Friday, March 25, 2016

Final Roster Spots On The Line For Phillies Hopefuls


Thursday evening's contest between the Braves and Phillies at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex was rained out. The game was called with no score in the top of the fourth inning, with one out for the Phillies. Braves right-hander Matt Wisler allowed two hits and walked two in 3 1/3 innings, while Philadelphia's Adam Morgan allowed two hits, walked one and struck out two in three innings.

Phillies right-hander Jeremy Hellickson (0-1, 1.29 ERA) faces the Blue Jays on Friday at Bright House Field at 6:35 p.m. ET. It is the third of three consecutive night games. The Phillies on Wednesday named Hellickson their Opening Day starter for April 4 in Cincinnati.


Competition Down To The Wire – This changes nothing for Phillies left-hander Adam Morgan. Morgan pitched three scoreless innings Thursday night against the Braves in a Grapefruit League game at Champion Stadium. He had been scheduled to pitch five or six, except a strong storm whipped through the area and eventually cancelled the contest. Morgan allowed two hits, one walk and struck out two. He stranded a runner at third in the first inning and runners at the corners in the third inning. He has pitched better this spring, but his effort Thursday or the fact he had his night cut short because of rain should not affect his candidacy to be the Phillies' No. 5 starter. "Nothing to change my mind about him still being in the hunt," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said afterward. Morgan is competing with right-hander Vince Velasquez for the final spot in the rotation. Velasquez has a 3.21 ERA in four Grapefruit League appearances (three starts). He has allowed 13 hits, six runs (five earned runs), four walks and has struck out 16 in 14 innings. He also allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings in a Minor League game. Morgan has a 1.50 ERA in four Grapefruit League starts. He has allowed six hits, two runs, three walks and has struck out four in 12 innings. He also threw five scoreless innings in a Minor League game. "Even though I felt like I was kind of struggling a little bit getting the ball down, I felt like I was making the right adjustments," Morgan said. "But you can't control Mother Nature. It's definitely a bummer, because I want to showcase what I have." "He was OK, just OK," Mackanin said. "He pitched out of trouble. He was fine. He threw some of those cutters he was working on. If anything, he might have been overthrowing."

Flexibility Considered – If Emmanuel Burriss stands a chance to make the Phillies' Opening Day roster, he must be flexible. He thinks he can be. "I consider myself a super-utility [man] anyway," Burriss said before Thursday night's Grapefruit League game against the Braves at Champion Stadium. Burriss, 31, started the game in center field as the Phillies try to figure out if he can play the outfield well enough to warrant a roster spot. Injuries to Aaron Altherr and Cody Asche have the Phillies looking at Darnell Sweeney and non-roster invitees Cedric Hunter, David Lough, Ryan Jackson and Burriss for the final two bench jobs. Hunter, Burriss and Lough might be the favorites. "You know as an extra guy in the National League you want versatility, so I want to get a good look at him to see if he can play in the outfield," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said about Burriss. "I know he plays solid defense in the infield, anywhere he plays." But Burriss also has helped himself offensively, entering the night hitting .323 (10-for-31) with three doubles, one triple, two RBIs, two walks, six strikeouts and an .866 OPS. "I feel good," Burriss said. "I think just to be the type of player I am, moving around the entire field has never been a big problem for me. I've been getting the reps in since I've been in professional baseball. Even though I haven't been out there in games, I've been getting the work in. I feel really confident." Burriss hasn't started a game in the outfield in the big leagues. He has started only 13 games there in his Minor League career. But he entered Thursday having played five games there this spring. "When I talked to Pete in the offseason, we talked about really displaying some versatility," Burriss said. "I think it would be tense if I wasn't prepared. I don't think anybody is really pressing, because I think everybody came into camp prepared. I don't think anybody has really taken their names out of the ranks." Burriss, who has hit .245 with a .578 OPS in parts of six seasons with the Giants and Nationals, certainly hasn't. He has a chance to win a job with a little more than a week to go before Opening Day.

Phillies Feeling Fine – The Phillies are sweating the small stuff this spring, because they know they have little room for error. So Phillies manager Pete Mackanin is fining his players 50 cents at a time for those little mistakes on the field. "If you don't get a bunt down, everyone pays 50 cents," Mackanin said before Thursday night's rained out Grapefruit League game against the Braves at Champion Stadium. "If you don't hustle, everyone pays 50 cents. If you miss a cutoff man, everyone pays 50 cents. "It's a way to be picky about little things, like you made it into second base, but you should've slid. You hit a double, but you coasted into second when you should've come around hard in case the guy bobbles the ball. Fifty cents. It allows me to be a real [jerk] about things like that. What, are you going to complain about 50 cents?" So how much is in the pot at this point? "We're closing in on $1,000," Mackanin said. He said the proceeds likely will go to the Baseball Assistance Team. "When I announce the fines and this week you have $2.50, a half-dozen players get on that guy," Mackanin said. "Not meanly, but like, 'Come on, don't do that anymore.'"

