Friday, March 27, 2015

Injuries Continue To Impact Phillies


A four-run eighth inning powered the Blue Jays to a 4-1 win over the Phillies on Thursday afternoon at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. An RBI double by Ryan Goins and a three-run blast by Steve Tolleson in the bottom of the eighth provided Toronto's offense. "He's smoking," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said after Tolleson's third homer of the spring. "Last year, he was primarily against lefties. He had his eyes fixed, and I think he looks better, he's seeing the ball better from both sides of the plate. Tolly is just a good player. He's one of those guys, he's just there, he helps teams out tremendously. He can run, he play anywhere on the field, he's a valuable guy on the field." The game featured a pitchers' duel between Phillies ace Cole Hamels and Blue Jays promising right-hander Aaron Sanchez with both teams being held off the scoreboard through the first three innings. Philadelphia didn't get its first hit until the fourth inning while Kevin Pillar had Toronto's first hit in the fifth. The Phillies opened the scoring in the top of the fourth when Chase Utley sparked the rally with a one-out single. Veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz followed with a double to the gap in right-center field as Utley easily came around to score. With that, Philadelphia took a 1-0 lead but almost lost it in the following inning. Pillar led off with an infield single, but he was later picked off first base by Hamels. Center fielder Dalton Pompey followed with a shot off the wall in left-center field. Pompey missed the home run by a few feet but showed off his speed and ended up on third with a head-first slide. He was later stranded when Jose Reyes struck out swinging at a ball in the dirt. Sanchez was removed from the game in the folowing inning after reaching his pitch count for the afternoon. He allowed the one run on two hits, a walk and two strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings. The native of California has now allowed eight earned runs in 18 1/3 innings this spring as he nears his big league starting debut early next month. Hamels was taken out after the fifth. He didn't allow a run and surrendered only two hits, but he did walk three batters while striking out four. It was Hamels' fifth outing of the spring with his innings total now sitting at 15 2/3 innings to go along with nine earned runs. Utley was the standout in Philadelphia's lineup with a pair of hits and a run scored.

Top Phillies pitching prospect Aaron Nola will start Friday's Grapefruit League game against the Yankees at Bright House Field. The Phillies selected Nola with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft. Nola is scheduled to open the season in Double-A Reading but it is not a stretch to think he could join the big league rotation before the end of the year.


Phils Scratch Asche – The Phillies scratched Cody Asche from Thursday's lineup because of tightness in his back. The team said he felt something during team stretch. "I don't expect him to miss much [time]," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said following a 4-1 loss to the Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. "He had a muscle in his back that kind of grabbed him a little bit." Asche is hitting .238 (10-for-42) with two doubles, three home runs, seven RBIs and a .767 OPS in 16 Grapefruit League games. Non-roster invitee Andres Blanco replaced Asche at third base.

Hamels Ready For Opening Day – Cole Hamels looks ready for Opening Day. He allowed two hits, three walks and struck out four in five scoreless innings in Thursday's 4-1 loss to the Blue Jays at Auto Exchange Stadium. He allowed his first hit to open the fifth inning. He then allowed a two-out triple to Blue Jays center fielder Dalton Pompey before striking out Jose Reyes on three pitches to end the inning. Hamels has one more Spring Training start before pitching for the Phillies on Opening Day on April 6 against the Red Sox. Of course, Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg declined Thursday to officially name Hamels his Opening Day pitcher, but if he isn't, it would be one of the greatest upsets in franchise history. "As it gets closer, you've got to take things a little bit more seriously," said Hamels, who had a 7.59 ERA in his first four Grapefruit League starts. "Rather than working on pitches, it's more just getting guys out. Things have just been really starting to click in my bullpens, playing catch on the side, really just putting in the time to feel confident with each pitch so that I can go out there and try to execute a pitch with a little more authority." Hamels liked how he followed his at-bat against Pompey. He threw a first pitch curveball to Reyes, who swung and missed. Hamels followed with two changeups. "I think anytime you are able to go out there and get guys out on three pitches or less, you're feeling pretty good," Hamels said. "In a crunch situation, you just have to bear down, and this is the type of situation that you're going to be in all the time during the season, just because every pitch and every out matters." The Phillies head to Philadelphia next Thursday for a pair of exhibition games against the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park. They open their 2015 season a couple days later against the Red Sox. Hamels will be on the mound, even if Sandberg has not said it. "It's a secret," he said with a smile. "I'll give you a little heads up."

