Monday, March 30, 2015

Utley Powers Phillies To A Tie

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phillies Tie Tigers 4-4

The Tigers finally jumped on Phillies right-hander Aaron Harang on Sunday at Bright House. Harang threw three hitless innings before Tigers right fielder Tyler Collins hit a solo home run and Tigers left fielder Yoenis Cespedes hit a two-run home run in a 4-4 tie with the Phillies. Phillies second baseman Chase Utley hit a two-run home run to right field in the first inning. It was the first home run of the spring for Utley, who played in just his 10th game this spring after recovering from a sprained right ankle. Utley hit his second homer of the spring in the fourth, a solo shot to right. "Chase swung the bat very well," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He just looks like he's ready to go on the offensive side of things. Probably his whole game is ready as we speak." Tigers right-hander Anibal Sanchez struck out 10 over 6 1/3 innings, but allowed three home runs -- two to Utley and one to Russ Canzler in the sixth which tied the game at 4. Sanchez surrendered four runs on five hits with one walk. "I think [Utley] was [waiting] for the curveball. I threw him two curveballs and he hit them pretty good," Sanchez said. "He's a pretty good hitter. ... He was ready for it." Harang allowed four runs (three earned) on five hits over 5 1/3 innings with five strikeouts and two walks for the Phillies.

Phillies prospect Zach Eflin will start for the Phillies on Monday at 1:05 p.m. ET against the Pirates in Bradenton. Fans can listen to the game exclusively on a live webcast. The Phillies acquired Eflin in December as part of the Jimmy Rollins trade. Elfin is the Phillies' fifth-ranked prospect according to


Sandberg Setting The Outfield – Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg telegraphed his thought process March 21, when he first played Ben Revere in left field and Odubel Herrera in center field. He confirmed Sunday that he plans to use Revere and Herrera in those spots on Opening Day. "As I look at it now, he's left field," Sandberg said about Revere on Sunday. So Herrera, who is a Rule 5 Draft pick, starts in center? "Probably to start [the season] with," Sandberg said. Revere said Sandberg has told him to be prepared to play left field in the regular season. "I'm fine now," Revere said about being comfortable in left, a position he had not played since 2012. "I'm just playing my game. Before I got here [to Philadelphia], I played center, left, right, a bunch of times. It won't make any difference. Of course, it's different the way the ball goes. But everything else is pretty much the same. "There may come a time when they may need me back in center. All right, I'll be ready to go. I'm up for any task."

Hamels Officially Named Opening Day Starter – Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg smirked Thursday when asked about his Opening Day starter. "It's a secret," he said. Everybody in the world knew it would be Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels. It literally could be nobody else. But Sandberg made the obvious official Sunday afternoon at Bright House Field, where he anti-climatically announced Hamels is the guy. "It'll be Hamels and [Aaron] Harang to start the season, officially, in that order to start the year," Sandberg said after a 4-4 tie with the Tigers. Hamels will face the Red Sox on April 6 at Citizens Bank Park. It will be the second Opening Day start of his career. Sandberg said the Phillies have not lined up anything beyond that, but David Buchanan and Jerome Williams will be the Nos. 3 and 4 starters. The No. 5 starter is expected to be Sean O'Sullivan or Kevin Slowey with O'Sullivan, who is in Minor League camp, considered the favorite. The Phillies do not need a No. 5 starter until April 12, and the organization is hopeful Chad Billingsley will be able to join the rotation before the end of April. Billingsley is recovering from a pair of right elbow surgeries. But Hamels will pitch Opening Day. How long he remains in the Phillies' rotation remains to be seen. He is available in a trade, but the Phillies have not found an offer they like.

No Hit For You! – Tigers center fielder Rajai Davis asked Phillies left fielder Ben Revere for a favor before Sunday afternoon's Grapefruit League game at Bright House Field. "Take it easy," he said. "I need some hits." "All right," Revere replied. "I got you, man. But just drop a bomb. Don't make me run." Revere reneged on his promise in the third inning. Davis hit a high fly ball toward the left-center-field wall, but Revere timed his jump perfectly and caught the ball at the wall to bring back a home run. Revere leapt into the air to celebrate the catch and laughed and smiled widely as he returned to the Phillies' dugout. He said he was recalling his pregame conversation with Davis as he returned to the Phillies' dugout. Davis met him near third base and fist bumped him. "What did we just talk about?" Davis said. "My bad," Revere said. "I'm sorry, dude." Coincidentally, Phillies first-base coach and outfield instructor Juan Samuel just worked with his outfielders a couple days ago about making catches at the wall. "If you missed the ball, I would have been really upset," Samuel said to Revere in the dugout. Revere, who will open the season in left field with Odubel Herrera in center, certainly showed some ups. He is listed at 5-foot-9, but he said he has dunked a basketball in the past. "I used to dunk in Timberlands [boots]," he said. "But since I got knee and ankle surgery, it's tough. Now I'm getting close to 30. Back in the day when I was in high school and I had the springs, I'd be in the gym after school and I could dunk in Timberlands, one-handed or two-handed."

