Monday, March 9, 2015

Lingering Injuries And Impressive Invitees

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phillies Sting Rays 5-4

Chris Archer, who will begin the season as the Rays' No. 2 starter, made his first start of the spring. After pitching a scoreless first, the right-hander allowed a one-out double to Cody Asche in the second before Freddy Galvis drove him home with a single to right during Philadelphia's 5-4 win on Sunday at Charlotte Sports Park. Archer allowed one run on three hits and a walk while striking out one in two innings. "Honestly, I gave up a run, but I'm happy overall," said Archer. "For outing No. 1, I threw too many pitches (37 total, 27 strikes), but I'm not going to beat myself up over a few extra pitches when there were so many executed. Even if they were balls. Quality pitches down in the zone." Kevin Jepsen and Brad Boxberger each threw a scoreless inning. Both of the right-handers will be used at the back end of the bullpen this season. Kevin Slowey started for the Phillies and did nothing to hurt his chances of earning the fifth spot in the rotation. The veteran right-hander retired the Rays in order while striking out two in three perfect innings. Also in the hunt for the No. 5 spot are David Buchanan and Alfredo Gonzalez. Phillies pitchers retired the first 14 Rays hitters in order. Joey Butler finally broke the spell with a two-out single in the fifth through the middle against left-hander Joely Rodriguez. The Phillies added three runs in the seventh inning on RBIs by Ben Revere, Odubel Herrera and Brian Bogusevic. Boog Powell had an RBI single and Corey Brown doubled in a run for the Rays.

Aaron Harang will makes his first start of the spring when the Phillies travel to Sarasota on Monday afternoon to play the Orioles in a 1:05 p.m. ET contest that can be heard on Gameday Audio. The veteran right-hander signed a one-year, $5-million contract with the Phillies in January after going 12-12 with a 3.57 ERA for the Braves in 2014.

  • General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said there is one team that has "stepped up" its efforts to acquire left-hander Cole Hamels in the past few days, but declined to be more specific. "We're keeping an open mind," he said. "We're open-minded on everything. The transition, the rebuild, all that stuff didn't stop on Feb. 25. It's going to continue."


Lee Suffers Setback – Something has gone wrong for a team that needs a lot to go right this season. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. announced before Sunday's Grapefruit League game against the Rays at Charlotte Sports Park that left-hander Cliff Lee is experiencing discomfort in the same area of his elbow that bothered him last season. That strained flexor tendon ended his season on July 31. Lee will miss his next scheduled start against the Tigers at Bright House Field. "I just don't have any idea where we're going to go from there," Amaro said. "Hopefully he'll be able to make his following start, but I'll talk with [pitching coach Bob McClure] and [manager Ryne Sandberg] and with Cliff and we'll see how he feels moving forward to see how altered his schedule will be. But it will depend on how he feels when he starts throwing again." According to Amaro, Lee felt fine during his first spring outing against the Astros on Thursday in Kissimmee. It was during his workout the following day that he began to feel something. "Very mild," the general manager said. "But because of what happened last year, we have to be hypersensitive." Lee was examined by club physician Michael Ciccotti in Clearwater. A static ultrasound and enhanced MRI were ordered. The MRI photos have been forward to renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews. Amaro described the steps as precautionary and said the tests showed no damage to the UCL. "None of the area that is supposed to be affected has changed. There's no change from the last MRI we did. And he had thrown so much since then without really feeling anything until this last outing. We shouldn't say it's not alarming because it is of concern. It's the same area. But there's no increase in the original affected area," the general manager explained. "It's very, very small, a very pinpointed area. And again there's very little swelling or fluid in that area. But any time it's the elbow you've got to be concerned about it." Said manager Ryne Sandberg: "First of all, there are still some positive signs. When he does warm up, he feels fine. I'm anxious to watch him play catch and see how he progresses the next few days and see if he makes a start from there. There is concern." Amaro said all the doctors consulted last season recommended against surgery, but couldn't guess if that's now an option. "A lot of it will depend on what Dr. Andrews says, but everybody has kind of been on the same page with this," he said. "That if they do have to do a surgery and have to clean away some of the 'bad stuff' in there, it's a real small area. If it ends up having to get repaired it's six to eight months. "So I don't know. I think ultimately it'll be a decision for Cliff later on. But a lot of it will depend on how he's feeling when he starts throwing again." In the short run, this is a potential setback on more than one level. If Lee is healthy and pitching well, the Phillies are obviously a better team. And if he pitched well enough to be traded, it could help accelerate the franchise's rebuilding process. "It could affect the bigger picture," Amaro agreed. "If he can't perform, of course it's going to affect us whether he pitches for us or somebody else."

Utley Progressing Slowly – Second baseman Chase Utley is probably at least a week away from making his Grapefruit League debut after suffering a sprained right ankle while working out in January. But the Phillies remain optimistic that the six-time All-Star will be fully prepared for Opening Day. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. hopes Utley can get into a game within a week, but cautioned that it remains a day-to-day situation. "I just saw his ankle [Saturday] and it's still swollen. It's going to take some time to heal. There's no reason to rush him," the general manager said before Sunday's 5-4 win over the Rays at Charlotte Sports Park. "As long as he gets 40-50 at-bats to get his timing down. I think that's the important thing." Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said he believed the 36-year-old Utley could be ready for the regular season even if he doesn't play until there are two weeks left, which is about March 21. "Two weeks can be adequate for a regular player. I think the biggest thing would be getting enough at-bats. He could get numerous at-bats in Minor League games, as guys do. Then you hit the field for two weeks. For some guys that's enough," the manager said. "He's gaining on it. He's able to take ground balls. He's able to run adequately. He's getting his conditioning in. He's taking a lot of batting practice. So I think it's more just continuing to do that to get him real stable on his ankle, which I think will help him not think about it when he's out there playing. "Everything else is good with him. That's the positive thing. He doesn't want his ankle to affect something else. So it's somewhat precautionary."

