Thursday, April 2, 2015

Which Utley Will We See This Year?

GAME RECAP: Phillies Bludgeon Braves 9-2

Chase Utley and the Phillies powered their way to a 9-2 victory over the Braves on Wednesday afternoon at Bright House Field. Utley hit a three-run home run in the first inning and a solo home run in the third inning, while Freddy Galvis and Rene Garcia hit back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning against Braves right-hander Julio Teheran. Utley has four home runs in five plate appearances, dating to a pair of home runs he hit in three plate appearances Sunday against the Tigers.

  • Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels made his final Grapefruit League start before pitching Monday on Opening Day against the Red Sox. He allowed six hits, two runs (one earned) and one walk with three strikeouts in six innings. He finished with a 4.15 ERA this spring.
  • Utley looks ready: Utley missed the first 10 Grapefruit League games because of a sprained right ankle, but he is finishing the spring strong. He has hit four home runs in his last two games.
  • The Phillies outrighted both right-handers Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and Phillippe Aumont from the 40-man roster Wednesday to give them 37 players on the 40-man. The Phillies had no risk of losing Gonzalez. He is owed $8 million over the next two seasons and has not performed as expected. Aumont has struggled during his time with the Phillies, but some in the organization still think he can live up to his potential.
  • Amaro said left-hander Mario Hollands, who has a torn common flexor tendon in his left elbow, remains likely to have season-ending surgery. Hollands recently received a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews. "We haven't made any final decisions on that," Amaro said. Hollands, Domonic Brown (left Achilles tendinitis), Cliff Lee (torn left common flexor tendon), Jonathan Pettibone (right shoulder) and Chad Billingsley (right elbow) will open the season on the disabled list.

Right-hander Jerome Williams makes the Phillies' final Grapefruit League start Thursday afternoon against the Rays at Bright House Field. Williams is 0-3 with a 6.60 ERA in five appearances this spring. He will open the season as the team's No. 3 or No. 4 starter.


Hamels Ready For Opening Day – Cole Hamels completed his final tuneup Wednesday for his Opening Day start against the Red Sox. He allowed six hits, two runs (one earned) and one walk with three strikeouts in six innings in the Phils' 9-2 victory over the Braves at Bright House Field. It was his final Grapefruit League start before he pitches Opening Day at Citizens Bank Park. "It takes six starts [in Spring Training] to really feel comfortable and confident," Hamels said afterward. "When it comes to the start of the season, you just want to have that positive feeling and positive feedback from the spring that you're healthy and everything is working. Right now, I definitely feel a lot more sharp than two weeks ago." Hamels, who could be traded this season as the Phillies build for the future, struggled at the beginning of spring as he worked on establishing his fastball command, among other things. But in his last two starts, he allowed eight hits, one earned run and four walks with seven strikeouts in 11 innings. "Health-wise, I feel really strong this year," Hamels said.

What Is The Chase Utley Plan? – Every spring for the past few years, Charlie Manuel and Ryne Sandberg established The Chase Utley Plan. The former and current Phillies managers promised they would reduce the second baseman's playing time to keep him strong late into the season. But once the season started, the temptation to play their best hitter became too strong. They wanted to win. Utley wanted to play. The Chase Utley Plan vanished by May. "A lot of that is my doing because I want to be out there," Utley said after Wednesday's 9-2 victory over the Braves. Utley, 36, hit home runs in his first two plate appearances Wednesday. He hit two home runs in three plate appearances Sunday. He did not play Monday or Tuesday. It is coincidence he hit four homers in five plate appearances over four days with two days off in the middle, but it showed something: when Utley is fresh, he can still hit with the best of them. He hit .293 with 24 doubles, three triples, eight home runs, 46 RBIs and a .794 OPS before the All-Star break last season. He slumped to .235 with a .674 OPS after the break. In his career, Utley's OPS is 74 points lower after the All-Star break. "Having some days off here and there can be beneficial," Utley said. "It's obviously easier said than done." "Maybe there is something about giving him rest," Sandberg said. Asked if he could avoid the annual temptation to play Utley every day, Sandberg said with a laugh: "Probably not. You know, I don't think April is that big of an issue with him with cooler temperatures. Cooler temperatures go a long way with him. I think heat, on the other side of the coin, really takes a toll on him. That's just something him and I will stay in communication with. But I intend to give him more days off that last year." Asked about infielder Cesar Hernandez possibly playing second base when Utley is on the bench, Sandberg quickly referred to other bench candidates like Andres Blanco and Cord Phelps, who have both outplayed Hernandez this spring. Hernandez is out of options, so he would have to be placed on waivers if he does not make the Opening Day roster.

When Will He Come Back? – Phillies reliever Ken Giles said Wednesday morning that a doctor examined his back and told him the tightness he experienced there Tuesday is not serious. But Giles could not say if he will be pitching again anytime soon. Giles left Tuesday's Grapefruit League game against the Blue Jays in Dunedin after he felt a muscle grab him. Giles said he had been feeling some tightness there for a few days. He said Tuesday he expects to be ready to pitch Monday, if needed, when the Phillies open the 2015 season against the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park. But the Phillies could elect to be more cautious with their hard-throwing setup man. They want Giles for the long haul, so they could put him on the disabled list to start the season. If that happens, he could be activated as early as April 16, which means he would miss just nine games.

