Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Things Are Getting Ugly Already

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Tigers Blank Phillies 6-0

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is trying to make the Phillies' rotation, but he struggled in two-plus innings Tuesday at Bright House Field. He allowed three runs in a 6-0 loss to the Tigers. Tigers starter Alfredo Simon fared better, tossing three scoreless innings with two strikeouts. He gave up two hits and a walk. Gonzalez allowed a two-run home run to Tigers center fielder Daniel Fields in the second inning. He then allowed a triple to Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler in the third. Kinsler scored when Jose Iglesias ripped a line drive off Gonzalez's right foot or leg. Gonzalez left the game at that point. "I don't want to hit him," Iglesias said. "Just try to put a good swing on it. I got a man on third, and I was able to hit it good, unfortunately right to him. I know him back in the day. We played on the same team in Cuba, and I was so excited to see him. Did not expect to face him today, but I was really happy to see him. Unfortunately, I hit it right to him, but there's nothing I can do about that." The Tigers scored two more runs in the sixth inning -- on homers from J.D. Martinez and Steven Moya -- and another in the eighth. The Tigers also held the Phillies to just five hits. "We need to improve on that," said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg, whose team entered the afternoon with the lowest OPS in baseball. "We had a lot of flyball outs today. That's something we're addressing as far as staying on top of the ball. We need to put together hits and have some better quality at-bats."

Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels pitches Wednesday afternoon against the Pirates at Bright House Field. Expect more scouts to be on hand, as Hamels is not only pitching for the Phillies, but for teams looking for starting pitching help. The latest rumor has the Yankees making the most aggressive push. Watch the game live on MLB.TV, starting at 1:05 p.m. ET.


Bean Brings Unique Perspective To Camp – Billy Bean became Major League Baseball's Ambassador of Inclusion in July 2014, and the Phillies were the first team to call. They wanted him to speak to a select group in Philadelphia, then to the team's Major League and Minor League players in Spring Training. Bean, the former big leaguer who revealed he was gay in 1999, was in camp Tuesday to do just that. "I told the players that I'm only going to see the clubs that invited me," Bean said. "It's not mandated by [the] Office of the Commissioner. "There's a message of complete acceptance. It doesn't mean that it's specifically to LGBT people like myself. It's for women. It's for every race, every religion. I'm sure you guys are aware … I went to see the Mets, and Daniel Murphy had some comments. I wrote that I support his opinion 100 percent, because it's vital that we have a conversation so people can grow a little bit. It's like a relationship." Bean, who has been invited by 14 teams to speak, said this is the first camp where he spoke to both Major and Minor League players. He then got into a Phillies uniform and shagged fly balls in the outfield during batting practice. It was another way for Phillies players to talk with Bean and possibly ask questions in an informal setting. "Today is a win for the Phillies," Bean said. "The world didn't stop spinning."

Can Billingsley Bounce Back? – The Phillies are not terribly optimistic Cliff Lee can pitch without pain in his left elbow, which makes Chad Billingsley's recovery from a pair of right elbow surgeries even more important. Billingsley, 30, took another step forward Tuesday when he faced hitters in a bullpen session at Carpenter Complex. It is the first time the right-hander has faced hitters since June 8, when he was making a rehab start for the Dodgers in Class A. "I came out healthy, so it was good," Billingsley said. Billingsley is on a five-day schedule as he prepares to start in the future. He said he is hopeful he can pitch in a Grapefruit League game before the end of the month, although if he does, it might be for just an inning or two. Billingsley signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract following Tommy John surgery in 2013 and a second elbow surgery in 2014. The Phillies signed him because they lack starting pitching depth, which became more evident following news Tuesday that Lee will have to try to pitch with a tear in his common flexor tendon in his left elbow, if he can pitch at all. But Billingsley is not expected to be ready to join the Phillies' rotation until late April at the earliest, assuming he remains healthy and pitches effectively. "I'm getting into that routine and getting ready for the next step," Billingsley said.

