Friday, March 13, 2015

Phillies Show Signs Of Life In The Lineup

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phillies Edge Tigers 6-5

The previously dormant Phillies offense jumped to life against Joe Nathan, scoring six fifth-inning runs with help from an Andres Blanco two-run triple on their way to a 6-5 win over the Tigers on Thursday at Joker Marchant Stadium. Justin Verlander faced the minimum nine batters over three innings in his second start of the spring, erasing Odubel Herrera's first-inning double with a pickoff at second base before retiring the next seven Phillies in order. Verlander's fastball ranged from 91-93 mph, while he spotted offspeed pitches for the second straight outing. "I was pretty pleased again," Verlander said. "I didn't throw quite as many curveballs. I don't really know too much about that today. I know the ones I did throw, I had some pretty good success on it. Other than that, it went pretty well. Threw a couple good changeups again. Slider was horrible, so I have some work to do." Verlander threw 21 of 28 pitches for strikes. After Joakim Soria pitched a hitless fourth with a walk and a strikeout, on came Nathan, who had tossed three scoreless innings on two hits this spring before Thursday. Nathan's velocity was around the same, ranging from 89-91 mph on his fastball. His command in the strike zone, however, seemed off. Philadelphia's first three hitters -- Jeff Francoeur, Cody Asche and Freddy Galvis -- all hit line-drive singles to left before Blanco ripped a triple just inside first base and into the right-field corner. Nathan regrouped with back-to-back groundouts from Cameron Rupp and Ben Revere, and he initially seemed to have a chance to end the inning with a Herrera grounder to first. Once Herrera beat Nathan to the bag, however, the inning fell apart further with a Domonic Brown walk. Nathan's 34th and final pitch resulted in a Ryan Howard grounder that Jordan Lennerton, a two-time Minor League Gold Glove Award winner, mishandled at first base for an error. By inning's end, the Phillies had scored more runs than they had posted in their previous three games combined. It was all their offense for Thursday, too, thanks in part to Bruce Rondon's perfect sixth inning in his first outing in a year. Philly's outburst was just enough to withstand a seventh-inning rally that included an RBI single from Ben Verlander, Justin's younger brother. J.D. Martinez hit his second home run of the spring, a first-inning solo shot off Phillies starter Jerome Williams, in a 2-for-3 performance. Jefry Marte, who entered at designated hitter after Yoenis Cespedes left with a tight left quad, drove in two runs. Williams gave up two runs on four hits over three innings before David Buchanan tossed three scoreless innings on one hit with a strikeout.

A couple of Phillies prospects will get a good look Friday against the Rays in a 1:05 p.m. ET Grapefruit League game at Bright House Field, live on MLB.TV. Left-hander Joely Rodriguez, whom the Phillies acquired in December from Pittsburgh for Antonio Bastardo, will start against Tampa Bay. He is expected to open the season in the Minor Leagues. Left-hander Jesse Biddle, once considered the Phillies' top pitching prospect, will follow him.


No Rush – Should the potentially career-ending tear in Cliff Lee's left elbow push the Phillies into trading Cole Hamels sooner rather than later? It makes sense. Getting something is better than getting nothing. Lee essentially is untradeable at this point, even if he finds a way to pitch this season. No team is going to give up a top prospect for a 36-year-old pitcher with continual flare-ups in his elbow, especially one making $25 million this season with a $12.5 million buyout on a $27.5 million club option for 2016. But imagine if something unfortunate happens to Hamels, who is healthy. The Phillies will have nothing to show for their most valuable asset. Such a loss could cripple their rebuilding plans. But while many are pointing to the pitchers that have dropped like flies this spring, the Phillies can point to two past examples as reasons why they should not trade Hamels before they are ready: Curt Schilling in 2000 and Lee in 2009. Schilling had been harshly and steadily criticizing the Phillies for some time. He had publicly demanded a trade. It was ugly. So the Phillies traded Schilling to Arizona on July 26, 2000, more than a year before he could become a free agent, for Travis Lee, Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa and Vicente Padilla. Former Phillies general manager Ed Wade told The Philadelphia Inquirer in September 2007 that he regretted the deal. "In retrospect, I would have held on to Schilling," Wade said. "It would have been better if I ignored his trade demand one more time and run the risk of only getting Draft picks" if he left following the 2001 season. None of the four players the Phillies acquired for Schilling made a long-term impact with the organization. The Phillies traded Lee to Seattle for prospects Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez, the same day they announced they acquired Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays in December 2009. The Phillies traded Lee, who was making an incredibly affordable $9 million in 2010, because former president David Montgomery told general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. he needed to replenish the farm system after trading seven top prospects to acquire Lee from the Indians in July 2009 and Halladay. Amaro said he could not wait because he could not acquire Halladay one day, then trade Lee a short time later. He said it would have been a bad message to fans. "If I made a mistake in that process, it was that I didn't take the time to really maximize," Amaro said in 2011 in "The Rotation." Aumont has struggled with the Phillies and is out of options. This spring is his last shot to make the team. Gillies and Ramirez are no longer with the organization. So the Phillies are prepared to roll the dice and bet on Hamels not only staying healthy, but pitching like one of the best left-handers in baseball. It is a risk, but they have been rushed into trading aces before. They do not want to make the same mistake again. "Look at the history of this era," Amaro said last month. "There's more Wild Card teams. There's a lot more clubs with opportunities. You'll see as many as 15 teams, half the league is kind of in the race well into the season. Everybody always needs pitching. There's always a risk that somebody can get hurt. Somebody not getting the performance they want might change our circumstance. "Again, if there were deals that we felt were appropriate for us to move forward, then we would. So far some of the deals that we've discussed with some of our players have not yielded what we've wanted to do. And in some cases, we feel like we're better off staying with the players that we have for a variety of different reasons. We'll move forward accordingly."

