Saturday, March 28, 2015

Things Continue To Get Uglier For Phillies

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Yankees Obliterate Phillies 10-0

Yankees second baseman Stephen Drew had three hits and two RBIs in Friday's 10-0 rain-shortened victory over the Phillies at Bright House Field. The game was called with one out in the top of the sixth inning. Phillies left-hander Jake Diekman allowed seven runs on six hits and a walk in just one-third of an inning as the Yankees broke up a scoreless tie in the fifth. Diekman's Grapefruit League ERA rose from 3.86 to 12.27 in his seventh appearance. Every hitter in the Yankees' starting lineup had at least one hit before the end of the fifth inning.

The Phillies make the long drive south to Fort Myers, Fla., to play the Twins on Saturday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. ET. Right-hander Jerome Williams will start. He is expected to be the team's No. 3 starter this season. Also scheduled to pitch are Rule 5 Draft pick Andy Oliver and Phillippe Aumont. They are competing for bullpen jobs, although Oliver is a favorite for one of them.

  • Right-handed prospect Aaron Nola, whom the Phillies selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, pitched three scoreless innings in his Grapefruit League debut. He allowed five hits and struck out four. Nola has been in Minor League camp, but the Phillies wanted to give him the experience before they head north next week.
  • Jeff Francoeur threw out Rodriguez at the plate to end the second inning. Francoeur is competing for a bench job, and he has a good chance because he hits right-handed, has power and has a good arm.
  • Sandberg said after the game that if Cody Asche feels OK Saturday, he could see some action in a Minor League game at Carpenter Complex. He has missed the last two days because of some tightness in his back.

Adding To The DL Roster – It seems more and more likely that Phillies right fielder Domonic Brown will open the season on the disabled list. He has been sidelined since March 19 because of tendinitis in his left Achilles, and his recovery has been slow. "It could be unlikely," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said when asked if Brown could catch up in time and be ready by Opening Day on April 6. "A little bit of work in the cage and just a little bit of light shagging in the outfield -- he's coming slowly. There's a lot of work to be done in a short period of time." Brown's potential trip to the DL has 25-man roster ramifications. The Phillies could open the season with six bench players, because they do not need a fifth starter until April 12, but they ultimately will settle on five. There are probably 11 players with a legitimate chance at those five or six jobs. That number jumps to six or seven if Brown is on the DL, and there are a number of combinations the Phillies could use. Candidates includes catcher Cameron Rupp; infielders Andres Blanco, Russ Canzler, Cesar Hernandez and Cord Phelps; and outfielders Brian Bogusevic, Jordan Danks, Jeff Francoeur, Odubel Herrera, Darin Ruf and Grady Sizemore. Rupp, Herrera and Ruf are locks for three jobs. Sizemore has the edge on a fourth, if for no other reason than he has a guaranteed $2 million contract. (Even if the Phillies release him, they are on the hook for the entire contract.) He is hitting a mere .161 (5-for-31) with no extra-base hits. Other outfielders in camp have outplayed him. Hernandez, Canzler and Phelps are competing for a utility-infield job. Blanco is considered a long shot. Hernandez is out of options, which plays big in the Phillies' front office; they do not want to lose a player if they do not have to. But Canzler and Phelps have had much better springs. Canzler is hitting .313 (10-for-32) with two doubles and three RBIs. Phelps is hitting .294 (10-for-34) with one double, one home run and five RBIs. Hernandez is hitting .098 (4-for-41) with two doubles and one RBI. Both Canzler and Phelps are non-roster invitees. No non-roster invitees have opt out clauses at the end of camp. That means there is no risk of losing them if they do not make the Opening Day roster, which comes into play, too. Bogusevic, Danks and Francoeur are in the mix to be an extra outfielder. Bogusevic has had the best spring. He is hitting .355 (11-for-31) with two doubles, three home runs and eight RBIs. Danks is hitting .281 (9-for-32) with two doubles, one home run and five RBIs. If the Phillies are looking for defense, they could lean toward Danks. Francoeur is hitting .200 (6-for-30) with two doubles and two RBIs. He threw out Alex Rodriguez in the plate in the second inning Friday, so his arm still plays. He also has the best track record of the three and hits right-handed, which is big. The Phillies are loaded with left-handed hitters. There are a lot of moving pieces with a little more than a week before the season opener. It could go a number of ways, but Brown's health could open up a spot for an extra bench candidate.

