Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Wow, What A Load Of Crap!

GAME RECAP: Pirates Pound Phillies 18-4

Starling Marte, Tony Sanchez, Pedro Florimon and Pedro Alvarez hit two-run homers, Josh Harrison added a solo job and Alvarez capped the homers with a grand slam Monday as the Pirates downed the Phillies, 18-4, in the Bucs' final Grapefruit League home game, which was marred by a benches-clearing fracas. A punches-free altercation was sparked by Sean Rodriguez's displeasure at being quick-pitched by Phillies right-hander Kevin Slowey in the fourth inning. Coaches Juan Samuel of the Phillies and Rick Sofield of the Pirates were ejected during the disturbance. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle drew a later thumb from plate umpire Chad Fairchild for arguing balls and strikes. Harrison began the game against Philadelphia righty Zach Eflin with his second leadoff homer of the spring, and Marte connected in the third. Sanchez hit his team-leading fourth homer in the fourth off Slowey. Slowey was charged with six runs in two innings. Freddy Galvis hit his first spring homer in the sixth, a two-run shot to right field off Adrian Sampson. The back end of Pittsburgh's bullpen started the game to get them work before substitutes filled the Phillies lineup. Closer Mark Melancon started and was followed by left-handed setup man Tony Watson. Each pitched a shutout inning.

Phillies right-hander Sean O'Sullivan starts Tuesday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla. The Phillies reassigned O'Sullivan to Minor League camp earlier this month, but he suddenly finds himself as the favorite to be the team's No. 5 starter. The Phillies are looking outside the organization for pitching help, but if O'Sullivan pitches well, he has a chance to pitch for the Phillies on April 12, which is the earliest they will need a fifth starter.


Ready For The Regular Season? – Pirates left fielder Sean Rodriguez challenged Kevin Slowey to a fight Monday at McKechine Field. It never got that far. Benches and bullpens cleared before the bottom of the fifth inning of an 18-4 loss to the Pirates, but nobody threw any punches. Rodriguez thought Slowey quick-pitched him in his fourth-inning plate appearance, which Slowey won with a strikeout. Rodriguez thought he had called time on the play, but home plate umpire Chad Fairchild never awarded it. The pitch surprised and clearly irritated Rodriguez, who declined comment. Rodriguez yelled at Slowey as he walked off the field. Slowey stared at Rodriguez the entire time, although Slowey claimed he stared only because he did not know who Rodriguez was yelling at. Rodriguez continued to yell at Slowey when he returned to the mound to start the fifth. At that point benches cleared. "It surprises me to be that upset, and challenging somebody to a physical altercation hardly seems like the best way to resolve your frustrations," Slowey said. "I was kind of taken by surprise at his animosity after his at-bat. I know the kind of guy that he purports to be. That surprised me that that would be his choice of words and reaction. I guess I understand the frustration of a singular failure. It's a game of failures. But to react that way to me was very surprising." Said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle: "The umpires don't have to give you time. I'm not here to be judge or jury. We'll talk about it internally, about how we can do better job of not letting it happen again, or what we'll do if it does happen again." Phillies first base coach Juan Samuel and Pirates third base coach Rick Sofield were ejected. "He called him some unnecessary words," Samuel said about Rodriguez. "Nothing happened, but again, when [Rodriguez] was coming off the field in the [middle of the fifth], he kind of told [Slowey] the same kind of thing: 'If you want to take it out back, meet me in the parking lot.' The third base coach was telling me to get into my dugout. So I told him to help me come in. Help me get in my dugout. I'll show you." Sofield declined comment. Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa also got plenty heated during the altercation. But just when it appeared cooler heads prevailed, a fan just a few rows behind home plate started yelling at Bowa, who then motioned for the fan to come onto the field. Bowa had no interest in talking about it after the game. Slowey's afternoon unraveled after that. He allowed four runs in the fifth inning to give him a 7.71 ERA in seven appearances. In two innings, he allowed six hits, six runs and two homers with two strikeouts. Slowey had been competing with Sean O'Sullivan to be the No. 5 starter, though the Phillies are looking outside the organization for help. Twins pitcher Mike Pelfrey might be available in a trade. The Reds just released Paul Maholm, who had a good spring.

Not A Happy Manager – Ryne Sandberg's emotions are difficult to read, but he seemed relatively upset Monday afternoon at McKechnie Field. The Phillies lost to the Pirates in ugly fashion, 18-4. But the last week is cause for greater concern. The Phillies are 0-5-1 since a victory Tuesday against the Braves. They have been outscored 50-11 in that stretch. "Unacceptable, unacceptable game," Sandberg said. "Hitting, defense and pitching. We pitched up in the zone. Our bats didn't hit on a good day to hit. And we didn't play good defense. An unacceptable game in all phases of the game. "This time of spring, we want to have things together. We need to get the roster together and get fine-tuned for the season, but there are still decisions to be made. It's a game to put behind us, that's for sure. It was bad in all phases." Sandberg said he hopes to have his Opening Day lineup together for Friday's and Saturday's exhibition games against the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park. "Maybe create some momentum for Opening Day," Sandberg said. The Phillies do not have to finalize their 25-man roster until Sunday, and they are still looking at players, so Sandberg will be shuffling lineups until then. But that does not excuse the fact the team has played so poorly over the past week. Every other team in baseball is going through the same thing. "It would be nice to end Spring Training on a good note with the guys together," Sandberg said.

