Saturday, March 14, 2015

Howard Powers Phillies Past Rays

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phillies Defeat Rays 2-1

The Phillies know they are not going to hit for much power this season, so they need everything they can get from Ryan Howard. Howard hit a two-run home run in the fourth inning against right-hander Chris Archer in Friday's 2-1 victory over the Rays at Bright House Field. It was Howard's first homer of the spring. "I'm just going to go out there and do what I can do," Howard said. "The approach is try to put a good swing on the ball. If I can get extra-base hits, home runs, whatever I can do to try to help get those guys in. We've been doing a great job of being able to go out and execute." Howard hit a first-pitch changeup from Archer. "He left a changeup up," Howard said. "I had a good pass at it. I feel like my first AB, felt good, felt like I was seeing the ball pretty well. He threw me a good changeup early on to strike me out, 3-2. But, the second AB, changeup up, put a good pass on it." When asked about the pitch to Howard, Archer said, "When you don't execute something that's 88 mph and you have a 30-home run, 100-RBIs guy, if you don't execute, it's going to get banged. And we have a lot of those guys in our division. ... [It was a] 0-0 changeup, couldn't-put-it-on-a-tee-any-better home run." Another key piece for the Phillies this season, Chase Utley, made his spring debut, batting third as the DH. Utley struck out in the first inning before singling to right-center field to lead off the fourth inning. He was then pulled from the game for a pinch-runner, ending his day 1-for-2 at the plate. Utley had not played in a game this spring because of a sprained right ankle, which he injured in January when he stepped on a baseball. Utley's ankle has made incremental progress over the past several weeks, and he has progressed enough to step into the batter's box and potentially run the bases. The Rays scored their only run in the first inning when Evan Longoria singled to score Asdrubal Cabrera, who moved into scoring position on an error from Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez.

The Phillies scratched right-hander Aaron Harang from Saturday's start against the Tigers, which you can listen to live on Gameday Audio at 1:05 p.m. ET, because of "lower back discomfort." They said they are not worried. But right-hander Paul Clemens, a non-roster invitee, will make the start in Harang's place. He has allowed one hit, two walks and has struck out one in four scoreless innings this spring. Ken Giles, Phillippe Aumont and Nefi Ogando also are scheduled to pitch.


Persistent Rotation Issues – A little more than three weeks before Opening Day, the Phillies have some serious health questions about their rotation. Cliff Lee threw Thursday, but the discomfort in his left elbow remained. He is trying to pitch with a tear in the common flexor tendon, but if he cannot pitch then season-ending surgery is the next option. Then the Phillies scratched Aaron Harang from Saturday's start against the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla., because he has "lower back discomfort." The Phillies said it is precautionary, and Harang is day to day. "I'm not that concerned about it," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "It's a muscular thing that he has." This is the second time Harang has missed a start this spring because of his back. He pitched Monday against the Orioles and said his back felt fine.

Utley Takes The Field – The Phillies hope Friday represented just another step in Chase Utley's chances to be in the Opening Day lineup. He played in his first Grapefruit League game in a 2-1 victory over the Rays at Bright House Field. Utley has been slowly recovering from a sprained right ankle, which he suffered in January when he stepped on a baseball. "It feels pretty good," Utley said about the ankle. "Still making a little progress on it. It's not perfect yet, but we're moving in the right direction." Utley was a designated hitter for four innings, striking out swinging in the first inning and singling to right-center field in the fourth. Aaron Altherr pinch-ran for Utley, and Altherr scored on Ryan Howard's two-run home run. "It felt good to get out there in front of the crowd, get some at-bats off an opposing pitcher," Utley said. "It was nice." "I thought Chase looked great," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "I thought he laid off some pitches. His swing was good, with the base hit, and ran well." Utley's health is worth following. First, the Phillies desperately need his bat in the lineup. Second, he has a $15 million club option for next season that automatically vests with 500 plate appearances. Of course, the next step is playing in the field. Sandberg and Utley offered no timetable for that. "I think we have to talk about it," Utley said. "I think there might be another DH in there, but yeah, I'd like to play the field soon."