Replacing Brown / Werth – The Phillies have been trying for years to replace Jayson Werth in right field. They have started Hunter Pence, Marlon Byrd, John Mayberry Jr., Domonic Brown, Delmon Young, Ben Francisco and 11 others in right field since Werth signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Nationals in Dec. 2010. But with the Phillies announcing Tuesday that Brown will open the 2015 season on the 15-day disabled list with left Achilles inflammation -- his DL stint can be backdated to March 27, which means he could be activated as early as April 11 -- that list could grow to 18 by Opening Day. The candidates to replace Brown include Jordan Danks, Jeff Francoeur, Brian Bogusevic and Russ Canzler. Grady Sizemore, who started 11 games in right field last season, also remains a possibility. "We're very open-minded," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Tuesday morning at Bright House Field. "We don't have a set right fielder right now." Here is a closer look at the candidates to replace Brown: Danks: He might be the favorite. First, he already is on the 40-man roster and has options remaining, which comes into play. Second, he might play the best defense. Danks has hit .227 with eight home runs and 26 RBIs in 344 at-bats in his career with the White Sox. He is hitting .250 (9-for-36) with one home run, five RBIs and .746 OPS this spring. If Danks is the Opening Day right fielder, it would give the Phillies six left-handed hitters in the lineup, leaving Carlos Ruiz as the only right-handed bat and switch-hitter Freddy Galvis. Sizemore: He has a guaranteed one-year, $2 million contract. Amaro said Monday that "for me," Sizemore is on the team. Sizemore posted a .580 OPS from Aug. 6 through the end of the 2014 season, and has hit .214 (9-for-42) with three RBIs and a .527 OPS this spring. He went 3-for-4 Tuesday. Bogusevic: He is hitting .306 (11-for-36) with three home runs, eight RBIs and a .944 OPS this spring. He clearly has performed better than the other right field candidates, but he is a non-roster invitee so they could start him in Triple-A and bring him up if needed. Francoeur: Amaro probably telegraphed the front office's thinking Monday when he said: "If Francoeur doesn't make the club, he doesn't have any outs in his contract right now, so if somebody falters at the Major League level and he's not on the club, then he'll have an opportunity to come up." Francoeur is hitting .189 (7-for-37) with two RBIs and a .432 OPS this spring. Canzler: He is hitting .286 (12-for-42) with one homer, four RBIs and a .707 OPS this spring. It is hard to imagine the Phillies going with Canzler over the others. Regardless of who starts Opening Day, Brown is expected to return to the post. He has been sidelined since March 19 because of tendinitis in his left Achilles. "It's the right thing to do," Amaro said. "We just want to make sure he's playing well. It's more of a matter of making sure this is not a lingering issue for him." "They don't want to rush anything and I really don't, either," said Brown, who went 0-for-4 as a designated hitter Tuesday in a Minor League game. "It's tough for being down here and missing Opening Day. But it's better to miss a week or so than to miss a month or two. [I'll] make sure I get all the inflammation out of there and be 100 percent when I come back up to Philly. So that's the big goal."

Playing For Opening Day – The Phillies cleared up their outfield situation Wednesday morning. They announced they had reassigned Brian Bogusevic to Minor League camp. Domonic Brown will open the season on the 15-day disabled list with left Achilles tendinitis, which leaves Jordan Danks and Grady Sizemore as the top two candidates to be the team's Opening Day right fielder. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg plans to start Ben Revere in left and Odubel Herrera in center. Bogusevic, who was a non-roster invitee, hit .306 (11-for-36) with two doubles, three home runs and eight RBIs this spring. Danks, who is on the 40-man roster, is hitting .250 (9-for-36) with two doubles, one home run and five RBIs. Sizemore, who has a guaranteed one-year, $2.5 million contract, is hitting .214 (9-for-42) with three RBIs.

More Roster Adjustments – Phillippe Aumont quietly packed up the things in his locker Wednesday morning at Bright House Field. He could have been packing for a trip to another organization, but he was not. Aumont entered Spring Training out of options, which meant if he did not make the Opening Day roster, he needed to clear waivers to remain with the Phillies. As no team claimed Aumont, the Phillies announced he had been outrighted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez also cleared waivers and has been outrighted to Triple-A. He had been optioned to Minor League camp Sunday. He is in the second year of a three-year, $12 million contract, but it has not panned out. The Phillies also reassigned outfielder Brian Bogusevic to Minor League camp on Wednesday. Aumont, 26, is the only remaining piece of the Cliff Lee trade with the Mariners in December 2009. Aumont, 26, is 1-5 with a 6.13 ERA in 45 appearances with the Phillies over the previous three seasons. He went 1-0 with a 4.15 ERA in seven appearances this spring. He allowed 13 hits, four earned runs, two walks and three home runs with 10 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings. "I thought I did all right," Aumont said. "Walks were down. I thought it was good enough, but some other people thought differently. But it's OK." There are mixed feelings about Aumont among the coaching staff and front office. Some still see potential in the 6-foot-7 right-hander. A change of scenery might benefit Aumont. "Obviously I think that anybody would think that," Aumont said. "But the bottom line is I'm still here. I'm still getting an opportunity somewhere. That's all that really matters." Aumont could have asked to be released, but he said he did not. "What good is it going to do to ask them to release me when they could have done it on their own?" Aumont said. "So if they didn't do it, it's for a reason. That's the way I see it. I've got some work to do. I'll just get it done."

