Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Hamels, Lee, and Halladay: A Tale Of Three Pitchers

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: O’s Flatten Phils 16-4

Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels got a bad one out of the way Monday afternoon at Bright House Field. He allowed six hits, five runs, two walks, one home run and one wild pitch in two innings in a 16-4 loss to the Orioles. The stint included a three-run home run to Orioles first baseman Chris Davis in the first inning. Hamels has a 9.00 ERA in three Grapefruit League starts. "I have a goal every Spring Training to try to get a 10.00 ERA," Hamels said sarcastically. "So I think I'm doing pretty well and I've done pretty well in my career. Nah, I've gotten over [spring struggles]. Over the course of a couple Spring Trainings, you know you don't let that affect you. You have a certain agenda, and that's what I'm going to stick to no matter what the results are." Hamels, who was working on fastball command, is 9-11 with a 5.42 ERA in 40 Grapefruit League starts in his career. He is 108-83 with a 3.27 ERA in 275 appearances (274 starts) in the regular season, so something says he should be OK. "Everything does feel good," Hamels said. "It's just finding the right base with mechanics and your vision toward the plate and just the location of where you want to throw things. Then it's just getting the muscle memory to be able to do so. It's just not quite there yet for me." The Orioles scored four more runs in the third inning against right-hander Mike Nesseth and two more in the fifth against left-hander Cesar Jimenez to take an 11-0 lead. The Orioles hit five home runs in the game overall as along with Davis' homer, third baseman Jimmy Paredes hit a three-run homer in the second, left-fielder Nolan Reimold hit a two-run homer in the fourth, right-fielder Steve Pearce hit a solo home run in the fifth and Davis' replacement in the lineup, Dariel Alvarez, hit a solo homer in the seventh. Orioles pitcher Miguel Gonzalez allowed four hits, two runs and struck out four in four innings. He had not allowed a hit or run until the fourth inning. "They faced a really good pitcher. Obviously, it wasn't his day today," Gonzalez said. "That's the type of guys we have in our clubhouse. They're going to get things done. I was really happy and fortunate to be a part of it."

Right-hander Jerome Williams was to start Tuesday afternoon at 1:05 ET against the Rays at Bright House Field, which you can watch live on MLB.TV, but he was scratched after tweaking his right hamstring earlier this week. Williams is expected to be the team's No. 3 starter, because Cliff Lee will be unable to pitch because of a torn common flexor tendon in his left elbow. Right-handers David Buchanan, Ken Giles, Phillippe Aumont and Nefi Ogando were scheduled to pitch on Tuesday.