Is Biddle Ready To Make An Impact? – This season could set up pretty nicely for Phillies prospect Jesse Biddle. The Phillies entered Spring Training with a dearth of starting pitching and it looks even thinner with the tear in Cliff Lee's left elbow and Aaron Harang missing more time because of lower back discomfort, although the Phillies said they are not concerned about it. But if Biddle -- the club's No. 9 prospect -- follows a couple years of adversity with a strong showing in 2015, it is not a stretch to think he could join the big leagues before the end of the season. "It's not really about how things went last year," Biddle said Friday at Bright House Field. "It's not really about whatever happened on the field, off the field. I have a lot of people in my corner, a lot of people sticking up for me and a lot of people that have been really supporting me, whether it's coaches here or coaches back home. I don't have any worries about this season. I feel great. My arm feels great. That's the most important thing." Biddle, the Philadelphia native drafted in the first round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, allowed two hits and struck out one in two scoreless innings Friday in a 2-1 victory over the Rays. But with Minor League camp rolling at the Carpenter Complex, it could have been his final big league appearance this spring. He hopes to be back soon. Biddle, 23, will have to put everything together to make it happen. The Phillies first want him to become a strike-throwing machine. They also want to see him better handle adversity. Biddle's physical and mental battles are well documented. He pitched through whooping cough and plantar fasciitis in his left foot in 2013 with Double-A Reading. He acknowledged that offseason he carried his poor performances with him too long. He returned to Reading in 2014 as a tune-up for an anticipated quick promotion to Triple-A, but it never came. He struggled, saying he was "miserable" at one point. The Phillies put him on the temporary inactive list and sent him to Florida because they believed he needed a mental break. He returned, but missed the rest of the season with a strained right quadriceps. He made just two starts in winter ball because of a sore left elbow. "Anybody giving up 10 runs in an outing when they know they can do a lot better is going to be miserable," said Biddle, referring to his trip to the inactive list. "The thing I've learned and the thing I've really been paying attention to is, this pressure that people talk about, this pressure I'm getting from the fan base or from my family or whatever, it's just support. It is love for me. "The pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself. There is a certain amount of expectations I have for myself to succeed. Sometimes I think maybe I do put too much pressure on myself because I want to pitch well for the people supporting me. But that's something I can change and adjust." Biddle said he suffered a concussion last season when a piece of hail struck him during a storm in Reading. He tried to pitch through it, not realizing at the time he had a concussion. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. acknowledged concussion symptoms, but told, "I don't know if it was a full-blown concussion. That wasn't the reason we gave him the break." Asked about the apparent discrepancy, Biddle said, "I can't really speak to that. I'm not in charge of how we handle them releasing information about my situation. But whatever it was, going down to Florida was the best thing that happened to me. It was the best thing I could have done, so the Phillies made the right call in that aspect. They took really good care of me." But that is in the past. Biddle is ready to let his pitching take care of his future. He believes it will. "Do I have every bit of confidence in myself?" Biddle said. "Absolutely. I think there's nothing really holding me back except myself. I think I have the talent to do it. I think I definitely will do it."

Rodriguez Ready To Shine – Joely Rodriguez learned the Pirates traded him to the Phillies in December while sitting in a bullpen in the Dominican Republic. He thought somebody was playing a joke on him. But Rodriguez, whom the Phillies acquired for Antonio Bastardo, said he realized the trade was real when he received another phone call on his ride home that night. "I'm happy to be in an organization that's giving me the opportunity to really show what I've got," Rodriguez said through translator Rickie Ricardo. Rodriguez allowed one hit, one unearned run and walked one in three innings on Friday in a 2-1 victory over the Rays at Bright House Field. He has allowed two hits, one unearned run, two walks and has struck out one in seven scoreless innings this spring. "My mission today was to get ahead in the count, attack the strike zone early so then I could work on my breaking pitches," Rodriguez said. He is expected to open the season in the Triple-A Lehigh Valley rotation, but the Phillies certainly are hoping they get something from Rodriguez, whom MLB Pipeline ranks No. 26 in the organization's Top 30 Prospects list. He is a piece in their rebuilding plan.

Debating The DH – Although it does not seem to be a pressing issue, Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark said recently that the idea of adding the designated hitter to the National League has been mentioned to the union. With the Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire following the 2016 season, Phillies president Pat Gillick hopes the DH remains in the American League. "There's nothing imminent," Clark said Friday morning at Bright House Field, where the union held its annual meeting with the Phillies. "There's nothing going on. I don't know how that snowball got rolling downhill. This wasn't anything that's been discussed. This was something that was mentioned elsewhere. At the end of the day we will go to the players and will determine -- if it's actually proposed -- whether or not it's a consideration the guys want to make, and then we'll have our bargaining position." Scoring in baseball is down, so including the DH in the NL could boost offense. It also would create more high-paying jobs for veteran hitters. "I've been in both leagues," Gillick said. "Basically, I like the National League style of play. Some people might say, 'Well, that's an old guy's way to look at it.' But I think it's a little more intellectual. I think one thing right now that's pretty prominent is pace of game. The American League games are longer than the National League games. "So I would not be one that would be a proponent of the DH in the National League." Told that the DH in the NL could increase scoring, Gillick said, "To be frank, I'd rather see them lower the mound and take some of the advantage away from the pitchers and try to improve scoring that way. I just like the intellectual game." Clark steered clear of saying whether or not the DH in the NL makes sense. "There could be an argument for it. There could be an argument against it," he said. "We're not going to take a position one way or the other. I will tell you, though, that each time we've had a bargaining session, the DH has been a part of the conversation. What do you want to do? Do you want to eliminate it? Do you want to add it? So it's been part of the conversation. But as I stand here today I haven't even begun to ask guys, 'Hey, what are you thinking about this?'"

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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