Friday, March 6, 2015

Lee Looked Strong But Phils Fall To Astros

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phillies Fall To Astros 6-3

Phillies starter Cliff Lee worked two scoreless innings and gave up two hits with no walks or strikeouts in a 6-3 loss to the Astros. It marked his first game action since July 31 after he went on the disabled list with a left elbow strain and missed the rest of the regular season. Because he was battling for a spot on the roster a year ago, Astros right-hander Collin McHugh didn't even get a chance to start a game in the spring. He didn't make the club, but he was called up by the end of April and wound up making 25 starts and becoming a great story. McHugh took the ball for the Astros' Spring Training opener Thursday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium in only the second start of his career in a Spring Training game. Instead of worrying about a spot on the club, McHugh can focus on getting in his work. McHugh sailed through two scoreless innings against the Phillies, striking out three batters and walking one. "In terms of just kind of mental space, it's different because I've never been here, never broken camp with a team before," McHugh said. "It's different, but I'm excited because I'm honored to be called one of the five guys who gets the ball." With the starting pitchers out of the way, the Astros blasted three homers in a span of two innings to take a 4-1 lead. Luis Valbuena, making his first appearance in a Houston uniform, socked a solo homer in the fourth inning, and Robbie Grossman and Marwin Gonzalez homered on consecutive pitches off Phillippe Aumont in the fifth.

The Phillies return home Friday to play the Yankees. Left-hander Cole Hamels, who has been at the center of trade rumors all offseason, will get the start in front of the Bright House Field crowd and an array of scouts. The 1:05 p.m. ET start will be broadcast live on MLB.TV.

  • The Phillies have added right-handers Mike Nesseth and Seth Rosin to Major League camp as non-roster invitees. The club now has 60 players in camp, 30 of whom are pitchers.
  • Alex Monchak turned 98 on Thursday. He's the oldest living Phillies alumni after playing in 19 games at second base and shortstop in 1940. He's also the third-oldest former Major Leaguer.


Gillick’s Revised Prediction – Phillies president Pat Gillick said on a Philadelphia sports talk radio show Thursday morning that he thinks that with good health, the rebuilding team could realistically have a winning record this season. "I think we're going to win in the [80-game range]," Gillick told 94WIP. That's more optimistic than his offseason assessment that it could be a couple years before the Phils were competitive, and it runs counter to the national impression that the team could have one of the worst records in baseball. Gillick didn't back down after arriving at Osceola County Stadium for Thursday's 6-3 Grapefruit League loss to the Astros, but he added another important caveat. "I think a lot depends on if we stay healthy, and a lot depends on who stays here through the entire season. If this group is together through the entire season and the younger people come along, we've got an opportunity maybe to get to .500," Gillick said. "If some of the people we have here, for one reason or another, are traded, then that would change the situation. But the group we have now, if we stay healthy, I think we can hopefully reach .500." It is widely accepted that starters Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee and closer Jonathan Papelbon are among the big names who could be moved if the price is right. Asked what he thinks is the likelihood that stars will still be on the roster when the season ends, Gillick shrugged. "It all depends what [general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.] gets offered for different players. If it's something that's going to make us better for the future, that would probably change things, change the outlook for 2015. But if it's going to make us better down the line, he'd certainly have to consider it," Gillick said.

