Saturday, February 20, 2016
Injuries And Opportunities
Another Injury – The Phillies expect right-hander Jerad Eickhoff to be in their five-man rotation come Opening Day. But Eickhoff experienced a setback recently with a non-displaced fracture in his right thumb. The Phillies said it should not affect his ability to start the season, although manager Pete Mackanin said Eickhoff has not yet thrown a bullpen session. "He did it bunting before camp started," Mackanin said. "A ball just got away from him. But he shouldn't be far behind. It set him back a little bit, but not much." Eickhoff, 25, went 3-3 with a 2.65 ERA in eight starts last season with the Phillies, who acquired him in July in the Cole Hamels trade with the Rangers. If healthy, he is expected to open the season in the rotation with Aaron Nola, Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton. The No. 5 job is wide open with Vincent Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer and Adam Morgan the top candidates.
A Quartet Of Closers – The moment the Phillies traded Ken Giles to the Astros, they needed a closer. They already needed a setup man, and maybe another reliable reliever or two. They signed David Hernandez to a one-year, $3.9 million contract shortly before the Giles trade in December. But rather than sign another free-agent closer or setup man or acquire one in a trade, the rebuilding Phillies made more minor moves, which included signing four reclamation projects to Minor League contracts with invitations to Spring Training: right-handers Andrew Bailey, Ernesto Frieri and Edward Mujica and left-hander James Russell. The Phillies hope one of them can be their closer or setup man in 2016. If they are lucky, two or more of them will find their mojo and stabilize a bullpen that has few certainties other than maybe Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez. "I can't say they're all going to be as impressive," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Friday afternoon at Bright House Field. "I'd like to believe that more than a couple guys are going to make our job difficult. I'd like to believe that all of them are going to compete well enough that we're going to have a tough decision to make. That's what we're hoping for." Bailey, Frieri, Mujica and Russell have made a combined 1,395 appearances with 226 saves. But each of them has plenty to prove. That is why they are here. "I know they're rebuilding," Russell said. "But it's always a good opportunity for somebody that's not coming off the greatest year and trying to get back on track." Russell, 30, had a 5.29 ERA in 49 appearances last season with the Cubs. He posted a 1.71 ERA in 33 appearances from May 5 through July 7, but had an 11.08 ERA in 16 appearances the rest of the way before the Cubs designated him for assignment Sept. 1. "I don't know what it was last year," Russell said. "I felt like I was cruising for a little bit then had a couple bad outings going into September that really hurt me. If I could take away three outings, I have a great year again." In fact, remove Russell's two worst performances in August and he had a respectable 3.16 ERA in 47 of 49 appearances. Bailey, 31, has pitched in just 59 games the past four seasons because of a shoulder injury. He pitched with the Yankees last season. He had a 1.80 ERA in 28 Minor League appearances before he posted a 5.19 ERA in 10 appearances with New York. Before injuries hit, Bailey, who is from Haddonfield, N.J., had a 2.07 ERA with 75 saves from 2009-11. He made the American League All-Star team twice. "I'm coming off injuries and working my way back, so it's the opportunity I was looking for the most," Bailey said. "The Phillies presented me with a great one and I hope to take full advantage of it." Frieri, 30, had a 2.76 ERA in 228 appearances from 2009-13, but he had a 7.34 ERA in 48 appearances with the Angels and Pirates in 2014. The Rays have had tremendous success fixing pitchers in the past, so they took a shot on him in 2015. Tampa Bay designated Frieri for assignment in June after he posted a 4.63 ERA in 22 appearances. At the time they said they needed more relievers who could pitch multiple innings, and they thought Frieri was just a one-inning pitcher. Mujica, 31, is a former All-Star who has made 494 appearances with 50 saves in his career. He had a 4.75 ERA in 49 appearances last season with Oakland and Boston. He has battled a neck injury the past couple of seasons, which he said has been resolved. He also fractured his right thumb in May. He said he might have returned too early from that injury. "It's a different experience for me," Mujica said about being in camp as a non-roster invitee. "This is my first time in this position. You don't have a spot on the roster. It's a little crazy." But while each pitcher can point to a reason for his recent struggles, there is no question each will need to pitch well to win a job. They are guaranteed nothing, which is why the Phillies are taking a shot. They are low-risk, high-reward arms on a roster filled with inexperience. "We don't know yet," Mackanin said about who will be the Phillies' closer. "That's one of the things that's going to be a lot of fun looking at. By the end of Spring Training, we'll come up with somebody. We'll look at all of them."
Will They Win Again? – Everybody wants to know the Phillies' time frame to win again. Could it be 2017, '18 or '19? Phillies president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak have wisely not offered any hints because nobody truly knows when they will win again. But they do believe '16 should give them a pretty good idea about it. "What we're going to find out this year more than anything is what kind of track we're on," MacPhail said Friday evening at Grapefruit League Media Day. "Are we on a fast track? Are we on a medium track? Are we on a slow track? That's going to be determined by the 25 we break with. It's also going to be determined by how some of those next-level guys progress and how many of them demonstrated they're ready to come to the big leagues." Those next-level guys include six of the top 100 prospects in baseball, according to MLBPipeline.com. They will be in camp this spring: shortstop J.P. Crawford, outfielder Nick Williams, right-hander Jake Thompson, right-hander Mark Appel, catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Roman Quinn. "Matt has said this and he's absolutely right," MacPhail said. "You don't want to have to send somebody back. So it's important for the organization, when they promote them, they've got to feel like they're going to stick."
Today In Phils History - What may be surprising to some is that Shane Victorino made an appearance on a CBS drama on this day 4 years ago. What is not surprising is that the show was Hawaii 5-0.
With the Phillies having finished the 2015 season with a spectacularly awful record of 63-99 it will be interesting to see what kind of team new President Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak put on the field. At the same time I am definitely looking forward to the games against Boston with former GM Ruben Amaro on the field. Given the departures, lingering contracts, a history of injuries, bipolar performances, and unproven talent, it should, at the very least, be an interesting season for the Phillies. Who knows, maybe they can avoid 100 losses... hopefully by more than one game!