Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pitching Could Be Wild Card This Season


Plesac Impressed With Young Pitchers – The last time Dan Plesac wore a baseball uniform he threw the final pitch for the Phillies at Veterans Stadium on Sept. 28, 2003. He pulled on a uniform again this week at Bright House Field, where he worked with the Phillies as a guest instructor. Plesac, 53, still looks like he could strike out a hitter or two -- he posted a 2.70 ERA and averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings in 58 appearances in his final season in 2003 -- but he came to camp to observe, coach and just get back on the field again. "If they want me back, I'll crawl back," Plesac said of the experience, which ended Friday. "This has been a lot of fun." Every team in the big leagues has a host of guest instructors in Spring Training. Some are more involved than others. Some show up, put on the uniform and hang in the outfield. Many more, like Plesac, come to work. Plesac, an MLB Network analyst, sat in his hotel room Wednesday night searching on his iPad for video of Phillies left-hander Jesse Biddle, the club's No. 7 prospect who had a bullpen session scheduled Thursday. He found Biddle's appearance in the 2013 All-Star Futures Game at Citi Field in New York. He wanted to get a feel for Biddle's mechanics and repertoire. "Boy, was he impressive," Plesac said. "Really, really impressive. I've only seen him throw twice on the side. He could pitch for 15 more years and I don't think he's going to throw a better bullpen than the one he threw Thursday. I did this for a living, so I'm living and dying with every pitch he threw. I was like, 'Can he keep this up?' He had everything. Fastball command, great curveball, good slider, his changeup was good. He just really had a good side. Now what does that mean? I don't know, but I know he is a young pitcher the Phillies have a lot of hopes for and I can see why now." Plesac left camp impressed with two of the Phillies' younger pitchers: Biddle and right-hander Nefi Ogando, who the Phillies acquired from the Red Sox in 2013 for John McDonald. Plesac also got to see up close why Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are so good. "I miss the field," said Plesac, whose 1,064 games rank seventh among pitchers in MLB history. "You get so far removed from it in the studio. It's so nice to stand and watch Cole and Cliff throw a bullpen. To actually see what makes these guys go -- I think the thing that I've been most impressed with is I had no idea the quality and quantity of arms in this camp. That's what shocked me. "I thought about it this morning. It's made me realize how hard it is to do this. You forget when you get out [of the game], because when you get out, the fish get bigger, right? The bear gets bigger. It made me realize, just watching Biddle and Ogando and Lee and Hamels on the side, it took me back. You get excited. It was fun to get back into that -- going to the ballpark with a purpose."

Lee Readies For Return – Any team in baseball that thinks it might need starting-pitching help this season might want to take a peek Thursday at the Phillies' Grapefruit League game against the Astros in Kissimmee. Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee will pitch, which means he is not behind schedule in relation to other pitchers in camp. Lee finished last season on the disabled list with an injured left elbow, but there have been no issues this spring. "Cliff is right on," Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure said Friday afternoon. "He's throwing well. He feels good." Lee, who is scheduled to throw two innings, is one of a host of Phillies veterans that could be traded this season. Phillies right-hander Jerome Williams will start Tuesday's Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees at Bright House Field. Right-handers David Buchanan and Jeanmar Gomez and left-handers Joely Rodriguez and Mario Hollands also are scheduled to pitch. Right-hander Aaron Harang will start Wednesday's game against the Yankees in Tampa. Right-handers Ethan Martin, Justin De Fratus, Paul Clemens, Kevin Slowey and Hector Neris also will pitch. The Phillies play an exhibition game Sunday against the University of Tampa at Bright House Field. Right-handers Clemens, Phillippe Aumont, Neris, Nefi Ogando and left-handers Elvis Araujo and Andy Oliver are scheduled to pitch. The only pitchers in camp that have not thrown to hitters are right-handers Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Pettibone. Both are behind schedule because of a right elbow and a right shoulder injury, respectively.

Interesting Images At Photo Day – Before the Grapefruit League season opens Tuesday and Phillies players face real competition with real results that matter, reporters have asked Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg if anybody has stood out in camp. Phillies left-hander Mario Hollands, 26, has stood out, but for more than his pitching. Hollands is sporting stirrups, which have gone the way of the no-flapped batting helmet and zip-up jerseys. No Phillies player has worn stirrups on an everyday basis since Jim Thome in 2012. No Phillies player had worn them regularly before Thome since Jamie Moyer from 2006-10. "If I have half the career they had, I'd be very happy," Hollands said Friday morning at Bright House Field. Stirrups have died among players -- the team keeps four-inch and nine-inch stirrups on hand, mostly for coaches -- for several reasons. Most players wear long pants, so the cuff rests below the ankle, making stirrups unnecessary. Socks also can be more comfortable. But another reason is traditional baseball cleats (cut below the ankle with the oversized tongue that flips over the laces) have been replaced by high-top cleats. Stirrups with high-top cleats are a bad look. Hollands said he has a few pairs of Cliff Lee's old cleats, which he will use during the season. They work well. Hollands wore the four-inch stirrups on Sundays last season. He is giving the nine-inch ones a shot this spring because they fit better. The four-inch ones had bad elastic, so he had to tape them up before every game, which is not exactly convenient. "Right now I'm going to wear them," Hollands said. "But the first time I struggle, they're gone."

Pierre Retires – Juan Pierre, the catalyst of the Marlins' 2003 World Series title team and one of the most prolific base-stealers of his generation, has announced his retirement. The 37-year-old speedster is walking away from the game after an impressive 14-year career. Pierre, who lives in south Florida, is now a self-proclaimed "stay-at-home dad." He also isn't ready to accept a coaching position at this point. The outfielder broke in with the Rockies in 2000 and was dealt to the Marlins in 2003. Immediately, his speed made an impact, as he set the franchise stolen-base record (65). The Marlins created chaos on the bases in '03 with the combination of Pierre and Luis Castillo at the top of the order, leading the way to an NL-best 150 stolen bases, 50 more than the runner-up. A career .295 hitter, Pierre posted 614 stolen bases, the 14th most in MLB's modern era, which is recognized as starting in 1900. The veteran outfielder also compiled 2,217 hits. News of his retirement is not surprising, since he last played in 2013, wrapping up his second stint with the Marlins. Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill twice has asked Pierre if he is willing to coach in the organization. The first was following the 2013 season and the second came during this offseason. Pierre's response on both occasions was he is not yet ready. In a conversation with in January, Pierre said he is happy being a "stay at home dad." Pierre appeared in 1,994 games with six different teams -- Rockies, Marlins, Cubs, Dodgers, White Sox and Phillies. Pierre's first stint with the Marlins was from 2003-05, and he returned in '13.

The Phillies will look to rebound this season from a 73-89 record last year. While uncertainty abounds, there is little question that the franchise is in rebuild mode based on the moves and statements that have been made during the offseason. The only question that remains is whether or not the young and veteran talent on the team can work together to disprove Gillick’s predictions either this year or next.

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