Slowey Making An Impression – Kevin Slowey is quickly becoming one of the pleasant surprises of the early days of Spring Training. The 30-year-old right-hander retired all nine batters he faced after starting the Phillies' 5-4 win over the Rays on Sunday at Charlotte Sports Park. He's in camp as a non-roster invitee after being released by the Marlins last June. In Grapefruit League play this year, Slowey has allowed one single in five innings. "I think at this point in my career, I know what makes me good. And if I can execute that, things usually turn out well. If I can't, usually they don't turn out so well. The last couple games I've been able to get ahead with fastballs in the zone and let our defense do the work," he said. The conventional wisdom coming into camp had Slowey competing with David Buchanan and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez for the fifth spot in the rotation. That calculus may have changed with Sunday's announcement that Cliff Lee, the 2008 American League Cy Young Award winner, is once again experiencing discomfort in his elbow. Slowey doesn't want to benefit from Lee's misfortune. "I was not aware of that, but that makes me sad," Slowey said. "Hopefully he'll be OK. He's a good man. We'll be praying for him for sure. It stinks. More than anything, I feel for him. "I wanted them to know early on I'll do anything it takes, in any capacity, whenever they need me to do it. Last minute, if I know ahead of time, it doesn't matter to me. I'm willing to do whatever it takes this spring and then carry it on to the season." Said manager Ryne Sandberg: "He was impressive. He threw all fastballs. I don't know if I've ever seen that before. He was able to change speeds on them."

Herrera’s Odds Increasing – When the Phillies selected Odubel Herrera from the Rangers organization in the Rule 5 Draft in December, they made it clear the plan was to use the natural infielder primarily as an outfielder. Against the Rays on Sunday at Charlotte Sports Park, though, the 2014 Double-A Texas League batting champion started at second base. Although he went hitless in four at-bats during the Phillies' 5-4 win, he's still hitting .333 this spring. "Just some added versatility for him," manager Ryne Sandberg explained. "Because you just never know what spot's going to open up for an opportunity. If the guy swings the bat and you need him in there, it helps if he can play a couple different positions." Sandberg speaks from experience. He was drafted as a shortstop, and after reaching Triple-A, he went to winter ball and played second base, third and center field. He played third base when he first came up with the Cubs, then was switched to second and went on to have a Hall of Fame career. "He looked natural [at second] as far as I was concerned," Sandberg said. He has good moves there. He looked good. And he made something happen with the bat beating out a [potential] double-play ball." Herrera has played center field so far, but will also get a look in left and right. "He's looked real good in [center field]," Sandberg said. "Very good routes. He's shown a real good arm out there. His speed really plays getting to the balls, but it's still fairly new to him. It will be useful for him going forward to get some reps in the corner outfield positions also. Which can be tougher than center because of the angles." Said the 23-year-old Herrera, who also led the Venezuelan Winter League with a .372 average for La Guaira: "I like playing second base, because that's my natural position. I feel good over there. I'm going to try to do the best I can. Right now I'm in the outfield but today they put me at second base and I'm going to have fun. "I don't know why [the Rangers didn't protect me]. But it happened for a reason. I feel good here and I hope I can stay with this team. There is a lot of opportunity here and I'm going to do the best I can to stay here." The Phillies must keep Herrera on the Major League roster for the season or send him through waivers or offer him back to the Rangers.

Family Ties – When Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg looked across the field Sunday at Charlotte Sports Park, he saw a familiar face: His nephew, Jared Sandberg, manager of the Rays' Triple-A Durham Bulls farm team. The two men chatted after batting practice, posed for pictures and made plans to try to have dinner when the Rays play in Clearwater on Friday. "It was awesome. He's moving up the ladder. He's done a nice job over there and that's good to see," said Ryne Sandberg. Said Jared Sandberg: "It was really cool. I've been in the stands when Ryne's been playing or managing, but to be in the opposing dugout was really cool for me and him and the whole family." Ryne had a Hall of Fame career with the Cubs. Jared, the son of Ryne's older brother, Del, hit 18 homers in his first 102 games after breaking in with the Rays in 2001, but developed a rare disease that caused blind spots in his vision. "He started to lose track of the baseball, so that called for the early retirement [after the 2007 season]," Ryne said. Jared immediately became a coach and manager in the Tampa Bay system. After Ryne retired, he occasionally went to visit Del and they'd catch a series when Jared played in Durham. When he was working his way through the Minors as a manager, he and Jared would sometimes get together when their schedules allowed. "We got together for Thanksgiving this year in Arizona. I usually see him five or six times a year," Ryne said. They never managed against each other in the Minors. So if Jared gets his opportunity, it would be a big day in the Sandberg family if they ever faced off against each other in the big leagues. "I've thought about it, but that's probably a long ways away from my development, from where I'm at, but at some point it would be really cool," he said. And he had a message for his uncle: "I got his signs," he said with a laugh. "Let him know."

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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