Monday, March 2, 2015

Phillies Fall To Frat Boys

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phils Fall To Spartans 6-2

Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg downplayed the end result Sunday afternoon at Bright House Field. The Phillies scheduled an exhibition against the University of Tampa, which is the No. 1 Division II baseball team in the country. The club wanted to give its younger players and non-roster invitees some work against the wide-eyed kids before opening the Grapefruit League season Tuesday against the Yankees. Philadelphia lost to the amateurs, 6-2. "Well, you know," Sandberg said, asked if it was embarrassing to lose to a college team, "it kind of shows where we're at as far as seeing players and workouts and seeing the work that needs to be done. I think it just emphasizes that." Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz and other Phillies veterans never touched the field, but the youngest player on the field for the Phils (Odubel Herrera, who was born Dec. 29, 1991) was older than every player on the Spartans. They also have years of professional experience in the Minor Leagues. In a twist, the Spartans took the lead in the seventh inning with a big assist from Andrew Amaro, the nephew of Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. The Spartans first baseman worked a bases-loaded, two-out, nine-pitch walk against right-hander Nefi Ogando to score the tying run. "It was one of my coolest baseball games ever," said Amaro, who is from Bensalem, Pa., and attended Penn Charter. "Obviously my name means something in the Philadelphia area. It was just cool to go out there and compete and have a pretty good game against my favorite hometown team." Amaro said there was no trash talking with his uncle leading up to the exhibition. "My uncle said he didn't even know about the game until four days ago," he said. Right-hander Hector Neris replaced Ogando, but served up a grand slam to Giovanny Alfonzo to give the Spartans the four-run lead. "That was awesome," Amaro said. "Giovanny is on Cloud 9. He said that was the coolest experience of his life." It wasn't for the Phillies. "You just get some of the cobwebs out," Sandberg said. "It kind of shows after some practices where we're at on certain things."


Phillies take on the Yankees at home.


Utley Out – Phillies second baseman Chase Utley will not be in the lineup for Tuesday's Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees at Bright House Field. Utley sprained his right ankle in January and has not fully recovered. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said the Phillies are going to "ease him in a little down the road." Sandberg declined to say if Ryan Howard or any other regulars will be in Tuesday's lineup.

Beat The Clock – For the first time in Major League Baseball, when the Phillies faced the University of Tampa at Bright House Field on Sunday, the time between innings and pitching changes was timed. There was a large clock immediately to the left of the batter's eye in center field and a smaller one on the fa├žade behind home plate. The goal is to improve the pace of play by eliminating time between the end of the break and the resumption of play. It is one of three major initiatives MLB has announced for the 2015 season involving the tempo of games. Immediately after the third out of each half-inning, the countdown began from 2:25; it will be 2:45 for nationally-televised games. With 40 seconds remaining, the next batter is announced and his walkup music begins. With 30 seconds, the pitcher throws his final warmup. At 25 seconds the batter's walkup music ends and the batter is required to be in the box and the pitcher ready to deliver with between five and 20 seconds. At least, that's the way it's supposed to work. And, for the most part, it went pretty smoothly Sunday. "It kind of went unnoticed for the most part," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "I really didn't notice it that much at all. When the time was right for the hitter to walk up there, it kind of happened naturally. So I don't think there was a lot of stress about it. It just kind of flowed." Which, of course, is the goal. Since the actual time devoted to commercials between innings is 2:05 (2:25 for national games) the goal is to have the first pitch of the inning delivered before the clock actually runs out. And that was the case going into the bottom of the first when University of Tampa right-hander David Heintz's first pitch to Phillies leadoff hitter Odubel Herrera came with 15 seconds to spare. Not every changeover went as flawlessly but there weren't many snags considering that details of the changes were made public Feb. 20. Phillies starter Paul Clemens said he had no problem with the new rules. "I've always gotten to the mound quickly," he said. "I want to get on there and go. That way the opposing team isn't able to sit there and settle in. So I've always -- after the third out is made by my offense -- I've always gotten right back out there." Two other pace of play adjustments stipulate that batters must, under most circumstances, keep one foot in the box between pitches, and managers will no longer come onto the field to issue challenges. Those changes had little impact in this game. Since the umpires were not a standard MLB crew -- behind home plate was Gary Glover, who works on the Bright House Field grounds crew -- Sandberg didn't remind his hitters that they aren't supposed to step out between pitches. He'll do that before Tuesday's Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees. Also, since instant replay was not used, the tweak on how challenges will be issued wasn't a factor, either. That, plus the fact that there were 10 pitching changes, makes it difficult to read anything into the fact that the time of game was 2:57. Still, it was the first step on the latest significant update in the way MLB games will be played.

