Monday, April 6, 2015

Welcome To Opening Day!

GAME RECAP: No Game Yesterday
Phillies took the day off to rest up for the season opener tonight against the Boston Red Sox.


The Red Sox and Phillies will resume a rivalry that began when they faced each other in the 1915 World Series with an Opening Day matchup at Citizens Bank Park on Monday. A more recent connection between the franchises centered on Phillies ace Cole Hamels. Despite spring-long speculation that Boston might trade for the left-hander, he remains in red pinstripes and will start against Boston's Clay Buchholz. First pitch is set for 3:05 p.m. And there's Shane Victorino, a star of the Phillies run of five straight division championship starting in 2007. Now the Red Sox right fielder, he'll be getting his first at-bats in Citizens Bank Park since being traded to the Dodgers at the Deadline in 2012. Both teams are coming off last-place finishes in 2014, but enter the new season with dramatically different expectations. The Red Sox have made extensive roster renovations, not to mention an up-close-and-personal view of what's possible after winning the World Series in 2013 a year after finishing last. To bolster their chances they shelled out $95 million to sign Pablo Sandoval and $88 million for Hanley Ramirez to reinvigorate their offense. The club also signed Rusney Castillo for $72.5 million last year, and the outfielder will start the year in the Minors. Buchholz is the only starter remaining from Opening Day 2014. Rick Porcello was acquired from Detroit and Wade Miley from Arizona in the offseason while Joe Kelly came from St. Louis before the Trade Deadline last season. "I think there's a lot of excitement, and rightfully so, about the additions [general manager Ben Cherington] has made to our team," manager John Farrell said. "This is a talented group." In addition to revamping the rotation, the Red Sox have addressed concerns about an offense that had a .684 OPS last season; only the Mariners finished lower in the American League. "There's no question our lineup is much more deep," Farrell added. "It's got more power potential. It's got a chance to be a dynamic-type lineup." The Phillies, on the other hand, have been upfront that they view this as a rebuilding season. Club president Pat Gillick candidly said on multiple occasions that he doesn't expect the Phillies to contend in 2015 or '16. "I don't think it's in the cards. I think somewhere around 2017 or 2018," he said. That's why, despite hitting fewer home runs (125) than any season since 1997, the Phillies traded Marlon Byrd and Jimmy Rollins, who combined to hit more than a third of them. But those deals netted Minor League pitchers Zach Eflin, Tom Windle and Ben Lively who, the Phillies hope, can help form the basis of their next great rotation. For the series finale, players from both teams will wear replica 1915 caps, commemorating the centennial of the Phillies first World Series appearance. Even though the opening of a new season is a time to look forward, in this case it will be fun to reflect a little on the past as well.


Phillies Finalize Roster – The Phillies selected the contracts of outfielder Jeff Francoeur and infielder Andres Blanco on Sunday, as they finalized their roster ahead of Monday's Opening Day game against the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park. Philadelphia also optioned outfielder Jordan Danks to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, placed right-handers Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Pettibone on the 15-day disabled list and placed left-hander Mario Hollands on the 60-day DL. Those moves left the club with a 25-man roster, featuring 12 pitchers and 13 position players. The Phillies will start the year with a four-man rotation, since they won't need a fifth starter until April 12. The eight-man bullpen will include righty Dustin McGowan, who was signed on Saturday after being released by the Dodgers. Francoeur came to camp as a non-roster invitee, after signing a Minor League deal in November. The 10-year veteran, who played 10 games for the Padres last season, won a job despite hitting .175 (7-for-40) with 10 strikeouts this spring. Blanco made the club as a backup infielder with the ability to handle shortstop. He played in 25 games at short, second base and third base for the Phillies last year, going 13-for-47 (.277) with one home run. Blanco, who turns 31 this coming Saturday, has also played for the Royals, Cubs and Rangers over seven big league seasons. The Phillies' Opening Day roster is as follows: Pitchers (12): RHP David Buchanan, Justin De Fratus, Luis Garcia, Ken Giles, Jeanmar Gomez, Aaron Harang, McGowan, Jonathan Papelbon and Jerome Williams; LHP Jake Diekman, Cole Hamels and Cesar Jimenez; Catchers (2): Carlos Ruiz and Cameron Rupp; Infielders (7): Cody Asche, Blanco, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, Ryan Howard, Darin Ruf and Chase Utley; Outfielders (4): Francoeur, Odubel Herrera, Ben Revere and Grady Sizemore.

