By Stefan Stevenson

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

HOUSTON (TNS) — The Houston Astros will be a postseason player again in 2018.

The defending World Series champions are still loaded with a potent lineup and should compete for the most wins in the American League. Their everyday lineup is still arguably the best in baseball, but now, in ‘18, they have arguably the most fearsome starting rotation in the game.

Ace Justin Verlander, who joined Houston at the end of August via a trade with the Tigers, gives the Astros five dominant arms, including Dallas Keuchel, who won the Cy Young award in 2015. Keuchel took his turn stifling the Rangers’ offense on Sunday as the Astros won the series finale 6-1 at Minute Maid Park.

The Rangers have an off day before playing a two-game series in Seattle beginning Tuesday.

Keuchel has taken a back seat behind Verlander, Saturday’s winner Charlie Morton, Lance McCullers and Gerrit Cole, the former two-time first-round draft pick who joined the Astros’ staff after five seasons with the Pirates in a January trade.

All he has done is go 4-1 with a 1.43 ERA with a league-leading 86 strikeouts.

But Keuchel showed again on Sunday his Cy Young pedigree. He held the Rangers to three hits in seven innings to earn the win. He had a season-high eight strikeouts and allowed just two base runners into scoring position. The Rangers struck out 39 times in the three-game series and leads the majors with 424 this season. Carlos Perez’s solo homer in the eighth against Hector Rondon was it for the Texas offense.

Rangers’ starter Matt Moore left after allowing three runs on six hits and three walks in three innings. All three came in the second when Houston rallied after a lead-off walk by Alex Bregman. Yuli Gurriel’s RBI single scored Bregman, and Evan Gattis’ two-run homer made it 3-0. Moore was replaced by Jesse Chavez, who started the fourth. Moore threw 72 pitches. Chavez held the Astros hitless and struck out four in three innings of relief.

The Astros added three runs in the seventh, including a two-run homer by Carlos Correa against Kevin Jespen.

Reliever Brandon Mann, who was called up from Triple-A Round Rock before Sunday’s game, made his major league debut. He took over for Jepsen and allowed one hit in 1 2/3 innings.

Brad Peacock struck out the side in the ninth for the Astros.

By Ryan Lewis

Akron Beacon Journal

CLEVELAND (TNS) — The Indians delivered the mother of all beat downs with an 11-2 win over the Kansas City Royals on Sunday.

The Indians piled on Royals starter Danny Duffy, who labored through 3 1/3 innings, allowing nine runs on eight hits. The Indians took command with a five-run second inning and never looked back with ace Corey Kluber on the mound.

Jose Ramirez, Yan Gomes and Michael Brantley all slugged home runs and each drove in three runs. Gomes finished with four hits, which tied a career high, and fell a triple short of the cycle.

Francisco Lindor compiled a three-hit game and extended his hitting streak to 14 games, a career high. He has raised his batting average 76 points (.245 to .321) since the beginning of May. Rajai Davis was the lone Indians starter to not collect a hit.

After a slow April, the Indians hitters have heated up, and have scored at least six runs in four consecutive games.

Kluber (6-2) allowed two runs — both unearned after a Ramirez error — in seven innings. He allowed eight hits and struck out four, lowering his ERA to 2.34.


By Jeff Sanders

The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO (TNS) — Five relievers combined for seven innings Saturday night. One of them landed on the disabled list with a strained right lat. On Sunday, Clayton Richard took it upon himself to save the Padres’ bullpen any more wear and tear.

Even more so than usual.

The 34-year-old’s new infatuation with strikeouts continued with 10 more Sunday afternoon. More importantly, Richard was pitch-efficient in every other aspect of his game in sparing a depleted bullpen with eight strong innings in a 5-3 win over the Cardinals on Sunday afternoon at Petco Park.

His best friend, the ground ball, still resulted in two double plays, the most important a 5-4-3 inning-ender after the Cardinals scored two runs in the sixth on Harrison Bader’s triple and Jose Martinez’s ensuing single.

That was the only inning he in which Richard did not sit down a Cardinal via a punchout. Twice, Richard — who carried a career-best 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings into the game — recorded two strikeouts in one inning.

His eighth arrived in the seventh after Eric Hosmer’s impossible pick on a running throw from third baseman Cory Spangenberg and his ninth followed Jose Pirela’s glove-toss to Hosmer on a slow roller to second to start the eighth inning.

