Saturday, March 26, 2016

Can MacKanin and Franco Carry Spring Success Into The Regular Season?

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phillies Tie Blue Jays 4-4

Blue Jays right-hander Marco Estrada is rounding into form after opening Spring Training with a lower back injury. He pitched 3 2/3 innings Friday night in a 4-4 tie with the Phillies in a Grapefruit League game at Bright House Field. Estrada, who made his second Grapefruit League start, allowed two hits, one run, two walks and struck out six. He allowed the run in the third inning when Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco hit his eighth home run of Spring Training. Franco leads the Majors in homers this spring. "Hurry up and get to April," Phillies right-hander Jeremy Hellickson said about Franco's latest homer. "I don't think he'll stop, but hurry up and get here." "I felt good," Estrada said after throwing 59 pitches, 39 strikes. "I still have to catch up a little bit, my body felt pretty good, it's just a comfort level that I need to get to. It's not quite there yet, especially early on, and I felt the same way the first time out ... but the more pitches I threw, the better I felt." Blue Jays first baseman Casey Kotchman hit a two-run homer to right field in the fourth inning against Hellickson, who was recently named the Phillies' Opening Day starter. Blue Jays outfielder Darrell Ceciliani belted a solo shot -- his third home run of the spring -- off Daniel Stumpf in the sixth inning. The Phillies tied the game with a three-run rally in the bottom of the seventh against left-hander Brett Cecil, with outfielder Peter Bourjos delivering a two-run homer.

  • Bourjos hit a two-run home run off the tiki bar in left field in the seventh. It was his second homer of the spring.
  • Left-hander Daniel Stumpf allowed a solo homer to Darrell Ceciliani in the sixth. Stumpf is a Rule 5 Draft pick and is fighting for a bullpen job. He has a 4.35 ERA in eight appearances.
The Phillies are using Saturday afternoon's game against the Tigers at Bright House Field to get a longer look at some of their relief pitchers in camp. Left-hander James Russell (0-0, 2.25 ERA) will start. A slew of relievers are expected to follow. Russell is in camp as a non-roster invitee and has a chance to win one of the final jobs in the Phillies' bullpen. 


Herrera Returns – The Phillies are breathing a little easier about their outfield situation. Odubel Herrera played Friday night in his first Grapefruit League game since March 12 because of a bruised left middle finger. He went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts in a 4-4 tie with the Blue Jays at Bright House Field, but made a nice catch at the center-field wall in the first inning. Still, Herrera needs to get his timing down at the plate before Opening Day on April 4. "I felt fine," Herrera said through an interpreter. "The swings that I made were perfectly OK. They didn't hurt. I was a little behind in timing. That's the only thing I have to admit." Herrera's return to form is important. He hit .297 with 30 doubles, three triples, eight home runs, 41 RBIs, 16 stolen bases and a .762 OPS in 537 plate appearances last season as a rookie. He hit .326 with an .834 OPS from May 29 through the end of the season. The Phillies have nobody to replace his bat in the lineup. The projected Opening Day outfield is Herrera, Peter Bourjos and Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Goeddel. Cedric Hunter, David Lough and Emmanuel Burriss seem to be the top candidates to take two bench jobs as outfielders. The Phillies are shorthanded following injuries to Aaron Altherr and Cody Asche. "I believe that as time goes by I'm going to get better," Herrera said. "I still have one week until the season, so I'm good." Herrera said he hopes to play in as many games as possible before Opening Day to ensure he is ready.