Bad Signing – The Phillies acknowledged this week the Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez signing might never pan out. That became more apparent Wednesday when they announced Gonzalez, whom they optioned Sunday to Triple-A, had been outrighted from the 40-man roster. The Phillies placed him on waivers, knowing they risked losing him to another team. But no team claimed him because he has not performed as expected and because he is in the second year of a three-year, $12 million contract. No team wanted to pay the remaining $8 million on his contract. "His status does not change for us," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. insisted Wednesday at Bright House Field. He said the Phillies put Gonzalez on waivers simply because they wanted to make room on the 40-man roster. The Phillies have 37 players on their 40-man roster. "That doesn't mean he's not part of our plans," Amaro said. The Phillies thought so much of Gonzalez in the summer of 2013 that they offered him a six-year, $48 million contract. But the deal dropped to $12 million following his physical. Gonzalez's health became an issue in Spring Training '14 and continued early in the '14 season, when he pitched in the Phillies' farm system. Amaro said Gonzalez's velocity is a tick lower than when they scouted him in 2013. His breaking pitches are not as crisp. "He's just not as sharp," he said. Gonzalez had an unbelievable opportunity to be the team's No. 5 starter this season following Cliff Lee's elbow injury, but he instead 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. "When we evaluate the player and we see how he throws, and we saw he was not effective," Amaro said, "other teams see the same thing." Asked if another team claiming Gonzalez would have been welcome, considering the Phillies would have saved $8 million, Amaro said: "This is not about money. It never has been. This whole rebuild stuff and the things that we're going through, it's not about money. It's about making sure that we acquire and keep the assets that are necessary for us to move the organization forward in the future."

Anchoring The Phillies Franchise Overhaul – Ken Giles embraces the fact he can throw a baseball 100 mph. He loves it. A decade has passed since former Phillies closer Billy Wagner pumped 100-mph fastballs at Citizens Bank Park. Fans kiddingly booed Wagner whenever the scoreboard showed his fastball hit just 99 mph, but Wagner took offense and always mentioned the boos after he left the Phillies following the 2005 season. Giles takes no offense. Hey, he wants to hit 100 mph, too. "My first outing, the exact same thing happened to me," said Giles, who has #100MileGiles on his Twitter account, @KenGiles53. "It didn't bother me. It's 99 mph. Not a lot of people can do that, but if they want to see [100 mph] … OK, whatever, you do it. You do it and it makes them happy. It was one of those things where I think fans wanted to see how I reacted to it. I think I passed their test with flying colors where I think they're like, 'OK, we can't boo him anymore. He's got a strong mind and mentality,' kind of thing. "It's a cool thing to do. But I don't feel any more special than anybody else out there. We're all unique in our own ways. There are things I can't do that other people can do." Perhaps more than any other player on the 25-man roster, Giles symbolizes the future for the Phillies. The Phillies are rebuilding and hope they can contend again in 2017 or 2018. If that time comes, they hope Giles is closing games for them. For now, Giles is setting up closer Jonathan Papelbon, although he could open the season on the disabled list with a back issue. It is not believed to be serious, but the Phillies need to be careful with Giles. They need him for the long haul. Giles went 3-1 with a 1.18 ERA and one save in 44 appearances following his promotion from Triple-A Lehigh Valley in June. 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. But the Phillies' bullpen should set up nicely this season. It potentially will be the team's only area of strength with Papelbon, Giles, Jake Diekman and Justin De Fratus holding the first four spots with Luis Garcia, Andy Oliver and possibly Jeanmar Gomez holding the final three spots. "It's nice to start from the bullpen," Giles said about the rebuilding process. "Everybody in baseball is trying to build a strong bullpen, but it's pretty difficult to do. It's exciting. Like [Ryan] Howard and Chase [Utley] and all those guys back in the day. It would be nice to see all that hard work we've put in show and pay off." It will take time, but Giles sees a foundation there. The organization believes there are prospects coming, too. The Phillies hope everything comes together like it came together for Howard, Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Pat Burrell, Carlos Ruiz, Brett Myers, Ryan Madson and other homegrown talents with a World Series championship in 2008. Former Phillies closer Brad Lidge fell to his knees after he recorded the final out in that World Series. Former closer Tug McGraw raised his arms toward the sky as he recorded the final out in the 1980 World Series. What will Giles do? The Phillies hope to find out.

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 4-5-0 on this day.

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