The 10th — Tommy Pham swinging through a 90 mph fastball — ended his Richard’s afternoon with eighth complete innings, tied for a season-high.

With Phil Maton landing on the disabled list a day after the bullpen went the distance in a 13-inning win, Richard’s effort couldn’t have come at a better time.

The margin for error was tighter than it should have been after Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright walked a career-high six batters in his return from an elbow injury.

Thanks to double-play balls from Spangenberg and Jankowski, Wainwright didn’t pay for the two he yielded in the first or the one he allowed in the second. But the one-time Cardinals ace walked three of the first four hitters he faced in the third, Spangenberg roped a single to right to plate the Padres’ first run and Freddy Galvis’ ensuing sacrifice fly off reliever John Gant opened up a 2-0 lead.

Back-to-back hits in the fourth — Jose Pirela’s run-scoring double and Franchy Cordero’s RBI single — doubled the Padres’ lead.

Carlos Asuaje added a sacrifice fly in the eighth, giving Brad Hand a three-run cushion to record his 11th save. He needed it when Bader dropped an opposite-field homer over the short wall in right to start the ninth and the Cardinals loaded the bases ahead of punchouts to end the game.


By Ryan Divish

The Seattle Times

DETROIT (TNS) — Somehow a walk-off loss to a bad team without its best hitter on a day when your best pitcher was on the mound wasn’t even close to the worst thing that happened to the Mariners on Sunday.

The 5-4 loss to the Tigers on Jose Iglesias’ single through the drawn-in infield in the bottom of the ninth capped a disappointing series against a rebuilding/tanking Detroit team that was playing without Miguel Cabrera and playing with guys that the average fan has never heard of before.

Primed to win yet another series with lefty James Paxton getting the start, Seattle instead failed to capitalize with runners in scoring position on multiple occasions (2 for 13 ) while stranding a small village of runners (11) on the bases.

And yet, that all gets sort of overlooked. It’s one loss. The Mariners suffered a far greater loss in the third inning that could impact multiple game outcomes down the road when Robinson Cano was struck on the hand by an 88-mph fastball from Tigers starter Blaine Hardy in his second at-bat. The ball rode up and in on Cano, who couldn’t get out of the way. It made a sickening sound as it caught the top of Cano’s hand flush against the bat. It fractured the fifth metacarpal below his pinky finger.

“It was a rough day to day,” manager Scott Servais said. “It’s a freak accident. I don’t know how long he’s going to be out or where were headed, but it certainly hurts.”

Cano was in obvious and immediate agony. After a brief conversation with Servais and senior athletic trainer Rob Nodine, he was removed from the game. Cano hates coming out of games, but he knew there was no playing through it.

“I knew right away,” he said. “It was kind of the same feeling I had when I broke my pinky toe in Japan.”

Cano will travel with the team to Minneapolis on Sunday night and then fly to Philadelphia where he’ll see a hand specialist on Tuesday to determine the extent of the fracture and the treatment for it.

“It’s broken bad,” he said. “I have to see what the specialist said. Maybe surgery, and we’ll go from there.”

But where to the Mariners go from there? Cano will be out at least a month if not longer.

“We need to have guys step up,” Servais said. “We’ve overcome some things before. It will be an obstacle, but like I said, we’ll regroup and step up and keep moving forward.”

Coach-speak aside, the Mariners will have to place Cano on the 10-day disabled list and bring someone up to fill his roster spot. The possible options include Taylor Motter and Gordon Beckham. While Motter has hit some homers in the past few games for Class AAA Tacoma, he’s hitting .198 on the season. Beckham came into Sunday hitting .300 with a .912 on-base plus slugging percentage. A veteran that’s played over 900 big league games, the Mariners trust Beckham in that role. He also as an opt-out clause for his minor league contract on Tuesday, which he may exercise if not added to the 25-man roster.

“It’s not an easy spot to fill,” Servais said. “I will talk to Jerry (Dipoto) and the guys and see where we are headed. Robbie is going to be out for a little while so we have to figure it out. Our lineup is deep enough to absorb losing Robbie for a period of time.”

Several Mariners fans want centerfielder Dee Gordon, who was converted to the position from second base this season, to move back to his old spot where he earned Gold Glove honors with the Marlins. Gordon has not worked out at second base at all this spring or in the season. The Mariners said they wouldn’t move him around. But this situation with Cano wasn’t anticipated.