Back To Normal – The important number wasn't the 22 pitches, or the 16 strikes. The important number wasn't a fastball that sat in the high 80s or the zero runs allowed on two hits with no walks or strikeouts. The important number wasn't even the 17 scouts who sat behind home plate, carefully watching his two innings. The most important result for veteran Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee after his start in Thursday's 6-3 Grapefruit League loss to the Astros at Osceola County Stadium wasn't even a number at all. It was this: "It feels normal," the 36-year-old said. Lee was facing hitters in a game for the first time in more than seven months after missing most of the second half of last season with a strained elbow. If he can bounce back to regain his All-Star form, that would be a big boost for the Phillies ... or any team that might try to pick him up in a deal. The conventional wisdom has been that Lee has to prove that he's healthy before he'd be a legitimate trade chip. And he conceded that two innings in the first week of March doesn't do that. "I wouldn't say so. As a starting pitcher, you've got to go out there and throw a hundred and some odd pitches, get deep into games to do your job effectively," Lee said. "Personally, until I do that, I don't think that I've proven that I can do that yet. I don't have any doubts, but still you have to build up to do that and prove you can do that. "Not that I'm trying to prove anything to anyone. I don't have any uncertainty. I definitely have confidence and expect to go out there and be successful, and I'm doing everything I can to prevent something like that from happening again." But Lee, who threw all fastballs with the exception of one curve and two cutters, viewed this outing as a step in the right direction, and he is confident about what lies ahead. "I didn't really have butterflies, but it has been a while since I've faced live hitters, so it was good to get that under my belt and behind me, and now it's just build on that," Lee said. "I definitely know how to pitch and know what it takes to be a successful pitcher at this level, so I definitely feel like there's more that I have to offer, and I'm going to continue to go out there and try to prove it every chance I get. "Really, it's for myself more than anything. I know what I can do and I know what I'm capable of. I hold myself to a pretty high standard, so if I can live up to that, then everything is going to work out just fine."

Can Brown Bounce Back? – During their organizational meetings last fall, one of the strongest supporters of outfielder Domonic Brown was Pat Gillick. "One thing about Domonic is he did hit 20-some home runs one year. He has done it," the club president said before Thursday's 6-3 Grapefruit League loss to the Astros at Osceola County Stadium. "I don't know if he's going to do it again, but he's one guy who has shown offensively that he's capable of it. "We want him to succeed, and if he's going to succeed, we want him to succeed here." The 27-year-old Brown then went 2-for-5 with a double and an RBI in the game. "He had four good at-bats, hit two to the warning track," said manager Ryne Sandberg. In 2013, Brown hit 27 homers with an .818 OPS and made the National League All-Star team. Last season, he hit 10 homers with a .634 OPS. "He didn't have a good year offensively [in 2014]," Gillick said. "But personally, I don't see any physical change in him."

Last Chance – Reliever Phillippe Aumont is out of options. Starter Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is in the second year of a three-year contract. The two right-handers are considered to have significant upsides, but neither has yet demonstrated the consistency they need to help the Phillies win at the big league level. Both pitchers worked in Thursday's 6-3 Grapefruit League loss to the Astros at Osceola County Stadium. Gonzalez allowed two runs on four hits while pitching the third and fourth innings. Aumont gave up back-to-back home runs to Robbie Grossman and Marwin Gonzalez in the fifth. Manager Ryne Sandberg said he thought the 28-year-old Gonzalez, who is competing for the fifth spot in the rotation and dealt with shoulder problems after signing a $12 million deal as a Cuban free agent, pitched better than his line indicated. "That's probably the best I've seen him as far as [health] and the fastball ... [and the] breaking pitch. That's the best stuff I've seen him have since he came over here," Sandberg said. "He looks like he's healthy, has a little zip on the fastball. That can get better as he goes along. But compared to last year, it's night and day." Sandberg was less encouraged by the 26-year-old Aumont. "Just a combination of hittable pitches that get squared up and getting behind in the count," Sandberg said. "So he's got some work to do. There are adjustments to be made there. When you pitch from behind, the hitters hit fastballs. Typically, the hitters see him pretty well [when that happens]. "The biggest thing is working ahead. Really, he has a good breaking ball when he gets to those counts. But sometimes he gets hit before he gets to those counts." Aumont demonstrated that to George Springer, striking the outfielder out with the help of two good breaking balls after the second home run. And because of his potential, it's likely that he would be claimed if the Phillies had to put him on waivers. "This is a big Spring Training for him as far as being with the Phillies," Sandberg said. "He's had multiple chances, and this is a clean slate opportunity for him. This is a new season with competition in camp and jobs to be won. There are some spots available. So this is an important spring for him as far as staying with the Phillies."

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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