Is It Time To Cash In? – In their bid to rebuild and become a viable contender sooner rather than later, the Philadelphia Phillies lack leverage. They don't have it when shopping Ryan Howard and his diminished offensive skillset. They don't have it when shopping an aging Chase Utley or Carlos Ruiz. They don't have it when shopping Jonathan Papelbon and his cumbersome closer contract. They don't have it when shopping Cliff Lee, whose ongoing elbow issues won't immediately prompt surgery but do prompt questions about where his career is headed. And they don't really have it with Cole Hamels. Not with the money he makes. Not with the date on his birth certificate. Not with the number of big league innings his arm has accrued. The Lee situation is a reminder -- an unpleasant one -- that between now and Opening Day, the Phillies need to find the best possible offer they possibly can for Hamels and make it happen. Leverage or no, Hamels remains their most valuable trade piece, and his seemingly inevitable departure is a necessary step for an organization that must not cut any corners in the accrual of young talent. Is trading Hamels this spring -- likely at a markdown from the winter asking prices -- a risk? Absolutely. But not nearly as great a risk as keeping him. Hamels, remember, had some minor elbow issues of his own just one year ago. Thankfully, they subsided, and he turned in possibly his strongest statistical season -- a 2.46 ERA, 3.07 FIP and 151 ERA+ in 204 2/3 innings. It's possible that Hamels will repeat those totals. It's possible he will improve upon them. It's possible he will only see minor regression. But the primary issue is not so much the stats as the status of his arm. Because the possibility of injury -- one made apparent not just with Lee but also Yu Darvish -- suddenly sullying Hamels' value is always present, and that's not a possibility the Phils have the luxury of playing around with. Money is the huge hangup in the Hamels talks. By the standards of the day, the $100 million guaranteed to him over the next four years (five years, $114 million, if his option is exercised) is reasonable. But not when we're talking about forking over top young talent, too. In their talks with other clubs about Howard, in particular, the Phillies have demonstrated a willingness to absorb a significant percentage of the contract in order to get something back. Unfathomable though it may seem, given that Hamels is seemingly still on top of his game, some sort of courtesy along those lines might be in order to get the right package back for Hamels. Organizations value young talent, and many are understandably leery of the over-30 pitcher with high mileage. But there is a right value equation for every player, and it's incumbent upon Ruben Amaro Jr. to find it with Hamels, and soon. The ask on a Hamels return has reportedly been three prospects, one of them in the marquee vein. A select group of teams -- the Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers, Dodgers, maybe the Cardinals -- have the resources in both talent and finances to make it work. And only the first three in that group have what might resemble an outright need, depending on what you feel is the value of a tested ace. Only by swallowing salary can the Phils widen that pool or increase the enthusiasm within it. Otherwise, it's hard to imagine them getting the kind of return they're hoping for. It seems clear that the Phillies aren't going to get Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart from the Red Sox. They're probably not going to get Luis Severino or Aaron Judge from the Yankees. They're doubtful to get Joey Gallo or Jorge Alfaro from the Rangers. What the Phils need to do is load up as best they can on the next tier beyond those top-tier-type prospects. For an organization in the midst of an overhaul, there is value in casting a wide net and seeing what sticks. There is value in being advantageous when a team like the Rangers -- a team that legitimately feels it can contend and has now lost its ace -- has a need. There is not much value in holding onto depreciating assets. Pitchers are inherently just that. A year ago, we could point to Lee as the picture of durability and consistency in the face of all the issues that had unraveled the Phillies' once-mighty standing in the National League East. Now? We're simply hoping his elbow and stuff can hang on as he pitches through a flexor tendon tear. None of this is to say Hamels is doomed to get hurt between now and July 31. If he were, he wouldn't be much of a trade asset, anyway. But if the Phils hold onto Hamels into the regular season, his trade value at best will remain stable and at worst will drive downward if he gets hurt. The midseason trade market can get crowded, and it could involve multiple arms on shorter and more manageable deals than the one Hamels holds. That's why the Phillies, one of probably just two teams (the Braves being the other) going into 2015 in some sort of rebuilding process, need to find the best possible offer they can prior to Opening Day. They don't have a lot of leverage, but they do still have an opportunity to improve their talent stash.

Can’t Cash In – The opportunity has never been better for Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to make the Phillies' rotation. Will he take advantage of it? Gonzalez allowed five hits and three runs in two-plus innings Tuesday in a 6-0 loss to the Tigers at Bright House Field. Gonzalez, who left the game in the third inning after getting hit by a line drive on the right knee, has allowed nine hits and five runs in four innings in two Grapefruit League appearances. "It's a Spring Training game, I'm working on things," Gonzalez said through translator Rickie Ricardo. "It's not like I'm trying to dominate hitters down here. I'm working on specific things. I'm just going to do my best to either be in the rotation or in the 'pen. But the Phillies will need to see results from Gonzalez at some point, because he does not have a track record in the big leagues like Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang or Jerome Williams. Gonzalez entered camp as a candidate to be the team's fifth starter, and with Cliff Lee's season and possibly career in jeopardy because of an elbow injury, Gonzalez's competition for a job got smaller. Chad Billingsley will not be ready by Opening Day. Assuming David Buchanan is a lock behind Hamels, Harang and Williams, Gonzalez is competing with non-roster invitee Kevin Slowey for the final spot. Slowey has allowed just one hit in five scoreless innings in two appearances. "Slowey has made some nice showings as a possibility," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. Gonzalez's right knee is bruised following the line drive from Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias. He said he will be ready to make his next start. Gonzalez's fastball showed some life, but he had trouble commanding his pitches as much as he would like. "That's the No. 1 thing I'm working on," Gonzalez said. "I know I had location issues last year."