Rotation Competition – Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez said pitching is pitching and he will pitch happily anywhere. Of course, he would be especially happy in the Phillies' rotation. Gonzalez, 28, wants to start, and the Phillies are giving him a chance this spring. They open their Grapefruit League schedule Tuesday against the Yankees at Bright House Field, and Gonzalez will be competing with David Buchanan for the fifth spot in a rotation that figures to include Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Aaron Harang and Jerome Williams. "I've always been a starter," Gonzalez said through a translator Sunday. "That's important. I'm used to that. I've always been one." Gonzalez makes his Grapefruit League debut Thursday against the Astros in Kissimmee, Fla., and there will be plenty of eyes on him. He is in the second year of a three-year, $12 million contract, which has not yet panned out. "It didn't go as well as I wanted last year," Gonzalez said. "This year I'm much better prepared, and much more mentally focused on what I have to do. The setbacks last season … I thought I was physically ready and I'd have a setback. If it wasn't one thing it was another. This year, all that stuff is out of the way." The Phillies and Gonzalez originally agreed to a six-year, $48 million contract in July 2013, with the Phillies expecting him to immediately jump into the 2014 rotation as a legitimate No. 3 behind Hamels and Lee. But Gonzalez lost $36 million in the deal following a physical, which revealed shoulder issues. Those issues popped up last season, which precipitated a move to the bullpen. The club felt Gonzalez's shoulder would hold up better there. Gonzalez pitched pretty well in relief. He had a 3.14 ERA in 11 appearances with Double-A Reading and a 1.65 ERA in 12 appearances with Triple-A Lehigh Valley before he joined the Phillies in September. He allowed nine hits and four runs in 5 1/3 innings that month. But Gonzalez believes he can be a better starter, and he expressed those desires to the Phillies after the season. They could use the help. The Phils have pretty decent bullpen depth, but should they trade Hamels or Lee at some point, they are remarkably thin in the rotation. So Gonzalez's health and durability are important. He said his shoulder is finally 100 percent healthy. "Hard work," he said about his offseason regimen. If Gonzalez can stay healthy and throw well, he could work his way into the rotation, although Buchanan enters spring as the favorite based upon a solid rookie season. But certainly the Phillies and Gonzalez hope he eventually lives up to the hype he brought with him in 2013. "I don't have to prove anything to anybody," Gonzalez said. "I just have to go out and play my game and not worry about what other people think."

Bringing Confidence To Bullpen Competition – Paul Clemens is not afraid to say he has a great arm and two "hellacious" pitches. But he will need to pitch well this spring to make the Phillies' seven-man bullpen, which has three openings behind Jonathan Papelbon, Ken Giles, Jake Diekman and Justin De Fratus. Clemens, who signed in the offseason as a non-roster Invitee, will need to improve upon the 5.51 ERA he posted in 48 appearances the past two seasons with Houston. It is not impossible for Clemens, who pitched two perfect innings in Saturday's 6-2 exhibition loss to the University of Tampa, to make the team. Jeff Manship made the Opening Day roster last season as a non-roster invitee and Manship does not throw nearly as hard as Clemens, who hit 96 mph on the radar gun in the first inning. "Some pitching coaches tell me how incredible my arm is and that I could play for a long time, so I think I've been showing some guys what I bring to the table," Clemens said. "I had a couple really good conversations with front office and some guys around here, so it's definitely motivating. "I feel like I've got two pretty hellacious pitches -- my fastball and my curveball. I feel like I could do a multitude of things in this game." So where has Clemens fallen short? "Command in both of [my pitches] all the time," he said. "You don't get away with much and I feel like if you go watch video of me, you go see some of the better hitters in the game, I've punched tickets on three straight pitches. I've proven to the guys who need to be proven to what I can do. "Sometimes I think I get too overzealous with my fastball and I just pound it and pound it and pound it. So picking my spots more, being smarter. You can't really challenge guys at this level. Once in a while you've got to pick your spots, but you can't challenge too many guys, even the guys you don't really know their names as much. You've still got to pitch."

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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