Saturday, March 21, 2015

Phillies’ Offense Sputtering To Life

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Pirates Pinch Phillies 6-5

Sebastian Valle ripped a walk-off double in the ninth inning to cap a comeback from four runs down as the Pirates topped the Phillies, 6-5, on Friday at McKechnie Field. Brian Bogusevic began the scoring with a solo homer and Cody Asche added a two-run homer to give the Phillies the early lead against former teammate Vance Worley. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, competing for a spot in Philadelphia's rotation, blanked the Pirates for three innings before surrendering consecutive doubles in the fourth to Starling Marte and Pedro Alvarez. Gonzalez, who had allowed 12 hits and seven runs in his first seven innings of the spring, went 3 1/3 innings and gave up five hits and a run. Alvarez added a two-run opposite-field homer off left-hander Mario Hollands in the sixth. Jose Tabata's RBI single capped a three-run inning to draw the Pirates within 5-4. Tony Sanchez tied it with an RBI double in the eighth, driving in Alvarez, who had doubled. Worley stretched out to five innings, Pittsburgh's first hurler to go beyond four this spring. He gave up a total of six hits and struck out four without issuing a walk; he has walked one in a total of 11 innings. "Is that all?" Worley responded, surprised. "That's real good. I usually don't get real sharp command until the last [preseason] game, but I've been able to locate early to both sides of the plate." Steve Lombardozzi, battling as a non-roster invitee for a spot on the Pirates' bench, had two hits to raise his spring average to .346. Jordy Mercer and Marte, batting .387 after five hits in his last seven at-bats, also had multihit games for the Bucs.

Left-hander Cole Hamels is scheduled to make his fourth start of the spring as the Phillies host the Blue Jays at 1:05 p.m. ET at Bright House Field, with the game on MLB.TV. Hamels, the subject of seemingly endless trade speculation this spring, gave up five runs on six hits and two walks in only two innings of work against the Orioles on Monday. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey is scheduled to start for Toronto.

  • Reliever Ken Giles entered Friday's game in the fourth inning with two on and one out. Sandberg said he chose that moment for Giles in part so he could face some of Pittsburgh's big league hitters, but it was also something of a test for Giles. The 24-year-old pitched more than one inning in eight of his 44 appearances last year. He got through 1 2/3 scoreless innings with two strikeouts on Friday. Could more of those outings be in his future? "He can be a four-out type of guy," Sandberg said. "Probably depends on how it goes."
  • Left-hander Mario Hollands struggled on Friday, allowing three runs on four hits while recording only two outs. Despite his experience in the Majors last year, Hollands isn't a lock to earn a spot in the Opening Day bullpen. "We're looking at a lot of guys for the last few spots in the bullpen," Sandberg said. "With about half of the camp to go as far as games go, there's still some competition, looking at some different guys."


One Day At A Time – Phillies right fielder Domonic Brown underwent an MRI on Friday that revealed no tear in his left Achilles, but he does have moderate tendinitis. Brown is listed as day to day, but he could be out of Grapefruit League games for up to a week. Brown left Thursday night's game against the Yankees in the third inning due to soreness in his left Achilles, and he revealed that the tendon had been bothering him for several weeks. Brown said he began to feel soreness in the area when he started chasing after Yankees third baseman Chase Headley's second-inning home run at George M. Steinbrenner Field. "I want to be in there, Spring Training or not," Brown told reporters on Thursday night. "I feel pretty good at the plate. I don't want to miss any time, but this is part of the game, also. I'm definitely frustrated for sure. It seemed like we were going in the right direction, it was getting a little bit better." Brown is hitting .241 (7-for-29) this spring. The Phillies are hoping for a bounce-back campaign from the 27-year-old, who hit .235/.285/.349 with 10 home runs last year after a breakout, All-Star 2013 season in which he hit .272/.324/.494 with 27 homers.

Winning The Battle For Third – The Phillies answered any remaining third-base questions on Friday morning when they sent top prospect Maikel Franco to Minor League camp. That means the job still belongs to Cody Asche, and his performance so far this spring has been encouraging to the club. Asche went deep for the second straight day on Friday afternoon vs. the Pirates at McKechnie Field. After launching a home run off the Yankees' Esmil Rogers on Thursday night, Asche crushed an 0-1 pitch from former Phillies starter Vance Worley over the boardwalk beyond the right-field fence. The 24-year-old third baseman hit .252/.309/.390 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs, but Asche struck out 102 times in 121 games for the Phillies last year. Manager Ryne Sandberg said the club asked Asche to make a few adjustments over the offseason, and the Phils like what they've seen so far as Asche is off to an 8-for-30 (.267) start at the plate. "I think he's having a real good spring, just from making adjustments on what he needed to work on from last year," Sandberg said. "He has a real good two-strike approach. He's putting balls in play, and he has a short, nice, sweet stroke resulting in some balls hit hard and home runs here in the camp. I think he took to heart our suggestions over the offseason, and he's showing results through the camp. "I think he's one of our more solid hitters as we speak."

