Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Is There Any Doubt That The Phillies Are In Rebuild Mode?

GAME RECAP: Jays Jab Phillies 10-6

Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson each homered as the Blue Jays defeated the Phillies, 10-6, in their final home game of the spring at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium on Tuesday afternoon. The heart of Toronto's order combined for three home runs, four runs scored, four RBIs and four walks in one of their final tuneups for the regular season. The Blue Jays will wrap up their Florida schedule on Wednesday before heading to Montreal for a two-game exhibition series against the Reds. Philadelphia also enjoyed a productive day at the plate with Grady Sizemore going 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI. Ryan Howard walked twice and scored two runs, while Odubel Herrera added a solo home run in the eighth. Right-hander Sean O'Sullivan got the start for the Phillies and was charged with four runs on four walks and five hits over four innings of work. He surrendered a two-run homer to Encarnacion in the first inning with the ball traveling so far, it went over the batter's eye in straightaway center field. Rookie Aaron Sanchez got the call for Toronto and also had a rough day on the mound. He wasn't able to get out of the fifth and allowed five runs on six hits over 4 1/3 innings. The most troubling aspect of his afternoon was that Sanchez walked six batters and struck out just two. "I didn't really give myself a chance today," Sanchez said in reference to the high number of walks. "I don't think [it was] anything mechanical-wise. I think it was just one of those days where it was super-hot, I was wet, things were slipping and I wasn't good. That being said, [I need to] just work out the kinks over the next five days and be ready to go again." Toronto Minor Leaguer Rowdy Tellez put the game out of reach in the bottom of the eighth inning with a three-run shot to right field.

Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels will start Wednesday's 1:05 p.m. ET game on MLB.TV against the Braves at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla,. The Phillies named him their Opening Day starter Sunday. It will be the second Opening Day start of his career.


Back To Reality – The Phillies cannot afford to lose Ken Giles to a serious injury. But Giles left the eighth inning of Tuesday's 10-6 loss to the Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium with what he described as tightness in the middle of his back. Giles said he is not worried about it and fully expects to be ready to pitch Opening Day, if needed. But the Phillies hardly want Giles to risk something worse, so his availability Monday against the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park is far from certain. In fact, they probably will want to be cautious with him. There is no reason to push him in early April. "It's just stiff," Giles said. "It doesn't hurt. I'm able to move around and stuff." Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg sounded more alarmed than the reliever though. "I'm a little concerned with that, a little concerned with that," he said. Giles is a big reason why the Phillies' bullpen could be the team's main strength in 2015. Giles went 3-1 with a 1.18 ERA and one save in 44 appearances last season. He allowed 25 hits, 11 walks and struck out 64 in 45 2/3 innings. Giles' 0.79 WHIP was fifth among rookie relief pitchers since 1914. His 5.82 strikeout-to-walk ratio is sixth, and his 12.61 strikeouts-per-nine innings average ranked 10th. Giles touches 100 mph with his fastball, but his velocity has been down this spring. It hit 95 mph Tuesday. "It's hard to tell if that has to do with his lower velocity," Sandberg said about the back tightness. "I'm just waiting to see him get checked out, waiting to see what it is." "For me, I think that's perfect, where I need to be," Giles said about his velocity. "I don't want to be too in shape when I go in the season, then when the season goes on I kind of wear down. So around where I'm at right now I think it's going to be perfect. Then I can just continue to build up during the season." A lack of velocity in Spring Training is not unusual for closers and power pitchers. Former Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee often spoke about those pitchers needing to pitch with a "third deck," meaning a Major League stadium. The Phillies hope that is the case with Giles. Giles said he felt a muscle on the left side of his back grab him while facing Ryan Goins, who grounded out. Giles then walked Mike Reeves. Sandberg and assistant athletic trainer Chris Mudd immediately went to the mound to see him. Giles said he has had the stiffness in his back for a few days, although Sandberg said he was not on any injury reports. "I've stayed on it, kept it loose and stuff like that," Giles said. "I felt like it went away completely today, but then once I got back out there and really tried to rev it up, it kind of just clenched up." Told the Phillies might want to be cautious with his back, Giles said, "I don't think they'll be too pushy on that because they know I'll speak the truth. Every day they always want to know how I'm feeling and stuff like that, but I'm not really concerned about that kind of stuff."

Finding A Fifth Starter – The Phillies are pretty optimistic Chad Billingsley not only will join their rotation before the end of April, but that he will be effective once he is. It explains why they released Kevin Slowey on Tuesday, and non-roster invitee Sean O'Sullivan's front runner status to be the No. 5 starter, which the Phillies will not need until April 12. Billingsley is recovering from a pair of right elbow surgeries, but he pitched in a Minor League Spring Training game Thursday. O'Sullivan has a 5.91 ERA in 53 career appearances in the big leagues and had been reassigned to Minor League camp earlier this month. But Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Tuesday at Bright House Field that the organization is not interested in any starters suddenly available on the market because they have been released or exercised out-clauses in their contract. "We've had some internal discussions about that and so far, no," he said. "So far, with the ones out there we have not [had interest]." Slowey had a 6.94 ERA in seven Grapefruit League appearances, but his performance Monday against the Pirates might have sealed his fate. He allowed six hits, six runs and two home runs with two strikeouts in two innings. "[It's] not an easy decision, particularly when we're talking about the type of person that he is," Amaro said. "He's been a great influence on our guys, but we just didn't feel like he was going to be able to help us. I think it was the best thing for him and for us. We have some younger guys that we have in Triple-A right now. That's one of the reasons we made the decision to release him, give him another opportunity on another club." Amaro said some of the organization's younger pitchers in Triple-A could be No. 5 starter candidates. That might include left-hander Joely Rodriguez.