Waiting Game – Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera has not played since March 12 because of a bruised left middle finger, but he made the trip Thursday because Mackanin hoped to have him pinch-hit at some point. "We'd like to get him in as soon as I can," Mackanin said before the rainout. "He said he feels fine today. So I'll give him one more day, maybe one at-bat." Herrera could be in the starting lineup Friday against the Blue Jays in Clearwater. "He's a pretty natural hitter," Mackanin said. "Within a week, he should get that timing down, I think."

Frenchy A Phillies Fan – Jeff Francoeur made the rounds Wednesday afternoon at Champion Stadium. He started in left field with a lengthy conversation with Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. He moved toward the visitors' dugout, where he stopped and chatted with Phillies manager Pete Mackanin, coaches Larry Bowa and Juan Samuel, and catcher Cameron Rupp. He eventually made his way through the Phillies' pregame stretch, shaking hands or having a quick conversation with nearly every former teammate. "They'll have a big fan in me, I promise you that," Francoeur said. Francoeur signed a Minor League contract with the Braves just before Spring Training last month. He had hoped to re-sign with the Phillies, with whom he resurrected his career last season, but they expressed no interest over the offseason. Essentially, the Phillies' front office felt Francoeur had no place once the club claimed Peter Bourjos off waivers and selected Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Goeddel. But the Phillies arguably could use a veteran outfielder like Francoeur right now. Aaron Altherr will not play until July, at the earliest, following left wrist surgery, and Cody Asche seems likely to open the season on the disabled list because of a strained right oblique. It leaves the Phillies' Opening Day outfield as Odubel Herrera, Bourjos and Goeddel, with Darnell Sweeney and non-roster invitees Cedric Hunter, David Lough and Emmanuel Burriss competing for bench jobs. Herrera hasn't played since March 12 because of a bruised left middle finger. He had a chance to pinch-hit Wednesday. "I was wearing Odubel out," Francoeur said, laughing. "Good Lord, your finger? Are you kidding me? He said April 1. I said, 'You've already turned into that guy after one season?' He took it good." But even if the Phillies suddenly had interest in Francoeur, he might not be available. He has a good chance of making the Braves' Opening Day roster -- he has a March 28 out clause, so he should know soon -- not only because he has played well this spring, but because the Braves have loved what he brings to a clubhouse. A few folks in the Phillies' clubhouse Wednesday said they miss Francoeur's presence and leadership. He had a knack for getting along with everybody, and his energy proved contagious, which he illustrated Wednesday. "I've got no hard feelings," Francoeur said. "It's a new regime. They can do what they want. All those guys there, Pete, Larry, I loved them. They helped me out a lot last year. [Hitting coach Steve Henderson]. I've got nothing but love for those guys. … I definitely thought I would be coming back, but then, obviously, different stuff happened. But hopefully in the end it's all going to work out." But Francoeur also wants to set the record straight about one thing: He does not owe Maikel Franco a new suit. Francoeur last season told Franco he would buy him a suit if he hit 15 home runs. Franco fell one short because of an injury, but Franco said earlier this spring Frenchy still agreed to buy him one. "I think things got a little miscommunicated," Francoeur said. "I think what I'm going to do instead of a suit -- because he didn't hit 15, you've got to get 15 -- I'm going to get him a couple nice dress shirts. That's what I'm going to do, all right? I'll get him taken care of. I see him calling me out with the suit, and I'm like, you didn't hit 15, bro. The last time I checked, a bet is a bet. "I'll keep him happy. Especially with what he's doing this spring, I think he'll be able to afford his own suits anyway."