Interesting Routine – Is that a yoga class? Nope. It's Phillies' big league strength coach Paul Fournier, pitcher David Buchanan and Minor League strength coach Jason Meredith practicing their handstand holds. Buchanan, a 25-year-old righty from Atlanta who is making a push to become the Phillies' fifth starter this spring, began doing yoga in 2011. He thinks yoga has greatly helped his baseball, so he carries his practice into the regular season. He especially loves going upside down. "In the very first yoga class I did, they were doing handstands and other arm balances and I knew right away I wanted to learn," Buchanan says. "But all the stretching and strengthening we do in yoga has been great for my shoulder, thoracic and hip mobility and stability." Fournier is a big proponent of the handstand hold, especially in the rehab setting, to promote shoulder and elbow stability, strength and stamina. He'll have rehabbing pitchers hold a handstand for anywhere from 20 seconds to a minute. Buchanan, though, is healthy, and thinks handstands will help him stay that way. Fournier agrees. He encourages Buchanan and often participates himself. "If a guy wants to do a handstand hold and he isn't afraid to do it, we allow that," Fournier says. "We love that."

Breakout Candidates – Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, while others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates throughout the team's system. is visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the Philadelphia Phillies. It has been a transformative year for the Phillies' farm system. The 2014 First-Year Player Draft, the international signing period and a bevy of trades have infused the organization with new talent. Most prominently, the Phils selected right-hander Aaron Nola seventh overall last June, and he quickly began working his way toward the Major Leagues. Nola reached Double-A Reading less than two months after the Draft, and he is expected to return there to begin this season. The Phillies also acquired several other advanced pitchers in offseason trades, including right-handers Zach Eflin and Ben Lively and left-hander Tom Windle. Now as a new season gets underway, director of player development Joe Jordan is eager to start working with all the new players in the organization. "I think the reality is since last year's Draft and the July 2 [international free agent] signings after that, the trades that were made this winter, we've added some talent to the system," Jordan said. "Our system is healthier now than it was this time last year. "Now we're getting to watch them, so that's good. We need time to get familiar with them to see what they need." Camp standouts: The Phils had a few roster spots up for grabs going into the spring. And some of their young players have made the most of the opportunity. Maikel Franco, ranked No. 55 on's Top 100 Prospects list, has played well, as has outfielder Odubel Herrera, who is being given a long look as a Rule 5 Draft pick. Jordan said he has also been pleased by what he has seen from left-hander Jesse Biddle. The 2010 first-round Draft pick had a rough 2014 season, but he is now healthy and is throwing well. "Jesse, for me, has looked great," Jordan said. "He's been very impressive in the bullpens, the live BP, he's been very impressive. He looks like Jesse Biddle, if you will." Breakout candidates: Aaron Brown, OF: A two-way player at Pepperdine, Brown has given up pitching since the Phillies picked him in the third round last June. Because he didn't focus on hitting as an amateur, he has some rough edges to his game, but he has impressive all-around tools and got off to a good start to his professional career in 2014. "Aaron left a really good impression on us in a lot of the things that he does," Jordan said. Elniery Garcia, LHP: A native of the Dominican Republic, Garcia has already shown in his young career that he has some feel for his craft on the mound. Like many young pitchers, he needs to become more consistent and get stronger. If Garcia can do that, he could start advancing quicker in the Minor Leagues. Three questions with Andrew Knapp: Knapp, Philadelphia's second-round pick in 2013, missed the first month of last season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery in the offseason. The catcher played well once he was able to get back on the field, and he hit .297/.359/.462 during the second half. Last offseason, you were recovering from surgery. What was it like this year to be able to have a normal offseason? Knapp: It felt really good. I was able to get in the gym a lot, get my strength back up. Last year, when I got ready to play, I was kind of thrown into it a little bit. I didn't really have time to work on my body as much. It was good to get some long toss in, too. It was just nice to kind of relax and get healthy again. What's the hardest part of preparing for a season as a catcher? Knapp: I'd say one of the hardest parts to prepare for is just being able to catch every day. You can't really prepare your body for that kind of toll. You can get yourself strong and you can work on your defensive and offensive parts of your game, but in order to be able to play every day, you've just got to go out and really maintain your body and stretch and work on it. I think that's going to be a big thing for me, is just getting back behind the plate every day. What are your goals for this season? Knapp: I think I just want to play every day. I want to be an everyday guy. I think the stats will take care of themselves. I'm not really worried about that as much as staying healthy and catching every day.

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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