Bullpen Struggles – Phillies left-hander Andy Oliver remains a favorite to win a bullpen job, but the Rule 5 Draft pick has struggled in his last two Grapefruit League appearances. He walked four batters in just 2/3 inning Thursday in a 4-1 loss to the Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. He allowed three hits, two runs, one walk and struck out three in 1 2/3 innings Sunday against the Red Sox. Oliver had allowed two hits, two walks and had struck out an eye-popping 13 batters in 6 2/3 scoreless innings in his first four Spring Training appearances. "He had a couple real good ones, real good," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He just didn't have his control [Thursday]. In most cases, he can get his slider for strikes, but it didn't happen today. But he's shown when he's in the zone with both pitches, he can be effective. That's key for him, throwing strikes." Oliver averaged 12 strikeouts per nine innings last season with Triple-A Indianapolis, but he also averaged 6.6 walks. In five seasons in the Minor Leagues, he has averaged 9.2 strikeouts and 5.8 walks per nine innings. Phillies setup man Ken Giles allowed two hits, four runs, two walks and struck out one in 2/3 inning to blow the lead and game. He allowed a three-run home run to Steve Tolleson to give Toronto the three-run lead. Giles had allowed two hits, one run, five walks and had struck out nine in 6 2/3 innings in his first six appearances. "Kenny, he's not where he wants to be yet," Sandberg said. "He's still building arm strength. He doesn't have his good zip on his fastball. And today his slider wasn't going down like it usually does. I think he's a power pitcher that's still building his arm." Any concerns there? "I don't think so," Sandberg said.

A Small But Significant Step – This is just another small step for Phillies right-hander Chad Billingsley, but he is encouraged. He pitched two scoreless innings Thursday in a Minor League Spring Training game against the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate at Carpenter Complex. Billingsley, 30, allowed two hits. He faced seven hitters and got five ground balls. "Today was a really good test or step," Billingsley said. "I had a really quick first inning. And then go back out there and throw 24 pitches. It felt great. So I was really pleased with it. As far as recovery, my arm feels good right now. If something was wrong, I would have come out of the game. It felt good, and I'm going to do it again in five days." Billingsley has pitched just 12 innings in the big leagues the past two seasons because of two elbow surgeries. The Phillies signed him to a one-year, $1.5 million contract in the offseason, and they hope he can be ready to join the Phillies' rotation by late April. The Phillies could use a healthy and effective Billingsley. They need a No. 5 starter, and the candidates to this point are Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, Kevin Slowey and Sean O'Sullivan. "I'm very encouraged each time I go out there," Billingsley said. "Each little step I take, I get more confidence. More confidence that my arm is responding well and it's recovering well. I let some balls go today, really getting after it. And each time out there just gaining confidence in my arm and trusting it and not really worrying about it. Getting it out of my mind. I mean, going through two surgeries the last two years, starting to trust it, and it's responded well, and I'm happy." Billingsley is not sure about his next step. It could be more Minor League games. It could be an appearance in a Grapefruit League game.

Another Injured Phillie – It is not a crippling blow, but top Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford suffered a setback nonetheless this week. Crawford strained his left oblique, which the Phils said could sideline him four to six weeks. "That's the range," Phillies player development director Joe Jordan said. "We'll see in a few days how he responds to treatment. We'll have a better feel in five, six, seven days from now." Crawford, 20, had been scheduled to open the season with Class A Advanced Clearwater or Double-A Reading. "It's disappointing, but it shouldn't be a long-term thing," Jordan said. The Phillies selected Crawford with the 16th overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. ranks him as the No. 22 prospect in baseball. Crawford hit a combined .285 with 23 doubles, 11 home runs, 48 RBIs, 24 stolen bases and a .781 OPS in 538 plate appearances last season with Class A Lakewood and Clearwater.

Hollands Weighing Options – Mario Hollands has a firm grip on reality, but he still has a sliver of hope he will avoid surgery on his left elbow. Hollands has a torn common flexor tendon, which is the same injury that is likely to end Cliff Lee's career. Hollands visited Phillies physician Michael Ciccotti this week in Philadelphia to discuss his recent MRI results. Surgery has been recommended because Hollands' first attempt at rehab failed -- the injury first surfaced in September, which ended his 2014 season -- but he has two other options: rest and PRP (Platelet-Rich Plasma) injection. "I wanted to do the PRP and rest, because I wanted to help the team this year. I wanted to play," Hollands said. "That's still in my head because I want to play so bad, but I am a little worried because it's the second time, so I don't know if rest or PRP will be the only solution. So surgery, I'm thinking about it pretty hard." Hollands will seek a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews. He hopes to have his recommendation soon. Hollands' difficult choice is this: if he elects rest or PRP and it fails a second time, he risks not being healthy at the beginning of the 2016 season. The Phillies said the recovery from this type of surgery is six to eight months. "It would be heartbreaking if it came back again after rest," Hollands said. In that sense, surgery might be the safest option. "That'll help just seal it up, and hopefully it will never be a problem again," Hollands said. Hollands made the team last season as a non-roster invitee. He went 2-2 with a 4.40 ERA in 50 appearances. Hollands' injury opens up a bullpen job. Four spots are locked up with Jonathan Papelbon, Ken Giles, Jake Diekman and Justin De Fratus. Andy Oliver, Luis Garcia and Jeanmar Gomez are the leading candidates for the final three jobs.

Lohman On The Totem Pole – The Phillies announced Thursday they have acquired shortstop Devin Lohman from the Reds for future considerations. He will report to Minor League camp. Lohman, 25, hit .245 with 16 doubles, two triples, five home runs, 29 RBIs and a .661 OPS with Double-A Pensacola. The Reds selected him in the third round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.

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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