Hanging Around – Phillies general manager Matt Klentak first approached Pete Mackanin this week about a new contract. Negotiations, if they can be called that, moved briskly. "He wanted to give me a few days to read [the contract] and make sure everything was in there that I liked," Mackanin said Friday afternoon at Bright House Field. "I only needed about 10 seconds. I said I'm good without reading it." The Phillies announced Friday that Mackanin agreed to a two-year contract that carries him through the 2017 season. The deal includes a 2018 club option. Mackanin, 64, had been working on a one-year contract with a 2017 club option, which he signed in September after replacing Ryne Sandberg, who quit in June. "This contract rewards a manager who has been in baseball for 47 years and has earned this opportunity," Klentak said. "Pete and I have developed a very strong working relationship over the last five months, and I'm absolutely confident that he's the right person to lead this organization as we grow forward." It says something that Klentak tore up Mackanin's old deal and handed him a new one before he had the opportunity to watch him manage in the regular season. The Phillies signed Mackanin to his original contract in part because they did not want to immediately burden Klentak with a lengthy managerial search. Many believed Mackanin could be one and done. After all, GMs often like to have their own manager in the dugout. Klentak also could have simply picked up Mackanin's original option through 2017 and evaluated him from there. "We could have," Klentak said, "but I thought he earned this. We wanted to make sure it's clear that the one-year deal he signed before it's done, it's ripped up. This is a commitment we're making to the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, at least through the 2017 season. This is a clean start between Pete and I. What happened before, that is done." Mackanin got that clean start because Klentak immediately took to him. "I had never met Pete until the beginning of the [organizational] meetings my second day on the job," Klentak said. "We spent the offseason, we talked a lot. At times he was in Philadelphia we'd get together. We spent a lot of time on the phone talking baseball philosophy, baseball strategy, players we either had acquired or were considering acquiring, talking about the way Pete was going to run Spring Training and our relationship has evolved over time. ... What I wanted to see was how that played in a real life setting here in Spring Training with a camp full of players. Really, Pete couldn't have shown me anything more. He and I are very much aligned on the culture and the environment that we're trying to build. So we could have waited into April, or into May, or whenever, to make the decision, but I didn't really see any sense in waiting." Mackanin has been a good fit for a rebuilding team full of young players. He has an easygoing personality, which makes him approachable and relatable to players. He communicates well, which had been an issue with Sandberg. But Mackanin can be firm when needed, too. "I'm going to be who I am," he said. "I feel I have the right amount of discipline and the right amount of energy and the right approach to handle it, especially the younger players. So far up until this point in time I think everybody is on board. In fact, I know everybody is on board. Things have gone extremely smoothly this spring. I don't want to look at it as if I have the hammer, but there are times when you have to lay down the law. And there are times you have to encourage and pat them on the back. That's what managing is. Managing is more than X's and O's during the game." Mackanin served as an interim manager with the Pirates (2005) and Reds ('07), but he never got the full-time gig until Phillies president Andy MacPhail signed him to the deal in September. Mackanin often said he had given up the dream of being a full-time manager until the Phillies made it happen. "I couldn't be more grateful," Mackanin said. "This is a great opportunity. Now that I'm the captain of the ship, I want to keep the guys pointed in the right direction. So this is a great day, a great moment for me, and especially for my wife who has hung around with me for 40 years. I think she's very deserving of this opportunity."

Out Clauses Approaching – Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has a new contract, so the only thing left this spring is, well, to finalize the 25-man roster. The biggest battle remains the No. 5 starter, which is between right-hander Vince Velasquez and left-hander Adam Morgan. But there are bullpen and bench jobs at stake, too. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak, Mackanin and others are talking regularly about how the roster could look come Opening Day on April 4. "We have some decisions coming up in the next week, and we know it," Klentak said. "We talk about communication. I think the important thing is, whichever way we end up going as we break camp, it's going to be something that's been talked about for weeks among many people. There will not be any surprises." The Phillies will have to make a few decisions within the next few days. Right-hander Edward Mujica has an out clause for Saturday. Right-hander Ernesto Frieri has an out clause for Thursday. Other veteran relievers in camp have out clauses during the season: Andrew Bailey (May 1) and James Russell (June 1). If the Phillies do not add Mujica to the 25-man roster by the end of the day Saturday, he can request his release. The Phillies have 48 hours to add him to the roster at that point, but it looks like Mujica has a strong line on a job anyway. He allowed one run in 1 1/3 innings in Friday night's 4-4 tie with the Blue Jays at Bright House Field. Mujica has a 2.45 ERA in six appearances. He has allowed four hits, two runs, two walks with five strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings. "I feel pretty good, my arm, my body," Mujica said. "I don't know anything yet. There's some nerves because this is the first time in my career I'm in this situation. This spring I've tried to show them what I can do. They know what I can do, whatever situation in the bullpen. I'm healthy and ready to go." Frieri's status is not nearly as certain. He has a 7.94 ERA in five appearances. He has allowed eight hits, six runs (five earned), two walks and has struck out eight in 5 2/3 innings. "We have to submit the rosters by that Sunday, the day before the opener," Klentak said. "We'll take as long as we need to make the right decisions."

Focusing On Small Ball – Phillies manager Pete Mackanin had his team successfully execute three squeezes in four games recently. He said the Phillies need to do those things to compete with more potent offensive teams. So he had to like what he saw in the seventh inning when Freddy Galvis scored from second base on an infield single from Cesar Hernandez. The run tied the game, 4-4.

Today In Phils History - Phillies manager Red Dooin had to intercept federal marshalls on this day in 1914 to convince them to serve catch Bill Killefer with a summons (stemming from a federal league case over his services) at the team hotel after the exhibition double header. 70 years later, the Phillies parted ways with the playoff hero from the previous season as Gary Matthews was sent to the Cubs. 

The Phillies have an impressive record this spring… 14-7-3 (15-7-3 if you include the exhibition game against the University of Tampa). 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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