Monday, February 29, 2016

Phillies Rebound From 2015 In First Game

TODAY’S EXHIBITION GAME: Phillies Defeat Tampa 8-3

The Phillies hope they will have a catching problem on their hands in the near future. Two of their top prospects in Spring Training are catchers Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp. Both impressed in Sunday's 8-3 victory over the University of Tampa at Bright House Field. Alfaro went 0-for-2 with one walk and one run scored. His power has enthralled Phillies coaches in the first week of camp, but Sunday he impressed with his arm and legs. He nabbed a would-be basestealer in the fourth inning. He also beat out a double play in the first, which led to a run, and scored from second on a ball hit to left field in the third. "I like to see that, boy," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "He runs pretty good for a catcher." Knapp went 1-for-3 with one walk, two RBIs and one run scored. He ripped a bases-loaded single off Spartans first baseman Adrian Chacon's glove to score two runs in the first. "I like hitting bases loaded with one out. It's easy," Knapp said with a smile. "You can hit a ball like that and get a couple RBIs. It was good. I felt good at the plate today. I felt pretty comfortable." Knapp started the game as the designated hitter, but he moved to first base in the seventh inning (he borrowed Darin Ruf's mitt because he does not own one) as the Phillies were shorthanded with Ryan Howard not playing, Ruf out of the game and Cody Asche's and Brock Stassi's sides bothering them. The switch-hitting Knapp's versatility afforded him an extra plate appearance, and his first of the spring as a right-handed hitter. "It's nice to have that in my back pocket if I can stay in the lineup that way," Knapp said of his ability to play first. ranks Alfaro as the No. 96 prospect in baseball, while Knapp earned the Phillies' Minor League Player of the Year honors in 2015. In a perfect world, both catchers continue to improve and live up to their potential and the Phillies ultimately have to move one of them to a different position. If that would happen, Alfaro could move to the outfield and possibly even first. Knapp could play first or outfield. He has played both in the past. "Whatever it takes to stay in the lineup," Knapp said. "If that's where I end up and I'm in the big leagues, I don't think I'm really worried about it as much, you know? As long as I'm in the big leagues playing every day." But those are discussions for another day. The Phillies look at both players as catchers, and they will both catch this spring and once their Minor League seasons begin in April. Until he heads to Minor League camp, Knapp is soaking in everything he can. "I've been just trying to pick [Carlos Ruiz's] brain as much as I can," he said. "He's got so much knowledge, it's just like, why would you not just ask him a ton of questions? "We've been having meetings every day, where we go over who we've caught in bullpens and live BPs and stuff. Chooch will just give us a heads up about what these guys like to do and how they go about their business and stuff. Sometimes, for a lack of a better word, the bull [sessions] are what you get the most out of. Just kind of stories, like, 'We were on the road and this happened.' It's just stuff like that."


Vying For Opening Day Start – Jeremy Hellickson and Aaron Nola threw a combined 18 pitches in two perfect innings for the Phillies on Sunday at Bright House Field. Their performances in an 8-3 victory against the University of Tampa meant little in the long run, but they are worth noting because one of the two pitchers is expected to be the Phillies' Opening Day starter on April 4 against the Reds in Cincinnati. The runner-up is expected to pitch the second game of the season on April 6, which would not be a bad consolation prize: He would also be in line to pitch the homer opener April 11 against the Padres. "Yeah, I'd absolutely love the honor, but it doesn't matter one bit," Hellickson said about pitching Opening Day. "We're going to need all five guys to pitch how we're capable of pitching. I don't really think it matters who starts it off, but at the same time, it's a goal and it'd be fun." "It'd be a cool thing," Nola said. "If you haven't done it before, if you haven't had an Opening Day start in your career, it would definitely be cool. But wherever they have me, I'm going to go out there and compete." Nola said he would understand if the Phillies told him they preferred to ease him into the season, giving the nod to the more experienced Hellickson, who won the 2011 American League Rookie of the Year Award. "Being on the field and competing against the batters, trying to get a win for the team, that's the focus," Nola said. Hellickson, 28, went 9-12 with a 4.62 ERA in 27 starts last season with the D-backs. He has a 4.86 ERA in 72 appearances (71 starts) the past three seasons. The Phillies acquired him in an offseason trade with Arizona because they consider him a solid bounce-back candidate and they needed a veteran presence in the rotation. Hellickson certainly has motivation to pitch well. He will become a free agent following the season, so a big year would help him on the open market. And if he pitches well, the Phillies could potentially deal him before the non-waiver Trade Deadline. "I just really need to get back to being consistent," Hellickson said. "The last couple years I feel like I've thrown better than what the numbers said at the end, but my bad ones were just really, really bad. I couldn't stop the bleeding in those big innings. I've just got to be better out of the stretch with guys on base. Just be more consistent every five days. I can't give up one in seven [innings] one game and then give up five in three the next." Nola threw fastballs and curveballs in his short stint, although he said he will be making a concerted effort to improve his changeup this spring.

Today In Phils History - Well, there is one Phillies leap year player in Ralph Miller who was born on this day in 1896 (which technically still makes him less than 30 years old and a prime candidate to make the current roster). 

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!

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