Back In The Mix – Phillies right-hander Sean O'Sullivan tried to make the best of a short-notice start Tuesday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium which the Phillies lost to the Blue Jays by a score of 10-6. He said his wife read online Monday that he had been scheduled to start Tuesday's Grapefruit League game, but nobody from the Phillies told him until Tuesday morning, about 24 hours after it had been announced in big league camp. O'Sullivan, who is the in-house favorite to be the team's No. 5 starter, allowed five hits, four runs, four walks and two home runs with two strikeouts in four-plus innings. "I was supposed to pitch today either way," said O'Sullivan, who laughed off the incident. "That type of thing shouldn't be a factor either way." The Phillies reassigned O'Sullivan to Minor League camp earlier this month, but he has been getting stretched out to start. The fact that the Phillies optioned Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to Triple-A on Sunday and released Kevin Slowey on Tuesday leaves O'Sullivan as the favorite to be the No. 5. "I kind of know what we have with O'Sullivan," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said after the 10-6 loss. "He'll throw strikes for us and he'll change speeds." The Phillies do not need a fifth starter until April 12, so O'Sullivan conceivably could make a start with Triple-A Lehigh Valley before joining the Phillies. The Phillies have said they are looking outside the organization for help, but Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the front office has not been interested in any pitchers recently released. The team hopes Chad Billingsley, recovering from a pair of right elbow surgeries, is ready to join the rotation before the end of the month. "To be down in Minor League camp for the last couple weeks and still have a chance to fight for the spot is unorthodox," O'Sullivan said. "You can't play GM. You hear guys in the locker room playing GM and this and that. That's something that's out of our hands. You never know what's going on. As soon as you think you have it figured out, it's the other way around." O'Sullivan allowed a two-run home run in the first inning to Edwin Encarnacion, which cleared the batter's eye. He also allowed a solo home run to Jose Bautista to start the fifth. "It didn't quite go as well as I would have liked it," O'Sullivan said. "I felt a little off on my release points. That's mostly because I've only been on the mound once in the last 11 days." O'Sullivan lasted just one inning in his last start last week after a ball hit his pitching hand.

Rebuilding On Schedule – Phillies President Pat Gillick has been on the job since August, and in that time the organization has made a seismic shift philosophically and the team is rebuilding. Gillick recently spoke with about the rebuilding process and more. Here are some highlights: Question: From what you've seen this spring, is the rebuild further away than you anticipated, closer or still in that 2017-18 window? Gillick: I think it's probably somewhere in that window. We've had some good acquisitions, I think. Some of the trades that Ruben [Amaro Jr.] made over the winter have brought us some good pitching talent. We were fortunate enough to pick up two or three other people along the way. We don't know if it's going to work out, but we've picked up [Andy] Oliver, [Odubel] Herrera and [Elvis] Araujo in addition to the players we acquired in the [Jimmy] Rollins and [Marlon] Byrd deals. They all look like they're going to be in Phillies uniforms at some point. Question: You have new amateur scouting director, Johnny Almaraz. Will there be a philosophy change in future Drafts? Gillick: Not saying that our former director didn't like players, but our new scouting director likes players. People might not understand that, but sometimes you look at a player and you can talk about his minuses or you can talk about his plusses. Our new scouting director, he talks about players' plusses. He wants to concentrate on what this player can do, not on what he cannot do. So I think it's a little bit of a different approach. Question: Does that mean more baseball players and fewer high-ceiling athletes? Gillick: To some extent. We're still looking for high-ceiling guys and athletes, but it's the right round to take him in. So consequently there might be a different philosophy about where to take the high-ceiling guys. You might take someone that's a little closer, a little better baseball player, a little earlier than you normally would and there might be a high-ceiling guy available in the second or third round. Question: Do you like the way you have handled the Cole Hamels situation? Everybody on the outside says you should pull the trigger, etc. Gillick: Any of our players on our roster, as we've said before, if it will improve the ballclub, we'll listen on anyone. But some of the more valuable pieces that we do have … I mean, we haven't heard the things that make us jump up and down and say, 'Hey, we want to do this. Let's go. Let's grab this deal and run with it.' We haven't gotten one of those deals yet. Question: Before Spring Training you thought interest might pick up once teams got a better feel for their weaknesses. Have you seen that? Gillick: Well, I do. I think there are some teams out there that I think could use some of our players. Maybe they haven't come to the reality or haven't come to the gut check that they need them, but maybe we'll have to wait to get into the season. We're not in a situation where we have to get rid of players. Our owners have always spent money, so this is not an emergency situation. If it's the right baseball deal we'll think about it, evaluate it and we'll jump on it if we like it. Question: I'm sure other teams think you're going to bend eventually and give up Hamels for what they want to give up. Gillick: People have talked that Ruben is looking for too much in his deals. I don't think it's true at all. I'm in the meetings. I know what he's talking about. I think what he's trying to do is be fair and reasonable with the different teams in regards to all our players. But at the same time, we have some players that have received interest and we can't give them away. Question: How confident are you that you will get what you consider fair value for those players? Gillick: I think at some point we will. I really do. Question: Ruben's contract expires at the end of the season. Will you address it before the end of the season? Gillick: I think it's something that could go through the end of the season. At this point I don't think it's going to be addressed. I think it would probably be at the end of the season. Question: You've maintained your support for him throughout. Does that still hold true? Gillick: Absolutely. Absolutely. As I've said, we're in this together. He has to make the ultimate decision. He's the point guy. He's the one that gets all the heat, but we've all had a hand in making these decisions. So consequently, I think we all share responsibility.

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 2-3-0 on this day.

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