Lee Done… For Now – Cliff Lee's triumphant return to Philadelphia in December 2010 preceded a memorable press conference two months later at Bright House Field, where the Phillies introduced the "Four Aces" to a national audience. Lee spoke that afternoon about multiple World Series championships. He spoke in that same room Monday afternoon about the miracle he needs to save his career, and a five-year, $120 million contract that will end without the championship he wanted. Lee has been placed on the 60-day disabled list following a second failed attempt to rehabilitate from a torn common flexor tendon in his left elbow. Despite the fact a handful of doctors have recommended surgery, Lee will try to rehab a third time. It is the longest of long shots. "It's fairly likely that it will remain the same," Lee conceded. Surgery would require six to eight months of rehab, which would end Lee's season. Lee indicated that he has little interest in surgery or rehabbing from it, and he can't be forced to have it because doctors recommended it. But Lee also has $37.5 million remaining on his contract, including a $25 million salary this season and a $12.5 million buyout on a 2016 club option. Lee, 36, can't simply walk away without forfeiting his contract. There is virtually no chance that will happen. Lee must show intent to pitch again. The Phillies at least have insurance on Lee's contract, although how much is unknown. But they will recoup some of his salary because it is the same injury as the one that forced him to the 60-day DL last July. That should soften the blow financially, but Lee's injury is crippling to the organization because it hoped he could return healthy and eventually trade him to a contender for a prospect or two to speed up its rebuilding process. Those hopes are gone. "It's tough to stay positive about it but it kind of is what it is," Lee said. "There's nothing I can do. To me, it came down to either have the surgery, or don't. I'm going to give it a chance. The doctor wanted me to have the surgery and recommended it, but I can still do that two to three months from now if I'm not able to pitch." "This may give him the chance, albeit it's not the greatest odds I guess, it still gives us the opportunity to have him on the field for us at some point this year," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. Lee will return home to Arkansas to rest. He said he will not pick up a baseball for at least a couple months. Maybe Lee will get incredibly lucky and the pain will go away. It is more likely Lee is headed toward more disappointment, something he did not expect when he re-signed with the Phillies, joining Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt in a rotation for the ages. Many expected the Phillies to be a baseball superpower for the foreseeable future, but instead they have been on a steady decline since a 102-victory season in 2011. "We didn't win any World Series," Lee said. "That's what I came here for. Obviously, that's what we wanted, but there are 30 teams every year trying to do that. It's hard to pick a spot and for sure it's going to happen. You've got to make it happen. It takes 25 guys doing it. We fought as hard as we could. We got close a couple times. We got beat by the Cardinals in [2011]. That was probably the best team I thought we had over those few years, but you never know. You never know what's going to happen until you play the games. That's the beauty of it." The Phillies entered Spring Training already thin in starting pitching. Lee's absence leaves Hamels, Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams and David Buchanan for the first four spots. Amaro said candidates to replace Lee include Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, Kevin Slowey, Paul Clemens and Joely Rodriguez. Chad Billingsley is an option, but he is recovering from two elbow surgeries and is not expected to be ready until late April. "Somebody's going to have to pitch for us," Amaro said. It just will not be Lee.

First Round Of Roster Moves – The Phillies made their first round of roster moves Monday morning at Bright House Field, and there were no surprises. The club optioned left-hander Jesse Biddle, left-hander Adam Morgan, right-hander Ethan Martin and outfielder Aaron Altherr to Minor League camp. Additionally, right-hander Sean O'Sullivan and catcher John Hester were reassigned to Minor League camp, while outfielder Xavier Paul was released. Biddle, Morgan, Martin and Altherr need to pitch or play on a regular basis, and getting limited work in big league camp served them little benefit. The Phils hope each can contribute at the big league level in the near future. The Phillies are planning for Biddle and Morgan to be in the rotation at some point. Martin is a bullpen candidate, although the Phils have been preparing him to start this spring. Director of player development Joe Jordan said over the winter that Altherr "is as good of an outfielder as we have in our system, and possibly in the Major Leagues as well." The rebuilding Phillies could use some young outfielders. Altherr hit .286 with five doubles, two triples, four home runs, 27 RBIs and an .878 OPS in 105 at-bats with Aguilas de Zulia in the Venezuelan Winter League. It is a marked improvement from a disappointing season with Double-A Reading, in which he hit .236 with 27 doubles, two triples, 14 home runs, 57 RBIs and a .686 OPS in 492 plate appearances. "I just went out and had fun," Altherr said, explaining his impressive play in winter ball. "I really didn't think too much. Sometimes I just put too much pressure on myself during the [Minor League] season. I didn't worry about anything in winter ball." O'Sullivan provides the organization starting-pitching depth. Hester is recovering from left knee surgery, while Paul simply no longer fit in the Phillies' plans.

Harang Set To Return – Cliff Lee's season and possibly career is in serious jeopardy, which makes the health of Phillies right-hander Aaron Harang an important issue. He already has been scratched twice from starts because of back issues, but he threw a bullpen session Monday morning at Bright House Field and said he expects to start in a Grapefruit League game Thursday night against the Yankees in Tampa. Harang said he is confident he will have enough time to get ready for the 2015 season. "It's frustrating, but it's not as frustrating as if this was later in camp," he said afterward. "I don't view this as any type of setback. I can progress through and catch up with my innings pretty easily. It's not that hard. I know exactly what I need to do." Harang missed his first start this spring because of "lower back discomfort." Harang then missed Saturday's start in Lakeland, Fla., against the Tigers, because of a spasm around the middle of his back. "This was just muscular," he said. "I woke up the other morning and just kind of moved around and grabbed on me for a second. It's being precautious. There's no reason to push this because you don't want it to linger."