“Not at this point,” Servais said. “We’ll have to see wait and see what’s best for the ball club and how long Robbie is going to be out and make decisions from there. We’ll look at other internal options at second base and go from there.”

Paxton gave the Mariners a decent start. Obviously he wasn’t going to be able to replicate the dominance of his previous two outings — 16 strikeouts over seven innings vs. the A’s and a no-hitter vs. the Blue Jays.

He pitched six innings, allowing three runs on six hits with no walks and four strikeouts. His streak of scoreless innings was halted at 18 when the Tigers scored two runs in the eighth inning on three singles and a fielder’s choice. He admitted there was some residual fatigue from the previous two outings and also some poor pitch decisions.

“Today my fastball wasn’t very good, I didn’t have a lot in the tank and wasn’t locating it well,” he said. “We waited too long to kind of switch over and start using more offspeed stuff. I didn’t feel quite as strong as I did the last two. I didn’t feel like I had everything to go get today. In the future, I need to do recognizing that early and flip the switch to the breaking stuff.”

Down 4-2, the Mariners rallied in the eighth inning, loading the bases against reliever Joe Jimenez. With two outs, Jean Segura hammered a hard groundball just off the glove of a diving Jose Iglesias at shortstop to score two runs and tie the game.

The Mariners lost it in the ninth on three soft groundballs. Juan Nicasio gave up an infield single Jacoby Jones. Niko Goodrum snuck a groundball past a diving Ryon Healy at first base, setting up Iglesias for the walk-off.


By Bill Shaikin

Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES (TNS) — If this isn’t rock bottom, the Los Angeles Dodgers don’t want to know.

The Dodgers have to be better than this, or so they keep telling us. They just got swept by Cincinnati Reds, the team with the worst record in the National League, after losing Sunday 5-3. They are one game out of last place in the NL West.

Their 16-24 start is the worst by any Dodgers team since 1958, the inaugural season in Los Angeles.

You are who your record says you are, right?

“That’s fair,” manager Dave Roberts said.

The Dodgers are 40 games into the season. The sample size is not small.

Maybe it is not inevitable that the Dodgers turn it around. Their record says they are not a good team.

“I don’t think we’re there yet,” Roberts said. “I think that we are a good team. We haven’t played like one consistently. But I think that’s a fair point: You are what your record is, so it’s up to us to prove otherwise.”

The home team Sunday did not play like a good team.

The Reds arrived at Dodger Stadium with the NL’s worst record. They left that way too, but only after concluding their first four-game sweep of the Dodgers since 1976, when the Reds’ lineup featured Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Ken Griffey — the original, not the Hall of Fame son.

The Dodgers scored nine runs in the four games. On Sunday they collected four hits in six innings against Luis Castillo, who started the day with an earned-run average of 6.47. They had more errors (two) than walks (zero) or hits with runners in scoring position (also zero). They also struck out 12 times.

They also might have lost a third starting pitcher to the disabled list. Rich Hill left the game in the sixth inning because a blister flared up on the middle finger of his left hand.

Hill missed three weeks earlier this season because of what was variously called inflammation, a cracked nail and an infection affecting that finger. He was on the DL twice last season because of blisters on that finger.

In this case, Roberts and Hill sounded optimistic that Hill could make his next scheduled start Saturday.

Hill said he came out because he applied the hard-earned lessons of knowing when to stop pitching when a blister appears.

“It wasn’t worth having it completely blow up and have to go back on the DL,” he said.

In his first start this season, Hill pitched six shutout innings for the victory. In his four subsequent starts, he has not won. He has not completed the sixth inning. His ERA is 6.20.

He also has given up seven home runs in his past 15 2/3 innings, including the two-run home run by Eugenio Suarez in the third inning Sunday, putting the Reds ahead to stay.

Joey Votto also hit a two-run home run for the Reds. Yasmani Grandal and Yasiel Puig each hit a solo home run for the Dodgers.

The Dodgers are at a loss for answers, at least publicly.

“I can’t explain it,” Roberts said. “I don’t have an answer for the lack of production.”

Cody Bellinger thought he had one, or two. The Dodgers expect to activate infielders Justin Turner and Logan Forsythe on Tuesday, and Bellinger lavished particular praise on Turner.

“We’ve got the best hitter in the National League, arguably, coming back,” Bellinger said.

