Monday, March 23, 2015

Pitching Just As Uncertain As Offense For Phillies


From an inside-the-park home run by Mookie Betts to a three-run rocket off the bat of Hanley Ramirez, the Red Sox were clicking throughout the lineup in Sunday's 7-6 victory over the Phillies at JetBlue Park. Ramirez went 2-for-3 with five RBIs after coming into the game with a .208 average. "I mean, I was working on stuff," Ramirez said. "Like I told Panda, we're not trying to make the team. We're just trying to get ready for the season. I was just trying to hit it hard, somewhere." Betts continued his magnificent spring by going 2-for-2 to raise his average to .471. For the Phillies, catcher Cameron Rupp continued his impressive Spring Training by going 2-for-3 with two doubles, raising his average to .412. "For me, he's a guy that when he makes contact, some good things can happen because he's so strong," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said about Rupp. "He's really had good at-bats putting the ball in play, and that's resulted in some extra-base hits. It's something he's working on and he's shortening up his stroke a little bit, with kind of the team philosophy of the camp, and he's taken to that." Knuckleballer Steven Wright, who is probably Boston's top depth option if one of the projected starters gets hurt, had a strong outing. The righty allowed two hits over four scoreless innings, walking two and striking out two. "It was nice to be out there and throw some good strikes," said Wright. "For me, I was just trying to command the strike zone. I felt like I did. I lost it a little bit in that fourth inning, but was able to get through it." Phillies righty Jerome Williams, who missed his last start with hamstring tightness, was rocked for 10 hits and five runs (four earned) over three innings in his return. "It was a good lineup out there," said Williams. "I just wanted to get my work in, get back on that mound and see how everything feels. It was rough. The quality of the pitches wasn't quite there, [everything] pretty much up in the zone. But overall, I think it was a good test for my hamstring and my body to be out there pitching." The toughest inning for Williams was the third, which Betts opened with the inside-the-parker that center fielder Odubel Herrera didn't get a good jump on. Three batters later, Ramirez unloaded for his three-run homer, his first of the spring.

The Phillies are back home in Clearwater, Fla., on Monday to host the Twins at Bright House Field (1:05 p.m. ET on MLB.TV). Right-hander David Buchanan, guaranteed a rotation spot after Cliff Lee's injury, gets the start for Philadelphia. In his last outing, his fourth this spring, Buchanan stretched out to four innings against the Rays, giving up one run and racking up six strikeouts.

  • Closer Jonathan Papelbon threw one inning in a Minor League game at the Phillies' complex in Clearwater, Fla., on Sunday. He allowed no baserunners and struck out one, throwing 13 pitches. Papelbon has made four Grapefruit League appearances, throwing four innings and giving up one earned run.
  • Outfielder Jeff Francoeur (oblique soreness) started in right field on Sunday, his first game action in 10 days. The non-roster invitee, who is a candidate for a bench job, went 1-for-4 with a single.
  • The Phillies started Rule 5 Draft pick Odubel Herrera in center field and shifted Ben Revere over to left for the second straight game, and Sandberg said he will consider that alignment on a "day to day" basis. Herrera, who has played two Minor League games in center, contributed to Mookie Betts' inside-the-park home run in the third inning. Betts hit a shot over his head that one-hopped the wall, and then Herrera wasn't able to find the ball quickly or grab it cleanly. "He was a little aggressive on trying to pick it up," Sandberg said. "For me, it was pretty much a triple off the bat, with Betts being the runner. Once [Herrera] fumbled it, he was a little too anxious to get it instead of being clean with and getting it in."


Bullpen Competition – After Phillies starter Jerome Williams exited Sunday's 7-6 loss to the Red Sox at JetBlue Park, manager Ryne Sandberg deployed a group of relievers, each of whom is battling for a spot on the club's Opening Day roster. Left-hander Andy Oliver and righties Jeanmar Gomez, Luis Garcia and Kevin Slowey followed Williams, combining to pitch the final five innings. The first three all are contenders for the final bullpen jobs, while Sandberg sees Slowey as a potential swingman who could be the No. 5 starter or a long reliever. While Slowey began his spring with appearances of two and then three innings, he has worked a single frame in two of his past three, including Sunday. Sandberg said it's "yet to be seen" how much the Phillies will get Slowey stretched out before the regular season. "He's a versatile guy for us," Sandberg said. "He's capable of multiple innings out of the bullpen. He's also started in the past. He's a guy with versatility. Today, as it worked out, it was just a one-inning stint for him." Over seven Major League seasons for the Twins and Marlins, Slowey has started 106 of his 137 appearances. But he came out of the bullpen in 15 of his 17 games for Miami in 2014, while posting a 5.30 ERA. Slowey, a non-roster invitee to camp, entered Sunday's game in the eighth inning and struck out his first two batters swinging before hitting one and then getting a groundout. "[Today] probably was the first time I've seen his good breaking stuff," Sandberg said. "He's starting to work on that along with his fastball. I thought he was real sharp today." The first man out of the bullpen was Oliver, who gave up two runs in 1 2/3 innings, thanks in part to a pair of infield singles, a walk and a wild pitch. But he also racked up three more strikeouts, giving him 16 in 8 1/3 innings this spring, with three free passes. "Oliver's been impressive," Sandberg said. "He wasn't quite getting ahead [in the count] like he had the last two outings but he still showed his good stuff." Gomez followed with 1 1/3 perfect innings, and he now has held the opposition to one run over 6 2/3 innings in Grapefruit League play. Garcia kept his ERA a pristine 0.00 with a 1-2-3 seventh, in which he struck out the first two batters. The 28-year-old has gone seven scoreless innings this spring while striking out seven and allowing only three hits and one walk. "Garcia continues to be pretty solid," Sandberg said. "Throwing strikes with his couple of pitches. Those guys for sure were bright spots, along with Slowey."

Bouncing Back – In a little more than two weeks, Jerome Williams could be taking the mound against the Red Sox in a game that counts, with the Phillies hosting Boston for a season-opening three-game set. Sunday's Grapefruit League contest at JetBlue Park was only a tune-up, which is good news for Williams. The veteran right-hander gave up five runs (four earned) on 10 hits over three innings in a 7-6 loss. But more importantly, he felt healthy during his first game action in 10 days after a tweaked right hamstring forced him to be scratched from his previous start. "It felt kind of new to me again," Williams said. "I know I have the capability to throw the ball in the zone when I want. It's just missing those 10 days, even though I'm throwing in the bullpen, I'm still trying to fight to get back there." Slated to be a big part of the Phillies' rotation, especially with Cliff Lee now injured, Williams should have two more spring outings to get ready for the regular season. He expects that to be plenty of time, considering that he had pitched in relief for all but two games last season before the Phils picked him up in August. He made nine starts for the club, going 4-2 with a 2.83 ERA. The Red Sox were locked in on Williams right away on Sunday. Mookie Betts led off the first with a loud double, then scored on Dustin Pedroia's single. One of Williams' three double plays got him out of a jam in the second, but Boston came back with four in the third, including an inside-the-park homer by Betts and an over-the-fence blast by Hanley Ramirez. "I used all my pitches," Williams said. "Obviously I used all of them, because all of them got hit." Manager Ryne Sandberg saw Williams' velocity diminished -- his fastball sat mostly in the upper-80s on the stadium gun -- and too many pitches were up and out over the plate. A lineup packed with Red Sox regulars took advantage. "He was off his game," Sandberg said. Still, the hamstring gave Williams no problems, even on a play when he was late covering first base. That puts him on track for a rematch with more at stake.

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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