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Another night, another historic HR for Judge

Slugger the fastest to 61 career long balls in terms of games played
MLB.com @BryanHoch

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge connected for another historic home run on Thursday during the Yankees' 4-3 win, becoming the fastest player to reach 61 career blasts in terms of games played.

The reigning American League Rookie of the Year launched a seventh-inning solo shot to left field off the Blue Jays' Tyler Clippard; it came in his 199th career game and gave the Yankees a two-run lead.

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NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge connected for another historic home run on Thursday during the Yankees' 4-3 win, becoming the fastest player to reach 61 career blasts in terms of games played.

The reigning American League Rookie of the Year launched a seventh-inning solo shot to left field off the Blue Jays' Tyler Clippard; it came in his 199th career game and gave the Yankees a two-run lead.

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The homer broke the record held by Mark McGwire, who hit 61 homers in 204 games for the 1987-88 Athletics.

Thursday's shot, Judge's fifth of the season, was calculated by Statcast™ to have come off of Judge's bat at 105.8 mph, with a projected distance of 394 feet.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees, Aaron Judge

That's one way to turn a triple play, Mariners

After grounding into double play, Astros' Gattis wanders off first base and is tagged out
MLB.com

SEATTLE -- Evan Gattis said he knew how many outs there were, he just was mad at himself for grounding into a double play.

Seconds later, the Astros' veteran designated hitter realized he'd instead wound up wandering into the first triple play in the Majors this season when he was tagged off first base by the Mariners in the fourth inning of Houston's 9-2 victory Thursday at Safeco Field.

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SEATTLE -- Evan Gattis said he knew how many outs there were, he just was mad at himself for grounding into a double play.

Seconds later, the Astros' veteran designated hitter realized he'd instead wound up wandering into the first triple play in the Majors this season when he was tagged off first base by the Mariners in the fourth inning of Houston's 9-2 victory Thursday at Safeco Field.

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The Astros had runners at first and second with no one out when Gattis hit a hard grounder to Kyle Seager at third. Seager stepped on the bag and threw to second baseman Robinson Cano for a double play.

Gattis made it to first base and walked off the bag toward the middle of the infield. The Mariners started pointing at Gattis, and first baseman Daniel Vogelbach tagged him for the third out.

After the game, Gattis walked to his locker and said, "Who wants to ask me about my dumb play?"

Everyone did.

"It was just a mistake,'' Gattis said. "I knew how many outs there were. It was about grounding into a double play. At the time I wanted to laugh on the inside because of how stupid it was. It was a 0-0 game. I think I got so mad I couldn't think straight. It's ridiculous."

Astros manager AJ Hinch wasn't sure how it happened.

"That was an ugly play and clearly not something we want to see happen,'' Hinch said.

Video: Must C Classic: Mariners turn an odd triple play

It was the first triple play turned by the Mariners since 2015 and 12th the club has turned in franchise history. It marked the first triple play the Astros hit into since George Springer did so in 2016, and their ninth in club history.

Video: HOU@CWS: Frazier starts a 5-4-3 triple play

Seager watched the play unfold after his quick throw to second and was surprised Cano didn't try to relay the ball to first for an initial triple-play attempt, with Gattis slow out of the box on the checked-swing hopper.

"I'd never been part of a triple play," Seager said. "That was pretty cool. It was an interesting one, as well. When I threw it to Robbie and he didn't throw it [to first] I was like, 'Oh man, he was going to be safe either way, but you might as well try it.' Then we ended up getting him anyway, so Robbie was a genius."

Mariners lefty Marco Gonzales was the recipient of the quick three outs to get out of the inning. He, too, said it was the first triple play of his career.

"It was a freak one, but I'll take it," Gonzales said. "I had no idea where Robbie was throwing the ball. It made me question how many outs there were."

Video: HOU@SEA: Correa stays in game after getting shaken up

It was an unusual inning even before the crazy triple play. After Jose Altuve walked to start the fourth, Carlos Correa fouled a pitch off his left knee and fell to the dirt in obvious pain. After walking it off and talking to Hinch and a team trainer, Correa remained in the game.

Moments later Correa scorched a 99-mph liner back to the mound that Gonzales managed to keep from hitting his face by getting his glove up just in time to deflect the ball away. That put two runners on to set up the triple play.

Video: HOU@SEA: Correa reaches on liner back to the pitcher

"I guess he was ticked after he fouled one off of him, so he took it out on me," Gonzales said. "It was one where you kind of see it off the bat and I almost had it. I'm just glad it didn't get me in the mouth."

Terry Blount is a contributor to MLB.com based in Seattle.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB

Seattle Mariners, Houston Astros, Robinson Cano, Evan Gattis, Marco Gonzales, Kyle Seager

Ohtani returns at DH to face Red Sox

Two-way phenom not worried about blister on right middle finger
MLB.com @mi_guardado

ANAHEIM -- Two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani is back in the Angels' lineup, batting sixth and serving as the designated hitter for Thursday night's series finale against the Red Sox at Angel Stadium.