Decisions That Have To Be Made – Ruben Amaro Jr. said the Phillies have about four or five decisions to make before they finalize the Opening Day roster. One important decision has been made. Rule 5 Draft pick Odubel Herrera not only has made the team, but he will also be the Opening Day center fielder. "He kind of fits the bill of what we were trying to do," Amaro said before Monday's Grapefruit League game against the Pirates at McKechnie Field. "We were trying to get younger, a little more athletic. He's got good energy; he's got a decent package. Is he going to be a .300 hitter toward the top of our lineup or wherever [Ryne Sandberg] puts him? I don't know. We're going to give him a shot. That's what this season is about." Phillies right fielder Domonic Brown is likely to open the season on the disabled list with tendinitis in his left Achilles, which would open up another roster spot. The Phillies also might carry an extra bench player or relief pitcher with no need for a fifth starter until April 12. Darin Ruf is one of the only right-handed bats in camp with power. Amaro said Ruf is not a lock to make the team, but he also said Ruf playing in Triple-A is not ideal. Read between the lines, folks. Ruf is a safe bet to make the team. "He's not really a natural outfielder," Amaro said when asked why Ruf has not received a longer look in left field. "We're going to try to utilize speed at the top of the lineup and throughout the lineup rather than power, because we just don't have enough. Ruf can break in and get as many at-bats as he wants if he produces. He'll get some chances to play." Asked about the lack of power in the outfield with Ben Revere in left and Herrera in center, Amaro said: "We knew we weren't going to have any. We didn't expect to have any power in our outfield. Or our infield. We didn't have any expectations that we'd have power. We're going to have to try to create runs with our legs and with decent at-bats. That's how we're going to have to do it." Infielder Cesar Hernandez has hit just .133 in 45 at-bats this spring. Non-roster invitees Russ Canzler (.316) and Cord Phelps (.270) have outplayed him, but Hernandez is out of options, so the Phillies could lose him if he does not make the team. That alone could keep Hernandez on the roster. "He kind of falls in that category of young player with some athleticism and such," Amaro said. Right-hander Phillippe Aumont (4.15 ERA in seven appearances) also is out of options. He seems to be on the outside looking in, but he could find a spot if the Phillies carry an extra relief pitcher through April 12. "If we take 13 pitchers, he'd have a much better chance to be a part of that," Amaro said. The Phillies signed outfielder Grady Sizemore to a one-year, $2 million contract in October, despite posting a .580 OPS from Aug. 6 through the end of the season. Sizemore has hit just .147 in 34 at-bats this spring. Other outfielders in camp like Brian Bogusevic (.344 in 32 at-bats), Jordan Danks (.257 in 35 at-bats) and Jeff Francoeur (.206 in 34 at-bats) have either outperformed Sizemore or have skill sets that Sizemore does not have (i.e. better defensively). Amaro said Bogusevic, Danks, Francoeur or Canzler could be the team's Opening Day right fielder. That said, Sizemore is expected to make the team. "For me, he is [on the team]," Amaro said. "Sizemore can swing the bat." But the challenge is correctly weighing a player's spring performance with his track record. The Phillies raved last spring about right-hander Jeff Manship. He had an excellent camp and made the team, despite a 6.42 ERA in 52 big league appearances over the previous five seasons. Manship posted a 6.65 ERA in 20 appearances last season with the Phillies, falling in line with his career numbers. Beware the player with big Spring Training numbers and far less impressive numbers in the regular season. "That's the danger of evaluating guys, and how you evaluate them, in Spring Training," Amaro said. "You have to kind of balance what the baseball card says and what their history is with how you think they are going to do and how you think they are going to react playing in the big leagues right now."

Fixing The Rotation – The Phillies have made their starting pitching schedule top secret this spring, but they announced Sean O'Sullivan will pitch Tuesday against the Blue Jays. It is noteworthy because O'Sullivan is the favorite to be the team's No. 5 starter, which they will need April 12. The Phillies reassigned O'Sullivan to Minor League camp earlier this month, but he has been getting stretched out. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez had been a candidate, but the Phillies optioned him Sunday. Kevin Slowey remains a candidate, but Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Monday the Phillies are looking outside the organization for starting pitching help. "But it's likely to be an internal candidate," Amaro said. But there are options out there. The Reds just released left-hander Paul Maholm. He allowed seven hits, three earend runs and two walks with five strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings. If Maholm, 32, isn't a fit, a minor trade or another free-agent signing might work. Twins pitcher Mike Pelfrey could be available. He is not happy after being sent to the bullpen. If the Phillies find somebody from the outside, it likely is going to come in a minor trade or waivers. There is no need to sacrifice any young talent for a No. 5 starter this season. Right-hander Chad Billingsley is recovering from a pair of right elbow surgeries. Amaro said they expect Billingsley to be big league ready around late April or early May. He could slide into the No. 5 slot at that time if he is capable. Oh, Phillies fans with tickets to Opening Day on Monday against the Red Sox can relax. Amaro said he expects Cole Hamels to be on the mound for the Phillies. The Phillies have been looking to trade him to help their rebuilding efforts. "I expect us to go into the season with the folks we have out here, by and large," Amaro said. Amaro said right-hander Jonathan Pettibone, who is recovering from right shoulder sugery, will throw a live bullpen session Tuesday. Amaro said Cliff Lee, Billingsley, Pettibone, Mario Hollands and possibly Domonic Brown will open the season on the disabled list.

