Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Wow, What A Load Of Crap!

GAME RECAP: Pirates Pound Phillies 18-4

Starling Marte, Tony Sanchez, Pedro Florimon and Pedro Alvarez hit two-run homers, Josh Harrison added a solo job and Alvarez capped the homers with a grand slam Monday as the Pirates downed the Phillies, 18-4, in the Bucs' final Grapefruit League home game, which was marred by a benches-clearing fracas. A punches-free altercation was sparked by Sean Rodriguez's displeasure at being quick-pitched by Phillies right-hander Kevin Slowey in the fourth inning. Coaches Juan Samuel of the Phillies and Rick Sofield of the Pirates were ejected during the disturbance. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle drew a later thumb from plate umpire Chad Fairchild for arguing balls and strikes. Harrison began the game against Philadelphia righty Zach Eflin with his second leadoff homer of the spring, and Marte connected in the third. Sanchez hit his team-leading fourth homer in the fourth off Slowey. Slowey was charged with six runs in two innings. Freddy Galvis hit his first spring homer in the sixth, a two-run shot to right field off Adrian Sampson. The back end of Pittsburgh's bullpen started the game to get them work before substitutes filled the Phillies lineup. Closer Mark Melancon started and was followed by left-handed setup man Tony Watson. Each pitched a shutout inning.

Phillies right-hander Sean O'Sullivan starts Tuesday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla. The Phillies reassigned O'Sullivan to Minor League camp earlier this month, but he suddenly finds himself as the favorite to be the team's No. 5 starter. The Phillies are looking outside the organization for pitching help, but if O'Sullivan pitches well, he has a chance to pitch for the Phillies on April 12, which is the earliest they will need a fifth starter.


Ready For The Regular Season? – Pirates left fielder Sean Rodriguez challenged Kevin Slowey to a fight Monday at McKechine Field. It never got that far. Benches and bullpens cleared before the bottom of the fifth inning of an 18-4 loss to the Pirates, but nobody threw any punches. Rodriguez thought Slowey quick-pitched him in his fourth-inning plate appearance, which Slowey won with a strikeout. Rodriguez thought he had called time on the play, but home plate umpire Chad Fairchild never awarded it. The pitch surprised and clearly irritated Rodriguez, who declined comment. Rodriguez yelled at Slowey as he walked off the field. Slowey stared at Rodriguez the entire time, although Slowey claimed he stared only because he did not know who Rodriguez was yelling at. Rodriguez continued to yell at Slowey when he returned to the mound to start the fifth. At that point benches cleared. "It surprises me to be that upset, and challenging somebody to a physical altercation hardly seems like the best way to resolve your frustrations," Slowey said. "I was kind of taken by surprise at his animosity after his at-bat. I know the kind of guy that he purports to be. That surprised me that that would be his choice of words and reaction. I guess I understand the frustration of a singular failure. It's a game of failures. But to react that way to me was very surprising." Said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle: "The umpires don't have to give you time. I'm not here to be judge or jury. We'll talk about it internally, about how we can do better job of not letting it happen again, or what we'll do if it does happen again." Phillies first base coach Juan Samuel and Pirates third base coach Rick Sofield were ejected. "He called him some unnecessary words," Samuel said about Rodriguez. "Nothing happened, but again, when [Rodriguez] was coming off the field in the [middle of the fifth], he kind of told [Slowey] the same kind of thing: 'If you want to take it out back, meet me in the parking lot.' The third base coach was telling me to get into my dugout. So I told him to help me come in. Help me get in my dugout. I'll show you." Sofield declined comment. Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa also got plenty heated during the altercation. But just when it appeared cooler heads prevailed, a fan just a few rows behind home plate started yelling at Bowa, who then motioned for the fan to come onto the field. Bowa had no interest in talking about it after the game. Slowey's afternoon unraveled after that. He allowed four runs in the fifth inning to give him a 7.71 ERA in seven appearances. In two innings, he allowed six hits, six runs and two homers with two strikeouts. Slowey had been competing with Sean O'Sullivan to be the No. 5 starter, though the Phillies are looking outside the organization for help. Twins pitcher Mike Pelfrey might be available in a trade. The Reds just released Paul Maholm, who had a good spring.

