Sunday, March 27, 2016

Decisions Need To Be Made As Roster Shrinks

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Tigers Edge Phillies 6-5

Tigers left fielder Justin Upton has not had a memorable spring, but he showed some life in his bat Saturday afternoon at Bright House Field. He hit a solo home run to left field in the first inning, singled and scored in the fourth, hit another solo homer in the sixth and another single in the eighth in a 6-5 win over the Phillies. Upton entered the afternoon hitting .189 (7-for-37) with one double, two RBIs, eight walks and 15 strikeouts in 15 games. "I was just reacting. That's a plus when you're seeing the ball well, even the offspeed pitches," said Upton. "That's part of the plan." Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander made his fifth start of the spring. He allowed seven hits, three runs and one walk and struck out two in five-plus innings. "Overall, it's a step in the right direction. Left some pitches up," said Verlander. "Curveball was much better. Slider wasn't quite there today. But overall, not a bad day." Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp doubled to score Odubel Herrera in the fourth, and Freddy Galvis homered in the fifth. Ryan Howard doubled and scored on Cedric Hunter's sacrifice fly in the sixth to tie the game. The Phillies took the lead in the seventh, scoring two runs against Mark Lowe. Herrera singled to score a run, and Howard's fielder's choice scored another. The Tigers tallied one run in the eighth, when Ben Verlander, pinch-running for Upton, scored on Tyler Collins' second RBI triple of the game. Detroit went ahead for good in the top of the ninth on a two-run single from Gustavo Nunez off the Phillies' Chris Leroux.

  • Ryan Howard had been hitless in 11 at-bats with six strikeouts since crushing a grand slam over the batter's eye in center field on March 18. But he went 2-for-4 with a double, with both hits coming against Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander. Howard is hitting .233 (10-for-43) with four doubles, two homers and 10 RBIs this spring.
  • Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola threw 5 1/3 innings in a Minor League game at Carpenter Complex. He allowed six hits, two runs, three walks and struck out seven.
The Phillies head south to Ft. Myers to face the Red Sox on Sunday afternoon in a Grapefruit League game at JetBlue Park at 1:05 p.m. ET. Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff will make his second Grapefruit League start after missing the early part of spring recovering from a fractured right thumb. He is expected to be ready to pitch the first week of the season. 


Closing In On A Closer? – The Phillies made Saturday a bullpen day. They pitched nine relievers in a 6-5 loss to the Tigers in a Grapefruit League game at Bright House Field. Many of them have a good shot at making the seven-man bullpen, but it seems like none of the pitchers on the bubble separated themselves from the pack. "Not really," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're going to take it right down to the end and then make our decision. We're close. The guys that are pitching well are going to have a chance. And the guys that don't have a chance are cutting themselves." There are plenty of guys to choose from. After all, the Phillies still have 15 healthy relievers in camp with the season opener just nine days away in Cincinnati. Right-handers David Hernandez, Dalier Hinojosa and Jeanmar Gomez and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer are locks. Right-hander Edward Mujica has pitched well. He has a 2.45 ERA in six appearances. If he is not a lock, he is close to one. Mujica, who is a non-roster invitee on a Minor League contract, has an out-clause. The Phillies had until midnight ET on Saturday to place him on the Opening Day roster. But that offer was not expected, because the Phillies actually have more time than that to make a decision. If the Phillies do not place him on the roster, Mujica can request his release Sunday. The Phillies then have 48 hours to make a decision on him. Essentially, they have to make a decision by Tuesday. Right-hander Andrew Bailey remains a candidate. He started the spring well, but he has allowed four runs in his last two innings. "[Bailey] was spraying the ball around a little bit," Mackanin said. "I'd like to see better command." Meanwhile, right-hander Ernesto Frieri struggled early in camp, but threw a clean seventh inning against the Tigers. His velocity picked up, too. "I was excited about Frieri," Mackanin said. "[Pitching coach Bob] McClure has been trying to get him to throw a little more across his body, like he used to throw. They tried to change his mechanics. We're trying to get him back to where he was before, to create the deception he used to have." Left-handers Daniel Stumpf (4.35 ERA in eight appearances), Bobby LaFromboise (1.08 ERA in seven appearances) and James Russell (3.38 ERA in six appearances) remain candidates. Mackanin said "it's a good possibility" that the Phillies will carry three left-handers in the bullpen. But if they carry three, it means only one of these veteran right-handers make the team: Mujica, Bailey or Frieri. The Phillies might play the numbers game. They might keep as many arms in the system as possible. Stumpf is a Rule 5 Draft pick, so he must stay on the 25-man roster the entire season to remain in the organization. Frieri has a Thursday out-clause, while Bailey (May 31) and Russell (June 1) have out-clauses later in the season. LaFromboise is out of options, but he can start the season in the Minor Leagues. Right-handers Luis Garcia and Hector Neris and left-hander Elvis Araujo have options, which should come into play. The Phillies could open with pitchers like Mujica, Frieri and Stumpf and see how they fare. If they struggle, they could move to Bailey, Russell and others. "I'd like to think they'd take the best guy out there," Russell said. "If I earn it, then hopefully I'm the one that they take." "Anything can happen," Mackanin said. "We don't know what's going to happen. There could be a trade. There might be somebody picked up on waivers."