A Different Sweet 16 – It's getting near time for the bell to ring on the regular season. The guys want to play, and most of them -- pitchers excluded -- want the regular season to begin yesterday. One good late-March distraction is the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Telecasts of its games -- and even those of the NIT and the women's tournament -- have been on clubhouse television monitors for days now, and more eyes will be focused on them between today and Opening Night. Hence, the time has come for our annual salute to Sweet 16 weekend. This year, we focus on the Phillies, the favorite team of New York Times baseball writer Tyler Kepner (when he was a young 'un, of course). The Tigers, Giants, Mets, Reds, Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs have been examined through the prism of 16 in previous years. So, you might be familiar with the process. To whet your appetite for ball, we present 16 facts -- or sets of facts -- involving the sweet number and, this time, the Fightin' Phils. 1. Hall of Famer Robin Roberts led the NL in allowing home runs (five times), triples (five times) and doubles (six times). That's 16. But in the 12 seasons involved (1949-60), Roberts won 226 games. Warren Spahn won 244 in the same period. 2. Grover Cleveland Alexander (aka Pete) led the National League in shutouts in 1916 with 16, a career and Phillies franchise high. 3. Phillies players have produced 16 games of seven RBIs, including two each by Cy Williams and Del Ennis and one, in 2002, by pitcher Robert Person. Person, of course, had 16 RBIs in his nine-year career. The franchise record for single-game RBIs is eight, shared by Mike Schmidt, Jayson Werth and the wonderful Willie "Puddin' Head" Jones. 4. Roberts led the NL in intentional walks in 1957 with 16. His personal high, 21, had come four years earlier. The big league record is 24. 5. The 16 highest single-season RBI totals in Phillies history are 130 or more. Ryan Howard is responsible for four of them 149 (2006), 146 ('08), 141 ('09) and 136 ('07). That's a nice four-year run. Chuck Klein has the highest total (170 in 1930) and two others (145 in '29 and 137 in '32). Schmidt didn't make the cut. His career high was 121 (1980). 6. Schmidt and Chuck Klein are the Phillies players who have hit four home runs on one game: Schmidt on April 17, 1976, at Wrigley Field (with the wind blowing out, needless to say), and Klein on July 10, 1936, at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Schmidt's fourth homer broke a 15-15 tie in the 10th inning, and the Phils won, 18-16. But Klein is the lone Phillies players with 16 total bases in one game. Schmidt homered in the fifth, seventh, eighth and 10th innings. But back, back, back, back in the fourth, he singled. So his TBT (total bass total) was a franchise-record - still standing -- 17. 7. Steve Carlton, Curt Schilling and Cliff Lee had 16-strikeout games as Phillies. The franchise record belongs to Chris Short who fanned 18 in a 15-inning start against the Mets in the second game of a doubleheader that ended in an 18-inning scoreless tie on the second to last day of the 1965 season. Teammate Jim Bunning had struck out 10 in a nine-inning shutout in the first game. Three Phillies pitchers struck out 16 in 13 innings in the second game of the season-ending doubleheader the following day. Ray Culp had struck out merely six while winning a complete game in the first game. So the Phillies allowed two runs and struck out 53 in 49 innings in sweeping the last four games of the season at Shea Stadium. Payback (much delayed): Twenty-six years later, David Cone, pitching for the Mets, struck out 19 against the Phils on the last game of season, in Philadelphia. 8. From 2005-14, Chase Utley played regularly with the Phillies, averaging 134 games per sesason. In those years, he was hit by pitches an average of 16 times per season. Not an everyday player last season -- he started 87 games total for the Phils and Dodgers -- he nonetheless was hit 10 times. Utley figures to play less frequently this year. But he is all but guaranteed one hit by pitch. The Dodgers play the Mets from May 9-12 in L.A. Enough said. 9. Forty-eight (or three times 16) players have worn No. 16 for the Phillies, none so long as Luis Aguayo from 1980-88. Two of those 48, right-handed pitcher Ken Raffensberger (1946-47) and infielder George Jumonville ('41) had 16 characters in their baseball card names. Raffensberger pitched 16 innings in one start in '44, when he was wearing No. 15. Sixteen players wore No. 16 in a 14-year sequence, beginning in 1933. 10. Cookie Rojas wore No. 16 with the Phillies in the 1960s, when he and double-play partner Bobby Wine created the "Days of Wine and Rojas." 11. Jimmy Rollins hit 30 home runs, 20 triples and 38 doubles in 2007, when he won the NL MVP Award with the NL East champion Phillies. That's 88 extra-base hits. Granted this is a stretch, but 8 plus 8 equals 16. And Rollins deserves mention in this four-squared exercise. 12. The Phillies allowed 16 walks in their game against the Cardinals Sept. 13, 1974, which lasted 17 innings (four hours, 47 minutes, not including a one-hour, 41-minute rain delay in the 17th). After allowing 14 walks, 11 hits and only two runs in 16 innings, the Phils gave up five run in the 17th, when they issued two walks (one intentional). They lost, 7-3. The Cardinals had played 25 innings at Shea Stadium two nights earlier, and nine in New York on Sept. 12. 13. In a sequence of 26 seasons beginning in 1919, the Phillies placed eighth (or last) 16 times. Their seventh-place finishes numbered eight (or half of 16) times. And since 1958, they have placed last 16 more times. 14. Including the 99-loss team of 2015, the Phillies have had 16 teams with 99 of more losses. Ten Phils teams lost at least 100 games in a 20-year sequence (1923-42). 15. Ryne Sandberg put together the bulk of his Hall of Fame resume with the Cubs, of course, but the first of his 16 big league seasons came in 1981 with the Phillies. 16. Since Gene Mauch managed the Phillies (1960 through June 1968), the Phils have employed 16 skippers. They are chronologically: George Myatt, Bob Skinner, Frank Lucceshi, Paul Owens, Danny Ozark, Dallas Green, Pat Corrales, John Felski, Lee Elia, Nick Leyva, Jim Fregosi, Terry Francona, Larry Bowa, Charlie Manuel, Sandberg and Pete Mackanin.

Today In Phils History - The Phillies opened their spring training camp in Charlotte, NC on this day in 1919 as the city temporarily served as their preseason home due to travel restrictions at the end of World War I. In 1981, the Phillies made a surprise trade sending Bob Walk to the Braves in exchange for Gary Matthews who would prove his value during his 3 year tenure with the team. 

The Phillies have an impressive record this spring… 14-7-2 (15-7-2 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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