Ohtani, 23, departed his start against the Red Sox on Tuesday after two innings due to a blister on his right middle finger, but the ailment isn't expected to affect his hitting. The left-handed slugger entered Thursday batting .367 (11-for-30) with three home runs and 11 RBIs. He has collected a hit in all seven of his starts at DH.

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ANAHEIM -- Two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani is back in the Angels' lineup, batting sixth and serving as the designated hitter for Thursday night's series finale against the Red Sox at Angel Stadium.

Ohtani, 23, departed his start against the Red Sox on Tuesday after two innings due to a blister on his right middle finger, but the ailment isn't expected to affect his hitting. The left-handed slugger entered Thursday batting .367 (11-for-30) with three home runs and 11 RBIs. He has collected a hit in all seven of his starts at DH.

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The No. 6 hole is the highest Ohtani has hit in the order this season.

"I just think, where our lineup is right now and just looking at the groupings, it's a good spot for Shohei," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We'll get him back in there, and hopefully give him a chance to look at some pitches and help us."

Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez got the start for the Red Sox against Angels right-hander Nick Tropeano. The Red Sox won the first two games of the series in decisive fashion, outscoring the Angels, 19-1.

Ohtani's blister is improving, and the Angels remain hopeful that he'll make his next scheduled start on the mound. If the Angels keep him on his once-a-week pitching schedule, Ohtani would start Tuesday in Houston. Ohtani played catch Thursday, and he will throw a bullpen session over the weekend to test the blister's progress.

"He's not very worried about it," Scioscia said. "We're looking at it very closely, the medical staff is looking at it closely. Hopefully it'll be a non-issue."

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Los Angeles Angels, Shohei Ohtani

Phils' Crawford scores from 1st ... on a single

During Spring Training, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler issued a motto that he hoped would define the team: #BeBold. Part of the motivation in that was that Kapler thought the team could surprise people with their performance in 2018.

As the Phillies took on the Pirates Thursday night, Cesar Hernandez and J.P. Crawford showed what being bold looks like on the field. With the bases loaded, two outs and facing a 3-2 count from Jameson Taillon in the second inning, Hernandez lined a single into center field. With all the baserunners in motion, Crawford scored from first. That's right. Hernandez hit a three-run single.

Morton, Astros' rotation continue to sizzle in win

Starter tosses 7 shutout innings to improve AL-leading ERA to 0.72; Altuve drives in 4
Special to MLB.com

SEATTLE -- Looking at the box score of the Astros' 9-2 victory over the Mariners, you probably wouldn't guess they were victims of a bizarre triple play and a starting pitcher taking a line drive off his pitching elbow.

Charlie Morton, however, shook it off and pitched seven shutout innings Thursday at Safeco Field, allowing only three hits and no walks while striking out eight in another dominant performance by a Houston starting pitcher.

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SEATTLE -- Looking at the box score of the Astros' 9-2 victory over the Mariners, you probably wouldn't guess they were victims of a bizarre triple play and a starting pitcher taking a line drive off his pitching elbow.

Charlie Morton, however, shook it off and pitched seven shutout innings Thursday at Safeco Field, allowing only three hits and no walks while striking out eight in another dominant performance by a Houston starting pitcher.

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Jose Altuve had four RBIs, including a bases-clearing double during a four-run fifth inning, but this game was all about the man on the mound. Morton improved to 3-0 and has the best ERA in the American League at 0.72.

Video: HOU@SEA: Altuve doubles twice, drives in four in win

And he did it despite a Robinson Cano line drive that careened off Morton's elbow in the fourth inning.

"He obviously came back strong and was throwing really good stuff,'' Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "I applaud him for being able to collect himself and finish the inning and some more strong innings after that. Just an incredible job."

Morton said anytime you get hit with a hard liner like that one, you have to give it a couple of minutes to see how you feel.

"It depends on how it's affecting you,'' Morton said. "I was able to stay loose for the most part."

Video: HOU@SEA: Morton remains in game after comebacker

The Astros now have three of the top four ERAs among AL starters, including Gerrit Cole at 0.96 and Justin Verlander at 1.35.

Morton has gone six innings or longer in all four of his starts this season, but that's nothing new for this staff. The starting pitchers for Houston have gone six innings or more in the last seven games.

"Yeah, but it can change quick,'' Morton warned. "In 2015, I won my first five starts, then I gave up nine runs in two-thirds of an inning. My goal is just go out there and have quality innings. It's pitch to pitch."

And moment to moment, in a game that seemed to turn in Houston's favor after Evan Gattis hit into a triple play in the fourth inning. The Astros scored all nine runs after that incident and finished with 11 hits.

"That was a weird game, sort of the tale of two different halves,'' Hinch said. "A couple of pitchers avoiding major injuries with comebackers [including Seattle starter Marco Gonzales on a Carlos Correa liner] and a triple play I don't even want to talk about."