A Learning Experience – The Phillies have highlighted three of their better pitching prospects in the past week with Aaron Nola, Severino Gonzalez and Zach Eflin each getting a start. Eflin started Monday's 18-4 loss to the Pirates at McKechnie Field, allowing three hits, four runs (one earned), one walk and two home runs with two strikeouts in three innings. The Phillies acquired Eflin in December in the Jimmy Rollins trade. MLBPipeline.com considers Eflin the No. 5 prospect in the organization. "I had the jitters a little bit," Eflin said. "It was such a surreal moment." Eflin threw a 1-1 sinker to Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison, who hit a solo home run to right field to lead off the first inning. Elfin retired seven of the next nine batters he faced, until Gregory Polanco singled and Starling Marte homered with two outs in the third. "I had so much pumping through me," Elfin said. "My main focus was trying to keep the ball down, but you can't pitch good every day. You've just got to learn from it." It is highly unusual for the Phillies to have three pitching prospects make spot starts this late in Spring Training. Typically these things happen the first week of March with the pitcher sent to Minor League camp soon thereafter. Not this year. "This year is more about our future than our present," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "This is about finding out, frankly, and this sounds strange, but I'm more interested in the development of the guys in Triple-A and Double-A and A ball than I am necessarily the guys on the [Major League] field." Phillies third baseman Cody Asche returned to the field for the first time since Thursday, when he has scratched from the lineup because of back tightness. He said his back responded well, although he made two errors in the field. "My glove was a little sore today," Asche said. "I'll make sure I ice that up."

Not A Good Deal – The Phillies thought so highly of Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez in the summer of 2013 that they offered him a six-year, $48 million contract. They fully expected him to jump into the 2014 rotation behind Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. But more than a year into his three-year, $12 million contract (Gonzalez lost $36 million because of concerns following his physical), the Phillies have received no return on their investment. And one wonders if they ever will. The Phillies optioned Gonzalez to Minor League camp Sunday after he went 0-3 with a 7.53 ERA in five Grapefruit League appearances. He allowed 25 hits, 12 runs, five home runs and one walk with seven strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings. "It's possible," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Monday when asked if he is worried the organization will get nothing from Gonzalez. "He hasn't pitched well enough to be a Major League starter for us," Amaro said. "His stuff and his command just weren't good enough. It's kind of simple. He needs to be better for us to utilize him in our rotation. He'll go down and pitch, and hopefully he improves. If he doesn't, then he doesn't." The killer is that Gonzalez never had a better opportunity to make the team. The Phillies desperately need a No. 5 starter with Lee almost certainly lost for the season with a torn tendon in his left elbow. But Gonzalez could not outpitch non-roster invitees Kevin Slowey and Sean O'Sullivan. "You wish the guy was pitching better," Amaro said. "I think he does, too. I think he's disappointed. I think he's disappointed in himself because he geared himself up to want to take this job. It doesn't mean it's the end of him, but he's just not ready to take that job right now." Does this serve as a warning for those who want the Phillies to drop tens of millions of dollars on Cuban free agents? "It's a risk," Amaro said. "There's a lot of teams that were in on him, and we ended up signing him. He hasn't performed as well as we would have liked. He may never perform as well as we would have liked, but that's the risk you take. Sometimes, you've got to take a risk."

After ending 2014 with a 73-89 record, there second consecutive losing season, the Phillies are currently tied for first place for the 2015 season. Given the departures, aging stars, injuries, and performance this spring, don’t expect their competitive place in the standings to last. All time, the Phillies are 2-2-0 on this day.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Utley Powers Phillies To A Tie

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phillies Tie Tigers 4-4

The Tigers finally jumped on Phillies right-hander Aaron Harang on Sunday at Bright House. Harang threw three hitless innings before Tigers right fielder Tyler Collins hit a solo home run and Tigers left fielder Yoenis Cespedes hit a two-run home run in a 4-4 tie with the Phillies. Phillies second baseman Chase Utley hit a two-run home run to right field in the first inning. It was the first home run of the spring for Utley, who played in just his 10th game this spring after recovering from a sprained right ankle. Utley hit his second homer of the spring in the fourth, a solo shot to right. "Chase swung the bat very well," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He just looks like he's ready to go on the offensive side of things. Probably his whole game is ready as we speak." Tigers right-hander Anibal Sanchez struck out 10 over 6 1/3 innings, but allowed three home runs -- two to Utley and one to Russ Canzler in the sixth which tied the game at 4. Sanchez surrendered four runs on five hits with one walk. "I think [Utley] was [waiting] for the curveball. I threw him two curveballs and he hit them pretty good," Sanchez said. "He's a pretty good hitter. ... He was ready for it." Harang allowed four runs (three earned) on five hits over 5 1/3 innings with five strikeouts and two walks for the Phillies.

Phillies prospect Zach Eflin will start for the Phillies on Monday at 1:05 p.m. ET against the Pirates in Bradenton. Fans can listen to the game exclusively on a live webcast. The Phillies acquired Eflin in December as part of the Jimmy Rollins trade. Elfin is the Phillies' fifth-ranked prospect according to MLB.com.


