Sunday, March 8, 2015

Phillies Continue To Struggle This Spring


Ace left-hander Mark Buehrle pitched two shutout innings and third baseman Josh Donaldson, one of the Blue Jays' big offseason additions, homered to lead Toronto to a 4-2 Grapefruit League win over the Phillies on Saturday at Bright House Field. Buehrle gave up singles to the first two batters he faced, Ben Revere and Freddy Galvis. He then retired five straight including a double play from Ryan Howard to end the first. In all, Blue Jays pitchers retired 18 straight Phillies batters before Darin Ruf singled with one out in the seventh. The Blue Jays scratched out a run in the top of the second after Phillies starter Jerome Williams started the inning by hitting Justin Smoak with a pitch and Dalton Pompey beat out an infield hit on a slow roller up the middle. Dayan Viciedo followed by grounding into a double play but Kevin Pillar's two-out single drove in Smoak for the first run of the game. Donaldson, acquired from the Athletics, added to Toronto's lead by leading off the fourth with a home run against David Buchanan, who is competing for a spot in the Phillies rotation. Williams has been penciled into the Phillies rotation after going 4-2, with a 2.83 ERA in nine starts after being claimed on waivers from the Rangers last year. Earlier in the season he'd been released by the Astros. Buchanan is competing for the fifth spot with Kevin Slowey and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. "I just wanted to come in [on Smoak] and got too far in," said Williams, who was extended to three innings. "And the base hit through the hole, I just didn't locate it. So, it's back to the drawing board. Go out there and practice it." Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies closer who has been connected to the Blue Jays in trade rumors, made his spring debut in the sixth. After giving up a leadoff single to Russell Martin, he struck out Danny Valencia and Smoak before getting Pompey to fly out to end the inning. The Blue Jays would add two more runs in the seventh on an RBI double by Caleb Gindl who then scored one batter later on a single by Matt Hague. The Phillies would make a comeback attempt by scoring two runs in the ninth inning, which included an RBI double by Brian Bogusevic, but the Blue Jays were able to come away with the victory.

Right-hander Kevin Slowey, who is competing for the fifth spot in the Phillis rotation with right-handers David Buchanan and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, will make his second Grapefruit League start against the Rays on Sunday at Charlotte Sports Park. Game time is 1:05 p.m. ET and will be broadcast live on Gameday Audio.

  • Outfielder Kelly Dugan, who has been sidelined with a stress reaction in his right foot, has been optioned to the Minor League complex. The Phillies now have 59 players in camp.


Ready For His Debut – After throwing in the bullpen the day before, right-hander Aaron Harang said Saturday he expects to make his first Grapefruit League start against the Orioles on Monday at Ed Smith Stadium. He has been in limbo with what pitching coach Bob McClure described as a "twinge" in his back. Manager Ryne Sandberg said he was "nicked up." Harang also ran through a fundamentals drill on the half-field Saturday morning. "It feels good. Everything was good," Harang said. "Everything was good, nothing there. I was never worried about it. That's the whole point of Spring Training. There's no reason to push anything now. It's not important. Just making sure everything's right and you can go out and not have any problems." Harang, who turns 37 in May, was signed to a one-year, $5 million contract this offseason to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter. He can also make an additional $250,000 for 150 and 160 innings pitched, $300,000 for 170, $500,000 for 180 and 190 and $700,000 for 200 innings pitched. He pitched 204 1/3 innings for the Braves in 2014, going 12-12 with a 3.57 earned run average.

As The Papelbon Turns – Just the facts: The Phillies have let it be known that closer Jonathan Papelbon is available. The Blue Jays announced Saturday that Brett Cecil, who could be their closer, has shoulder inflammation. So did Papelbon think it was just a coincidence that he made his first Grapefruit League appearance in Saturday's 4-2 loss to Toronto at Bright House Field? "Huh, interesting," he said with a sly grin after giving up a leadoff single to Russell Martin in the sixth then quickly ending the inning by striking out Danny Valencia and Justin Smoak and getting Dalton Pompey to fly out to right. Told that the scoreboard radar showed his fastball hitting 93 miles per hour -- PITCHf/x had him averaging 91.2 -- he deadpanned, "Huh, interesting." Asked if he was aware that Cecil had been sidelined, Papelbon again played it for laughs. "No, I'm not. Wait, can I take that back? Can I recant?" he said. When told he could, he smirked. His revised answer: "Huh, interesting." He has made it plain in the past that he wants to play for a winner. When camp opened, he even told that he'd strongly consider waiving his no-trade clause to open the door for a deal to the Blue Jays. But when asked Friday if this spring felt different because of the speculation surrounding his future, he reverted to what has been his standard appraisal of the situation. "It feels different because I feel like we've got a pretty good vibe going in this clubhouse, the best I've seen since I've been here. It's exciting. A little bit of a different feel. That's the only thing. You know me. I come to work," he said. He was asked if he finds it odd considering that management has made it clear that the franchise is trying to re-arm for the future. "Yeah, I find it odd," he said. "I feel like [we are] going to contend, there's no doubt about that. I don't think anybody in this clubhouse, especially the veterans, doesn't think we're going to contend. "It's like I said earlier, I don't think it's been a total rebuilding thing where they're going to let everybody go. I think we're still in it to win it and we're going to see what happens until it's dictated otherwise." Papelbon said he's added some weight this year. Manager Ryne Sandberg remarked, "I thought he threw well. He just looks strong from working out over the winter and having a fresh year and a fresh start. He had a good fastball and a good split-finger, his change-up was going down. He looked real sharp."

Looking For Offense – It's not unusual for teams to conduct extra batting practice after a Spring Training game. So it didn't raise eyebrows when the cage was rolled back onto the field after Saturday's 4-2 Grapefruit League loss to the Blue Jays. But it was also a subtle reminder that the 1-3-1 Phillies are batting .214 as a team and averaging 2.8 runs per game. And while that's only a small sample at a point of the spring where the regulars play only sparingly, manager Ryne Sandberg made it clear he hasn't been happy with what he's seen so far. "We've had a tough time swinging the bats," Sandberg said. "That's a work in progress. It's not happening as a group right now. It's something we have to work on. Something we have to get better at." After Ben Revere and Freddy Galvis opened the bottom of the first with singles against Blue Jays ace Mark Buehrle, Toronto pitchers retired the next 18 hitters in a row before Darin Ruf's one-out single in the seventh. The Phillies ranked 27th in baseball with a .302 OPS in 2014 and then traded outfielder Marlon Byrd and shortstop Jimmy Rollins in the offseason. Earlier in the week, Sandberg said he knew his team wouldn't be able to rely on home runs to generate offense this season. "I look at our club and we're going to have to be able to do some little things," he said. "We're going to have to be able to move runners, make contact, hit and run, bunt. Maybe bunt early in the game, that type of thing. [We] definitely [can't] wait for the home run. To manufacture runs, especially early, to get a lead for the starting pitchers -- that will be important for us."

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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