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Mookie, Red Sox off to MLB's best start since '87

Special to MLB.com

ANAHEIM -- The Red Sox's historic march through April continued Thursday with an 8-2 win over the Angels at Angel Stadium, as they completed a three-game sweep. Boston improved to 16-2, joining rare company in MLB history.

The Red Sox are just the fifth team since 1920 to win at least 16 of their first 18 games. They are the first to do it since the 1987 Brewers. Of the four previous teams, two won the World Series -- the 1984 Tigers and the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.

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ANAHEIM -- The Red Sox's historic march through April continued Thursday with an 8-2 win over the Angels at Angel Stadium, as they completed a three-game sweep. Boston improved to 16-2, joining rare company in MLB history.

The Red Sox are just the fifth team since 1920 to win at least 16 of their first 18 games. They are the first to do it since the 1987 Brewers. Of the four previous teams, two won the World Series -- the 1984 Tigers and the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.

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"Whatever the record is, and you read about it and think, 'Wow, this is impressive,' they aren't getting caught up in it," Boston manager Alex Cora said. "They show up every day and play. [Now], we go to Oakland, and it's the same goal: try to win the series."

10 amazing facts from Red Sox's historic start

This victory had a familiar theme, with Mookie Betts hitting a leadoff home run and the pitching staff taking charge. Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez gave up two runs on three hits over six innings.

Betts also hit a leadoff home run in Tuesday's series opener, when he had his third career three-homer game. It was his 13th career leadoff homer, extending his Red Sox record, and his sixth home run of the season.

Video: BOS@LAA: Betts belts 13th leadoff home run of career

"I feel good, and I'm just trying to get good pitches and swing it the right way," Betts said. "This offense, we kind of feed off each other, so I know that if I can get things started there, I know we're going to score some runs."

The hottest starts in MLB history

The Red Sox, who have won seven in a row, not only outscored the Angels, 27-3, in the series, but they batted .371. Their 11 home runs were the third most in a three-game series in franchise history, and their most since hitting a franchise-record 16 against the Yankees from June 17-19, 1977. And it's also the first time Boston has gone 16-1 over a 17-game stretch since Aug. 16-Sept. 3, 2004.

So what do the Red Sox make of it all?

"Nothing," Betts said. "It's three games. We played well. We're a good team, they're a good team. It's still early. We have to turn the page and get ready for the next series."

Video: BOS@LAA: Martinez lines an RBI double to left

After the Angels tied it at 1 on a Zack Cozart RBI single in the second inning, J.D. Martinez ripped an RBI double and Rafael Devers had an RBI single in the fourth, giving Boston a 3-1 advantage.

The Red Sox added two more runs in the sixth on an Andrew Benintendi solo home run and another RBI single from Devers. One night after hitting his first career grand slam, Devers went 3-for-3. Martinez also had three hits for the Red Sox.

"It's been awesome ever since the start of Spring Training, and it keeps it loose and we're having fun," said Benintendi, who went 2-for-5 with three RBIs. "Usually, when you do that, you play well."

Video: BOS@LAA: Benintendi rips a two-run single in the 9th

Mitch Moreland added a run for the Red Sox with a sacrifice fly in the eighth, and Benintendi had a two-run single in the ninth.

The Red Sox have 24 homers in 18 games this season. Last season, they hit only 168 home runs, the lowest total in the American League.

"And the weather is not too good in Boston," Benintendi said. "I'm sure there were balls hit there that would have been home runs, if it wasn't freezing cold. I think it's just how it's been this year. I don't think it's been a mentality, or anything like that."

Cora is the first manager since 1900 to win 16 of his first 18 games in his first season with a club.

"We're playing quality baseball, and we're pretty good right now," Cora said. "We're pitching, and we're playing good defense. We're hitting the ball, and we're driving the ball. We're impressive on the bases. We're putting pressure [on the opponent] in every aspect."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Halting momentum: Just when it seemed the Angels had a bit of confidence against the Red Sox for the first time in the series, the Red Sox took back the momentum. After Los Angeles' Chris Young trimmed Boston's lead to 3-2 with a solo homer in the bottom of the fifth, Benintendi answered with one of his own in the sixth. Devers had an RBI single later in the inning to make it 5-2.

