Monday, March 16, 2015

Split Squad, Opposite Outcomes

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP 1: Phillies Romp Red Sox 11-4

The Phillies had showed very little power through nearly two weeks of Grapefruit League games. But they hit Red Sox right-hander Justin Masterson in Sunday's 11-4 victory at Bright House Field. Ryan Howard hit a two-out double into the right-field corner in the first inning to score Freddy Galvis from first. Carlos Ruiz followed with a long single off the right-field wall to score Howard to make it a 2-2 game. Non-roster invitee Jordan Danks hit a solo homer to right field in the second inning to hand the Phillies a 3-2 lead. Non-roster invitee Cord Phelps hit a three-run homer to right field in the fourth to give the Phillies a 6-4 lead. Howard took Wade Miley deep in the sixth for a solo shot. "It's good to see good at-bats, aggressive at-bats," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "That's where I think the long ball comes into play -- and doubles, things like that. And some small ball mixed in there. We're making some progress the last couple days swinging the bats." The Phillies have eight home runs this spring. Interestingly, five are from non-roster invitees: Andres Blanco (one), Brian Bogusevic (two), Xavier Paul (one), and Phelps (one). Howard (two) and Danks have the other three. The Phillies entered the afternoon with a .557 OPS, the lowest in baseball. Masterson allowed seven hits, six runs, two walks and two home runs in 3 1/3 innings. Phillies starter Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez allowed three hits and two runs and struck out two in three innings. He allowed a two-run homer to Daniel Nava in the first.

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP 2: Yanks Yank Phils 3-2
Yankees starter Nathan Eovaldi put together another strong outing Sunday afternoon, tossing four scoreless innings as the Yankees beat the split-squad Phillies, 3-2, at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Eovaldi gave up two hits and struck out three while facing the minimum number of batters over four innings. The 25-year-old right-hander threw 38 of his 45 pitches for strikes. "Today, overall everything felt pretty good," Eovaldi said. "For the most part today, I was able to throw all four of my pitches, so that's a good sign." The Yankees got on the board quickly against Phillies right-hander Sean O'Sullivan. Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a triple into the left-center-field gap and scored on catcher Brian McCann's one-out sacrifice fly to center field. O'Sullivan retired six straight batters after that. He pitched three innings, allowing two hits and a walk while striking out two. Yankees right-hander Chase Whitley, competing for the fifth spot in the rotation, followed Eovaldi with two strikeouts in two perfect innings. The Phillies got on the board against Yankees reliever David Carpenter in the seventh inning. Center fielder Ben Revere drew a leadoff walk, stole second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on right fielder Domonic Brown's RBI single to right field. Yankees third baseman Chase Headley broke the 1-1 tie in the seventh inning with a solo shot to right field -- his first homer of the spring -- off Phillies right-hander Kevin Slowey.

Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels starts Monday's Grapefruit League game against the Orioles at Bright House Field at 1:05 p.m. ET, live on MLB.TV. He has a 3.60 ERA in two starts this spring as he lines up to be the team's Opening Day starter. Also scheduled to pitch for the Phillies are Ethan Martin, Cesar Jimenez, Jake Diekman and Justin De Fratus.


Howard Showing Signs Of Former Self – Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is moving better this spring. He is running the bases better. He appears more nimble defensively. The health of his left leg stood out Sunday in an 11-4 victory over the Red Sox at Bright House Field. He ran without a limp on a double into the right-field corner in the first inning. He scored from second on Carlos Ruiz's single off the right-field wall. "If it seems like it's night and day to you, then it's night and day," said Howard, who went 2-for-4 with a double and a home run. "I feel good. My legs feel good. My legs feel fine. I did what I needed to do. I was pretty much pain-free this offseason, so I was able to get back on my workouts to do what I need to get my legs stronger." Howard ruptured his left Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the 2011 National League Division Series. He had surgery on his left knee in 2013. It has taken him a long time to finally feel healthy. Could it translate into a bounce-back season? Only time will tell. Howard is hitting .241 (7-for-29) with one double, two home runs and five RBIs this spring. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said he likes recent adjustments Howard has made at the plate, which could explain why he has homered twice in three games. "I think Howie looks really good in the box right now," Sandberg said. "He's gaining some momentum on some games and some swings and at-bats. So I think he's really settling into a comfort zone. It took a little time, but I think the results are showing." Chase Utley played his second game as the designated hitter. Sandberg said he is not sure when Utley might play in the field, but he worked out at second base Sunday. "It's really a day-to-day thing," Sandberg said.

