a 2.87 ERA and seven victories, tied for second on the team with Steven Matz. He’s walked just 17 batters, not quite Kershaw-good but fourth-best in baseball. Colon is 4-1 in his last eight starts, with a 1.96 ERA.

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Bartolo Colon (7-4, 2.87 ERA) may be the most underappreacted starter in the majors.

And on Saturday, he faced maybe his greatest challenge all year. The 43-year-old had to contain the powerful Cubs order, headed by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, had to find a way to beat the great Arrieta. Oh, and he had to do it while continuing to nurse a left leg injury that has nagged him since his mid-June start against the Pittsburgh Pirates, a left leg injury that hadn’t been spoken of until Saturday.

Not that this injury is anything to worry about in a season in which Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matz have all had more publicized injuries.

“For now it hasn’t been bothering me too much,” Colon said. “The only thing is once I land, it bothers me a little.”

Nothing seems to bother Colon, and nothing bothered him Saturday. He didn’t allow a hit through the first two innings, didn’t allow a run until the fourth, when his 1-0 offering to Rizzo went out of the park, a two-run shot that tied the game, 2-2. The Cubs never threatened Colon again, and he left after six innings, having staked the Mets to a 4-2 lead and having frustrated Chicago’s batters, many of whom seemed lost on how to beat the pitcher with the 86 mph “heat.”

“The key is just throw strikes,” Colon said of his game plan against Chicago. “A team like the Cubs who are aggressive at home plate, you have to try and get after the batters.”

It’s an approach that got the Mets to 43-37, with a chance to sweep the Cubs on Sunday afternoon. What more could you ask from your fifth starter? To beat out that infield grounder he hit in the fourth inning maybe?

Because that’s the one thing Bartolo couldn’t do.

“No,” he joked. “Never.”