Video: HOU@SEA: Hinch on weird game, Morton's outing

Max Stassi and Josh Reddick each hit solo home runs late before Altuve drove in his fourth run of the game with another RBI double in a three-run ninth inning.

"We knew it was a matter of time until we turned things around," Reddick said of the Houston hitters.

Video: HOU@SEA: Stassi belts a solo dinger to right

Reddick also praised the starting pitchers, who have kept games close and given the offense plenty of opportunities to finally get going.

"It's a lot easier in the outfield, I can tell you that,'' Reddick said. "You just have to jog in and out. We couldn't ask for more from those guys."

The Astros (13-7) won the final three games of the series with the Mariners after losing the series opener. Houston is 9-1 in its last 10 games against Seattle, dating back to last season.

Video: HOU@SEA: Reddick launches a solo jack to right-center

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
An error by Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager on Alex Bregman's grounder to third opened the door for the four-run fifth. Marwin Gonzalez immediately singled and Reddick followed with an RBI before a single and a walk loaded the bases for Altuve.

Video: HOU@SEA: Bregman scores on Reddick's fielder's choice

"We took advantage of a couple of weird plays,'' Hinch said. "We're an opportunist offense. We're pretty potent when you give us extra opportunities. It was nice to see our guys loosen up a little bit in the second half of the game."

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
As crazy a 5-4-3 triple play as you'll ever see. The Astros were victimized when Gattis became distracted after grounding into a double play and walked away from first base. It marked the first triple play the Astros hit into since George Springer did so in 2016, and their ninth in club history.

Video: Must C Curious: Mariners turn unique triple play

"It was just a mistake," Gattis said. "I knew how many outs there were. It was about grounding into a double play. At the time, I wanted to laugh on the inside because of how stupid it was. It was a 0-0 game. I think I got so mad I couldn't think straight. It's ridiculous." More >

SOUND SMART
Astros reliever Will Harris has recorded 18 consecutive scoreless appearances on the road, dating back to last season, the longest active streak in baseball. But it's only the fifth-longest in team history. The longest was left-hander Tim Byrdak, who had a 24-game streak in 2010.

UP NEXT
The Astros will move on to cooler temperatures when they start a three-game series against the White Sox on Friday night (7:10 CT) at Guaranteed Rate Field. "We're not wired to play in cold weather in this sport,'' said Hinch. "But both teams have to deal with it, and we have to toughen up a little bit." Verlander (2-0, 1.35 ERA) will make his fifth start of the season. The White Sox, who have yet to announce a starter, have lost four consecutive games and nine of the last 10.

Terry Blount is a contributor to MLB.com based in Seattle.

Houston Astros, Jose Altuve, Evan Gattis, Charlie Morton, Josh Reddick, Max Stassi

Freeman in fine form night after HBP scare

Braves relieved by Sanchez's outlook; Wisler up from Triple-A
MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman received the confirmation he was seeking regarding his left wrist and then successfully lobbied to be in the Braves' lineup for Thursday night's series opener against the Mets at SunTrust Park.

"It's not broken," Freeman said. "I told [Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos] and everybody last night, 'If it's not broken, I'm playing today.' It's not broken. So, I'm in there."

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ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman received the confirmation he was seeking regarding his left wrist and then successfully lobbied to be in the Braves' lineup for Thursday night's series opener against the Mets at SunTrust Park.

"It's not broken," Freeman said. "I told [Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos] and everybody last night, 'If it's not broken, I'm playing today.' It's not broken. So, I'm in there."

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Freeman didn't waste any time showing off his swing Thursday, hitting a sacrifice fly as the Braves pounced on the Mets' Matt Harvey to build a 3-0 lead in the first inning. Freeman also made a diving grab on a liner to rob Jay Bruce of a hit in the fourth.

Video: NYM@ATL: Freeman lifts a sac fly to open the scoring

Freeman was still feeling some soreness as he filled his normal roles as the Braves' first baseman and three-hole hitter. But that discomfort paled in comparison to the mental and physical pain he would have felt if his left wrist had been fractured by a pitch for a second straight year.

There was certainly reason to be concerned when Freeman's left wrist was struck by left-hander Hoby Milner's fastball during the eighth inning of Wednesday night's 7-3 win over the Phillies. The scene conjured memories of last season, when Freeman was hit in essentially the same area by Blue Jays reliever Aaron Loup's fastball.

"It missed [the bone] I broke last year by about half an inch," said Freeman, who missed seven weeks with the left wrist fracture sustained on May 17.

Freeman was thinking about the similarities when he felt the sting of Milner's pitch. This prompted him to exit the batter's box and walk directly to SunTrust Park's X-ray room. But he wasn't feeling the same throbbing and aching, which gave him hope.

Though Wednesday's X-rays did not show a fracture, Freeman was not completely relieved until he went through a variety of tests and underwent a CT scan while visiting Dr. Gary Lourie on Thursday morning.