Tattered Rotation – Cole Hamels will pitch Monday against the Orioles at Bright House Field, which puts him on a five-day schedule to start Opening Day. Hamels as the Opening Day starter is a no-brainer. But what about the other spots? Some remain up in the air because of health issues. Left-hander Cliff Lee is trying to beat incredible odds and pitch with a torn common flexor tendon in his left elbow. He did not throw Sunday, but at this point it is more likely that he will be unable to pitch with the injury. Season-ending surgery is Lee's next course of action, but the 36-year-old said he might decide to bypass surgery and end his career. "[Lee] said his arm felt pretty good," Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure said. "He just doesn't want to push it. That's what he told me." Right-hander Aaron Harang has been scratched twice this month because of "lower back discomfort," but is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Monday. If that goes well, McClure said Harang will pitch Thursday against the Yankees. "He said he can catch up," McClure said. Right-hander Chad Billingsley threw a successful bullpen session Sunday. He is recovering from a pair of elbow surgeries. The Phillies said he could be ready to join the rotation before the end of April. "Exceptional," McClure said about Billingsley's bullpen. "You would never know he was hurt. It's quality stuff. It really is." McClure said after two or three more live batting practice sessions, Billingsley could pitch in a game.

Hanging On To A Spot – Phillies right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez has not put forth a convincing case to make the Phillies' rotation, but he has time. He allowed three hits and two runs and struck out two in three innings Sunday in an 11-4 victory over the Red Sox at Bright House Field. He allowed a two-run home run to Daniel Nava in the first inning before settling down for the second and third. "He made a good adjustment," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "I thought he was more aggressive attacking the zone, and his pace was better. It looked like he was a little careful there in the first inning to two hitters. After that, I thought he had a whole different demeanor about him, a whole different strategy and that was attacking guys." Gonzalez has a 9.00 ERA in three Grapefruit League appearances. In seven innings, he has allowed 12 hits, seven earned runs, three home runs and has struck out five. But Gonzalez and others will get more opportunities to impress. Cliff Lee, 36, is trying to pitch with a torn common flexor tendon in his left elbow, but it is a long shot. Season-ending surgery would be Lee's next option, although he said he might not have the surgery and retire. That leaves at least one job open in the rotation. It could be two if Aaron Harang's "lower back discomfort" continues to be an issue. Gonzalez is competing with non-roster invitees Kevin Slowey and Sean O'Sullivan for a job, with Cole Hamels, Harang, Jerome Williams and David Buchanan slated for the first four spots. Chad Billingsley is a candidate, but he might not be ready until late April following a pair of elbow surgeries the past couple years. "I think he's shown health and some progress mixing up his pitches," Sandberg said about Gonzalez, who has had shoulder issues in the past. "So he's making progress."

Making A Big Case – The Phillies took a relatively unusual step in November when they signed Minor League left-hander Elvis Araujo to a Major League contract. Araujo, 23, had never pitched above Double-A, but the Phillies need as much young pitching in their system as possible, so they outbid at least a couple other suitors. Araujo is a big guy with a big arm, and the Phillies hope he can help in the bullpen in the future. "I haven't seen any real flaws yet," Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure said Sunday morning at Bright House Field. Araujo allowed one hit and struck out two in one scoreless inning in Sunday's 11-4 victory over the Red Sox at Bright House Field. He has given up just one hit and one walk and has struck out four in four scoreless innings this spring. "I don't watch the speed," said Araujo, whose fastball hits 97 mph. "I just throw strikes, and that happens along with it." Araujo went a combined 2-1 with a 3.42 ERA and 11 saves in 43 games last season with Class A Advanced Carolina and Double-A Akron. He struck out 50 in 50 innings, and he walked 28. He is expected to open the season in the Minor Leagues with a handful of left-handers ahead of him on the depth chart, including Jake Diekman, Mario Hollands and Rule 5 Draft pick Andy Oliver. "He's throwing strikes, he's pounding the zone, he's keeping the ball down," McClure said of Araujo. "I'm impressed. That angle, that's tough to hit at that velocity, too." Araujo is listed at 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, but he said he weighs 280 pounds. His height and size could be intimidating to hitters. "If you're planning on being competitive and getting into fights, you want to take as many big guys as you can," McClure joked.

Cut4 Road Trip – After five days on the road of sleeping in cold hotel beds and not seeing my dog or girlfriend, I was starting to get a bit homesick ... and then I walked into Lenny's in Clearwater and forgot all about 'em. (Kidding, I love them.) For real, though, Lenny's is a home away from home for fans down at Phillies Spring Training. They've got Yuengling and scrapple and give you a free basket of danishes if you order the right thing. I spoke with the owners who regaled me with tales of Phillies yore. They said Roy Halladay used to go in and eat breakfast before they opened every morning and that Mike Schmidt was a regular back in the day. (They don't get as many players in now because they've actually been tasked with providing breakfast for the teams at the ballparks down here, every day.) Ballparks not included, it's definitely the coolest place I've been since leaving Philly (though I might hit Hulk Hogan's bar on the way back to the airport, so don't hold me to that). Bright House Field is literally right down the street from the restaurant and offered a litany of other reminders of home, be it the big Wawa ad on the right-field wall or the aroma of Tony Luke's roast pork sandwiches that hovers near the third-base gate. Ryan Howard hit a home run for the Phillies (as did Jordan Danks and Cord Phelps) en route to an 11-4 win over the Red Sox, so that was exciting: And I got to meet a gentleman in a homemade jersey who knows how to change with the times: Now, if you'll excuse me ... I've got that date with an umbrella drink at Hogan's Beach I was tellin' you about. It's been real, Florida.

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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