Video: BOS@LAA: Devers hits his second RBI single of game

SOUND SMART
Before this three-game sweep, the Red Sox were 6-14 in their last 20 games at Angel Stadium. Their last sweep in Anaheim was a four-game set in 2011.

HE SAID IT
"We work on every pitch [between starts], but I worked a little more on [the changeup], because the last couple of starts, I didn't use it that much. Today, it was working," -- Rodriguez, after earning his second win of the season

Video: BOS@LAA: Rodriguez gives up three hits in six innings

UP NEXT
The Red Sox continue their three-city, nine-game road trip when they open a three-game series at Oakland on Friday at 10:05 p.m. ET. Left-hander Drew Pomeranz is set to make his 2018 debut after opening the season on the disabled list with a mild flexor strain in his left forearm. He won a career-high 17 games last season. Kendall Graveman will start for the A's.

Doug Padilla is a contributor to MLB.com.

Boston Red Sox, Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Eduardo Rodriguez

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 in Thursday's 4-3 victory over the Blue Jays, 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 drive off reliever Tyler Clippard. The solo shot to left field, his fifth of the season, 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 in Thursday's 4-3 victory over the Blue Jays, 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 drive off reliever Tyler Clippard. The solo shot to left field, his fifth of the season, came in his 199th career game and gave the Yankees a two-run lead.

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"I just try to pick one out that I can drive," said Judge, who finished 1-for-3 with a walk. "They're going to try to nibble, work it in and work it out. It's just about staying disciplined, especially with the team we've got. I've just got to get on base.

"If they're going to walk me or pitch around me, I'll get on base for Gary [Sanchez], get on base for [Giancarlo] Stanton. That's all I've got to do."

Video: Watch all of Judge's record-breaking 61 homers

The homer was calculated by Statcast™ to have come off of the bat at 105.8 mph, and it traveled a projected distance of 394 feet.

It also broke a record held by Mark McGwire, who hit 61 homers in 204 games for the 1987-88 Athletics. On Monday, Judge broke McGwire's record as the fastest player to reach 60 career home runs.

Judge has reached base safely in 13 of his 14 games this month, batting .380 with 15 runs, two doubles, five homers, 12 RBIs and 15 walks. He has hit safely in 13 of those 14 games, and has reached base safely in each of his last 23 home games dating back to Sept. 3, 2017.

"We get it from our teammates," Judge said. "Everybody in this clubhouse is always going 100 percent. It doesn't matter if it's the first inning of the game or the ninth. We've got to match that energy."

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

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. Their first since 1978.

Weekend plans? How about a Max-Kershaw duel

Aces to face off in LA; Boston to get Pomeranz back; Colon set for encore
MLB.com @castrovince

In the battle of weather vs. schedule, Mother Nature is throwing the equivalent of a no-hitter in the early going. She's not quite perfect, what with the West Coast climates that are often oblivious to her sick stuff. But just as seemingly every no-hitter needs a defensive gem attached to it, she got some big assistance when that ice punctured the Rogers Centre roof and postponed a game between the Blue Jays and Royals this week. When even domed stadiums are serving as easy outs, you know Mother Nature is feeling it.

Perhaps this will be the weekend in which her icy grip on the schedule relents. We sure hope so, because there are plenty of storylines to settle in a season that so far has been devoid of real rhythm.

In the battle of weather vs. schedule, Mother Nature is throwing the equivalent of a no-hitter in the early going. She's not quite perfect, what with the West Coast climates that are often oblivious to her sick stuff. But just as seemingly every no-hitter needs a defensive gem attached to it, she got some big assistance when that ice punctured the Rogers Centre roof and postponed a game between the Blue Jays and Royals this week. When even domed stadiums are serving as easy outs, you know Mother Nature is feeling it.

Perhaps this will be the weekend in which her icy grip on the schedule relents. We sure hope so, because there are plenty of storylines to settle in a season that so far has been devoid of real rhythm.

Here are five key topics to track this weekend.

1. Hollywood hype: The finger inflammation issue that sent Rich Hill to the disabled list is a brief bummer for the Dodgers. But for the rest of us, it has brought the benefit of the precious pairing that is Clayton Kershaw vs. Max Scherzer on Friday night at Dodger Stadium (10:10 p.m. ET).

