Thursday, March 19, 2015

Looking Back At A Tough Spring


The Phillies had their only day off of the spring Wednesday, but resume play Thursday night on MLB. TV and Gameday Audio at 7:05 against the Yankees in Tampa, Fla. Right-hander Aaron Harang has missed two of his first three starts because of back problems, but he is going to try to pitch Thursday. Joely Rodriguez, who suddenly is a rotation candidate, also is scheduled to pitch.


A Challenging Spring – Cliff Lee returned to Bright House Field late Monday afternoon to announce his plans to rehabilitate the torn tendon in his left elbow a third time, despite the fact surgery had been recommended and despite the fact the chance of success is infinitesimal. The following morning, his locker's nameplate had been removed and its contents had been emptied. Lee is gone, and he will not be back, barring a miracle. But Spring Training continues for the Phillies, who are looking for reasons to be positive with Opening Day just 19 days away. Losing Lee is a major blow, because they hoped to eventually trade him for prospects. The Phils hope their remaining veterans remain healthy and productive, so they can be traded at some point. "Nothing new on that front," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Tuesday. The first month of Spring Training has shown a few things about the Phillies. First, Philadelphia's bullpen remains the strength of the team. Jonathan Papelbon, Ken Giles, Jake Diekman and Justin De Fratus make up a formidable foursome. If Rule 5 Draft pick Andy Oliver continues to pitch like he has pitched, he should make the team. The left-hander has allowed two hits, two walks and has struck out nine in five scoreless innings. Left-hander Mario Hollands' last three appearances have been scoreless. He has a good chance to make the bullpen. Non-roster invitee Jeanmar Gomez has made a strong showing in camp, throwing five scoreless innings. People in the organization like left-hander Elvis Araujo, who has allowed one run in five innings. Right-hander Luis Garcia, the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2014, has thrown 4 2/3 scoreless innings. "The real evaluation probably starts to come in the next 10 to 12 days," Amaro said. "That's when you really get a better feel for where guys are. Hopefully people start putting pressure on some of the others. But we have options because a lot of the guys have options. That's a good thing." But what about the offense and the rotation? The Phils remain last in baseball with a .581 OPS, which is 73 points lower than the 29th-ranked Rays. Philadelphia hopes to be better, but how much better can it realistically be? Ryan Howard looks improved early, but there is not much power elsewhere. Small ball is a nice thought, but mixing in an extra-base hit every once in a while would be welcomed. "We're not going to score a lot of runs," Amaro said. "We've been saying that. We'll have to scratch them. We're not going to scare anybody with our power, but that doesn't mean we can't score runs. We're going to have to manufacture them. We're going to have to do it with our legs. We're going to have to do it with our brains and aggressiveness." The Phillies' bench figures to include outfielder/first baseman Darin Ruf, outfielder Odubel Herrera, catcher Cameron Rupp, infielder Cesar Hernandez and possibly Jeff Francoeur. Non-roster invitee Cord Phelps has impressed a few people in the organization. Outfielder Brian Bogusevic has hit two home runs. Could Phelps bump out Hernandez, who is out of options? Phelps has gotten plenty of at-bats recently, but options matter for the Phils. The Phillies' rotation could be a bigger issue than anticipated. It currently includes Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams and David Buchanan, if everybody is healthy. Harang has missed two starts already because of his back. Williams has missed one after "tweaking" his right hamstring. The Phils said they have no concerns about Harang and Williams. But their unavailability has showed how thin the Phillies' starting pitching is. The competition for Lee's replacement includes: left-hander Joely Rodriguez, who has never pitched above Double-A; non-roster right-handers Kevin Slowey and Paul Clemens; and right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, who has a 9.00 ERA in three appearances. Manager Ryne Sandberg also mentioned right-hander Sean O'Sullivan as a candidate. He was just reassigned to Minor League camp Monday. "They're not going to be able to replace Cliff," Amaro said. "They'll compete. We'll see. Somebody's going to do it." But will the Phillies compete? Or will their shortcomings on offense and their lack of depth in the rotation hurt them? They have 19 days to get things going.

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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