Friday, April 3, 2015

Phillies Falter In Final Florida Game

GAME RECAP: Rays Rout Phillies 10-1

The Rays jumped on Phillies right-hander Jerome Williams in the second inning Thursday in a 10-1 victory at Bright House Field. Logan Forsythe, Tim Beckham and Jake Elmore each singled with one out to score a run. David DeJesus followed two batters later with a three-run home run to right-center field. It was DeJesus' second home run of the spring. Williams allowed nine hits, six runs and struck out six in 5 2/3 innings.

The Phillies host the Pirates in a pair of exhibition games beginning Friday night at Citizens Bank Park, free on MLB.TV at 7:05 p.m. ET. Right-hander Aaron Harang will make his final start of the spring. He is scheduled to pitch the second game of the regular season for the Phillies on April 8 against the Red Sox.


Williams Frustrated By Latest Outing – Phillies right-hander Jerome Williams is from Hawaii, and he has the laid back personality of the tropical islands to match. Nothing seems to bother the guy. But he was not happy following Thursday's start against the Rays at Bright House Field. He allowed nine hits, six runs and one home run with six strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. Williams allowed 28 hits, 17 runs (14 earned runs) and two walks with 10 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings in his final three Grapefruit League starts. "A little bit frustrated because I know I'm better than that," Williams said. "It's just not acceptable. In my eyes, it's not acceptable. It's just trying to do things the right way every time, every inning. Right now that's not happening. It's going to happen. I'm going to force it to happen." Next week at Citizens Bank Park he will start the third or fourth game of the 2015 season. Williams said he is not concerned about that next start, considering the way the last three went. "It's all about just kicking myself in the butt and doing it right," he said. "It's the first time you've actually heard me say that. I'm very hard on myself right now. Whatever I need to do to get this thing right, I'm going to do it." Also on Thursday, right-hander Chad Billingsley threw 40 pitches over three innings in a Minor League game at the Carpenter Complex, allowing one hit and no runs with one strikeout and no walks.

Making The Right (Field) Decision – Phillies outfielder Grady Sizemore started his third consecutive game in right field Thursday at Bright House Field. It seems to point to Sizemore being the team's Opening Day right fielder, although Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg declined to commit to him. Domonic Brown had been the presumed right fielder, but he will open the season on the disabled list with left Achilles tendinitis. "To read into it, he's definitely a candidate for right field as we go forward here," Sandberg said about Sizemore. Seven of the team's eight position players appear set for Monday's season opener against the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park: catcher Carlos Ruiz, first baseman Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley, third baseman Cody Asche, shortstop Freddy Galvis, left fielder Ben Revere and center fielder Odubel Herrera. Sizemore is a lock to make the team -- Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said as much Monday -- despite a disappointing Spring Training. Sizemore entered Thursday hitting .200 (9-for-45) with three RBIs. That leaves eight players competing for a potential six bench jobs with the Phillies carrying a sixth bench player until April 12, when they need a No. 5 starter. Catcher Cameron Rupp and outfielder Darin Ruf are locks. Infielder Cesar Hernandez has had a poor spring, but he remains a heavy favorite because he is out of options and the Phillies do not want to risk losing him on waivers. Outfielder Jeff Francoeur has hit just .184 (7-for-38), but he remains a favorite because the Phillies do not have many right-handed bats. Francoeur also has been a tremendous presence in the clubhouse this spring, and that is something the front office and coaching staff might want in what could be a challenging season. Outfielder Jordan Danks and infielders Andres Blanco, Russ Canzler and Cord Phelps figure to be battling for the final two jobs, which becomes one job come April 12. Blanco might be fourth on that list. It is hard to read which way the Phillies are leaning with the other three, although Phelps has had the best spring, offensively, of the three. Phelps, who is a non-roster invitee, entered Thursday hitting .310 (13-for-42) with one double, one triple, one home run, six RBIs and nine walks. Canzler, who also is a non-roster invitee, is hitting .279 (12-for-43) with two doubles, one homer, four RBIs and one walk. Danks, who is on the 40-man roster and has options remaining, is hitting .268 (11-for-41) with two doubles, one home run, five RBIs and six walks.

Giles Ready For Opening Day – Phillies setup man Ken Giles said he remains on course to be on the Opening Day roster. He played catch again Thursday morning at Bright House Field, less than 48 hours after he had to leave Tuesday's game against the Blue Jays because of a mildly strained back. The Phillies and Giles said they think he will be ready to go Monday, when the Phillies play the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park. "I let it loose," Giles said. "No pain. No nothing." Giles said he is not sure if he will pitch in the team's exhibition games against the Pirates on Friday and Saturday in Philadelphia, but the Phillies said they would like to see him throw off a mound at least once before putting him on the active roster.