"I was pretty ecstatic last night," Freeman said. "Last year, there was about an 80 percent chance it was broken when I left [the ballpark]. This time, when I left the stadium, Dr. Lourie said, 'I don't think it's broken at all.'"

After arriving at the stadium early Thursday afternoon, Freeman took some swings in the batting cage and had little trouble lobbying Braves manager Brian Snitker to put him in the lineup.

Asked if he had any concerns about allowing Freeman to play with a bruised wrist, Snitker said he did not.

Sanchez improves
The Braves certainly had reason to fear the worst when Anibal Sanchez was carted off the field with an air cast stabilizing his right leg a few hours before Wednesday's game. But it appears the veteran right-hander might miss just a couple of weeks with a Grade 1 right hamstring strain.

"It's going to be awhile before he gets on the mound, but it might be a lot sooner than we had thought," Snitker said.

Video: NYM@ATL: Braves broadcast on Anibal Sanchez's injury

The Braves initially thought Sanchez might be sidelined for a few months with the injury suffered while completing sprints in the outfield grass. But the pitcher's condition quickly improved Wednesday night.

Matt Wisler was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett to make Sanchez's scheduled start on Thursday night. Outfielder Lane Adams was designated for assignment to create a roster spot for Wisler. The Braves are hopeful Adams goes unclaimed on waivers.

"He's done a really good job," Snitker said. "Hopefully, everything works out that we can keep him. It's unfortunate, but it's just one of those moves we had to make."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. Listen to his podcast.

Atlanta Braves, Freddie Freeman

Arrieta fans 10 in dominant 7 innings vs. Bucs

MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- If this is anywhere close to the Jake Arrieta the Phillies will see every five days this season, the summer could be fun.

Arrieta dominated the Pirates in a 7-0 victory Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park. He allowed one hit and two walks in seven scoreless innings. He struck out 10. It is the first time Arrieta pitched seven or more scoreless innings with one or fewer hits and 10 or more strikeouts since he threw a no-hitter against the Dodgers on Aug. 30, 2015.

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PHILADELPHIA -- If this is anywhere close to the Jake Arrieta the Phillies will see every five days this season, the summer could be fun.

Arrieta dominated the Pirates in a 7-0 victory Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park. He allowed one hit and two walks in seven scoreless innings. He struck out 10. It is the first time Arrieta pitched seven or more scoreless innings with one or fewer hits and 10 or more strikeouts since he threw a no-hitter against the Dodgers on Aug. 30, 2015.

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Arrieta's 10 strikeouts are his most in a game since he struck out 10 Brewers on April 9, 2017. He got 14 swings and misses against the Pirates, his most since he got 15 against the Dodgers on May 26, 2017. The 14 swings and misses are encouraging, considering Arrieta had a combined nine in his first two starts this season.

Arrieta's sinker showed more life. It averaged 92.7 mph. It topped out at 94.8 mph.

It averaged 91.8 mph in his first two starts.

Arrieta allowed his only hit in the second inning when Francisco Cervelli hit a ball into the hole between third and short. J.P. Crawford made a play on the ball, but his momentum prevented him from making a throw.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Philadelphia Phillies, Jake Arrieta

Brinson's first 2 Marlins HRs come vs. former club

Milwaukee sent outfielder to Marlins in January deal for Yelich
MLB.com @JoeFrisaro

MILWAUKEE -- All Marlins center fielder Lewis Brinson needed to snap out of his slump was a matchup against his former club.

In his first two at-bats at Miller Park on Thursday against the Brewers, Brinson crushed a pair of home runs to straightaway center field off right-hander Chase Anderson.

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MILWAUKEE -- All Marlins center fielder Lewis Brinson needed to snap out of his slump was a matchup against his former club.

In his first two at-bats at Miller Park on Thursday against the Brewers, Brinson crushed a pair of home runs to straightaway center field off right-hander Chase Anderson.

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Back in Milwaukee for the first time since being traded in the Christian Yelich deal in January, Brinson connected on his first two home runs of the season. The first was a solo shot in the third inning, which he followed with a two-run drive in the fifth.

Video: MIA@MIL: Brinson haunts Crew, hits first Marlins' HR

His first came in the third inning and was a no-doubt laser that traveled a projected 429 feet, according to Statcast™, with an exit velocity of 113.5 mph off a 94-mph fastball. With a 19 degree launch angle, it ties for the sixth-lowest on a home run this season in the Majors.

Brinson's second home run came in the fifth inning and put the Marlins ahead, 3-2. He jumped on an 88-mph cutter on the first pitch of the at-bat and put the ball over the center-field wall again.

A couple of days off to work on Brinson's swing produced immediate results. Because he entered the road trip in a 1-for-36 rut, Marlins manager Don Mattingly didn't start Brinson either of Miami's two-games on Monday and Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.

Brinson has been refining his swing, and if using the middle of the field was discussed, so far things are working.