Injury Updates – The Phillies are down two starters this week because of injuries, but at least one of them is close to a return. Phillies third baseman Cody Asche went 2-for-4 with a double in a Minor League game Sunday afternoon at Carpenter Complex. The Phillies scratched him from Thursday's lineup because of tightness in the middle of his back. "It feels good right now," said Asche, who did not play in the field. "I'll see how I respond tomorrow. If we were in June, I'd probably be in the lineup playing, pushing through things. Right now, it's just a matter of taking care of it before the season starts so it doesn't nag and linger." Asche said there is no doubt he will be ready by Opening Day. Asche is not sure when he might return to the Phillies' lineup, but he considered Sunday a good step forward. Right fielder Domonic Brown has not played since March 19 because of tendinitis in his left Achilles. He has been recovering slowly, but he said he hopes to be a designated hitter in a Minor League game Monday at Carpenter Complex. "I'm going to try to get some at-bats," he said. "I don't know for sure yet, but I'm pretty sure that's the plan. It depends how I feel coming tomorrow." Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg expressed doubts Brown will be ready by Opening Day, although Brown seemed optimistic.

Not Living Up To The Hype – So far Phillies right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez has not come close to the hype. The Phillies announced Sunday they had optioned him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, which was not a surprise. Gonzalez entered Spring Training with a chance to make the Phillies rotation and his chances improved dramatically with Cliff Lee almost certainly lost for the season with an injured left elbow. But Gonzalez never looked close to big league ready. He went 0-3 with a 7.53 ERA in five Grapefruit League appearances. He allowed 25 hits, 12 runs, five home runs and one walk with seven strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings. "With some work," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said, when asked if Gonzalez can be a good big-league pitcher. "The inconsistency was the biggest thing that he fought. Behind in the count. That's what he has to get ironed out to be successful." Gonzalez's demotion leaves the No. 5 starter's job to Kevin Slowey or Sean O'Sullivan, who is in Minor League camp. O'Sullivan might be the favorite at this point because he is being stretched out. Slowey is not, although there is time. The Phillies do not need a No. 5 starter until April 12. The Phillies on Sunday also optioned right-hander Hector Neris to Triple-A. Right-hander Paul Clemens, catcher Koyie Hill and infielders Chris McGuiness and Chris Nelson had been reassigned to Minor League camp. The Phillies have 36 players remaining in camp: 17 pitchers, three catchers, eight fielders and eight outfielders. The Phillies and Gonzalez agreed to a six-year, $48 million contract in July 2013, but the deal dropped to three years, $12 million following his physical. Gonzalez's questionable health popped up last Spring Training and he struggled in the Minor Leagues as a starter with those health issues lingering. The Phillies eventually converted Gonzalez into a reliever and he had success in that role in Double-A Reading and Triple-A. He got promoted to the Phillies in September, but he had a 6.75 ERA in six relief appearances. "He showed glimpses of what he has," Sandberg said.