Focusing On Philly – It became the standard joke every time Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels made another Spring Training start and moved closer and closer to Monday's Opening Day start at Citizens Bank Park. It went something like this: Hey, Hamels is starting Opening Day. Ah, but for what team? Ba-dum-bump. Hamels arrived to Phillies camp in February already the subject of incessant trade speculation because the Phillies are trying to dismantle and rebuild their team in an attempt to compete again in a few years. But the talk really picked up when he told USA Today he wants to win and, "I know it's not going to happen here." Hamels never recanted, but he backed away from those words, understanding he is going to be in a Phillies uniform until somebody tells him otherwise. In other words, he needs to make the best of the situation. He also appreciates the Phillies and the fans, and everything that has happened to him in his career. The Phillies selected him in the first round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft. He won a World Series in 2008. He signed a six-year, $144 million contract extension in 2012. He has a home outside Philadelphia. Hamels does not want to disrespect anybody. If he is going to leave, he wants to leave on good terms. So he has dodged, ducked, dipped and dived at nearly every question this spring about his uncertain future. Asked Wednesday if it will feel funny pitching against the Red Sox on Opening Day, considering Boston is often mentioned as a landing spot for Hamels because the Phillies covet Boston's top prospects, he said, "No, we knew we were going to face the Red Sox. When did they come out with the schedule? August? September? "This is where I am, and this is what I'm doing," he said. "To be able to pitch at Citizens Bank [Park] is going to be the vision I had. For what it is and what people want to make it, it doesn't affect me. I'm just happy enough that I get to go pitch and get guys out and try to pitch a full season." Other teams have expressed serious interest in Hamels, including the Padres, Rangers and Blue Jays. Maybe one of those teams (or the always exciting mystery team) finally makes the offer the Phillies want to trade their ace. Maybe it happens in the offseason. Maybe it happens next year or beyond. In the meantime, Hamels will pitch for a team moving in an unfamiliar direction. This is the first time Hamels has opened the season with the Phillies not expected to compete for the postseason. In fact, many think this team could lose 100 games for the first time since 1961, when it lost 107. "I have no control over a certain direction," Hamels said. "An organization, they have a bigger picture that they have to worry about. As a player, we really have to take the straight and narrow approach. We have a job to do, people are counting on us, and I think that's kind of what an organization, an upper management, has to worry about is what players are going to be accountable, what direction can we go with what we have. I'm just one piece of the puzzle, and as long as I can go out and do what they expect, then I'm fulfilling my end of the bargain."

Speed At The Top – Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said nobody should read anything into Thursday's lineup at Bright House Field. He said Monday following an 18-4 loss to the Pirates that he hoped to play his Opening Day lineup at least once before next Monday's season opener against the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park. So Thursday's lineup appeared to offer some clues with the exception of backup catcher Cameron Rupp playing over Carlos Ruiz. Left fielder Ben Revere and center fielder Odubel Herrera hit first and second, respectively, which made sense. "It's a possible combination," Sandberg said. Revere and Herrera both offer speed and the possibility of respectable on-base percentages atop the lineup. Revere hit .306 with a .325 on-base percentage and 49 stolen bases last season. Herrera, who is a Rule 5 Draft pick, won batting titles in the Double-A Texas League and Venezuelan Winter League. He entered Thursday hitting .328 with a .355 on-base percentage in the Grapefruit League. "[Freddy] Galvis is another guy in the No. 2 spot," Sandberg said. "He's another option depending on that day's lineup." Galvis has hit .218 with a .259 on-base percentage in 550 career plate appearances with the Phillies. He has hit .246 with a .291 on-base percentage in 2,631 plate appearances in the Minor Leagues. Asked if Galvis has enough hitting ability to warrant the No. 2 spot, Sandberg said, "Playing the game the right way. Setting up base runners, moving the runners and doing some things for the three, four, five hitters. That's what Freddy has done so well this spring. He fits that mold very well, too." But the occasional opportunity to potentially advance a base runner might not benefit the lineup as a whole. The No. 2 hitter in baseball last season averaged 731.8 plate appearances per team. The No. 8 hitter averaged 628 plate appearances. That is a difference of 103.8 plate appearances in a season. Those plate appearances could be the difference between an extra run here or there, depending on the hitters in those spots. Galvis has hit a bit better this spring. He entered Thursday hitting .288 with a .309 on-base percentage. If he can keep up that pace, perhaps some time hitting second works. But if he hits like he has in the past, that spot might be better reserved for Revere, Herrera or somebody else more productive. Only time will tell, but right now Sandberg said not to read into anything.