"I'm just trying to make the adjustments that I needed to, just small things," Brinson said. "I thank Mattingly for giving me time kind of get my thoughts together and get my game back together. I got good rest and good adjustment time."

• Yelich, Brinson see familiar faces in Milwaukee

Video: MIA@MIL: Lewis Brinson discusses his recent struggles

It's the first multi-homer game of Brinson's career. It's not like he's had many chances, though, having appeared in 21 games for the Brewers in 2017. Brinson hit two home runs for Milwaukee last season.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.

Miami Marlins, Lewis Brinson

Baez's flash, J-Hey's bash propel Cubs

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- The snow days gave the Cubs more time to work on their hitting approach in the batting cages, and that seemed to pay off on Thursday. Javier Baez provided the spark and Jason Heyward the power with a two-run homer to back Jon Lester and lead the Cubs to an 8-5 victory at Wrigley Field, snapping the Cardinals' winning streak at five.

All nine starters recorded at least one hit for the Cubs, with Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber driving in two runs each. The Cubs were playing just their second game this week after weather-related postponements. Thursday's game was a makeup of Wednesday's postponed contest, and the 47-degree game-time temperature and sunshine were welcome after snow at Wrigley Field. Manager Joe Maddon called it "balmy."

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CHICAGO -- The snow days gave the Cubs more time to work on their hitting approach in the batting cages, and that seemed to pay off on Thursday. Javier Baez provided the spark and Jason Heyward the power with a two-run homer to back Jon Lester and lead the Cubs to an 8-5 victory at Wrigley Field, snapping the Cardinals' winning streak at five.

All nine starters recorded at least one hit for the Cubs, with Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber driving in two runs each. The Cubs were playing just their second game this week after weather-related postponements. Thursday's game was a makeup of Wednesday's postponed contest, and the 47-degree game-time temperature and sunshine were welcome after snow at Wrigley Field. Manager Joe Maddon called it "balmy."

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Video: STL@CHC: Schwarber hits a two-out RBI single in 2nd

"It takes time to gel with that and it takes time for us to gel," Heyward said. "Moving pieces, things like that early in the season, and an inconsistent playing schedule, that will happen."

The Cubs' players kept hitting coach Chili Davis busy, even if there weren't any games.

Video: STL@CHC: Maddon glows over Cubs' win over Cardinals

"Good approach, good at-bats," Maddon said of the Cubs' 14-hit attack, which involved using the entire field. "It is so fun to watch. Keep your launch angles, keep your exit velocities, give me a good at-bat. Those were really good at-bats. Staying inside the ball, using the whole field -- I promise you if they stay on that path, balls will still go out of the ballpark at the pace they're capable of. With that, you'll see better situational hitting, you'll see higher batting averages, on-base percentages. I loved our approach today."

The weird week may have contributed to the sloppy play to begin the game. Lester hit Harrison Bader with one out in the first and Bader then stole second and reached third on a throwing error by Willson Contreras before scoring on a wild pitch.

Video: STL@CHC: Bader speeds home on Lester's wild pitch

"When you don't play consistently, the feel, the nuance, that escapes you," Maddon said. "Throwing and fielding in general was off just a little bit."

The Cardinals totaled two hits over six innings off Lester, who struck out seven and didn't allow a hit until the fifth. He even contributed to the Cubs' offense with a single in the fifth after Heyward's homer.

What helped Lester settle in?

"A four-run [second] inning," Lester said. "When you score four, it kind of opened it up and it makes things easier."

Video: STL@CHC: Lester fans seven, allows no earned runs

"He's a competitor," Maddon said of Lester. "He sizes up each situation. He wanted to go back out [in the seventh]. I said, 'Jon, this is not the time to go 110 [pitches] today.' If it was a closer game, I would've put him back out there."

Baez, moved up in the lineup for the first time this season, had two hits, including a triple, to increase his total of extra-base hits this season to 11.

"It seemed to work," Schwarber said of Baez batting second. "The guy's an exciting ballplayer. I feel we're always talking about Javy Baez. I'm not going to get tired of it. He's a heck of a ballplayer and a lot of instincts and he's a leader and he's fun to watch."

Video: STL@CHC: Morrow strikes out Bader to cap a Cubs win

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Baez provides spark: Maddon tweaked the lineup, moving Baez up to No. 2 in hopes he could provide some "energy." Baez did that in his first at-bat with a triple to the gap in right-center with one out. He then scored on Bryant's single that third baseman Jedd Gyorko deflected.

"That's good to know," Baez said when told of Maddon's plan. "I was trying to stay focused on the same approach, same swings. I didn't get excited, but that's one of my goals is to end up there in the lineup. I feel great, I'm still seeing the ball really good. I chased a few pitches today, but I took good at-bats." More >

Video: STL@CHC: Baez dives in for a triple in the 1st

Cubs bat around: The Cubs sent nine batters to the plate in the second. Heyward singled to lead off and moved up on Lester's sacrifice. Albert Almora Jr., who got a rare start against a right-hander, Luke Weaver, then hit an RBI single and reached third on Baez's single. Almora tallied on Bryant's sacrifice fly and Anthony Rizzo and Schwarber each added RBI singles for a 6-1 lead.