Not A Happy Manager – Ryne Sandberg's emotions are difficult to read, but he seemed relatively upset Monday afternoon at McKechnie Field. The Phillies lost to the Pirates in ugly fashion, 18-4. But the last week is cause for greater concern. The Phillies are 0-5-1 since a victory Tuesday against the Braves. They have been outscored 50-11 in that stretch. "Unacceptable, unacceptable game," Sandberg said. "Hitting, defense and pitching. We pitched up in the zone. Our bats didn't hit on a good day to hit. And we didn't play good defense. An unacceptable game in all phases of the game. "This time of spring, we want to have things together. We need to get the roster together and get fine-tuned for the season, but there are still decisions to be made. It's a game to put behind us, that's for sure. It was bad in all phases." Sandberg said he hopes to have his Opening Day lineup together for Friday's and Saturday's exhibition games against the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park. "Maybe create some momentum for Opening Day," Sandberg said. The Phillies do not have to finalize their 25-man roster until Sunday, and they are still looking at players, so Sandberg will be shuffling lineups until then. But that does not excuse the fact the team has played so poorly over the past week. Every other team in baseball is going through the same thing. "It would be nice to end Spring Training on a good note with the guys together," Sandberg said.

Decisions That Have To Be Made – Ruben Amaro Jr. said the Phillies have about four or five decisions to make before they finalize the Opening Day roster. One important decision has been made. Rule 5 Draft pick Odubel Herrera not only has made the team, but he will also be the Opening Day center fielder. "He kind of fits the bill of what we were trying to do," Amaro said before Monday's Grapefruit League game against the Pirates at McKechnie Field. "We were trying to get younger, a little more athletic. He's got good energy; he's got a decent package. Is he going to be a .300 hitter toward the top of our lineup or wherever [Ryne Sandberg] puts him? I don't know. We're going to give him a shot. That's what this season is about." Phillies right fielder Domonic Brown is likely to open the season on the disabled list with tendinitis in his left Achilles, which would open up another roster spot. The Phillies also might carry an extra bench player or relief pitcher with no need for a fifth starter until April 12. Darin Ruf is one of the only right-handed bats in camp with power. Amaro said Ruf is not a lock to make the team, but he also said Ruf playing in Triple-A is not ideal. Read between the lines, folks. Ruf is a safe bet to make the team. "He's not really a natural outfielder," Amaro said when asked why Ruf has not received a longer look in left field. "We're going to try to utilize speed at the top of the lineup and throughout the lineup rather than power, because we just don't have enough. Ruf can break in and get as many at-bats as he wants if he produces. He'll get some chances to play." Asked about the lack of power in the outfield with Ben Revere in left and Herrera in center, Amaro said: "We knew we weren't going to have any. We didn't expect to have any power in our outfield. Or our infield. We didn't have any expectations that we'd have power. We're going to have to try to create runs with our legs and with decent at-bats. That's how we're going to have to do it." Infielder Cesar Hernandez has hit just .133 in 45 at-bats this spring. Non-roster invitees Russ Canzler (.316) and Cord Phelps (.270) have outplayed him, but Hernandez is out of options, so the Phillies could lose him if he does not make the team. That alone could keep Hernandez on the roster. "He kind of falls in that category of young player with some athleticism and such," Amaro said. Right-hander Phillippe Aumont (4.15 ERA in seven appearances) also is out of options. He seems to be on the outside looking in, but he could find a spot if the Phillies carry an extra relief pitcher through April 12. "If we take 13 pitchers, he'd have a much better chance to be a part of that," Amaro said. The Phillies signed outfielder Grady Sizemore to a one-year, $2 million contract in October, despite posting a .580 OPS from Aug. 6 through the end of the season. Sizemore has hit just .147 in 34 at-bats this spring. Other outfielders in camp like Brian Bogusevic (.344 in 32 at-bats), Jordan Danks (.257 in 35 at-bats) and Jeff Francoeur (.206 in 34 at-bats) have either outperformed Sizemore or have skill sets that Sizemore does not have (i.e. better defensively). Amaro said Bogusevic, Danks, Francoeur or Canzler could be the team's Opening Day right fielder. That said, Sizemore is expected to make the team. "For me, he is [on the team]," Amaro said. "Sizemore can swing the bat." But the challenge is correctly weighing a player's spring performance with his track record. The Phillies raved last spring about right-hander Jeff Manship. He had an excellent camp and made the team, despite a 6.42 ERA in 52 big league appearances over the previous five seasons. Manship posted a 6.65 ERA in 20 appearances last season with the Phillies, falling in line with his career numbers. Beware the player with big Spring Training numbers and far less impressive numbers in the regular season. "That's the danger of evaluating guys, and how you evaluate them, in Spring Training," Amaro said. "You have to kind of balance what the baseball card says and what their history is with how you think they are going to do and how you think they are going to react playing in the big leagues right now."