Opening Day Memories – Charlie Manuel signed his first professional contract in 1963, and since then, he's had an opportunity to see Opening Day from a variety of angles -- as a player, coach and manager in both the Minor Leagues and the big leagues, and as a scout, consultant and special assistant. Now a senior advisor, Manuel is one of three former Major League players currently employed by the Phillies with at least 50 years in baseball, along with Dallas Green and Larry Bowa. As the Phillies prepare to embark on the 132nd season in franchise history when they play the Red Sox on Monday at Citizens Bank Park, here are their Opening Day stories: For Manuel, it all started at Wytheville, Va., the home of the Twins' Class A Appalachian League affiliate. He was 19 years old. "First time up, I hit a home run that went 318 feet down the left-field line," Manuel remembered. "I swung late on it and it hit right in the corner, cleared it by about six or eight inches, maybe, just inside the pole. A guy named Roger Nelson was pitching. He definitely had the ball by me, but it was short down there and I hit it for a home run." Manuel's first Opening Day in the big leagues came in 1969, for the Twins at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. Manuel went hitless in his only at-bat as a pinch-hitter. In 1976, he began a six-year career in Japan, where he blossomed as a slugger, hitting 189 homers. "In Japan, it seemed like every year on Opening Day I hit a home run," Manuel said. "People were out. It was the spring of the year, and they had the orange blossoms blooming and you could smell everything about it, but there was a little chill in the air. Our ballpark was always filled up, like 70,000 people there. There might have been a year or two where I didn't hit a home run on Opening Day, but it seemed like I always did." Manuel's favorite Opening Day, though, came in 2009, a year after the Phillies won the second World Series in franchise history. "Special," Manuel said. "That was the best one. Raising the flag. The fans out there. Also, when we were winning the division [five straight seasons] and I'm up on that concourse and I'm raising the flag and the fans are hollering and we've got the carpet out, and you can smell the food -- that's tremendous. But 2009, definitely, best in baseball for me." Bowa is now the bench coach for Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg. At age 69, he still throws batting practice daily. But when he played his first game for Class A Spartanburg in 1966, Bowa thought his career might be over before it even got started. Bowa's mother and father had come all the way to South Carolina from Sacramento to watch him play. "Bob Wellman was our manager," Bowa related. "I was only a right-handed hitter at that time. Nolan Ryan happened to be pitching that night. I had four punchouts. I remember sitting on the stool, and [Wellman] came over and asked me if I was all right. I said, 'Yeah, but if this is what baseball's about, I might as well go home right now.' Nobody knew who Nolan Ryan was at the time. He said that Nolan Ryan was going to be something special. I said, 'I hope so, because I had no chance.'" Bowa, obviously, turned it around and ended up with 2,191 big league hits. He has fond memories of that first year despite the heavy wool uniforms in the blistering heat and the endless bus trips. "I was in heaven," Bowa said. "You never forget your first game. I didn't even know if I was going to make the team." Entering his 60th year in a career that began as a pitcher with the Reidsville (N.C.) Phillies in 1955, Green is now a senior advisor to Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. Green joined the team after signing his first pro contract in June '55, so his first traditional Opening Day was at Salt Lake City the following year. Green's most memorable Opening Day, though, came while he was GM of the Cubs. "It snowed the night before," Green said. "We were panicked, obviously. I called all the grounds crew staff and the stadium ops staff, and we shoveled snow all morning, trying to get the game in. And we did. God bless them. They worked their butts off, and luckily the sun came out and melted some of the stuff that was lingering and we got the game in. That was just exciting for me. It was really a special day." It's remarkable that the Phillies employ three former players with such longevity in the game. Even more amazing is that they also have three front-office executives -- president Pat Gillick, chairman emeritus Bill Giles and former public-relations director Larry Shenk -- who also have at last 50 years in baseball.

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 with a 0-0 record. 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 10-13-0 on this day.

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