"We're just focusing on the work and the process besides results," Schwarber said. "That's more the thing. We've been doing some pretty good work in the cage. It's pretty much what we did in spring and we're continuing to work well."

Video: STL@CHC: Rizzo singles up the middle to plate Baez

SOUND SMART
Lester, who was making his 100th career start for the Cubs, improved to 5-1 with a 1.88 ERA (12 earned runs over 57 1/3 innings) in nine starts against the Cardinals since the start of the 2016 season.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Heyward's home run registered a 110.7 mph exit velocity, his highest on a homer since Statcast™ began tracking in 2015. The ball sailed 423 feet, which is tied for his second-longest home run. Plus, Heyward made a three-star catch on Matt Carpenter's deep flyout in the fourth, covering 116 feet in 6.3 seconds on a ball with a 55-percent catch probability.

HE SAID IT
"It's good, quality at-bats. We had good at-bats all day. That's nice to see. What people forget -- and I go back to this -- is that guys are still young and maturing at the big league level. In some other organizations, these guys would not be up here or they'd be knocking on the door to get here. [The young Cubs players] have been here three years, and some longer. Every day's a learning process, every day is figuring out something about themselves. We've had some good offensive games for the most part. If we can keep people off the basepaths, we'll be going in the right direction." -- Lester

UP NEXT
Kyle Hendricks will open the Cubs' three-game series in Denver against Jon Gray and the Rockies on Friday at 7:40 p.m. CT. Hendricks posted a quality start in his last outing against the Pirates but took the loss, serving up a pair of home runs for the second straight outing. The problem was fastball command, and the right-hander said that would be his focus between starts.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Javier Baez, Jason Heyward

Didi, Judge lead Yanks to win in CC's return

MLB.com @BryanHoch

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge connected for another historic homer and the bullpen fired 4 2/3 effective innings in support of CC Sabathia's return from the disabled list, helping to lead the Yankees to a 4-3 victory over the Blue Jays on Thursday evening at Yankee Stadium.

Judge's seventh-inning blast off Tyler Clippard provided some late fireworks and proved to be the difference, as the Yankees won for the third time in four games.

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NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge connected for another historic homer and the bullpen fired 4 2/3 effective innings in support of CC Sabathia's return from the disabled list, helping to lead the Yankees to a 4-3 victory over the Blue Jays on Thursday evening at Yankee Stadium.

Judge's seventh-inning blast off Tyler Clippard provided some late fireworks and proved to be the difference, as the Yankees won for the third time in four games.

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Judge's fifth homer of the season was the 61st of his career in 199 games, making him the fastest to reach that milestone in terms of games played. The previous record was held by Mark McGwire, who hit 61 homers in 204 games for the 1987-88 Athletics.

Didi Gregorius' team-leading 17th RBI of the season, a fifth-inning single off Toronto starter Aaron Sanchez, restored the Yankees' lead after Sabathia permitted two runs (none earned) and four hits over 4 1/3 innings in a 71-pitch effort, having last worked on April 6 due to right hip soreness. Chad Green worked 1 2/3 scoreless innings in relief to pick up the win.

Video: TOR@NYY: Gregorius rips an RBI single to right

Tyler Wade and Ronald Torreyes drove home second-inning runs against Sanchez, who worked six innings of three-run ball while losing to the Yankees for the second time in as many starts.

Video: TOR@NYY: Torreyes drives in Walker with RBI single

Toronto scored on a fourth-inning passed ball -- one of two on the evening for catcher Gary Sanchez -- and Luke Maile's RBI single in the fifth, a frame that opened with third baseman Torreyes committing the Yankees' American League-leading 18th error.

Curtis Granderson's pinch-hit RBI single off David Robertson drew Toronto within one run in the eighth, but Robertson retired the next two batters to wriggle free from a bases-loaded jam.

UP NEXT
Sonny Gray will have the words "pitch more athletic" ringing through his consciousness when he takes the ball against the Blue Jays on Friday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Gray believes that he has fallen into some bad mechanical habits, and hopes that a more aggressive mindset will yield better results. Marco Estrada starts for Toronto.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees

Here are some candidates to be Reds' next skipper

MLB.com @m_sheldon

After the Reds dismissed manager Bryan Price and installed Jim Riggleman as his interim replacement on Thursday, they appeared in no rush to immediately hire a new full-time skipper.

"It's premature to set a timetable on that," Reds general manager Dick Williams said. "But the point is we will be doing a thorough and exhaustive search process to identify the full-time manager. We have good internal candidates, but it will be a process we will undergo. It makes more sense to do that towards the end of the season because any external candidates, for the most part, are not going to be available until then."