He reminded his audience that this team is the same one that advanced to Game 7 of the World Series last fall.

“We’ve got the same squad as last year,” he said. “We’re going to keep grinding it out. Things will turn around pretty soon.”

Turner and Forsythe might be coming back, but Brandon Morrow and Yu Darvish are in Chicago, and Tony Watson is in San Francisco.

Corey Seager was in the clubhouse Sunday wearing a sling, after season-ending elbow surgery.

The Dodgers fly to Miami on Monday, and Roberts said he thought a change of scenery might help after a 1-5 homestand. Kenley Jansen dismissed that suggestion, saying the Dodgers have to play better wherever they are.

Hill volunteered that the effort is there. So, if the Dodgers are trying their hardest and putting in all the work, is the team somehow bound to get better, or is this just how the team is?

“I can’t really answer the question about how the team is,” Hill said. “I feel like it has to turn around at some point.”

He did not say when he believed that point might be.


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Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Twins road trip ended on Sunday the same way it began — with a walk-off loss.

Zack Cozart’s single to left field allowed Chris Young to score the winning run as the Angels nipped the Twins, 2-1.

Twins left-hander Zack Duke hit young with a pitch to begin the ninth, and Martin Maldonado bunted him over to second. Cozart jumped on Duke’s first pitch and ended the game.

The Twins were close to taking the lead in the eighth when, with Ehire Adrianza on first. Robbie Grossman sent a shot to right center, but Adrianza hesitated near second base before taking off for third. He was still waived home by third base coach Gene Glynn but was thrown out by a hair at home plate, replays confirmed.

It’s the sixth walk-off loss for the Twins. The 10-game road trip began with them being walked off in Chicago on a Trayce Thompson home run off of Addison Reed on May 3. But a lot of good things happened between those painful losses, as the Twins head home after a 7-3 trip, that has them back to two games under .500.

Right-hander Fernando Romero held his own in the matchup with fellow young phenom Shohei Ohtani. In five innings, Romero held the Angels to one run on four hits and three walks while striking out six. His scoreless innings streak ended at 15 2/3 when Justin Upton hustled to beat out an fielder’s choice that allowed Martin Maldonado to score.

Romero’s problem was running into deep counts — he used up 92 pitches in those five innings — and allowed the leadoff hitter to reach base in three of the five innings.

But the one run was all the Angels could muster against the Twins and their bullpen. And, once Ohtani was out of the game, the Twins scored.

Fans booed when Angels manager Mike Scioscia removed Ohtani following his leadoff walk to Logan Morrison. But Ohtani had thrown a season high 103 pitches by then.

Cam Bedrosian replaced Ohtani and gave up a single to Robbie Grossman that allowed Morrison to advance to third. Joe Mauer then pinch hit for Gregorio Petit and lined an RBI single to right as the Twins tied the game at 1. Fans really let Scioscia have it then. The Angels manager was just being careful with his hottest commodity.

Ohtani’s pitching acumen stood out at different times on Sunday.

Brian Dozier led off the game by pulling a 95 miles an hour fastball by third baseman Zack Cozart for a single. When Dozier batted again in the third, Ohtani didn’t give him a single fastball, striking him out on three pitches with breaking balls and other off-speed pitches.

He unleashed a 98 mph fastball while striking out Bobby Wilson in the third inning. Wilson was geared up for the heater when he returned in the fifth inning. When Wilson missed badly on a slider, Ohtani stuck with the pitch and watched Wilson drop to a knee while striking out.

Then there was the encounter with Eddie Rosario in the sixth. Ohtani dropped a 1-0 curveball over for a strike that hit 76 mph. The next pitch was 99 mph — his fastest of the game — that Rosario barely got a piece off. The next pitch was Ohtani’s nasty splitter that Rosario struck out on.

A player can learn so much from scouting reports. The Twins saw live an in color why Ohtani is coveted more as a pitcher than a hitter. He can exploit hitters who are overaggressive. If you wait for a fastball, he’ll drop a couple curveballs and a splitter on you. If he finds a weakness, he will exploit it.

“He knows how to pitch,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “He doesn’t try to blow everybody away.”

If he’s not trying, it could be scary to watch when he does.


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NEW YORK — Aaron Boone has preached patience all season as Giancarlo Stanton pulled out of the gate slow, all the while predicting big things.

“He’s going to have that stretch and, I think it will be a good stretch, where it’s a month of him carrying us, or whatever it may be,” Boone said late Sunday morning.