Fixing The Rotation – The Phillies have made their starting pitching schedule top secret this spring, but they announced Sean O'Sullivan will pitch Tuesday against the Blue Jays. It is noteworthy because O'Sullivan is the favorite to be the team's No. 5 starter, which they will need April 12. The Phillies reassigned O'Sullivan to Minor League camp earlier this month, but he has been getting stretched out. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez had been a candidate, but the Phillies optioned him Sunday. Kevin Slowey remains a candidate, but Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Monday the Phillies are looking outside the organization for starting pitching help. "But it's likely to be an internal candidate," Amaro said. But there are options out there. The Reds just released left-hander Paul Maholm. He allowed seven hits, three earend runs and two walks with five strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings. If Maholm, 32, isn't a fit, a minor trade or another free-agent signing might work. Twins pitcher Mike Pelfrey could be available. He is not happy after being sent to the bullpen. If the Phillies find somebody from the outside, it likely is going to come in a minor trade or waivers. There is no need to sacrifice any young talent for a No. 5 starter this season. Right-hander Chad Billingsley is recovering from a pair of right elbow surgeries. Amaro said they expect Billingsley to be big league ready around late April or early May. He could slide into the No. 5 slot at that time if he is capable. Oh, Phillies fans with tickets to Opening Day on Monday against the Red Sox can relax. Amaro said he expects Cole Hamels to be on the mound for the Phillies. The Phillies have been looking to trade him to help their rebuilding efforts. "I expect us to go into the season with the folks we have out here, by and large," Amaro said. Amaro said right-hander Jonathan Pettibone, who is recovering from right shoulder sugery, will throw a live bullpen session Tuesday. Amaro said Cliff Lee, Billingsley, Pettibone, Mario Hollands and possibly Domonic Brown will open the season on the disabled list.

A Learning Experience – The Phillies have highlighted three of their better pitching prospects in the past week with Aaron Nola, Severino Gonzalez and Zach Eflin each getting a start. Eflin started Monday's 18-4 loss to the Pirates at McKechnie Field, allowing three hits, four runs (one earned), one walk and two home runs with two strikeouts in three innings. The Phillies acquired Eflin in December in the Jimmy Rollins trade. MLBPipeline.com considers Eflin the No. 5 prospect in the organization. "I had the jitters a little bit," Eflin said. "It was such a surreal moment." Eflin threw a 1-1 sinker to Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison, who hit a solo home run to right field to lead off the first inning. Elfin retired seven of the next nine batters he faced, until Gregory Polanco singled and Starling Marte homered with two outs in the third. "I had so much pumping through me," Elfin said. "My main focus was trying to keep the ball down, but you can't pitch good every day. You've just got to learn from it." It is highly unusual for the Phillies to have three pitching prospects make spot starts this late in Spring Training. Typically these things happen the first week of March with the pitcher sent to Minor League camp soon thereafter. Not this year. "This year is more about our future than our present," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "This is about finding out, frankly, and this sounds strange, but I'm more interested in the development of the guys in Triple-A and Double-A and A ball than I am necessarily the guys on the [Major League] field." Phillies third baseman Cody Asche returned to the field for the first time since Thursday, when he has scratched from the lineup because of back tightness. He said his back responded well, although he made two errors in the field. "My glove was a little sore today," Asche said. "I'll make sure I ice that up."

Not A Good Deal – The Phillies thought so highly of Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez in the summer of 2013 that they offered him a six-year, $48 million contract. They fully expected him to jump into the 2014 rotation behind Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. But more than a year into his three-year, $12 million contract (Gonzalez lost $36 million because of concerns following his physical), the Phillies have received no return on their investment. And one wonders if they ever will. The Phillies optioned Gonzalez to Minor League camp Sunday after 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. "It's possible," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Monday when asked if he is worried the organization will get nothing from Gonzalez. "He hasn't pitched well enough to be a Major League starter for us," Amaro said. "His stuff and his command just weren't good enough. It's kind of simple. He needs to be better for us to utilize him in our rotation. He'll go down and pitch, and hopefully he improves. If he doesn't, then he doesn't." The killer is that Gonzalez never had a better opportunity to make the team. The Phillies desperately need a No. 5 starter with Lee almost certainly lost for the season with a torn tendon in his left elbow. But Gonzalez could not outpitch non-roster invitees Kevin Slowey and Sean O'Sullivan. "You wish the guy was pitching better," Amaro said. "I think he does, too. I think he's disappointed. I think he's disappointed in himself because he geared himself up to want to take this job. It doesn't mean it's the end of him, but he's just not ready to take that job right now." Does this serve as a warning for those who want the Phillies to drop tens of millions of dollars on Cuban free agents? "It's a risk," Amaro said. "There's a lot of teams that were in on him, and we ended up signing him. He hasn't performed as well as we would have liked. He may never perform as well as we would have liked, but that's the risk you take. Sometimes, you've got to take a risk."

After ending 2014 with a 73-89 record, there second consecutive losing season, the Phillies are currently tied for first place for the 2015 season. Given the departures, aging stars, injuries, and performance this spring, don’t expect their competitive place in the standings to last. All time, the Phillies are 2-2-0 on this day.

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