After the Reds dismissed manager Bryan Price and installed Jim Riggleman as his interim replacement on Thursday, they appeared in no rush to immediately hire a new full-time skipper.

"It's premature to set a timetable on that," Reds general manager Dick Williams said. "But the point is we will be doing a thorough and exhaustive search process to identify the full-time manager. We have good internal candidates, but it will be a process we will undergo. It makes more sense to do that towards the end of the season because any external candidates, for the most part, are not going to be available until then."

Internally, Cincinnati could look to special assistant to the GM and Hall of Famer Barry Larkin. John Farrell, most recently the manager of the Red Sox, was hired in March as a scout. Third-base coach Billy Hatcher has expressed a desire to manage in the past.

Reds dismiss Price; Riggleman named interim

Currently available outside the organization are former Yankees manager Joe Girardi and ex-Tigers skipper Brad Ausmus. There are also numerous former managers who currently work as coaches for other clubs, such as Fredi Gonzalez of the Marlins and Manny Acta of the Mariners.

The choice of Reds fans would seem to be Larkin, a Cincinnati native and shortstop for the club during his entire 19-season career from 1986-2004. After working as a television analyst for several years, Larkin returned to the organization in 2015 and works as a roving Minor League instructor.

However, Larkin has no Major League or Minor League managerial experience. He did manage Brazil in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, winning a qualifying round before going 0-3 in the tournament.

Farrell, who won a World Series with Boston in 2013, was hired by the Reds to provide an external scouting eye on the club's own players and others around the league. When his addition was announced, there was no indication that he could be a manager-in-waiting behind Price.

Ausmus, who currently works in the Angels' front office, managed the Tigers from 2014-17 and won an American League Central title his first season. He is considered to be a more analytical-minded manager, which would fit the trend among front offices around the Major Leagues.

Girardi did a lot of winning with the Yankees from 2008-17, including the '09 World Series title. But his end with the club came amid reports that he had struggled to connect with a younger clubhouse. Cincinnati has one of the youngest clubhouses in baseball, with only a few players over the age of 30.

Video: Williams on replacing Price, Riggleman on taking over

Then there is Riggleman, who has been in this position before as an interim three times in his career. The 65-year-old has managed for all or parts of 12 Major League seasons for the Padres, Cubs, Mariners and Nationals.

"It's not the circumstances that anybody wants to get the job under," Riggleman said. "Bryan Price is a great man, and a great friend. I'm concerned about Bryan. The opportunity to manage, it's something that I love to do. I've always taken on that challenge with various clubs. It's a passion for me. I look forward to it. But this is not the circumstances you want it to happen."

Riggleman resigned from Washington amid a contract dispute during the 2011 season. He joined the Reds organization in '12, first as manager at Double-A Pensacola and then Triple-A Louisville in '13-14.

Riggleman returned to the Majors in 2015 to be Price's third-base coach, then moved over to bench coach, where he had served since '16.

For the time being, Riggleman will be tasked with getting Cincinnati back on track following a 3-15 start to this season.

"I think just try to see if we can win some ballgames, it's as simple as that," Riggleman said. "I will just try to stress the details of the game, which was what Bryan was trying to do. We've just got to find a way with the coaches, and myself, to really put an exclamation point on the details of the game. The hitting and the pitching are the two biggest areas of the game, they have to take care of themselves. But we as coaches and the manager can really try to pick up a win here or there with maybe some things we stress pregame that will hopefully carry into the game and help us win a few."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds

This is why the Red Sox are so good so far

Boston's offense has MLB's highest slugging, lowest strikeout rate
MLB.com @mike_petriello

Last year's Red Sox lineup was one of baseball's weakest in the power department, finishing last in the American League in home runs and next to last in slugging percentage. You knew that, because it was talked about endlessly all offseason, particularly regarding their months-long pursuit of slugger J.D. Martinez.

Despite the lack of power, it was always clear this lineup was going to be better. Way back in February, we noted that Boston projected to be baseball's third-best offense, and it wasn't just about Martinez. It was because it was all but a guarantee that Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts would improve from down years after playing through hand injuries, and because new manager Alex Cora's insistence that he wanted the lineup to be more aggressive seemed like a step in the right direction.

Last year's Red Sox lineup was one of baseball's weakest in the power department, finishing last in the American League in home runs and next to last in slugging percentage. You knew that, because it was talked about endlessly all offseason, particularly regarding their months-long pursuit of slugger J.D. Martinez.

Despite the lack of power, it was always clear this lineup was going to be better. Way back in February, we noted that Boston projected to be baseball's third-best offense, and it wasn't just about Martinez. It was because it was all but a guarantee that Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts would improve from down years after playing through hand injuries, and because new manager Alex Cora's insistence that he wanted the lineup to be more aggressive seemed like a step in the right direction.

Well, the Red Sox have been better, but at least early on, we may have undersold them by suggesting they could be the "third-best" offense. They're the best, by a lot, and a big part of that is because they're pulling off a trick that last year's World Series champions in Houston managed to do.