It is too small of a sample size to say that time has arrived, but this much was true Sunday afternoon: Stanton carried the offense in a 6-2 victory over the A’s on a chilly Mother’s Day at the Stadium, driving in three runs as the Yankees made it 19 wins in their last 22 games.

Stanton went 4-for-4, including his 10th homer of the season, making him 13 for his last 35.

And, regardless of the at-times mild hysteria accompanying his start, there’s this: at the end of action May 13 a year ago, a season when he won the NL MVP with the Marlins, Stanton was hitting .259 with 11 homers and 26 RBIs. Currently he’s hitting .252 with 10 homers and 26 RBIs.

The offense otherwise had a mostly quiet day but with Luis Severino on the mound, it didn’t much matter. The 24-year-old ace didn’t have his best stuff — at least, not the kind of stuff that allowed the right-hander to strike out a combined 21 hitters over his previous two starts — but that’s how high the bar has been set for Severino (6-1).

He nonetheless battled through six innings, allowing one run, five hits and a walk. Severino, who struck out seven, lowered his ERA to 2.14 from 2.21.

The Yankees (28-12), who improved to an AL-best 21-3 with scoring first, completed a 7-2 homestand and, after an off day Monday, start a three-city, eight-game trip Tuesday night in Washington D.C.

Severino didn’t take the mound until 3.50 p.m., the scheduled start delayed 2 hours, 45 minutes because of rain.

After Severino walked a batter but still pitched a scoreless top of the first, the Yankees essentially put it away in the bottom half against lefty Brett Anderson, who came in 0-5 with a 6.81 ERA in seven career starts vs. the Yankees.

Brett Gardner beat out an infield chopper for a single and Aaron Judge improved to 11-for-31 on this homestand by taking a 1-and-0 fastball down the right-field line for a double. Didi Gregorius, who snapped a 0-for-30 skid Saturday, walked to load the bases for Stanton. The designated hitter got ahead 2-and-0 before rocketing one, 117 mph off the bat, back up the middle, the two-run single making it 2-0. Gary Sanchez grounded into a 6-4-3 double play but Aaron Hicks, 4-for-27 on the homestand coming in, lined a full-count pitch whistling past Anderson’s head, the RBI single making it 3-0 (Hicks added an RBI on a fielder’s choice in the seventh that made it 5-1 and Judge’s RBI single in the eighth made it 6-1).

The A’s (19-21), who stranded two in the fourth, put two more on in the fifth but this time got on the board.

Jonathan Lucroy led off with a single and Marcus Semien singled with one out. Matt Joyce took a 98-mph fastball for strike three but Jed Lowrie lined a single to right. Judge came up throwing and had a shot at Lucroy but Sanchez couldn’t pick clean the throw home, making it 3-1. Khris Davis followed and just missed sending a 98-mph fastball out, instead flying to the track in center to end the inning.

Stanton pushed the lead back to three with two outs in the bottom half, rocking a 2-and-1 fastball to right-center, his third homer of the homestand making it 4-1.

Mark Canha’s homer off Chasen Shreve in the ninth made it 6-2.


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Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — The White Sox came from behind for a 5-3 win over the Cubs in the finale of the City Series at Wrigley Field, snapping their seven-game losing streak before a crowd of 40,537.

Lucas Giolito (2-4) notched the win despite a hairy first inning and seven walks overall. Bruce Rondon, a surprise choice as closer, pitched the ninth for the save.

After a two-out single by Tommy La Stella, Ben Zobrist flied out to end it. The Cubs wound up with only three hits on the afternoon as their win streak ended at five games.

After being pounded in the first two games, the Sox grabbed their first lead of the series with a two-run sixth inning off Kyle Hendricks, who fell to 3-3.

Nicky Delmonico’s triple tied the game at 3, before Matt Davidson’s sacrifice fly put the Sox on top. Leury Garcia’s run-scoring single off Brian Duensing in the seventh extended the lead to two runs.

Giolito walked seven over 5 2/3 innings, throwing only 50 strikes in 100 pitches. He threw three wild pitches and hit a batter, while yielding two hits.

The Cubs took advantage of Giolito’s control problems to take an early lead. Giolito walked three, threw two wild pitches and allowed four stolen bases in the first as the Cubs scored in the opening inning for the third straight game.

Javier Baez’s two-run single on a 3-0 pitch gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead. But the Sox answered with a solo home run by Davidson off Hendricks in the second, and tied it on Yolmer Sanchez’s RBI single in the third.

A throwing error by Willson Contreras on an attempted pick-off play at first preceded Sanchez’s hit, making it an unearned run.

Ian Happ’s RBI double in the fourth gave the Cubs a brief 3-2 lead, but Addison Russell stopped at third and was then thrown out at the plate on a grounder to first.


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The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — Gabe Kapler went away from the sputtering Hector Neris on Sunday afternoon as he turned to Edubray Ramos to record the final three outs of a 4-2 win over the Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

Ramos quickly retired Juan Lagares and Amed Rosario before walking Brandon Nimmo. That set up a showdown with Asdrubal Cabrera, who homered off Ramos two seasons ago and angered the pitcher so much with his celebration that Ramos threw over his head when they met the next season. Ramos worked a quick 0-2 count before Cabrera battled back to a full count. Ramos persevered against his old foe and forced a fly out to end the game.

Neris, who suffered a blown save on Friday for the second time in five days, did not warm up until the ninth inning started. It was the first time since last August that the Phillies faced a save situation and opted for a pitcher other than Neris. Gabe Kapler said he did not have a designated closer. He was simply playing the optimal matchup. And Sunday’s optimal matchup, the manager believed, called for Ramos.

Seranthony Dominguez tackled the eighth, which perhaps provided an even more glaring challenge than the ninth as he faced the heart of the Mets lineup. He retired cleanup batter Adrian Gonzalez, hit Wilmer Flores with a slider, struck out Michael Conforto and whiffed Devin Mesoraco with a nasty slider.

Tommy Hunter recorded the first two outs of the seventh but allowed a run before Luis Garcia entered to finish the inning. The bullpen inherited a two-run advantage after Nick Williams came off the bench in the sixth for a pinch-hit, three-run homer to take a 3-1 lead. Carlos Santana provided insurance with a homer in the eighth. The bullpen protected the lead and gave Aaron Nola his sixth win of the season.

The right-hander allowed one run in six innings to lower his ERA to 1.99 after eight starts. His lone run scored on a solo homer after Nola hung a curveball to Yoenis Cespedes. Nola struck out four, walked two, and allowed nine hits. Eight Mets reached base against Nola but only one scored. He loaded the bases with one out in the first but escaped unscathed.


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The Mercury News

PITTSBURGH — With a 10-game road trip coming to a close and a cross-country flight on their evening itinerary, the Giants arrived at PNC Park on Mother’s Day 0-for-Pennsylvania.

Thanks to the work of veteran starter Derek Holland and a sixth-inning outburst from the Giants’ offense, the club ensured the journey home will be a happy one as it snapped a six-game losing streak.

Holland became the first Giants starter to record a quality start in more than a week as the Giants downed the Pirates 5-0 to cap off a 4-6 road trip that featured four losses in Philadelphia and two more to begin the weekend in Pittsburgh.

“This was huge,” Holland said. “When we were out in the bullpen, (pitching coach) Curt Young reminded me, ‘We need you today, you’ve got to really step up.’ “

After forcing Pirates outfielders to race all over the grass at PNC Park for the first five innings of Sunday’s contest, the Giants finally hit a few balls where Pittsburgh players couldn’t track them down.

Former Pirate Gorkys Hernandez broke a 0-0 tie with his second home run of the year, a 402-foot shot that barely sailed over the outstretched glove of left fielder Corey Dickerson to lead off the sixth inning.

Later in the inning, an RBI single from Brandon Crawford forced Pirates manager Clint Hurdle to remove starter Ivan Nova, but the contact wasn’t any softer when reliever Richard Rodriguez entered the game.

On the first pitch of Rodriguez’s outing, catcher Nick Hundley slugged a three-run home run into the left field corner to break open the game and push the Giants ahead 5-0. The three-run blast was the fifth hit by the Giants this season after the club hit just seven all of last year.

“We hit probably nine or 10 balls right on the screws that their outfielders made plays on so it was nice to get a couple over the wall and open up the game a little,” Hundley said.

Hernandez became the second former Pirate in the last two days to homer against his old club, joining infielder Alen Hanson who blasted a pitch into the right field bleachers on Saturday. Neither Hernandez or Hanson hit a home run during their tenures with Pittsburgh.

