Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Offense Continues To Struggle Despite Win


Andres Blanco homered to lead the Phillies to a 1-0 win over the Orioles on Monday afternoon at Ed Smith Stadium. Blanco broke the scoreless tie, homering off Orioles lefty Brian Matusz, in the top of the fifth inning for his first Grapefruit League blast. Matusz went 2 1/3 innings, allowing just two hits, including the home run, in his second spring appearance. Aaron Harang pitched two scoreless innings in his Grapefruit League debut. He missed his scheduled start last week because of lower back tightness. He said the issue is behind him. "The whole back thing, I know the feel," Harang said. "It's the first two weeks of the spring when you're running around in your cleats and getting used to being out running around and standing around. I don't go home in the offseason and stand in my front yard with my spikes and train for this." Oriole starter Chris Tillman went two scoreless innings in his first spring start, allowing one hit and one walk in the 32-pitch outing. "I don't like sitting there. Threw enough bullpens, so I was ready," Tillman said of his spring debut. "It was fun just getting back out there, get in that atmosphere again, get the blood going a little bit." Tillman threw all of his pitches, though it was a heavy dose of fastballs, and said he was mainly looking to get the feel back. "Early on, I was a little excited, but really made an adjustment and got back on," he said. "Threw some good changeups, some good curveballs, fastball location was good for the most part. I'm happy with it."

Phillies right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez starts Tuesday afternoon against the Tigers at Bright House Field live on MLB.TV at 1:05 p.m. ET. Gonzalez entered camp competing for a job in the rotation, and he will get a good look following this week's news that Cliff Lee suffered a setback with his left elbow.


You Might Want To Move Next Time – At least the baseball spared Cody Asche's right hand. Asche left Monday's 1-0 victory over the Orioles in the sixth inning at Ed Smith Stadium after a pitch hit him on the right triceps. Asche suffered a bruise with a complementary imprint of the baseball as a souvenir. He said he should be fine. "I'll try to get out of the way next time," he said. "No cause for concern." Asche got hit with a pitch on his right hand last March, which forced him to miss time in Spring Training. "At least it wasn't the hand this year," he said. "That's a plus."