Sandberg Discusses Spring – The Phillies had a remarkably troubling finish to their Grapefruit League season. They lost Thursday afternoon to the Rays at Bright House Field, 10-1, to finish 1-7-1 in their last nine games. They were outscored 72-27 in that stretch. "Yeah," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said, when asked if that finish was troubling. "That's why I'm glad we have a couple games there in Philadelphia to straighten that out. We can still have a couple good games and start off on a different note than it has been the past week." Sandberg expressed his frustration Monday following an 18-4 loss to the Pirates in Bradenton, Fla. But asked if he planned to speak to the team, he said he had not thought about it. It is unclear if he will talk to them before Monday's season opener against the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park, but clearly the spring has done nothing to change opinions that the Phillies are at the beginning of a long rebuilding season. "Today's game wasn't a good game on the effort side of things," Sandberg said. "I think traveling to Philadelphia, and a little change of scenery and really getting after the two exhibition games … we need those two games to really get ready for Opening Day." The Phillies finished 12-17-2 this spring. "We did show some good things the first 20 games or so," Sandberg said. Howard's spring struggles: The Phillies were optimistic about Ryan Howard entering camp. He appeared to be in his best shape in years, and he also has some serious family issues behind him. The Phillies hoped a healthier Howard with a clearer mind would bounce back in 2015. Howard went 0-for-3 Thursday to finish the spring hitting .171 (12-for-70) with three doubles, three home runs, nine RBIs, four walks and 24 strikeouts. "You know what?" Sandberg said. "He's put in the work. He's done everything that's been asked. Hopefully all of that will pay off in the season. He's in a good place as far as his stance. He's done a lot of extra hitting. I think he has more bat speed than he had all of last year. So I look forward to those things to click and I look for him to hopefully get off to a good start and a good season."

Identity Crisis (Again) – For the second year in a row, with Spring Training coming to a close, Jonathan Papelbon has forgotten who he is. When the pitcher entered the ninth inning of Wednesday's Phillies-Rays Spring Training game, he took the mound not as himself, but as catcher Carlos Ruiz. It was a repeat of last March, and we remain filled with questions. What is it about the end of Spring Training that sends Papelbon into a blistering loss of identity? Perhaps this is merely an annual, temporary "Freaky Friday"-esque body swap. Or perhaps the two are attempting to fuse into a one-body battery tandem named PapelRuiz, and they can only do it with a certain number of hours until the season begins each year. We just hope he remembers that he is 34-year-old Jonathan Robert Papelbon from Baton Rouge, La., and not 36-year-old Carlos Joaquin Ruiz from Chiriqui, Panama, in time for the Phillies' opener on April 6. 

Hooters Sighting – You might not have heard of Odubel Herrera yet, but the Phillies center fielder has been making a (new) name for himself down at Spring Training. Herrera, who used to go by "David" (Odubel is his middle name), is trying out a new position. Previously an infielder, he's set to patrol center field for the Phils on Opening Day as the club moved Ben Revere and his impressive glove over to left. If Herrera's .328 Spring Training average this year didn't get your attention, his recent warmup outfit surely will. Clearwater, Fla., is the home of Phillies Spring Training and the birthplace of Hooters. Hooters girls actually patrol foul territory for the Phils at Bright House Field, so it's not entirely shocking that Herrera was able to snag one of the shirts. Suns out guns out, amirite?

Remembering Schilling’s Unceremonious Arrival – Heading into the 1992 season, Curt Schilling was a 25-year-old pitcher who had already spent time with three Major League franchises and started a total of five big league games. He'd amassed a 5-11 record and maintained a 4.15 ERA. Then he became a Phillie. The Phillies sent Jason Grimsley to the Astros for Schilling, straight-up, on April 2, 1992. Over the next nine -- well, eight-and-a-half -- seasons, Schilling threw 61 complete games for the Fightin's on his way to 101 wins and a 3.35 ERA. During the Phils' magical 1993 season, Schilling won half of his starts in the regular season and proved he could hang with the best of them in October, shutting out the Blue Jays in Game 5 of the World Series. He threw 147 pitches and only faced 33 batters. In '98, Schilling led MLB with 15 complete games and 268 2/3 innings pitched. It was his second straight 300-strikeout season and marked the second of three All-Star appearances while he was with the Phillies. We all know how this story ends, though: The Phils traded Schilling to the D-backs in 2000 for Travis Lee, Omar Daal, Vicente Padilla and Nelson Figeroa. Schilling helped the D-backs to the '01 World Series, then took his talents to the Red Sox (the team that drafted him in 1986) where he and his bloody sock became a part of baseball lore. During the 2013 season, the Phillies inducted Schilling onto the Wall of Fame at Citizens Bank Park. He used the opportunity to speak afffectionately about his time in the City of Brotherly Love.

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 6-5-0 on this day. 

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