Responsible for four of the last five National League Cy Young Awards (and six Cy Youngs overall), Kershaw and Scherzer are the Senior Circuit gold standards, and they've pitched like it in the early going. Scherzer is 3-1 with a 1.33 ERA and 0.67 WHIP through 27 innings, while Kershaw, despite some tough luck that has led to a 1-2 record, has a 1.73 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 26 innings.

The rare matchup of these Cy guys is a strong start to what ought to be an interesting weekend series between two NL heavyweight clubs that have been dragging a heavy weight so far. Affected by some big absences (Justin Turner, Daniel Murphy, Adam Eaton) and some unexpected bullpen issues (Kenley Jansen, especially, hasn't looked right), the Dodgers and Nats lug sub-.500 records into this series. It very well may be an NLCS preview. For Bryce Harper, it very well might be a free-agency preview. But for right now, this series is just an opportunity for two talented teams to get real traction, and what better way to kick it off than with a Kershaw-Scherzer duel?

Video: Outlook: Pomeranz consistent despite control issues

2. Pom wonderful: The Red Sox have posted baseball's best record in the early going with baseball's best rotation in the early going. That's no coincidence. Entering Thursday, Boston's rotation ERA of 1.91 was nearly half a run better than the next-closest club, and that -- even more than the magic of Mookie Betts -- has been the backbone of the Red Sox's success.

And now, the Boston rotation could be getting better. Left-hander Drew Pomeranz will make his season debut Friday in Oakland (10:05 p.m. ET) after a flexor strain sidelined him the vast majority of Spring Training. Pomeranz was an All-Star in 2016, but by some metrics 2017 was his most complete season -- a 17-6 record, 3.32 ERA and 140 ERA+. If the Sox can get similar numbers out of Pomeranz in a unit already featuring a rejuvenated David Price and Rick Porcello and some guy named Chris Sale, that'll be, uh, just the way they Drew it up.

3. Class of '11: Seven years ago, Trevor Bauer and Dylan Bundy were taken back to back with the third and fourth overall picks in the MLB Draft by the D-backs and Orioles, respectively. They instantly became two of the more interesting pitching prospects in baseball, with the unorthodox nature of their aggressive long-toss programs (Bundy was out to 120 feet as young as 7 years old, and Bauer's foul-pole-to-foul-pole tosses were a pregame routine) a particular point of intrigue.

Both Bundy and Bauer have experienced their share of ups and downs in the years since (Bundy with Tommy John surgery, Bauer with a trade to the Indians), but it's possible each guy has turned the corner in his career and is now reaching the full potential and promise of that prominent Draft position.

Bauer has a 2.25 ERA through 20 innings over three starts and has been getting some good results with a slider he refined over the winter. Bundy's reformed slider allowed him to make significant strides in 2017 that he's built on with a sparkling 1.40 ERA through 25 2/3 innings over four starts this year. They'll oppose each other Friday night at Camden Yards (7:05 p.m. ET) in the opener of a four-game set between the Tribe and O's, and, if a pitching duel breaks out, it'll be just the way it was drafted up all those years ago.

Video: TEX@HOU: Colon K's Fisher, perfect through six

4. Age before beauty: Where were you when Bartolo Colon took a perfect game into the eighth inning against the defending champion Astros? It was one of those sports moments that felt worthy of broadcast signal intrusion across the television spectrum.

Alas, Big Sexy had to settle for 7 2/3 innings in which he allowed just a run on one hit with a walk and seven strikeouts. But for the 44-year-old Colon, that outing ranked 11th in game score (79) among his 530 career starts.

What will he do for an encore? Well, Saturday's start against Seattle (8:05 p.m. ET), opposite the Mariners' James Paxton, is a good opportunity for Colon to continue to defy age. In his inimitable and seemingly infinite career, Colon has faced the Mariners more than any other team (37 appearances). He's held them to a .655 OPS -- the lowest of any of the 14 clubs he's faced at least 20 times.

Perhaps the biggest question: Will Colon get to face fellow 44-year-old Ichiro Suzuki? Ichiro has been logging playing time against right-handers this year. But with Ben Gamel recently activated off the DL, the Mariners might not be able to maintain Ichiro on the active roster much longer.

5. Red Scare: The Reds weren't the fastest team in history to pull the trigger on a managerial switch in a given season (the '88 Orioles, with Cal Ripken Sr., and '02 Astros, with Phil Garner, hold that dubious record, at six games). But 18 games was all it took for the Reds to punt on Bryan Price, and now it's interim manager Jim Riggleman at the helm as the Reds enter a weekend set in St. Louis.

No one was expecting the Reds to vie for an October entry, but a 3-15 record and minus-46 run differential are certainly south of their capability. The offense -- especially the brilliant Joey Votto (.588 OPS) -- has drastically underachieved, and some young starting arms with upside (Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle and Sal Romano) have not yet panned out as planned. Against a good Cardinals club that has begun to play to its potential this week, we'll see if the Reds can start to turn their season around under new leadership, with Double-A pitching coach Danny Darwin joining the Major League staff and Triple-A manager Pat Kelly becoming Riggleman's bench coach.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Clayton Kershaw, Drew Pomeranz

Arrieta (10 K's) dominant in win against Pirates

Right-hander hurls his best outing of season so far as Phils' bats come alive
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- It is one thing to say somebody has no-hit stuff. It is something entirely different to know how it feels to have no-hit stuff.

Jake Arrieta knows how it feels.

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PHILADELPHIA -- It is one thing to say somebody has no-hit stuff. It is something entirely different to know how it feels to have no-hit stuff.

Jake Arrieta knows how it feels.

View Full Game Coverage

Video: PIT@PHI: Arrieta discusses his ?no-hit stuff? in win

He has thrown two no-hitters in his career. He felt he had similar stuff Thursday night in a 7-0 victory over the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park. Arrieta allowed one hit and two walks in seven scoreless innings. He struck out 10. It is the first time he 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.

"Yeah, it was good," Arrieta said. "Other than being able to locate the changeup a little better, it was about as good as I've been."

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. Arrieta had a combined nine swings and misses in his first two starts this year.

Video: PIT@PHI: Arrieta K's Cervelli for 10th strikeout

"That's the best movement and action I've seen on his fastball since 2015," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who has seen Arrieta pitch 18 times over the past three-plus seasons, including the postseason. "He was crisp tonight, all his pitches. He pitched extremely, extremely well."

Arrieta won the National League Cy Young Award with the Cubs in 2015. If Arrieta comes remotely close to replicating Thursday's performance every five days for the Phillies, the summer could be a lot of fun.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler believes that.

"Obviously you're going to get excited about Jake going out there every fifth day, if he's sort of the mid-range version of himself, which is still a very good starting pitcher," Kapler said. "And if he is a little bit better than his average self, he's unhittable. So therefore, I think there's a ton of reason to be excited about Jake going forward."

Video: PIT@PHI: Kapler on 7-0 win over the Pirates

Especially if Arrieta has his sinker working. It had heavy sink throughout the night.

"It's really difficult to square that pitch up, regardless of if it's middle-of-the-plate or inside to a guy or away from him," Arrieta said. "If you have tailing action or sink on your fastball, it's hard to square it up. I've seen that for years. I see how four-seam fastballs tend to get whacked pretty good if they're not in the right spot, so that's why I switched to predominantly throwing sinkers several years ago, and I've had tremendous success with doing that. Nights like tonight where I do have pretty much command at will, it just makes my job that much easier."

Arrieta's sinker also had extra life. It averaged 92.7 mph after averaging 91.8 mph in his first two starts. It topped out at 94.8 mph.

"Little extra pop on the fastball," Arrieta said. "Combining Spring Training and my three starts so far, that's probably only five or six starts. I was a little behind, but now I'm caught up."

Video: PIT@PHI: Arrieta catches a line drive to end the 6th

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

Video: PIT@PHI: Cervelli singles off Arrieta in the 2nd

Arrieta recorded four fly outs in the outfield. Otherwise, not a single ball left the infield.

"That was fun," Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro said. "Just put a finger down and he hit the glove. That was easy."

And there could be more to come.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Phillies had runners on first and second with no outs in the second inning, when Crawford attempted a sacrifice bunt up the third-base line. The sacrifice turned into a hit to load the bases. After Alfaro and Arrieta struck out swinging, Cesar Hernandez laced a line drive to center field for a two-out single. Nick Williams and Scott Kingery scored easily, but Crawford got a tremendous jump and also scored to hand the Phillies a 4-0 lead.

It was the 500th hit of Hernandez's career. It was also the Phillies' first three-run single since 1978.

Video: PIT@PHI: Hernandez rips a three-run single in the 2nd

"When I reached first base [Jose] Flores said, 'Don't be too surprised that Crawford scored. I gave him a heads up and said if he hits a single you better score. I want you running,'" Hernandez said. "That hit was special to me because it was my 500th hit."

SOUND SMART
Arrieta is the first Phillies pitcher to record 10 or more strikeouts and one or fewer hits in a game since Cole Hamels no-hit the Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 25, 2015. Arrieta pitched for the Cubs that afternoon. It was his final loss of the season.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Rhys Hoskins' solo home run to left field in the second inning left his bat at 109.9 mph, making it the second hardest-hit home run of his career, according to Statcast™.

Video: PIT@PHI: Hoskins lines a solo homer to left

Hoskins hit a home run at 110.2 mph on Aug. 14 in San Diego. He remembers that one -- it was the first homer of his career.

HE SAID IT
"The one thing that might go unnoticed is Dusty [Wathan's] call at third base. He's been tremendous over there with his reads all season long, in particular today. I think it takes big stones to know what part of the lineup is coming up, the middle part of the lineup, and to score J.P. there is huge for us. It was a huge boost to the dugout. Everybody was fired up about that. Big ups to Dusty and to J.P. for getting a good jump on that ball and taking good, sharp turns around the bases and giving Dusty a chance to score him. I think that was a huge emotional lift for the club today." -- Kapler, on Crawford scoring on Hernandez's single in the second

Video: PIT@PHI: Crawford sprints 28.8 ft/sec first-to-home

UP NEXT
Phillies right-hander Ben Lively (0-1, 5.87 ERA) faces Pirates right-hander Ivan Nova (2-1, 4.88 ERA) on Friday night in the second game of a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park. Lively has struggled in his last two starts, allowing 16 hits, eight runs, two walks and two home runs in 9 2/3 innings. He has struck out 12. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.

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

Role in doubt, Harvey says 'I'm a starting pitcher'

Braves pounce on righty for 6 runs; Frazier, A-Gon homer for Mets
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

ATLANTA -- The downturn in Matt Harvey's fortunes has come at an awkward time for him and the Mets. An unquestioned member of the team's rotation heading into the season, Harvey has since started four games, struggled thrice and, on Thursday, pitched poorly enough at SunTrust Park that the Braves effectively iced their 12-4 win before sunset.

Over his last three starts, Harvey is 0-2 with a 7.88 ERA, and he is running out of time to improve. Due back from the disabled list as soon as April 27, Jason Vargas will claim someone's rotation spot when healthy.

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ATLANTA -- The downturn in Matt Harvey's fortunes has come at an awkward time for him and the Mets. An unquestioned member of the team's rotation heading into the season, Harvey has since started four games, struggled thrice and, on Thursday, pitched poorly enough at SunTrust Park that the Braves effectively iced their 12-4 win before sunset.

Over his last three starts, Harvey is 0-2 with a 7.88 ERA, and he is running out of time to improve. Due back from the disabled list as soon as April 27, Jason Vargas will claim someone's rotation spot when healthy.

View Full Game Coverage

Given Harvey's recent string of performances -- 10 extra-base hits in his last 16 innings, among other indignities -- it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Mets to justify keeping him in his current role. All but acknowledging that much late Thursday, manager Mickey Callaway declined to commit to another start for Harvey. That did not sit well with the one-time ace, who bristled at the notion that he could be headed to the bullpen or the Minors.

"I'm a starting pitcher," Harvey said. "I've always been a starting pitcher. I think I showed that in the fifth, sixth inning, I can get people out."

Video: NYM@ATL: Cabrera makes a sliding stop to nab Tucker

Harvey indeed demonstrated marked improvement in the middle innings Thursday, retiring 11 of the final 12 batters he faced. But as pitching coach Dave Eiland noted, "The game starts in the first inning, not the fourth. ... You've got to be ready from the first pitch."

Instead, the Braves greeted Harvey with a flourish of hits: Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies led off the bottom of the first with singles, Freddie Freeman lifted a sacrifice fly and Kurt Suzuki bashed a two-run homer. Harvey allowed three more in the third inning on a Nick Markakis RBI single and a Preston Tucker two-run double. Although he recovered to finish strong, Harvey was, by that point, well on his way to his second consecutive loss.

Video: NYM@ATL: Harvey gets Inciarte looking

"I think there's a lot still to prove," Harvey said. "But I believe that I took a step in the right direction, and I'm ready to get out of the hole and show what I can do."

New York's only offense against Matt Wisler, whom the Braves recalled from the Minors earlier in the day, came in the form of a Todd Frazier homer to lead off the fifth. Adrian Gonzalez also homered for the Mets, who rallied late, but not before Jerry Blevins and Gerson Bautista served up four runs of insurance to Tucker and the Braves in the seventh.

Video: NYM@ATL: Gonzalez smashes a solo homer to left center

None of the late offense made much impact on a game that left the Mets mostly just concerned about what to do with Harvey. With Vargas set to begin a Minor League rehab assignment this weekend, only one more rotation turn stands between him and a return. And with a team off-day Monday, the Mets have the ability to skip Harvey's next start if they desire. The team could also temporarily shift to a six-man rotation, but Callaway has expressed more of an inclination to move someone to the bullpen, or even Triple-A.

Video: Discussing rumors surrounding Matt Harvey

When asked if he would accept a Minor League assignment, Harvey, whose five-plus years of big league service time give him the right to refuse one, replied: "I can't answer that question right now."

It is a conversation the Mets may force him to have in the coming days.

Video: NYM@ATL: Callaway on Harvey's pitching in 12-4 loss

"We're going to make decisions that we feel are going to help this team win baseball games," Eiland said. "Period."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Frazier, at least, continued to be a bright spot for a Mets team that has dropped three of four. His fifth-inning homer left his bat at 109.3 mph, giving him at least one hit in eight of his last nine games. Frazier has reached base multiple times in nine of his last 12.

Video: NYM@ATL: Frazier skies a solo home run to center

HE SAID IT
"I know the results aren't there. I feel bad that I couldn't have figured that out earlier, and done better to keep the damage limited. But that was huge for me, those last three innings. I give Mickey a lot of credit for letting me go back out there. ... I've dug myself in a hole for the last four starts, and I really feel like the last three innings were a big step out of that hole." -- Harvey

UP NEXT
The Mets will look to build some momentum Friday behind Noah Syndergaard, who has been effective but inefficient in four starts this season. The Mets' Opening Day starter has 33 strikeouts and five walks in 21 1/3 innings, but has yet to throw a pitch in the seventh inning of any game. He'll oppose left-hander Sean Newcomb in a 7:35 p.m. ET game at SunTrust Park.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets, Todd Frazier, Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Harvey

Vintage Greinke fuels D-backs' latest series win

D-backs match best 18-game start in franchise history
MLB.com @SteveGilbertMLB

PHOENIX -- Tough losses on the field, top players getting hurt, nothing it seems will stop the D-backs from winning a series.

Thursday night, the D-backs bounced back from a tough loss the night before by beating the Giants, 3-1, at Chase Field behind Zack Greinke.

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PHOENIX -- Tough losses on the field, top players getting hurt, nothing it seems will stop the D-backs from winning a series.

Thursday night, the D-backs bounced back from a tough loss the night before by beating the Giants, 3-1, at Chase Field behind Zack Greinke.

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The D-backs have won all six of their three-game series to start the season and their 13-5 record matches the 2008 team for the best record after 18 games in franchise history.

"It's a lot of fun," said outfielder Chris Owings, who left in the third inning after colliding with A.J. Pollock while making a spectacular catch. "I feel like for us, you get down 1-0 and you still feel like you're in the ballgame and you just keep going out there and playing the game hard. I feel like for us we've been in every game this season, so it's been a lot of fun.

Video: SF@ARI: Owings makes slick sliding grab, leaves game

"This is just a special team."

Things haven't exactly gone the D-backs' way either, especially when it comes to injuries.

They've been without right fielder Steven Souza Jr. since Spring Training, and third baseman Jake Lamb has missed all but four games with a shoulder injury.

On top of that, the team got news Wednesday that starter Taijuan Walker would be lost for the season to Tommy John surgery.

"I just think we have a good team," said Greinke, who allowed just one run on three hits over seven innings. "There's not really any holes. I wouldn't say we have the best pitching staff or the best offense, but we have no weakness. I feel like our starters are good, relievers are good, defense is good, offense is good and baserunning is good. Makes for a good team."

Video: SF@ARI: Lovullo on series win, Owings injury update

The D-backs' hot start has come against NL West opponents and that certainly helps Arizona in the standings.

The D-backs have gone 5-1 against the Dodgers, 4-2 against the Giants and 2-1 against the Rockies. The Padres come to Chase Field on Friday to open a three-game set.

Video: SF@ARI: Marte belts a solo home run to right

Thursday's win came after the D-backs lost 4-3 on Wednesday when they struggled to hit with runners in scoring position, going 4-for-16, and could not score a runner from third base with less than two outs in the eighth, ninth and 10th innings.

Video: SF@ARI: Bradley strikes out the side in the 8th

"They're tough," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said of his team. "They rely on one another, and they don't feel like they're out of any contest. [Wednesday] was a tough night, I'm not going to lie. We were all probably pretty frustrated because we felt like we let that game get away from us. But for us to bounce back the way we did and hold a pretty good team down offensively and cash in when we were supposed to to win a series speaks volumes about our toughness and our ability to overcome some tough moments."

Video: Bradley joins MLB Tonight after team's win

SOUND SMART
Greinke is now 12-2 in 18 career starts against the Giants, one of the teams he considered signing with before inking a six-year deal with the D-backs in December 2015. Greinke raised his Chase Field record over the past two seasons to 17-1.

BRACHO OPTIONED
Following the game, the D-backs optioned right-handed reliever Silvino Bracho to Triple-A Reno. The team said a corresponding move would be made Friday, which figures to be right-hander Matt Koch, who is scheduled to start in place of Walker.

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The D-backs caught a break in the third when Giants left fielder Gregor Blanco appeared to steal second with two outs and Andrew McCutchen at the plate. The D-backs, however, used a manager's challenge and the call was overturned when it was ruled that Blanco's foot came off the base for a split-second while second baseman Ketel Marte still had the tag on him.

Video: SF@ARI: Mathis throws out Blanco at second on review

UP NEXT
The D-backs open a three-game series with the Padres on Friday night with Matt Koch making his first start in the big leagues this year. Koch, who made one relief appearance earlier this year, was called up from Triple-A Reno to take the place of Walker, who learned Wednesday that he would need Tommy John surgery.

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Red Sox affiliate hosting 'Evil Empire' weekend

Few sports rivalries are as consistently heated and drama-filled as that between the Yankees and Red Sox. Each season, the two teams battle it out in the American League East, the rivalry growing deeper each game. 

For quite some time now, too, the Yankees have come to be known as the "Evil Empire" by their detractors, dating back to the George Steinbrenner era of the late 1990s. That, of course, is a "Star Wars" reference, with the aforementioned Empire the bad guys of George Lucas' universe, battling Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and the gang for galactic supremacy.

Here are some candidates to be Reds 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

Andrelton amazes once again on double play

Even in the current golden age of shortstops, Andrelton Simmons' defense has managed to stick out. He's taken home Gold Glove Awards in three of the last five seasons because he has a knack for consistently doing things in the field that no one else can.

The Red Sox were looking to add to their lead over the Angels in the sixth inning of Thursday night's game when Simmons once again put his glove on display to thwart their efforts. With two runs already across in the inning and runners on the corners with only one out, Red Sox second baseman Eduardo Nunez hit a hard grounder back up the middle.

Rather than allow Nunez's grounder to extend the inning and add to the lead, Simmons was there to put an end to it. In addition to showing off his range, he also delivered a perfect glove flip to Ian Kinsler to start an inning-ending double play.

10 amazing facts from Red Sox's historic start

MLB.com

Can anyone stop the Red Sox?

Boston kept rolling Thursday night, beating the Angels by an 8-2 score to win their seventh game in a row and complete a three-game sweep over the team with the next-best record in the American League. The Red Sox are now 16-2, extending the best start in franchise history.

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Can anyone stop the Red Sox?

Boston kept rolling Thursday night, beating the Angels by an 8-2 score to win their seventh game in a row and complete a three-game sweep over the team with the next-best record in the American League. The Red Sox are now 16-2, extending the best start in franchise history.

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As the team's incredible run continues, MLB.com takes a look at 10 of the most impressive facts and figures from this Red Sox season.

1. The 2018 Red Sox are just the fifth team in the live-ball era, which began in 1920, to win at least 16 of their first 18 games. And they're the first team in over 30 years to do so. The other four teams:
• 1987 Brewers: 17-1
• 1984 Tigers: 16-2
• 1981 A's: 17-1
• 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers: 16-2
Two of those four teams -- the 1984 Tigers (who would win an incredible 35 of their first 40 games that year) and the 1955 Dodgers -- went on to win the World Series.

2. Even if you expand the time period to baseball's entire modern era -- that is, since 1900 -- this Red Sox team is just the seventh to start its season 16-2 or better. The two other entries to the list: the 1918 New York Giants (17-1) and the 1911 Tigers (16-2). Including Boston, that means five American League teams have accomplished the feat, compared to two National League teams.

3. It's hard to believe this team lost on Opening Day. Since then, the Red Sox have won 16 of 17 games. The last time Boston went 16-1 in any 17-game stretch? That would be 2004, when the Sox went 16-1 from Aug. 16 to Sept. 3. You might remember that history-making Red Sox team, which shattered the Curse of the Bambino and won the franchise's first World Series since 1918.

4. Boston has already outscored its opponents by 66 runs this season, by far the best run differential in baseball. The Red Sox have scored 116 runs -- the most in MLB, with the Blue Jays next at 106 -- and they have allowed just 50, the third-fewest of any team. Toronto is the next-closest team to Boston by run differential, and the Jays are nearly 30 behind, at plus-37.

Video: BOS@LAA: Martinez lines an RBI double to left

5. The Red Sox plus-66 run differential is actually historically good. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it's tied for the fourth-highest run differential through a team's first 18 games in the entire modern era (since 1900). It's the best run differential by any team through 18 games since the 1993 Tigers.

Best run differential through 18 team games
Modern era (since 1900)
1. 1905 New York Giants: +80
2. 1918 New York Giants: +72
3. 1993 Tigers: +67
4. 2018 Red Sox: +66
4. 1902 Pirates: +66

6. Alex Cora is having unprecedented success for a rookie manager. Per Elias, in the modern era (since 1900), the only other skipper to win at least 16 of his first 18 games as an MLB manager was Joe Morgan -- also for the Red Sox, in 1988. (Morgan won 17 of his first 18 games.)

But Morgan was a midseason replacement for John McNamara, and those wins came in July. Cora is the first manager since 1900 to start a season with a new club by winning at least 16 of the first 18 games.

7. The Red Sox offense is clicking on all cylinders. As a team, Boston leads the Major Leagues in batting average (.292), on-base percentage (.362), slugging percentage (.496) and OPS (.859). The Sox have also struck out in just 16.3 percent of plate appearances, the lowest rate of any team.

In the just-completed sweep of the Angels, the Red Sox mashed 11 home runs, with the highlight a six-homer game in the series opener, including three by Mookie Betts. Those 11 home runs are the most the Sox have hit in a three-game series since 1977, when they hit a team-record 16 against the Yankees from June 17-19.

Video: BOS@LAA: Benintendi blasts first homer of the season

8. The pitching has been almost as good as the hitting. Red Sox starting pitchers are now 12-1 with a 1.98 ERA, the lowest by any rotation in the Major Leagues. Their relievers, meanwhile, have not allowed a run in their last 14 innings pitched, and just one run in their last 20 innings. Hitters are just 3-for-their-last-48 against the Boston bullpen.

Video: BOS@LAA: Rodriguez gives up three hits in six innings

9. Betts is providing the Red Sox a huge spark at the top of the order. He leads the Major Leagues with a .391 batting average, a 1.277 OPS and 22 runs scored -- the most runs by a Red Sox player in the team's first 18 games since at least 1908. (Johnny Pesky had 21 runs scored through 18 games in 1950, and Ted Williams had 21 in 1942.) In the Angels series, Betts twice led off the game with a home run, extending his own franchise record for most leadoff home runs to 13.

Video: BOS@LAA: Betts belts 13th leadoff home run of career

And, of course, there was his three-home-run game, which was the third of his career. The 25-year-old Betts is just the third player in Major League history with three three-homer games before turning 26. The others: Boog Powell and Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner.

10. The previous Red Sox franchise record for most wins in the team's first 18 games was 15, established by the 1946 Boston club. The 1946 Red Sox moved to 15-3 by beating none other than Hall of Famer Bob Feller -- and they kept on winning after that. Actually, their 18th game came in the middle of a 15-game winning streak that took them from 7-3 to 21-3. In other words, the 2018 Sox will actually have to keep winning if they want to match their predecessors' pace.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Boston Red Sox