Salvaging the final game of a three-game set and ending a losing skid before flying home was possible thanks to Holland, who turned in his best start of the year and pitched his way around leadoff base runners in three different innings.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Holland said. “Any time these guys get on base, you’ve got to try to keep the damage down. I’ve got to give the credit to Hundo who kept pushing me.”

With a 5.70 ERA entering Sunday’s series-finale, Holland logged 6 and 1/3 innings of work and pitched into the seventh for the first time this season. The left-hander had allowed at least three earned runs in each of his past five starts, but kept Pirates hitters off balance with a fastball that bumped up to 93 miles per hour and a slider that helped him rack up five swinging strikes.

“That was his best command of the year in terms of his ability to use it all,” Hundley said.

After Holland retired pinch hitter Adam Frazier in the top of the seventh, manager Bruce Bochy tabbed Reyes Moronta to replace his starter, who finished the day with four hits allowed and seven strikeouts.

Though the floodgates finally did open for the Giants, their lineup spent the first several innings scalding fastballs from Nova that resulted in nothing more than hard-hit outs. Six of Nova’s pitches in the first five innings left bats with exit velocities greater than 100 miles per hour, and all landed in his outfielders’ gloves.

In the first inning alone, Hernandez, Andrew McCutchen and Brandon Belt all slammed Nova fastballs more than 340 feet into the outfield, but a well-positioned Pirates defense tracked down each flyball.

“You’re hoping it’s not one of those games where you have buzzard’s luck, but we did have some hard outs,” Bochy said. “I thought we had some really good at-bats and we finally broke through.”

In the fourth inning, a double down the right field line by Belt offered the Giants a pair of chances to score the game’s first run, but an 85 mile per hour groundout off of Evan Longoria’s bat failed to move Belt over to third base. With two outs in the inning, Pablo Sandoval crushed a Nova heater to center field, but Starling Marte raced in and made a tremendous catch to pluck the sinking liner out of the air before it fell to the grass.

Like McCutchen’s first inning drive to right, Sandoval’s near base hit was clocked at 108 miles per hour off the bat, but it became the third different ball put in play by a Giants player with a hit probability of greater than 80 percent that wound up being caught.

For all the troubles the Giants had finding holes in the Pirates defense, Pittsburgh’s lineup also fell on hard luck. In the bottom of the third inning, Jose Osuna slugged a one-out double off the left field wall that nearly left the yard, but Holland followed it up by inducing a groundball to Crawford at shortstop who promptly threw an eager Osuna out while he was trying to take third base.

With two outs in the fifth inning, Marte obliterated a Holland curveball to deep left center field, but that ball also hit off the top of the wall and bounced back to Belt in left field. Marte’s 402-foot double nearly ruined Holland’s best start of the year, but the left-hander bounced back by striking out Josh Bell to end the fifth.

After Holland exited, Moronta, lefty Will Smith and closer Hunter Strickland finished the game off as the Giants captured their fourth shutout win of the season.

“We needed that in the worst way,” Bochy said. “I said it would take a really good pitching effort to get us out of this and give (Holland) credit, he took over and did a great job.”


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The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — The Orioles’ early-season tumble to the worst record in the major leagues was predicated by a bunch of patchwork lineups that were necessitated by injuries and inconsistency.

Now, just seven games into this nine-game homestand, the Orioles have put together their best stretch of baseball this season. Yes, it’s a reflection of how poorly this club played before this stretch, but out of nowhere, the Orioles are scoring runs in bunches and finally look more like their complete selves, and their 17-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays was an example of that.

The club has unquestionably benefited from the return of middle-of-the-order bats Jonathan Schoop and Mark Trumbo. But it is also now suddenly a team that is better able to put its pieces where they belong, and it’s resulted in wins.

The Orioles (13-28) — winners of five of their past six games, including three of four against the Rays, a team that outscored them 35-12 in an abbreviated two-game series at Camden Yards three weeks ago — have seen their share of routs this season. However, on Sunday, they were finally on the winning side of one with their largest offensive output this season, as well as their largest margin of victory in 2018.

Outfielder Joey Rickard, who was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk before the game when the team was able to option outfielder Anthony Santander because he fulfilled his Rule 5 draft requirements, had his first multihomer game in his first start back with the big league club as part of a four-homer attack.

In seven games since returning home from a winless road trip out west, the Orioles have scored 58 runs, averaging 8.3 a game. The Orioles averaged 3.4 throughout their first 34 games this season.