Heeding Eric Idle’s Advice – Cliff Lee stood in front of his locker early Monday morning and faced down the prospect of his baseball mortality with the same demeanor he has when he stands on the mound and faces down hitters. Calm. Business-like. Almost detached. Lee is experiencing discomfort in his valuable left elbow again, in the same spot he felt it last season when a strained flexor tendon shut him down for the final two months of the season. And despite his measured tones, make no mistake: This is a big deal. For the Phillies, who need a lot to go right this year. For contenders, who could see him as the final piece they need to win it all. Most importantly, for the 36-year-old former Cy Young Award winner and his family. Inside, Lee might have been experiencing a tsunami of emotions, a jumble of clashing feelings. Optimism that this will turn out to be just a minor setback. "I hoped to nip it in the bud as quick as we can and hope that it's just a little twinge or something from really cranking it up the first time in a while," Lee said. Rage at the unfairness of it all. "I just know I did everything to prevent it. That's really all I could do, so there's nothing I look back and say, 'I should have done this, I should have done that.'" Bafflement at what went wrong. "I truly felt nothing for months, and then all of a sudden there it is after the first time I pitch in a game." Dread that he may need an operation. "Basically if I have the surgery this season will be done, possibly my career I guess. I don't know. We'll have to see." Resignation that he has little control over what happens next. "So long as I'm satisfied with how I prepared, there's nothing more I can do." Outwardly, Lee discussed each scenario in a clinical monotone, delivered with an invisible shrug. Even as he was admitting that this was bothering him, his tone and body language suggested that he was discussing what he planned to have for lunch. "Obviously, it's very disappointing with all the stuff I did in the offseason to prevent something like this from happening," Lee said. "It's frustrating. There's still a possibility it's scar tissue and it's normal, but there's also the possibility it's coming back, and that's very frustrating." There are few things more unnerving than uncertainty, and right now Lee stands on a road with several forks. Once he knows what lies ahead, he can prepare and deal with it. But that won't happen until at least after Lee tries to throw again and until he gets a second opinion on the MRI he had over the weekend from renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews. The test results so far have shown only mild inflammation in a small area. That's encouraging. It reminds Lee of last year, though. That isn't. There's a chance it could just be scar tissue breaking up. There's a chance it could be something worse. Last season, Phillies club physician Michael Ciccotti, Dr. David Altchek from the Mets and Dr. Andrews all recommended against surgery. "They all said last year it's in the upper-90s-percent chance it'll heal just fine with rest, and like 3 percent chance you might need surgery," Lee said. "Obviously you're going to take your chances on rest and rehab, and that's what we did. So, potentially I'm the 3 percent that needs surgery, and potentially it's scar tissue breaking up and it's normal. But I think it's early to know which one it is." Lee has done what he could. A reporter wondered Monday whether he might need to make an adjustment to account for the fact that he's a baseball senior citizen. Invisible shrug. "I felt like I've changed everything I needed to change to prevent. I don't know how to go out there and be anything other than what I am," Lee said. "I just wish it didn't exist. I wish it wasn't a problem. "At this point, there's nothing I can do about it, other than listen to the advice of our trainers and medical staff and try to do everything I can to get back on the field and play. Because that's obviously what I want to do. That's what I'm here for. That's really it." Until further notice, Lee and the Phillies just have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Aaron Harang Is Not Cliff Lee – Aaron Harang said Monday afternoon that the tightness he felt in his back last week is no longer an issue. "Everything is good," he said. The Phillies hope that is true. Harang allowed three hits and two walks in two scoreless innings in his Grapefruit League debut in a 1-0 win over the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium on Monday. Harang missed his scheduled debut last week because of back tightness. It raised a few eyebrows in camp because the Phillies entered Spring Training already thin with starting pitching. And that was before news broke this week that Cliff Lee suffered a setback with his left elbow. "The whole back thing, I know the feel," Harang said. "It's the first two weeks of the spring when you're running around in your cleats and getting used to being out running around and standing around. I don't go home in the offseason and stand in my front yard with my spikes and train for this." Harang, 36, went 12-12 with a 3.57 ERA in 33 starts last season with the Braves. He said the Braves talked with him about returning but the Phillies were more aggressive. They signed him to a one-year, $5 million contract. There has been plenty of talk this spring about the Phillies trading Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to help rebuild for the future. Lee had been in that group, but his latest setback scuttles any thoughts of a trade. But Harang and perhaps even Chad Billingsley, who signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract, could be ideal trade candidates come July 31, if they are pitching well. They are both on one-year contracts at affordable salaries. They might not land a package like Hamels conceivably could bring, but they could bring more youth into the system. "You're aware of that type of stuff, but my focus is pitching for the Phillies and trying to help us win," Harang said. "That's my goal every fifth day. There's only so much I can control. I can only do what I can control and leave the rest up to the club."

Adam Morgan Is Also Not Cliff Lee – It had been a while for Phillies left-hander Adam Morgan. "Too long," he said. Morgan allowed two hits in two scoreless innings Monday in a 1-0 victory over the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium. Other than 16 2/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League last year, it was the first time Morgan had been on the mound in a game since August 2013 because of a left shoulder injury. "My arm felt great," he said. "I've got to start fine-tuning my command. I just have to stay on top and keep on going. I was anxious and excited and a little bit nervous, but I think that being a little bit nervous is good for you. If you're not nervous and excited, where's the passion? It felt good to get back out there and compete." Morgan, whom the Phillies selected in the third round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, injured his left shoulder in May 2013. He tried rest and rehab, but the shoulder never improved. He finally had surgery in January 2014, which required months of rehab before he got his feet wet in the AFL. If Morgan, 25, had not sustained the injury, he almost certainly would have made the jump to the big leagues in 2013. That season started with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan in the rotation. Halladay and Lannan suffered injuries, which allowed Jonathan Pettibone, Tyler Cloyd, Ethan Martin, Zach Miner and Raul Valdes to make a combined 42 starts. "He looked like he had a good arm," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He showed some composure out there. Really my first look at him, but I liked what I saw."