Impressive Impression – Aaron Nola is just 21 years old, and he is scheduled to open the season at Double-A Reading. But in a year that's all about the future, Phillies fans caught a glimpse of what could be on Friday afternoon at Bright House Field. The Phillies' No. 2 prospect pitched three scoreless innings in the Phils' 10-0 loss to the Yankees. "There were some nerves and some butterflies, but it was a cool experience for me," he said afterward. The Phillies selected Nola with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, and it is not a stretch to say that he may start for the Phillies before the end of the season. But before the team flies to Philadelphia next Thursday, it wanted him to experience a big league atmosphere. The organization did the same thing 10 years ago with Cole Hamels. The Phillies had him face the Yankees in Tampa before they sent him to Minor League camp. Hamels struck out Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Tony Clark in his second inning of work. "I heard about it," Nola said of Hamels' impressive debut. Nola allowed five hits and struck out four. He worked out of a jam in the second inning. The Yankees had runners on second and third with one out when Chris Young flied out to right field. Phillies right fielder Jeff Francoeur threw out Rodriguez at the plate to end the threat. Nola allowed a leadoff double to Brendan Ryan in the third. But with Ryan on second and one out, Nola struck out Chase Headley looking on a 94-mph fastball and struck out Carlos Beltran swinging on an 82-mph changeup. Nola also struck out Rodriguez on an 84-mph changeup in the fourth. Young fanned to end the inning. Rodriguez knew about Nola before he stepped into the batter's box in the second, when he singled to center field. "LSU, first-round pick," Rodriguez said. "The Phillies should be very excited about him. Good arm, power slider, power changeup. I think he has a bright future." And what about that changeup that got A-Rod in the fourth? "The one I almost choked on?" Rodriguez said. "Yeah, that was a pretty good changeup." Nola is pretty reserved, at least in front of reporters. But he seemed to enjoy himself. He said he heard a few LSU chants in the bullpen while warming up. He had been scheduled to start, but Jonathan Papelbon pitched the first inning instead because of the threat of rain. Nola struggled with his location early, leaving a few pitches up in the strike zone, but he adjusted. "I missed a couple of two-strike pitches early for a couple of doubles, and I knew I had to get the ball down more, and I did," Nola said. "Up here, you have to make quality pitches, and I didn't do that the first part of the game." But Nola looked good for his first time in big league camp. Scouts said last summer that he could be in the big leagues before any other pitcher in the Draft. That has not changed. "I try not to get too far ahead," Nola said. "Whenever [the Phillies] think the time is right, that's their call."

Bullpen Hiccups – If the Phillies expect to be strong anywhere this season, they expect to be strong in the bullpen. But with Opening Day a little more than a week away, Ken Giles and Jake Diekman are still searching for their best stuff. Giles (6.14 ERA in seven appearances) allowed four runs in two-thirds of an inning Thursday against Toronto. Diekman (12.27 ERA) allowed six hits, seven runs and one walk in one-third of an inning on Friday in a 10-0 loss to the Yankees at Bright House Field. "That's embarrassing," Diekman said. "That was the worst outing in the history of the world." But nobody in Phillies camp is worried about Giles and Diekman. Everybody believes they should be fine. "Very similar to Giles," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said about Diekman's effort Friday. "Both power pitchers, both needing their reps and gaining arm strength. I think Giles and Diekman are two guys that feed off of adrenaline in big-game situations. Maybe you can say that's lacking in a Spring Training game. I think both guys are fine, they are working on things. Diekman is working on first-pitch strikes, which he struggled with [Friday]. He's been good up to this point. Also, both pitchers not having their good stuff. But I think that'll come with intensity."

Who’s Next? – The Phillies are giving one more pitching prospect a look before they head to Philadelphia next Thursday. They announced Friday that right-hander Zach Eflin will start Monday afternoon against the Pirates in Bradenton. The Phillies acquired Eflin in December in the Jimmy Rollins trade with the Dodgers. ranks Eflin as the fifth-best prospect in the organization. The Phillies also received left-hander Tom Windle, who ranks sixth, in that deal. The Padres selected Eflin, 20, in the first round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. He went 10-7 with a 3.80 ERA in 24 starts last season with Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore. The Phillies had No. 15 prospect Severino Gonzalez pitch Tuesday against the Braves. He allowed three hits and struck out two in three scoreless innings. No. 2 prospect Aaron Nola pitched Friday against the Yankees. He allowed five hits and struck out four in three scoreless innings.

Life After Baseball: Brett Myers – Brett Myers brought himself, his son Kolt and his World Series championship ring to Bright House Field on Friday. Myers helped the Phillies win the 2008 World Series, but since his baseball career ended following the 2013 season, he has spent most of his time coaching his son's travel baseball team and, most recently, putting together a country music album. "It's good to be back," said Myers, who was in town because his son's team is playing in Tampa. "It's awesome." There are a handful of holdovers from the 2008 championship team. There is Charlie Manuel, who is in camp as a guest instructor. There is Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels and Carlos Ruiz. That's it. Myers made the rounds with his former teammates, but afterward, he talked a bit about the country music he is writing and producing. His first five songs are available on iTunes. There are six more on the way. "It's just funny stuff that I think people can relate to," he said. "I'm tired of the pop-country stuff, you know? It's got that pop aspect. Hey, I'm not hating the music, but it's kind of run its course for me." Myers, who said he started playing guitar with Phillies manager of video coaching services Kevin Camiscioli in 2002, wrote the lyrics to such songs as "Black Creek" and "Kegerator." He records his songs at a studio owned by his friend Damien Starkey in Jacksonville, Fla., where Myers lives. Starkey has been in a few bands, including Puddle of Mudd. "I've always loved music, and I've always tried to write my own stuff," Myers said.

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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