Heading In The Wrong Direction – Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. offered a blunt assessment about his offense a couple weeks ago. "We're not going to score a lot of runs," Amaro said. It was an evaluation based in fact. The Phillies scored 619 runs last season, which ranked 23rd in baseball. They were the fourth-fewest runs the Phillies have scored in a non-strike shortened season since 1972. Only the 1995 Phillies (615), 2013 Phillies (610) and 1988 Phillies (597) fared worse. But the Phillies chose not to address the offense this offseason. Instead, they traded Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd to acquire three Minor League pitchers. Byrd (.757 OPS) and Rollins (.717 OPS) ranked first and third, respectively, among qualified Phillies in OPS in 2014. It is why the Phillies will be hard pressed to score more than 619 runs in 2015. They will need bounce-back seasons, if they do. They will need surprises. They will need luck. "We're going to have to manufacture them," Amaro said about scoring runs. "We're going to have to do it with our legs. We're going to have to do it with our brains and aggressiveness." The Phillies will need Ryan Howard and Domonic Brown to return to prior form. Howard hit .223 with 23 home runs and 95 RBIs last season. His .695 OPS in the cleanup spot ranked 314th out of 316 hitters with 600 or more plate appearances in the cleanup spot from 1914-2014. But he said his left leg is finally healthy following left Achilles and left knee surgeries since 2011. He also has some serious family issues behind him, which might have affected him. But can Howard, 35, really turn back the clock? Brown made the National League All-Star team in 2013, but hit just .235 with 10 home runs, 63 RBIs and a .634 OPS in 144 games last season. His OPS ranked 139th out of 147 qualified hitters in baseball. His .640 OPS as an outfielder ranked 60th out of 64 outfielders. But Brown is already behind the eight-ball. He has been sidelined since March 19 because of tendinitis in his left Achilles and could open the season on the disabled list. Chase Utley will open the season as the team's No. 3 hitter, but on a better team he would hit elsewhere. His .755 OPS in the No. 3 hole last season ranked 18th out of 20 hitters with 400 or more plate appearances in that spot. The Phillies will hope Cody Asche takes a step forward in his second full season. They will hope for more from Ben Revere, and they will need Darin Ruf to be more than just a part-time player. Rule 5 Draft pick Odubel Herrera must prove he can hit big league pitching on an everyday basis. Can Freddy Galvis post better than a .621 OPS, which is his career mark in 550 big league plate appearances? There are big ifs everywhere. They are so big, Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg is talking a lot about small ball. "I look at our bats and our type of team and I think we're going to have to be good at that game," he said. It might not be enough to pass 619.

Phillies In Need Of Balance – Comcast SportsNet finally found a replacement for Jamie Moyer when it announced in February that Ben Davis will join Tom McCarthy, Matt Stairs and Mike Schmidt in the Phillies' broadcast booth this season. Davis knows the Phillies and baseball. He grew up in the area, attending Malvern Prep. The Padres selected him with the second overall pick in the 1995 First-Year Player Draft before he played in the big leagues seven seasons. He spent the past four years working on Comcast's Phillies pregame and postgame shows. Davis stopped to chat a few minutes recently about his move to the booth and the team he will be watching this season. Here are a few highlights: How are you enjoying the new job? Davis: I absolutely love it. I love it. It's weird not working every day (in Spring Training) because we're only doing home games and I'm not scheduled for every game, but it's been a blast so far. Do you feel comfortable in the booth? Davis: It's been great. The first three games I was with Matt, so we had the three-man booth. Tom just sets you up so well and Matt has his input. I think we all mesh really well. Obviously there is going to be some transition there, but I feel very comfortable. It's similar to what I've been doing the last four years in the studio. It's just now I have more time to talk about a given play. We don't have to worry about getting a commercial break in or whatever, so it's been fun. What are your impressions of this team? Davis: Well, ups and downs right now. There's obviously some issues with Cliff Lee not being there. I think that's obviously going to hurt the rotation. But offensively, there's always room for improvement. They've had some good games. They've had some good at-bats. Then they've had some bad games. So, I think they just need to find that balance there with hitting balls hard and getting good at-bats. And they're starting to come along as Spring Training goes, but I think there's definitely some good signs. I'm really anxious to see Odubel Herrera. He's really caught my eye. I like what I've seen out of him. Speed, he's had some good at-bats. It's been nice. Has anybody else caught your eye? Davis: Some of the guys like (Brian) Bogusevic has looked very good. (Cord) Phelps has looked good. I don't know what's going on with Dom Brown, how long he's going to be on the shelf. But these guys are really I think opening some eyes and showing they can play. What is realistic for this team? They're rebuilding. Davis: I wouldn't say it's rebuilding. A lot of these guys have been here for years, so I don't know if you really want to call that rebuilding. I just think they're taking some different measures in how they're approaching their season. It might be tough at times. I think the offense might have a tough time scoring runs at times. I like the bullpen. They've had a few bumps lately, but I like the bullpen. I love the bullpen. There are great arms coming out of there. But definitely the Phillies have some things that they need to address. I think they're looking to do that, Pat Gillick on down.

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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