Rotation Repercussions – Jerome Williams started, and David Buchanan and Kevin Slowey followed him Thursday afternoon in the Phillies' 6-5 win over the Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. They could be in that exact order in the Phillies' rotation in April. Cliff Lee's injured left elbow could end his season -- the Phils offered no update Thursday on Lee's health -- which would make Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang, Williams and Buchanan the team's first four starters. Slowey and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez are competing for the fifth spot, which would be available if Lee can't pitch. Chad Billingsley is a candidate, but he isn't expected to be ready to pitch until late April. "I'm not trying to put extra pressure on myself," Williams said. "All I'm trying to do is pitch. I say whatever happens, happens. I can't control anything except the way I pitch. I'm not really worried about that." Williams (3.38 ERA in eight innings this spring) allowed four hits and two runs in three innings. Buchanan (2.57 ERA in seven innings) allowed one hit in three scoreless innings. Slowey (0.00 ERA in six innings) allowed four hits in one scoreless inning. He replaced Hector Neris with runners on the corners and two outs in the seventh. Slowey allowed a couple bloop hits before Brian Bogusevic threw out a runner at the plate to end the inning. "I tell you what," Slowey said about Lee. "That would be a real shame in a lot of ways if he can't pitch. But who knows? Wait and see what tomorrow brings. ... I'm ready from any pitch, whatever they need, whenever they need it. I want that to be the case over the course of the whole season."

Working Toward A Roster Spot – Odubel Herrera smiled and promised everything will be just fine in left field. The Phillies do not seem worried. Herrera, who is a strong favorite to earn a Phillies bench job as a Rule 5 Draft pick, had an interesting Thursday afternoon, other than his left field play in a 6-5 victory over the Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. "He continues to impress," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. He also showed he is not a finished product. Herrera doubled to left-center field off Justin Verlander in the top of the first inning, but he got picked off. He dropped a very catchable fly ball on the warning track in left-center field in the bottom of the first. It was ruled an error. Herrera did not look completely comfortable in left field, but he is a natural infielder and had played in left just 11 times in his career. The adjustment will take time. "As the ball was coming down out of the clouds, the sun got in my eyes," Herrera said through translator Rickie Ricardo. "I do admit I kind of nonchalanted it a little bit and then I got caught with the sun. After that one botched-up play ... I felt comfortable the rest of the day, and it won't take me long to get comfortable out there." Herrera picked up an infield single in the fifth and made a heads-up play when he scored from second on an error by Tigers first baseman Jordan Lennerton. Herrera is hitting .333 (7-for-21) this spring. The Phillies need people who can hit. Herrera is certainly helping himself in that regard. "I'm very pleased with the way I'm getting on base, because I think the team needs that kind of spark, a guy who can get on base, move around and score runs," he said.

Expanding His Role – Mike Schmidt has been a constant presence in Phillies camp this spring as a hitting instructor. He will be a more frequent sight at Citizens Bank Park this season, too. Schmidt said he has agreed to an expanded role as a broadcaster with Comcast SportsNet, which will have him providing color commentary during Saturday and Sunday home games. Schmidt joined the broadcast team last year, but he was in the booth only for Sunday home games. Schmidt discussed the possibility of an expanded role last month. "I'm already in town," he said. "I actually come in town Wednesday and play golf a couple days with sponsors. Why not just do the game Saturday night? So all of them [Saturday home games], once they iron it out. The only thing that would stop it would be negotiating the fee." Comcast last month announced Ben Davis has replaced Jamie Moyer as a color analyst. Schmidt and Davis will rejoin Tom McCarthy, Matt Stairs and Gregg Murphy on the TV team. Larry Andersen, Scott Franzke and Jim Jackson will broadcast games on radio.

100 Years – Has it already been 100 years since the Phillies won their first National League championship? It has, and the Phillies are commemorating the moment with a special pregame ceremony April 9 against the Red Sox, who beat the Phils in the World Series that year. The ceremony and other events at Citizens Bank Park include: Both teams will wear 1915-era caps; President Woodrow Wilson threw out the first pitch of that World Series. The American Historical Theater will recreate that moment, throwing a baseball from the stands; A commemorative 1915 pennant will be available for the first 500 purchasers, only through a special "100th anniversary salute" ticket offer; Two display cases of 1915 Phillies memorabilia will be available at the Hall of Fame Club the entire season. Items have been provided from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and others; Numerous 1915 stories and vintage photographs will be posted on

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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