Showing Improvement – Phillies right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez put together his best outing of the spring Friday afternoon against the Pirates at McKechnie Field. Gonzalez entered the day with a 9.00 ERA in Grapefruit League play through his first three appearances, having given up seven runs on 12 hits and three home runs in seven innings. Facing a Pirates split squad on Friday, Gonzalez gave up only one run on five hits and a walk in 3 1/3 innings. Most of the damage done against Gonzalez came in his final inning. He gave up a leadoff single to Steve Lombardozzi to begin the game then retired eight straight hitters. The righty gave up two more singles in the third, but escaped the inning without allowing a run. But Gonzalez staggered when he came out for the fourth. After recording one out, he served up back-to-back doubles to Pirates center fielder Starling Marte and first baseman Pedro Alvarez. He walked the next batter, Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez, and left the game for reliever Ken Giles. "His last couple innings, he pitched behind in the count a little, but he made some pitches when he had to," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. Gonzalez struggled in his limited time in the Majors last season, giving up four runs on nine hits while striking out five in 5 1/3 innings over six appearances for the Phillies. But that came after a solid three months in the Minors. From June 20-Aug. 30, Gonzalez recorded a 2.19 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .195 average during stops at Class A Advanced Clearwater, Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Gonzalez, in the second season of a three-year, $12 million contract, is competing for a spot in the Phillies' rotation this spring. Left-hander Joely Rodriguez, one of the other candidates for the job, was optioned to Minor League camp on Friday morning, leaving Kevin Slowey and Paul Clemens as Gonzalez's primary competition to fill the last spot behind Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams and David Buchanan. Continuing on the pace he set Friday would help bolster Gonzalez's case for the job. His fastball velocity peaked at 95 mph, and he picked up his only strikeout by getting Alvarez to whiff at a changeup during the second inning. "Overall, he continues to show improvement out there," Sandberg said.

Patience Grasshoppers – Maikel Franco was scheduled to ride the bus to Bradenton on Friday morning and serve as the Phillies' designated hitter against the Pirates. Instead, Franco packed up his bags inside the Phillies' clubhouse and headed to the Minor Leagues. The Phillies optioned Franco, their No. 3 prospect as ranked by, along with lefty Joely Rodriguez and right-hander Nefi Ogando to Minor League camp Friday morning. Franco, 22, went 6-for-30 (.200) with one RBI and four strikeouts this spring. He came into camp with an opportunity to push third baseman Cody Asche for a job on the big league roster. Last spring, Franco went 7-for-38 (.184) with two RBIs and six strikeouts. He didn't record an extra-base hit either year. "Maikel's time's going to come," said Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. "I know he's upset, because I know that he probably wanted to write a different script for himself, but the fact of the matter is just like any other young player who we feel is going to impact the Major Leagues, his time will come when it's time for him to come. "I think there was probably some element of him trying to do a little too much, like he did last spring. But he doesn't need to impress us. He just needs to go play." Franco will do that in the Minors, spending most of his time at third base and some at first base. He spent last year with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, batting .257/.299/.428 with 16 home runs and 78 RBIs. In 16 games with the Phillies last season, Franco hit .179 with five RBIs and 13 strikeouts. "When he gets a chance to be back in the big leagues, play a few games and have some success, it'll carry," Amaro said. "It's just a matter of him getting the opportunity, and he'll get the opportunity, because he's going to create it for himself." Rodriguez, acquired from the Pirates in the Antonio Bastardo trade, had been mentioned by the Phillies as a possible rotation candidate. The 23-year-old gave up two runs (one earned) on four hits and three walks over nine innings this spring. "He's got a good, steady demeanor. Great kid," Amaro said. "I think he's going to help us. I'm not sure when. At some point this year, he'll probably help us." Ogando, 25, also impressed in four appearances this spring. He held opposing batters to four hits and struck out six while allowing only one run over 5 1/3 innings.

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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