A New Career Path – The Phillies expected Roy Halladay to be in uniform this spring as a guest instructor, but he has other plans. Halladay said Monday he is more interested in a post-pitching career as a sports psychologist, filling the void Harvey Dorfman left when he died in 2011. Halladay dropped into Phillies camp Monday to speak with Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and hang in the clubhouse with some of his former teammates. "I want to make sure that I'm ready to help people if I do get involved, and that I have all the tools I need to do it," Halladay said. That involves enrolling in sports psychology classes online and at the University of South Florida. "I'm looking forward to it," Halladay said. "I learned so much from Harvey. I feel like that's where I can help the most. I think there are some times where I would get into the mechanics -- I still love that part of it -- but I honestly think, there are so many young kids, young players that have all the tools, they're just lacking what it takes to be successful up here. There's just nobody out there doing what Harvey did. That's something that I think baseball needs. I was fortunate." What are those players lacking? "Mental fortitude, an awareness, that extra edge," Halladay said. "That's what Harvey taught that was so valuable, and really I feel more of a responsibility to share what I learned from him than anything. Because he is unable to do it and there is nobody out there teaching the way he taught or the principles he taught. It's so basic. It is a weapon. It is absolutely a weapon."

Go To Lenny’s – Once upon a time in a land far, far away (Clearwater, Fla.), there was a place untouched by time. A restaurant where unicorns existed (on T-shirts), the waitresses were local celebrities and the danishes were free. A place where the regulars turned out to be World Series champions and Hall of Famers. A place called Lenny's. Second only to maybe Bright House Field, Lenny's is the must-see destination if you're going to swing through Phillies Spring Training. Opened 35 years ago by Lenny and Judy Farrell, this breakfast and lunch joint is nestled all but beneath US Highway 19, between about a half dozen hotels, just around the corner from the Best Buy parking lot (no pay phones, I checked). If the window art didn't give it away, they basically lace the danishes with Phillies fandom down there. Mike Schmidt's jersey hangs on the wall and the wait staff rocks Phillies shirts. Loraine -- who's been a waitress there for 15 years running and is immortalized on the menu -- says that the Phillies are "in her blood" thanks to Lenny's and it's not tough to see why, especially when the team hired her son as a bat boy. She says that they provide breakfast for the teams at Bright House Field and the other local facilities. Lenny's itself is open at 6 a.m., but the opener is in at 3 a.m. and out the door by 5 a.m. (to make sure that the players get their bacon and eggs). The players used to dine in Lenny's all the time. Loraine says that Jimmy Rollins had stopped in a bunch and that they used to let Roy Halladay in before they opened in the morning. According to Dan Farrell -- who took over as owner to help Judy after his father passed away -- and his brother Ben, they were asked to bring breakfast to the Phillies because players were hanging out too long after breakfast and would show up to the stadium late. Before the change, though, the Farrells recall spending a significant amount of time with the players. Dan says that Darren Daulton and John Kruk and those guys from the rowdy 1993 team used to show up a lot. He remembers pulling Daulton's car around and leaving it running behind the kitchen so that Dutch could sneak out through the kitchen "Goodfellas" style when he was done with his meal. Jim Thome once hit a home run that landed on US 19 and the Farrells reportedly traded two meatloaf sandwiches to the construction workers who came into possession of the thing. They've still got the "Meatloaf Ball," which Jim Thome has since signed. Ben recalled an intimate exchange with Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt shortly after his father -- the famous Lenny -- passed away: "[Mike Schmidt] said, 'I really miss your dad.' And customers say that and people who knew him and it was always nice, but when Mike Schmidt says it ... it's Mike Schmidt sayin' it." Ben says that Schmidt told him that he and Steve Carlton and a bunch of the older Phillies used to sit at the counter for free breakfasts back before they had meal allowances. Whether you're looking to scarf some of the delicious raisin round French toast, drink a Lager with lunch like back in Philly, or just hoping to get a free paper with your breakfast, it really is the "best breakfast in Clearwater." Go for the danishes, stay for the stories about Mike Schmidt and John Kruk.

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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