Sandberg Setting The Outfield – Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg telegraphed his thought process March 21, when he first played Ben Revere in left field and Odubel Herrera in center field. He confirmed Sunday that he plans to use Revere and Herrera in those spots on Opening Day. "As I look at it now, he's left field," Sandberg said about Revere on Sunday. So Herrera, who is a Rule 5 Draft pick, starts in center? "Probably to start [the season] with," Sandberg said. Revere said Sandberg has told him to be prepared to play left field in the regular season. "I'm fine now," Revere said about being comfortable in left, a position he had not played since 2012. "I'm just playing my game. Before I got here [to Philadelphia], I played center, left, right, a bunch of times. It won't make any difference. Of course, it's different the way the ball goes. But everything else is pretty much the same. "There may come a time when they may need me back in center. All right, I'll be ready to go. I'm up for any task."

Hamels Officially Named Opening Day Starter – Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg smirked Thursday when asked about his Opening Day starter. "It's a secret," he said. Everybody in the world knew it would be Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels. It literally could be nobody else. But Sandberg made the obvious official Sunday afternoon at Bright House Field, where he anti-climatically announced Hamels is the guy. "It'll be Hamels and [Aaron] Harang to start the season, officially, in that order to start the year," Sandberg said after a 4-4 tie with the Tigers. Hamels will face the Red Sox on April 6 at Citizens Bank Park. It will be the second Opening Day start of his career. Sandberg said the Phillies have not lined up anything beyond that, but David Buchanan and Jerome Williams will be the Nos. 3 and 4 starters. The No. 5 starter is expected to be Sean O'Sullivan or Kevin Slowey with O'Sullivan, who is in Minor League camp, considered the favorite. The Phillies do not need a No. 5 starter until April 12, and the organization is hopeful Chad Billingsley will be able to join the rotation before the end of April. Billingsley is recovering from a pair of right elbow surgeries. But Hamels will pitch Opening Day. How long he remains in the Phillies' rotation remains to be seen. He is available in a trade, but the Phillies have not found an offer they like.

No Hit For You! – Tigers center fielder Rajai Davis asked Phillies left fielder Ben Revere for a favor before Sunday afternoon's Grapefruit League game at Bright House Field. "Take it easy," he said. "I need some hits." "All right," Revere replied. "I got you, man. But just drop a bomb. Don't make me run." Revere reneged on his promise in the third inning. Davis hit a high fly ball toward the left-center-field wall, but Revere timed his jump perfectly and caught the ball at the wall to bring back a home run. Revere leapt into the air to celebrate the catch and laughed and smiled widely as he returned to the Phillies' dugout. He said he was recalling his pregame conversation with Davis as he returned to the Phillies' dugout. Davis met him near third base and fist bumped him. "What did we just talk about?" Davis said. "My bad," Revere said. "I'm sorry, dude." Coincidentally, Phillies first-base coach and outfield instructor Juan Samuel just worked with his outfielders a couple days ago about making catches at the wall. "If you missed the ball, I would have been really upset," Samuel said to Revere in the dugout. Revere, who will open the season in left field with Odubel Herrera in center, certainly showed some ups. He is listed at 5-foot-9, but he said he has dunked a basketball in the past. "I used to dunk in Timberlands [boots]," he said. "But since I got knee and ankle surgery, it's tough. Now I'm getting close to 30. Back in the day when I was in high school and I had the springs, I'd be in the gym after school and I could dunk in Timberlands, one-handed or two-handed."

Injury Updates – The Phillies are down two starters this week because of injuries, but at least one of them is close to a return. Phillies third baseman Cody Asche went 2-for-4 with a double in a Minor League game Sunday afternoon at Carpenter Complex. The Phillies scratched him from Thursday's lineup because of tightness in the middle of his back. "It feels good right now," said Asche, who did not play in the field. "I'll see how I respond tomorrow. If we were in June, I'd probably be in the lineup playing, pushing through things. Right now, it's just a matter of taking care of it before the season starts so it doesn't nag and linger." Asche said there is no doubt he will be ready by Opening Day. Asche is not sure when he might return to the Phillies' lineup, but he considered Sunday a good step forward. Right fielder Domonic Brown has not played since March 19 because of tendinitis in his left Achilles. He has been recovering slowly, but he said he hopes to be a designated hitter in a Minor League game Monday at Carpenter Complex. "I'm going to try to get some at-bats," he said. "I don't know for sure yet, but I'm pretty sure that's the plan. It depends how I feel coming tomorrow." Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg expressed doubts Brown will be ready by Opening Day, although Brown seemed optimistic.

Not Living Up To The Hype – So far Phillies right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez has not come close to the hype. The Phillies announced Sunday they had optioned him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, which was not a surprise. Gonzalez entered Spring Training with a chance to make the Phillies rotation and his chances improved dramatically with Cliff Lee almost certainly lost for the season with an injured left elbow. But Gonzalez never looked close to big league ready. He went 0-3 with a 7.53 ERA in five Grapefruit League appearances. He allowed 25 hits, 12 runs, five home runs and one walk with seven strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings. "With some work," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said, when asked if Gonzalez can be a good big-league pitcher. "The inconsistency was the biggest thing that he fought. Behind in the count. That's what he has to get ironed out to be successful." Gonzalez's demotion leaves the No. 5 starter's job to Kevin Slowey or Sean O'Sullivan, who is in Minor League camp. O'Sullivan might be the favorite at this point because he is being stretched out. Slowey is not, although there is time. The Phillies do not need a No. 5 starter until April 12. The Phillies on Sunday also optioned right-hander Hector Neris to Triple-A. Right-hander Paul Clemens, catcher Koyie Hill and infielders Chris McGuiness and Chris Nelson had been reassigned to Minor League camp. The Phillies have 36 players remaining in camp: 17 pitchers, three catchers, eight fielders and eight outfielders. The Phillies and Gonzalez agreed to a six-year, $48 million contract in July 2013, but the deal dropped to three years, $12 million following his physical. Gonzalez's questionable health popped up last Spring Training and he struggled in the Minor Leagues as a starter with those health issues lingering. The Phillies eventually converted Gonzalez into a reliever and he had success in that role in Double-A Reading and Triple-A. He got promoted to the Phillies in September, but he had a 6.75 ERA in six relief appearances. "He showed glimpses of what he has," Sandberg said.

Heading In The Wrong Direction – Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. offered a blunt assessment about his offense a couple weeks ago. "We're not going to score a lot of runs," Amaro said. It was an evaluation based in fact. The Phillies scored 619 runs last season, which ranked 23rd in baseball. They were the fourth-fewest runs the Phillies have scored in a non-strike shortened season since 1972. Only the 1995 Phillies (615), 2013 Phillies (610) and 1988 Phillies (597) fared worse. But the Phillies chose not to address the offense this offseason. Instead, they traded Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd to acquire three Minor League pitchers. Byrd (.757 OPS) and Rollins (.717 OPS) ranked first and third, respectively, among qualified Phillies in OPS in 2014. It is why the Phillies will be hard pressed to score more than 619 runs in 2015. They will need bounce-back seasons, if they do. They will need surprises. They will need luck. "We're going to have to manufacture them," Amaro said about scoring runs. "We're going to have to do it with our legs. We're going to have to do it with our brains and aggressiveness." The Phillies will need Ryan Howard and Domonic Brown to return to prior form. Howard hit .223 with 23 home runs and 95 RBIs last season. His .695 OPS in the cleanup spot ranked 314th out of 316 hitters with 600 or more plate appearances in the cleanup spot from 1914-2014. But he said his left leg is finally healthy following left Achilles and left knee surgeries since 2011. He also has some serious family issues behind him, which might have affected him. But can Howard, 35, really turn back the clock? Brown made the National League All-Star team in 2013, but hit just .235 with 10 home runs, 63 RBIs and a .634 OPS in 144 games last season. His OPS ranked 139th out of 147 qualified hitters in baseball. His .640 OPS as an outfielder ranked 60th out of 64 outfielders. But Brown is already behind the eight-ball. He has been sidelined since March 19 because of tendinitis in his left Achilles and could open the season on the disabled list. Chase Utley will open the season as the team's No. 3 hitter, but on a better team he would hit elsewhere. His .755 OPS in the No. 3 hole last season ranked 18th out of 20 hitters with 400 or more plate appearances in that spot. The Phillies will hope Cody Asche takes a step forward in his second full season. They will hope for more from Ben Revere, and they will need Darin Ruf to be more than just a part-time player. Rule 5 Draft pick Odubel Herrera must prove he can hit big league pitching on an everyday basis. Can Freddy Galvis post better than a .621 OPS, which is his career mark in 550 big league plate appearances? There are big ifs everywhere. They are so big, Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg is talking a lot about small ball. "I look at our bats and our type of team and I think we're going to have to be good at that game," he said. It might not be enough to pass 619.

Phillies In Need Of Balance – Comcast SportsNet finally found a replacement for Jamie Moyer when it announced in February that Ben Davis will join Tom McCarthy, Matt Stairs and Mike Schmidt in the Phillies' broadcast booth this season. Davis knows the Phillies and baseball. He grew up in the area, attending Malvern Prep. The Padres selected him with the second overall pick in the 1995 First-Year Player Draft before he played in the big leagues seven seasons. He spent the past four years working on Comcast's Phillies pregame and postgame shows. Davis stopped to chat a few minutes recently about his move to the booth and the team he will be watching this season. Here are a few highlights: MLB.com: How are you enjoying the new job? Davis: I absolutely love it. I love it. It's weird not working every day (in Spring Training) because we're only doing home games and I'm not scheduled for every game, but it's been a blast so far. MLB.com: Do you feel comfortable in the booth? Davis: It's been great. The first three games I was with Matt, so we had the three-man booth. Tom just sets you up so well and Matt has his input. I think we all mesh really well. Obviously there is going to be some transition there, but I feel very comfortable. It's similar to what I've been doing the last four years in the studio. It's just now I have more time to talk about a given play. We don't have to worry about getting a commercial break in or whatever, so it's been fun. MLB.com: What are your impressions of this team? Davis: Well, ups and downs right now. There's obviously some issues with Cliff Lee not being there. I think that's obviously going to hurt the rotation. But offensively, there's always room for improvement. They've had some good games. They've had some good at-bats. Then they've had some bad games. So, I think they just need to find that balance there with hitting balls hard and getting good at-bats. And they're starting to come along as Spring Training goes, but I think there's definitely some good signs. I'm really anxious to see Odubel Herrera. He's really caught my eye. I like what I've seen out of him. Speed, he's had some good at-bats. It's been nice. MLB.com: Has anybody else caught your eye? Davis: Some of the guys like (Brian) Bogusevic has looked very good. (Cord) Phelps has looked good. I don't know what's going on with Dom Brown, how long he's going to be on the shelf. But these guys are really I think opening some eyes and showing they can play. MLB.com: What is realistic for this team? They're rebuilding. Davis: I wouldn't say it's rebuilding. A lot of these guys have been here for years, so I don't know if you really want to call that rebuilding. I just think they're taking some different measures in how they're approaching their season. It might be tough at times. I think the offense might have a tough time scoring runs at times. I like the bullpen. They've had a few bumps lately, but I like the bullpen. I love the bullpen. There are great arms coming out of there. But definitely the Phillies have some things that they need to address. I think they're looking to do that, Pat Gillick on down.

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.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

There Is Something Seriously Wrong Here!

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Twins Trounce Phillies 7-1

Ervin Santana tossed six strong innings and Joe Mauer crushed a two-run homer to help lead the Twins to a 7-1 win over the Phillies on Saturday at Hammond Stadium. Santana, making his fourth Grapefruit League start, gave up just one run on five hits while striking out two. The lone run he allowed came in the third inning on an RBI single from Odubel Herrera to score Cesar Hernandez, who led off the inning with a double. "Everything was good," Santana said. "I was keeping the ball down for the most part. A couple times it was up, but that happens. But everything was good." He fared better than Phillies right-hander Jerome Williams, who surrendered six runs (four earned) on nine hits and two walks over four-plus innings. The Twins took the lead with a three-run third inning when Brian Dozier led off with a single and scored on a double from Eduardo Escobar. Kennys Vargas brought home Escobar on an infield single that hit off the second base bag. The Twins got their third run of the inning thanks to an error from Hernandez on a grounder hit to second base by Eduardo Nunez. After the error prolonged the inning, Shane Robinson came through with an RBI single. Mauer gave Minnesota two insurance runs with a deep blast to right field off Hernandez in the fourth. It was the first homer of the spring for Mauer, who went 2-for-3 on the afternoon. The Twins scored again in the fifth on a sacrifice fly from Jordan Schafer, which was keyed by a throwing error from third baseman Cord Phelps.

Aaron Harang, hampered by back issues earlier this spring, makes his fourth start on Sunday against the Tigers and Anibal Sanchez at Bright House Field on MLB.TV at 1:05 p.m. ET. The 36-year-old Harang, who was scratched from two of his first three scheduled starts, made his big league debut with the Oakland A's in 2002 and pitched for seven teams before signing a one-year contract with the Phillies on December 30. Only nine active Major League pitchers have amassed more than his 2,149 2/3 innings.

  • Set-up man Ken Giles, who allowed four runs in two-thirds of an inning on Thursday against Toronto, rebounded with a flawless inning on Saturday.
  • Phillipe Aumont, the last player left on the Phillies from the Dec. 6, 2009 trade that sent Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners, allowed two hits and a run in his one inning of work on Saturday, raising his ERA to 4.54. Aumont is out of options, which means the Phillies risk losing him if he doesn't make the team this spring. The 6-foot-7 Aumont, who was recalled from Triple-A Lehigh Valley twice last season, was 0-1 with a 19.06 ERA in five games with the Phillies.
  • Twenty-year-old right-hander Zach Eflin, acquired from the Dodgers in the offseason Jimmy Rollins deal, will make his first exhibition start for the Phillies on Monday against the Pirates in Bradenton. Eflin will be the Phillies' third highly-regarded pitching prospect to take the mound in the past week. Severino Gonzalez started on Tuesday and Aaron Nola pitched in relief on Friday. Both threw three scoreless innings. Eflin is starting in place of David Buchanan, who will pitch on Sunday in a Minor League camp game.
  • Saturday's matchup of Sandberg against Minnesota's Paul Molitor marked just the second time in Major League history that two current Hall of Fame players have managed against one another. The other time was just this past Monday when Sandberg and Molitor managed against each other in a Grapefruit League game in Clearwater.

Ready For The Season? – Well-traveled veteran right-hander Jerome Williams, projected to be the Phillies' No. 3 starter, shrugged off Saturday's tough outing in which he gave up six runs (four earned) on nine hits in four innings of a somewhat sloppy 7-1 loss to the Twins. Williams insisted after the game, "I think I'll be fine. Everything is fine. "I need to attack, attack," continued the 33-year-old Williams, who is now 0-3 with a 6.60 ERA this spring after giving up 11 runs on 19 hits in his last two outings. "Some of the hits were pretty decent," conceded Williams, who threw 95 pitches as he sought to build up his arm for the season ahead. "Some others just found holes. "I felt good, I felt fine. Physically, everything is fine. There's a couple of pitches I need to work on. I was trying to be too fine." "He's a little off with his command," said manager Ryne Sandberg. "He's a not as sharp as he wants to be. He's usually sharper than this in his last couple of outings." Williams likely will make one more start before the regular season begins, although he doesn't know when that start will be. "My arm is getting there," he said. "My arm is getting back to where it needs to be. Hopefully, when the season starts, it'll be back to where it was last year." Williams was 4-2 in nine starts for the Phillies late last season. Among the nine hits Williams allowed on Saturday was a two-run homer by Minnesota's Joe Mauer. "The way he swung at it, he knew what was coming," Williams admitted. "He got a a hold of it. I've faced him a lot." Williams, who has had to make the two-hour bus trek from Clearwater to Fort Myers before and after each of his last two exhibition outings, is slated to be the Phillies' No. 3 starter behind Cole Hamels and Aaron Harang. Williams previously pitched for the Giants, Cubs, Nationals, Angels, Astros, and Rangers.

Where’s The Offense? – The Phillies settled for one run on five hits Saturday, as they fell to the Twins, 7-1. And with Opening Day now a little more than a week away, manager Ryne Sandberg is admittedly concerned. "This is the time of the spring when you want the guys to be finding their strokes," Sandberg said as the Phillies' team batting average dropped to .231. "Overall, this is the time of spring when you want to see more fine-tuned at-bats." Instead, only Cameron Rupp (.400), Chase Utley (.375), Brian Bogusevic (.355), Odubel Herrera (.346), and Russ Canzler (.314) are hitting over .300. And the clock is ticking. Sandberg admitted he is also concerned about the Phillies' defense, which has been a bit sloppy of late. Meanwhile, there are still a number of decisions to be made. Sandberg said the Phillies are close to making a significant number of roster cuts. "Probably within a day or two," the manager said. However, with exhibition games in Philadelphia next Friday and Saturday, Sandberg said the Phillies will probably not make their final cuts until next weekend. Rosters are due at the Commissioner's office a week from Sunday.

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.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Things Continue To Get Uglier For Phillies

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Yankees Obliterate Phillies 10-0

Yankees second baseman Stephen Drew had three hits and two RBIs in Friday's 10-0 rain-shortened victory over the Phillies at Bright House Field. The game was called with one out in the top of the sixth inning. Phillies left-hander Jake Diekman allowed seven runs on six hits and a walk in just one-third of an inning as the Yankees broke up a scoreless tie in the fifth. Diekman's Grapefruit League ERA rose from 3.86 to 12.27 in his seventh appearance. Every hitter in the Yankees' starting lineup had at least one hit before the end of the fifth inning.

The Phillies make the long drive south to Fort Myers, Fla., to play the Twins on Saturday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. ET. Right-hander Jerome Williams will start. He is expected to be the team's No. 3 starter this season. Also scheduled to pitch are Rule 5 Draft pick Andy Oliver and Phillippe Aumont. They are competing for bullpen jobs, although Oliver is a favorite for one of them.

  • Right-handed prospect Aaron Nola, whom the Phillies selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, pitched three scoreless innings in his Grapefruit League debut. He allowed five hits and struck out four. Nola has been in Minor League camp, but the Phillies wanted to give him the experience before they head north next week.
  • Jeff Francoeur threw out Rodriguez at the plate to end the second inning. Francoeur is competing for a bench job, and he has a good chance because he hits right-handed, has power and has a good arm.
  • Sandberg said after the game that if Cody Asche feels OK Saturday, he could see some action in a Minor League game at Carpenter Complex. He has missed the last two days because of some tightness in his back.

Adding To The DL Roster – It seems more and more likely that Phillies right fielder Domonic Brown will open the season on the disabled list. He has been sidelined since March 19 because of tendinitis in his left Achilles, and his recovery has been slow. "It could be unlikely," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said when asked if Brown could catch up in time and be ready by Opening Day on April 6. "A little bit of work in the cage and just a little bit of light shagging in the outfield -- he's coming slowly. There's a lot of work to be done in a short period of time." Brown's potential trip to the DL has 25-man roster ramifications. The Phillies could open the season with six bench players, because they do not need a fifth starter until April 12, but they ultimately will settle on five. There are probably 11 players with a legitimate chance at those five or six jobs. That number jumps to six or seven if Brown is on the DL, and there are a number of combinations the Phillies could use. Candidates includes catcher Cameron Rupp; infielders Andres Blanco, Russ Canzler, Cesar Hernandez and Cord Phelps; and outfielders Brian Bogusevic, Jordan Danks, Jeff Francoeur, Odubel Herrera, Darin Ruf and Grady Sizemore. Rupp, Herrera and Ruf are locks for three jobs. Sizemore has the edge on a fourth, if for no other reason than he has a guaranteed $2 million contract. (Even if the Phillies release him, they are on the hook for the entire contract.) He is hitting a mere .161 (5-for-31) with no extra-base hits. Other outfielders in camp have outplayed him. Hernandez, Canzler and Phelps are competing for a utility-infield job. Blanco is considered a long shot. Hernandez is out of options, which plays big in the Phillies' front office; they do not want to lose a player if they do not have to. But Canzler and Phelps have had much better springs. Canzler is hitting .313 (10-for-32) with two doubles and three RBIs. Phelps is hitting .294 (10-for-34) with one double, one home run and five RBIs. Hernandez is hitting .098 (4-for-41) with two doubles and one RBI. Both Canzler and Phelps are non-roster invitees. No non-roster invitees have opt out clauses at the end of camp. That means there is no risk of losing them if they do not make the Opening Day roster, which comes into play, too. Bogusevic, Danks and Francoeur are in the mix to be an extra outfielder. Bogusevic has had the best spring. He is hitting .355 (11-for-31) with two doubles, three home runs and eight RBIs. Danks is hitting .281 (9-for-32) with two doubles, one home run and five RBIs. If the Phillies are looking for defense, they could lean toward Danks. Francoeur is hitting .200 (6-for-30) with two doubles and two RBIs. He threw out Alex Rodriguez in the plate in the second inning Friday, so his arm still plays. He also has the best track record of the three and hits right-handed, which is big. The Phillies are loaded with left-handed hitters. There are a lot of moving pieces with a little more than a week before the season opener. It could go a number of ways, but Brown's health could open up a spot for an extra bench candidate.