Greene Departs – The Phillies once touted Larry Greene as a big-time power hitter and a "man amongst young men." But Monday they confirmed a PhoulBallz.com report that Greene does not want to play baseball anymore and will not be in Spring Training. The Phillies gave Greene a $1 million signing bonus as the 39th overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, but he never played above Class A Lakewood in four Minor League seasons. "I'm more disappointed for him," Phillies player development director Joe Jordan said. "I'd be disappointed if it was a 20th-round pick, but this is a different situation." The Phillies never heard from Greene as Spring Training approached. He finally informed them that he had no plans to attend camp. It certainly sounds like his baseball career is finished, but Jordan would not say Greene has officially quit or retired. Greene, 22, hit a combined .224 with eight home runs, 74 RBIs and a .638 OPS in the Phillies' system. He missed time because of a left wrist injury in 2014, but also missed time in 2012 and 2013 when he showed up to Spring Training out of shape. The Phillies have not had a first-round supplemental pick make an impact at the big league level since Cole Hamels in 2002.

Time To Manufacture Something – Do not expect to see much power from Phillies infielder Andres Blanco this season. Do not expect to see much power from rest of the Phillies' lineup, either. Blanco hit a home run against Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz in Monday's 1-0 Grapefruit League victory at Ed Smith Stadium. Blanco has 27 home runs in 3,635 plate appearances in his Major League and Minor League career, but one of the Phillies' only two home runs in seven Grapefruit League games. Xavier Paul has the other homer for the Phillies. Both are non-roster invitees. The Phillies (3-3-1) finished the afternoon with a .554 OPS, the lowest mark in baseball. Only three teams had hit fewer homers than the Phillies so far this spring. The Dodgers, Rockies and Marlins each had one. "I'm not going to sit back and count on a home run," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "That'll be a bonus. Doubles, for me, is a power swing and a power number. You can score a guy from first with a double. So hopefully some of these swings will turn into doubles."

Breaking Down The Prospects – Starting with the First-Year Player Draft last June and continuing into the offseason, the Phillies have acquired a significant amount of young talent in the past eight months, which is reflected in their 2015 Top 30 Prospects list. Right-hander Aaron Nola, the seventh overall pick in 2014, is one of five pitchers ranked in the top 10 of this year's list who weren't a part of the organization at the start of last season. Shortstop J.P. Crawford, the club's first pick in the 2013 Draft, has taken over the top spot on the list following a stellar first full professional season. He earned All-Star honors in the South Atlantic League and continued to play well after a midseason promotion to Class A Advanced Clearwater. Right-handers Franklyn Kilome and Ricardo Pinto haven't reached full-season ball yet, but they put themselves firmly on the radar in 2014. Along with catcher Deivi Grullon and outfielder Cord Sandberg, they represent the organization's next wave of budding prospects. Biggest jump: Franklyn Kilome, RHP (2014: Unranked | 2015: No. 10); Biggest fall: Aaron Altherr, OF (2014: No. 5 | 2015: 25). Best toolsPlayers are graded on a 20-80 scouting scale for future tools -- 20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average. Hit: J.P. Crawford (55); Power: Maikel Franco (65); Run: Roman Quinn (80); Arm: Deivi Grullon (70); Defense: Crawford (65); Fastball: Nefi Ogando (75); Curveball: Jesse Biddle (55); Slider: Tom Windle (60); Changeup: Aaron Nola (60); Control: Nola (60). How they were built - Drafted: 14; International: 8; Trade: 7; Rule 5: 1. Breakdown by ETA - 2015: 6; 2016: 9; 2017: 9; 2018: 5; 2019: 1. Breakdown by position - C: 2; 1B: 0; 2B: 1; 3B: 2; SS: 1; OF: 8; RHP: 9; LHP: 7.

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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