Dylan Bundy’s rebound start Sunday set the tone. Bundy — who failed to get an out in his most recent start and hadn’t gotten out of the fifth in any of his three previous starts, held Tampa Bay to two hits over seven scoreless innings.

The Orioles homered three times — all solo shots — in the second inning, including back-to-back blasted by Danny Valencia and Rickard to open the frame. Trey Mancini added his sixth homer of the season later that inning for a 3-0 lead.

Then the Orioles offense finally put together crooked-number innings, putting the game out of reach with a seven-run fourth that chased Rays left-hander Blake Snell from the game and a six-run seventh.

Valencia, who was just 1-for-6 against Snell but mashes against left-handers, tied his career high with four hits. Shortstop Manny Machado had three hits to improve his batting average to .350 and two RBIs to boost his American League-leading total to 38.

The 6-7-8 hitters in the lineup — Valencia, Rickard and Craig Gentry — combined to drive in 11 runs. Valencia, Rickard and Machado each scored three runs.


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Sun Sentinel

MIAMI — The baseball hung in the air for nearly seven seconds during the first inning of the Marlins’ 4-3 loss to the Braves on Sunday afternoon. As it did, the infield churned through the motions of an inning-ending popout off Nick Markakis’ bat.

Miami’s infielders watched the ball sail through Marlins Park into shallow left field. Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman, who began the play on first base, circled the diamond. The crowd of 7,435 assumed the inning was over. But Cameron Maybin and Yadiel Rivera didn’t end the play the way everyone anticipated.

The ball dropped between the two players, behind a crumpling Rivera and in front of a still Maybin. Freeman sprinted home to score Atlanta’s first run of the day as Rivera heaved a desperation throw wide of home plate. In his return to his position in left field, Maybin shook his head.

“I thought he said ‘I got it,’ ” Rivera said. “So bad communication.”

“Miscommunication,” Maybin said.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “Obviously, it’s just miscommunication. I don’t know if Cam’s talking. It depends on who’s calling what. Yadi’s there without saying anything and at some point, if the outfielder says anything, the infielder is going to peel off.”

As Atlanta scored early, the Marlins couldn’t.

Braves left-hander Sean Newcomb surrendered just one Marlins hit — Brian Anderson’s second-inning double — as Miami was nearly shut out for the sixth time in the first 40 games. The Marlins were only shut out eight times all of last season.

Justin Bour broke the shutout with a pinch-hit, three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth off Braves closer Arodys Vizcaino. But Miami couldn’t muster another baserunner.

Miami (14-26) has now lost six of its last seven games after four consecutive series victories. The Braves (24-15) won their fifth out of their last six games.

After the game, the Marlins held a closed-door, players-only meeting in the clubhouse.

“We have to pay attention to the little details,” infielder Miguel Rojas said. “We have to forget about the big picture and start thinking about the little things of the game a little bit more.

Marlins right-hander Jose Urena (0-6) suffered his sixth loss of the season by giving up three runs in six innings of work. After the defensive lapse in the first inning, Urena delivered four scoreless innings until Ender Inciarte hit a two-run home run to right field in the sixth inning.

Urena gave up four hits and struck out five.

“He’s thrown the ball good enough to be better than 0-6,” Mattingly said. “That’s for sure.”

Miami is now 0-9 in games started by Urena. But the 26 year old entered Sunday receiving the worst run support in the majors (2.25 runs per game), and the Marlins failed to score while he was in the game Sunday.

“You got to do the things you can control,” Urena said.

The first-inning misplay was officially ruled a RBI single for Markakis, but was another defensive mistake for the Marlins during the four-game set against the Braves.

During Sunday’s ninth inning, Starlin Castro’s throw to first base on a mundane grounder was too slow to get Inciarte. On Saturday night, Anderson tried to barehand a ball in right field that resulted in an Atlanta run. Later that game, Derek Dietrich allowed a ball over his head that led directly to one run, and indirectly to two more.

“I think we’ve been committing a couple mistakes in the past couple games that you didn’t see because we won one game and the other one, it was a non-factor,” Rojas said. “As a team, we have to pay attention to the little details, to the little things of the game.”

The Marlins managed baserunners against Newcomb, but couldn’t capitalize. Newcomb walked four and the Braves committed an error, but Miami went 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position against him.


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