Outfielder Roulette – Non-roster invitee Cedric Hunter strengthened his case to make the Opening Day roster. He singled and had a sacrifice fly to score a run. "He has squared the ball up as well as anybody all spring," Mackanin said. "I like him a lot. He's shown pretty good arm accuracy. He gives you good solid at-bats." Odubel Herrera went 2-for-5. It was his second game back after missing time with a bruised left middle finger. Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Goeddel went 1-for-4. He is hitting .250.

Comfortable On The Mound – Dalier Hinojosa is not afraid to pitch the ninth inning. He is quite certain of that. The pressures of holding a lead are nothing compared to spending a single night on a rickety boat in the middle of the sea, in the pitch black, trying to evade the authorities and praying to God to survive the treacherous journey from Cuba to Haiti. "One day, I'm going to take you to the ocean at 3 o'clock in the morning with me," Hinojosa said through the Phillies' interpreter Saturday morning at Bright House Field. "Then I will take you to the mound at the most filled stadium and you can tell me: Which one is worse? Which one is scarier? The ocean at 3 a.m. where it's plain dark, or the stadium that is filled with fans?" Hinojosa laughed. "Fear is gone," he said. Hinojosa, 30, could close for the Phillies this season, based on his 0.78 ERA in 18 appearances last year, his strong Grapefruit League performances this spring (2.57 ERA in six appearances) and the fact that they have few other options. But before Hinojosa joined the Phillies in July after being claimed off waivers from Boston, and before the Red Sox signed him to a $4.5 million signing bonus in October 2013, Hinojosa defected from Cuba, traveling by handmade boat with his wife and a few others to Haiti on Feb. 23, 2013. "To navigate through those waters, it's crazy," Hinojosa said. "It's plain crazy. ... Nowadays, I look back and analyze what I did, and I think that I was crazy." But Hinojosa felt he had no choice. "We make drastic and dangerous decisions, because we're very desperate to leave the island," he said. "It's a very poor place. It's a place where you have no opportunities. So I think those decisions are made based on the conditions where you live rather than how. You really don't think about how you're going to escape, rather when you're going to escape, regardless of the risk you're taking, regardless of losing your life. You feel desperate." The boats for these trips are built in a remote area, where the work is hidden amongst the trees and bushes. Secrecy is everything. Hinojosa said he is asked about the boat he used perhaps more than anything else about his defection. But the truth is he does not remember it well. "I was so nervous at the time that I didn't really pay attention to the boat," he said. "What I can remember is it was small, it was narrow and it was old. But, at that moment, I was full of fear and I just didn't pay attention to it." The travelers at least had a GPS to make sure they got to Haiti, but it hardly guaranteed survival. "It's more about your guts than the instruments that you're able to build to escape the island," Hinojosa said. "Sometimes we use car engines. We can think of anything. Any type of engine you can use, you use it. Based on my own experience, which is a bad one, a scary one, I was fearful from the beginning. I didn't want to lose my life. I didn't want things to go wrong. Of course, you think of the worst. But you try to block that from your head. "I took that decision because I wanted to achieve my dream. My goal was to play in the MLB, the best baseball in the world. I wanted to help my family financially. Those factors make you make drastic decisions, decisions you're aware can make you lose your life. I was desperate on the island, as many other people are. I had to do it." Hinojosa has settled into Miami with his wife, who is due with their first daughter in May. He still has a daughter from a previous marriage in Cuba. "The chances that this country has given me have allowed me to do things like that," he said. "That's why I feel blessed. It makes me feel human when I am able to help others based on my work. I'm making enough money to help other people." He could help more if he establishes himself in the big leagues. He has an excellent opportunity with the Phillies, who are desperate for late-inning relievers following trades last year that sent Jonathan Papelbon, Ken Giles and Jake Diekman to Washington, Houston and Texas, respectively. The Phillies believe they have a nice find in Hinojosa. The story goes that Andy MacPhail -- before he officially succeeded Pat Gillick as team president -- pressed for the Phillies to claim Hinojosa, based on strong scouting reports on him. It might have been MacPhail's first (unofficial) move with the Phillies. "I think it's a great opportunity for me to be considered as a closer," Hinojosa said. "I am focused on helping the team. So whichever role they want me to be, I'll do it because I thank them and I thank the Lord."

Today In Phils History - In 1939, the Phillies were in the midst of a 14 inning marathon when the game was called a 3-3 ties with the Cleveland Browns so the Phillies could catch a train. In another turn of good luck, the Phillies were no hit by Tampa Bay on this day in 2003... the lucky part was that it was during a spring training game. Finally, happy birthday to Wed Covington who was born on this day in 1932. 

The Phillies have an impressive record this spring… 14-8-2 (15-8-2 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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