Boston has baseball's highest slugging percentage, at .485. It has baseball's lowest strikeout percentage, at 16.6 percent. The Red Sox are hitting the ball a lot, and destroying the balls they connect with. It's how you end up with baseball's highest runs-per-game, at 6.4. It's the perfect combination.

That's impressive on a team basis, but also look at what's happened on an individual basis. Ten batters have taken at least 30 plate appearances for Boston in both 2017 and '18. Every single one has had at least a small decrease in strikeout rate.

Now, let's be clear about one thing: While contact is good, simply making contact does not by itself make you a good offense. Last year, two of the five best contact teams were the punchless Royals and Giants, who were below-average offenses. When the 2015 Royals famously rode a contact-heavy approach to a title, the next two best contact teams were the A's and the Braves, who lost 94 and 95 games, respectively. It's good, but there has to be more.

Aside from the fact that it's still early in the season, how exactly have the Red Sox pulled this off? Let's check out three possibilities.

New faces
Because of the extended courtship of Martinez, and because he out-slugged everyone in baseball last season -- even Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton -- it's tempting to simply point to the fact that there's a new elite bat in the lineup. Martinez is fantastic, and he's hitting .313/.343/.578, while Boston is no longer giving time to Chris Young (.235/.322/.387 last year) or Pablo Sandoval (.212/.269/.354), so there's some truth to that. Martinez is wonderful. He'd help any lineup.

That said, Martinez has hit only 70 times so far. Pretty much everyone else is the same, other than the fact last year's rookie sensation at third base, Rafael Devers, is around from day one this year. They've helped, but it's not just about new talent.

Video: BOS@LAA: Martinez notches four hits, RBI in 9-0 win

Better health
Since much of the improvement is simply about existing guys performing better, this is a natural place to look, and there's some pretty obvious stories here.

We knew that Bogaerts' second-half slide was in some way related to being hit by a pitch on July 6, as he hit .308/.363/.455 before that and just .232/.321/.340 after, and he admitted as much during Spring Training.

"To a point, I do regret [playing through pain], but it's over with," Bogaerts told MLB.com in February. "We were in the heat of things, we were pushing for the playoffs. You don't want to be the guy on the bench not being able to help your team to win. You learn, and I definitely did."

Bogaerts was off to a smoking start (.368/.400/.711) this season before injuring his ankle.

We knew, also, that Betts playing through a thumb injury hampered his performance last season. He went from .280/.356/.490 through the end of June, and just .248/.332/.427 after that. 

"It's been going on for a couple months, but I was able to just kind of play through it," Betts said when he was forced to come out of a game against the Rays in September due to a thumb contusion. So far in 2018, he's been baseball's best hitter.

Finally, Hanley Ramirez, who struggled through most of 2017, underwent left shoulder surgery in October. After hitting .242/.320/.429 last year, he's slugging .322/.369/.542 so far.

Video: BAL@BOS: Ramirez cranks a two-run homer to left field

A new approach
This is the one that got the most press, simply due to Cora talking about being more aggressive. There's something to this, though this is hardly the whole story.

Last year, Boston hitters went after 57 percent of pitches in the zone or on the edges. That was 30th in baseball. This year, that number is up to 63 percent. That's the most in baseball. As you'd imagine, that's the largest jump in baseball.

So yes, there's something to be said for "swinging at strikes," which the Red Sox now are -- especially because they have a .318 average and a .550 slugging on those pitches, each the best in baseball. It's not just about swinging either, it's about swinging earlier. For the past decade, Boston was always in the bottom three in baseball in swinging at in-zone strikes early in the count (0-0, 0-1, 1-0). This year, the Red Sox have done that the second most. As a result, they've found themselves in the fourth-fewest two-strike counts in the game. It's hard to strike out when you never see two strikes.

But there's more to it than just that. Betts, for example, has done more than just be aggressive, he's changed the way he's hitting entirely. After spending the past three years hitting grounders between 38 percent and 41 percent of the time, that's dropped all the way to 26 percent -- while his pull percentage has jumped from his career mark of 41 percent to 57 percent.

You can see it in the outcomes, too. Only two teams have a higher hard-hit percentage than Boston's 42.1 percent. Only four teams have a lower ground-ball percentage than the Red Sox's 41.7 percent. No one, as we said, strikes out less. This is essentially what the perfect offense is supposed to look like.

Now, Betts won't hit like this all year, most likely. Bogaerts can't slug .711 all season. Then again, Jackie Bradley Jr. hasn't done much yet (.228/.313/.351). Dustin Pedroia hasn't stepped on the field yet. Only two teams in baseball have gotten less offense from their catchers. As some fall back, others may step up.

We saw the Astros doing this last year, paired with a very good pitching staff. The Red Sox are doing it this year, paired with a very good pitching staff. You don't get off to a 15-2 start by accident.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.

Boston Red Sox, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez