Thursday, March 12, 2015

Frenchie And Bullpen Pick Up Hamels

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phillies Beat Pirates 3-2

Jeff Francoeur's RBI single off Jeff Locke capped a two-run sixth and lifted the Phillies to a 3-2 win over the Pirates at Bright House Field on Wednesday. Jordy Mercer had given the Pirates a 2-0 lead with a two-run home run to left field against Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels in the third inning. The subject of constant trade speculation, with the Phillies trying to rebuild for the future, Hamels allowed two hits, two runs, two walks and struck out one in three innings. It was his second start this spring. The Phillies scored a run off Pirates starter Charlie Morton in the third inning, when Tommy Joseph scored from third on a fielder's choice from Cesar Hernandez. It was just the second run the Phillies had scored in 21 innings. Morton finished three innings in his first start (second appearance) of the spring, allowing one run on two hits and walking one with no strikeouts. "I thought after the first inning, he was much more consistent," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He threw some really good sinkers. The ball was just spraying a little bit early. He's going to keep working. He's going to be fine." Locke, competing for the fifth spot in the Pirates' rotation, followed Morton with two perfect innings before allowing two runs on three hits in his third inning of work -- which included an RBI groundout from Grady Sizemore and Francoeur's RBI single, on which he was thrown out at second to end the inning. Locke struck out two in his second spring appearance. Jonathan Papelbon tossed a clean fourth inning in relief of Hamels, followed by two scoreless innings from Andy Oliver, who struck out two and walked one. Elvis Araujo, Mario Hollands and Jeanmar Gomez each tossed shutout innings to close out a strong day for Phillies pitching. John Holdzkom and Stolmy Pimentel each tossed scoreless frames for the Pirates, who sent Brad Lincoln out for the bottom of the ninth to get work -- even though the game was declared over after the top of the ninth. Lincoln allowed a homer to Domonic Brown, but the stats for the bottom of the ninth will not officially count.

The Phillies travel to Lakeland, Fla., to play the Tigers on Thursday afternoon. Game time is 1:05 p.m. ET, and fans can listen to an exclusive webcast on Right-handers Jerome Williams, who will start, and David Buchanan are scheduled to pitch for the Phillies. Both are locks to make the rotation, especially with Cliff Lee's recurrence of an elbow injury.


Not Looking Good – Cliff Lee's left elbow did not improve Wednesday at Bright House Field, but it also felt no worse. Lee threw a bullpen session in the morning, a few days after an MRI exam reconfirmed a tear in his common flexor tendon. Lee entered Spring Training feeling fine after a winter of rehab, but the discomfort in his elbow returned following a start last Thursday. "I got through it," Lee said following Wednesday's bullpen session. "There's still something there. Same as yesterday." Lee, 36, is trying to test the elbow to see if he can pitch through it. If he cannot, season-ending surgery is the next option, although Lee has not said if he would have surgery to continue his career. His five-year, $120 million contract expires at the end of the season, although the deal includes a $12.5 million buyout on a $27.5 million club option for 2016. Thursday could be an important day for him. He hopes he feels OK. "If it starts to progress worse, then obviously that's a pretty telling sign," he said. "If it maintains how it is, then I'll keep going."

Just For Fun – The Phillies entered the ninth inning of Wednesday's Grapefruit League game at Bright House Field with a one-run lead, and Jeanmar Gomez went on to record the final three outs in the top of the ninth. That's it. Game over. Phillies beat the Pirates, 3-2. Drive home safely, everyone. Well, not quite. Because it's Spring Training, the two clubs decided to return to the field for the bottom of the ninth anyway -- a half-inning that wasn't officially part of the game. The Pirates brought two starting pitchers on their road team, Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke, who each pitched three innings in the game. But, they also brought three relievers (John Holdzkom, Stolmy Pimentel and Brad Lincoln), and they still needed to get their work in. So, after a brief moment of confusion following the final official out of the game, Lincoln headed to the mound to pitch the bottom of the ninth. Well, technically, anyway. Even though it actually happened, you won't find any record of the bottom half of the ninth. The Phillies' public-address announcer rolled off the final numbers after the top of the ninth. That turned out to be unfortunate for Domonic Brown's Grapefruit League numbers, as the Phillies outfielder launched a home run off Lincoln.

Feeling The Pain – Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon figure to be the most likely Phillies veterans to be traded in the coming weeks or months. But until they are traded -- if they are traded at all -- they have tried to remain positive publicly about the team's chances to compete in 2015. Both pitched in Wednesday's 3-2 victory over the Pirates at Bright House Field. Hamels allowed two hits, two runs, two walks and struck out one in three innings, while Papelbon threw a perfect fourth. Both spoke afterward about the tear in Cliff Lee's left elbow, which could end his season and possibly career. Losing Lee for the season obviously puts a major hole in the rotation and significantly weakens the team's already difficult chances to compete. "It sucks, man," Papelbon said. "Everybody in this clubhouse knows what kind of great competitor he is and the knowledge of the game he can pass on to some of these young kids in this clubhouse. I don't know. It's kind of hard to put into words. It really sucks." If Lee cannot pitch -- he is trying to pitch through the discomfort -- it leaves Hamels, Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams and David Buchanan as the team's first four starters. The fifth spot could go to Kevin Slowey or Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. "He's one piece of the puzzle and obviously a big piece for us," Papelbon said. "Somebody is going to have to step up." Said Hamels: "He's a big part of our team. It's unfortunate. I know we have a lot to work on as a team, and I think that's why we're down here, to come together and set goals every day and try to execute the play that we're striving for and the image that we want to have."

Playing For The Bench – Phillies infielder Cesar Hernandez remains a favorite for one of five bench jobs. Hernandez went 1-for-3 with one RBI and one sacrifice bunt in Wednesday's 3-2 victory over the Pirates at Bright House Field. Hernandez is hitting .125 (2-for-16) in seven Grapefruit League games, but forget the small sample size for a moment. He is a favorite for a couple of reasons: First, he is out of options. The Phillies would like to keep him in the system, so the fact they could lose him if he is not on the Opening Day roster improves his chances. Second, they need infielders. Hernandez plays second base, which is important while Chase Utley is sidelined indefinitely with a sprained right ankle. Hernandez can also play shortstop and third base in small doses. "The way that he's playing, he's making a good case to be part of the plan and part of the puzzle," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "I know this is my last time here to try to make this roster," Hernandez said through translator Rickie Ricardo. "I'd like to have a future with this organization." Hernandez has hit .264 with a .624 OPS in 256 plate appearances over the past two seasons with the Phillies. "No pressure," he said. "I'm just playing my type of baseball, which is bunting, moving runners over, playing good defense and getting a clutch hit when I can."

Focusing On Small Ball – Manager Ryne Sandberg believes in small ball, and he believes it is how the Phillies will score runs this season. The Phillies bunted twice with runners in scoring position and no outs in Wednesday's 3-2 victory over the Pirates at Bright House Field. It resulted in one run. The Phillies have six sacrifice bunts this spring, which are four more than any other team. "That's something that I'm stressing this spring," Sandberg said. "We're working on it. We're practicing it. If it's not a bunt, it could be a hit and run. Get a baserunner, make something happen -- really to set the tone for the season." Sandberg explained that Cesar Hernandez's sacrifice bunt in the first inning, with Ben Revere on second and no outs, and Revere's sacrifice bunt in the third, with Tommy Joseph on second and Chase d'Arnaud on first with no outs, were not sacrifice attempts. "Early in the game, sometimes that's a bunt for a base hit," Sandberg said. "If you're out, you've done a job advancing the runner. Early in the game, that's usually the case." Of course, analytics and critics argue that bunting makes less sense because outs are precious, and the chances to score decrease dramatically with every out. But Sandberg cannot like what he has seen through nine Grapefruit League games. The Phillies finished the afternoon averaging 2.56 runs per game, which ranked 28th in baseball. Their .532 OPS ranked last. "I look at our bats and our type of team, and I think we're going to have to be good at that game," Sandberg said.

New Rules – Travel rules to Venezuela have changed for U.S. citizens, and that could create problems for Major League teams, including the Phillies. Venezuela requires U.S. travelers to have a visa before entering the country. The application process could take up to 90 days, which means traveling there has become more difficult for scouts and players. At least one scout has been denied admission to the country because he did not have a travel visa. "We haven't run into a problem yet, but we haven't tried to send anybody down there recently," Phillies assistant general manager Benny Looper said. "We've cut back on that the last three years anyway, because of the dangers there." Phillies special assistant to the general manager Bart Braun and director of international scouting Sal Agostinelli are U.S. citizens, and they traveled to the country last season to scout players. Special assistant of player personnel Jorge Velandia has dual citizenship, so he can enter the country as he pleases. But the new visa requirement seems to prevent any last-minute or unplanned scouting trips to the country, although Agostinelli visited the U.S. embassy in New York this week and was told it might not take the full 90 days to acquire a visa. "I think there are some unknowns about it," Looper said. "We'll know more as it goes along." The Phillies also might try to fly players to Curacao or Aruba, which are both off the Venezuelan coast, to have players work out for them there. "We did send some players down this winter," Looper said. "It'll be interesting to see how it impacts winter ball."

Needing A Push – Look, cars are tricky. Actually, motorized vehicles in general can be troublesome. There's an engine that usually involves some sort of combustion, any number of wheels and whatever steering mechanism that just happens to be there. A lot has to go right for someone to get from point A to point B. So the Phanatic had our sympathy Tuesday during the Tigers-Phillies Spring Training game when his four-wheeler just … didn't move. According to the announcers for the game, the Phanatic's chosen mode of transportation was running, but immobile. Because cars, amIright? Thankfully, two understanding staffers at Bright House Field were there to get the Phanatic moving the old-fashioned way: with four feet and really strong calf muscles. Kudos to those guys. Considering the Phanatic's official bio lists his weight as "300 pounds (mostly fat)," it probably wasn't the easiest push. 

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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