Impressive Impression – Aaron Nola is just 21 years old, and he is scheduled to open the season at Double-A Reading. But in a year that's all about the future, Phillies fans caught a glimpse of what could be on Friday afternoon at Bright House Field. The Phillies' No. 2 prospect pitched three scoreless innings in the Phils' 10-0 loss to the Yankees. "There were some nerves and some butterflies, but it was a cool experience for me," he said afterward. The Phillies selected Nola with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, and it is not a stretch to say that he may start for the Phillies before the end of the season. But before the team flies to Philadelphia next Thursday, it wanted him to experience a big league atmosphere. The organization did the same thing 10 years ago with Cole Hamels. The Phillies had him face the Yankees in Tampa before they sent him to Minor League camp. Hamels struck out Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Tony Clark in his second inning of work. "I heard about it," Nola said of Hamels' impressive debut. Nola allowed five hits and struck out four. He worked out of a jam in the second inning. The Yankees had runners on second and third with one out when Chris Young flied out to right field. Phillies right fielder Jeff Francoeur threw out Rodriguez at the plate to end the threat. Nola allowed a leadoff double to Brendan Ryan in the third. But with Ryan on second and one out, Nola struck out Chase Headley looking on a 94-mph fastball and struck out Carlos Beltran swinging on an 82-mph changeup. Nola also struck out Rodriguez on an 84-mph changeup in the fourth. Young fanned to end the inning. Rodriguez knew about Nola before he stepped into the batter's box in the second, when he singled to center field. "LSU, first-round pick," Rodriguez said. "The Phillies should be very excited about him. Good arm, power slider, power changeup. I think he has a bright future." And what about that changeup that got A-Rod in the fourth? "The one I almost choked on?" Rodriguez said. "Yeah, that was a pretty good changeup." Nola is pretty reserved, at least in front of reporters. But he seemed to enjoy himself. He said he heard a few LSU chants in the bullpen while warming up. He had been scheduled to start, but Jonathan Papelbon pitched the first inning instead because of the threat of rain. Nola struggled with his location early, leaving a few pitches up in the strike zone, but he adjusted. "I missed a couple of two-strike pitches early for a couple of doubles, and I knew I had to get the ball down more, and I did," Nola said. "Up here, you have to make quality pitches, and I didn't do that the first part of the game." But Nola looked good for his first time in big league camp. Scouts said last summer that he could be in the big leagues before any other pitcher in the Draft. That has not changed. "I try not to get too far ahead," Nola said. "Whenever [the Phillies] think the time is right, that's their call."

Bullpen Hiccups – If the Phillies expect to be strong anywhere this season, they expect to be strong in the bullpen. But with Opening Day a little more than a week away, Ken Giles and Jake Diekman are still searching for their best stuff. Giles (6.14 ERA in seven appearances) allowed four runs in two-thirds of an inning Thursday against Toronto. Diekman (12.27 ERA) allowed six hits, seven runs and one walk in one-third of an inning on Friday in a 10-0 loss to the Yankees at Bright House Field. "That's embarrassing," Diekman said. "That was the worst outing in the history of the world." But nobody in Phillies camp is worried about Giles and Diekman. Everybody believes they should be fine. "Very similar to Giles," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said about Diekman's effort Friday. "Both power pitchers, both needing their reps and gaining arm strength. I think Giles and Diekman are two guys that feed off of adrenaline in big-game situations. Maybe you can say that's lacking in a Spring Training game. I think both guys are fine, they are working on things. Diekman is working on first-pitch strikes, which he struggled with [Friday]. He's been good up to this point. Also, both pitchers not having their good stuff. But I think that'll come with intensity."

Who’s Next? – The Phillies are giving one more pitching prospect a look before they head to Philadelphia next Thursday. They announced Friday that right-hander Zach Eflin will start Monday afternoon against the Pirates in Bradenton. The Phillies acquired Eflin in December in the Jimmy Rollins trade with the Dodgers. MLB.com ranks Eflin as the fifth-best prospect in the organization. The Phillies also received left-hander Tom Windle, who ranks sixth, in that deal. The Padres selected Eflin, 20, in the first round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. He went 10-7 with a 3.80 ERA in 24 starts last season with Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore. The Phillies had No. 15 prospect Severino Gonzalez pitch Tuesday against the Braves. He allowed three hits and struck out two in three scoreless innings. No. 2 prospect Aaron Nola pitched Friday against the Yankees. He allowed five hits and struck out four in three scoreless innings.

Life After Baseball: Brett Myers – Brett Myers brought himself, his son Kolt and his World Series championship ring to Bright House Field on Friday. Myers helped the Phillies win the 2008 World Series, but since his baseball career ended following the 2013 season, he has spent most of his time coaching his son's travel baseball team and, most recently, putting together a country music album. "It's good to be back," said Myers, who was in town because his son's team is playing in Tampa. "It's awesome." There are a handful of holdovers from the 2008 championship team. There is Charlie Manuel, who is in camp as a guest instructor. There is Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels and Carlos Ruiz. That's it. Myers made the rounds with his former teammates, but afterward, he talked a bit about the country music he is writing and producing. His first five songs are available on iTunes. There are six more on the way. "It's just funny stuff that I think people can relate to," he said. "I'm tired of the pop-country stuff, you know? It's got that pop aspect. Hey, I'm not hating the music, but it's kind of run its course for me." Myers, who said he started playing guitar with Phillies manager of video coaching services Kevin Camiscioli in 2002, wrote the lyrics to such songs as "Black Creek" and "Kegerator." He records his songs at a studio owned by his friend Damien Starkey in Jacksonville, Fla., where Myers lives. Starkey has been in a few bands, including Puddle of Mudd. "I've always loved music, and I've always tried to write my own stuff," Myers said.

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.