Tuesday, March 22, 2016

First And Second Chances On The Line

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phillies Tame Tigers 4-3

Maikel Franco's sixth-inning infield single not only broke up a Tigers' Grapefruit League no-hit bid, it drove in Ryan Jackson with the go-ahead run, sending the Phillies on their way to a 4-3 win over the Tigers on a blustery Monday at Joker Marchant Stadium. Anibal Sanchez, who missed nearly a month with triceps inflammation, celebrated his first game action this spring with four hitless innings while Miguel Cabrera knocked in his eighth run. Sanchez overcame a leadoff walk in the first inning with eight groundouts -- one of them a double play -- and three strikeouts from there. Phillies starter Aaron Nola, facing the Tigers for the second time spring, countered Sanchez with six innings of two-hit ball in by far his best outing of the spring. Cabrera's third-inning RBI single comprised the only damage. Though new Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez followed Sanchez with a scoreless fifth, overcoming a two-out walk, Justin Wilson paid for back-to-back walks opening the sixth. David Lough's sacrifice bunt moved the runners into scoring position for Tyler Goeddel's RBI groundout. And then Franco, the Grapefruit League's home run leader, hit a ground ball up the middle that left second baseman Andrew Romine with no play as Jackson crossed home plate. Cedric Hunter added a seventh-inning homer -- his third of the spring -- off Blaine Hardy, continuing the left-hander's struggles.

Jerad Eickhoff makes his Grapefruit League debut Tuesday afternoon against the Twins at Bright House Field at 1:05 p.m. ET on MLB.TV. Eickhoff has been sidelined this spring after he fractured his right thumb last month. The right-hander has pitched six innings in Minor League games, so the Phillies believe he is on track to make the Opening Day roster.


Hunter Hoping For Second Chance – Cedric Hunter very much remembers his first and only big league moment. It happened in the bottom of the sixth inning on April 5, 2011, at Petco Park. Hunter stepped into the batter's box as a pinch-hitter against Giants right-hander Guillermo Mota, who threw him a first-pitch sinker. Hunter laced the 92-mph pitch into center field for his first Major League hit in his third Major League game. Hunter's Padres teammates got the ball back. It was supposed to be a priceless memento from a once-in-a-lifetime moment. "I never got the ball," Hunter said after Monday's 4-3 victory over the Tigers in a Grapefruit League game at Joker Marchant Stadium. "They threw it in the dugout, told me they were going to do the print on it and everything, and I never got it." But the missing ball from Hunter's first and only stint in the big leagues five years ago has not become his Rosebud. "I think it's the way it should be," Hunter said. "If I get back up there again, I want it to be with a team that will be my home team. I feel like the Phillies really treat me well and I feel really comfortable in this organization with the coaches and the staff. I'm just excited for this." Because of injuries to Aaron Altherr and Cody Asche, Hunter, who signed a Minor League contract with the Phillies in January, has a chance to make the Phillies' Opening Day roster. At the moment, the Opening Day outfield could be Odubel Herrera, Peter Bourjos and Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Goeddel, with non-roster invitees David Lough and Hunter as the extra outfielders. Herrera has not played since March 12 because of a bruised left middle finger. He will be reexamined Tuesday, which is concerning. "It's every kid's dream," Hunter said about a spot on the roster. "I feel like this round would be a lot better than the last." The Padres selected Hunter in the third round of the 2006 Draft and his star quickly rose from there. The 28-year-old earned MVP honors in the Rookie-level Arizona League that same summer, and Baseball America named him San Diego's top prospect in 2007. But Hunter struggled in 2009 in Double-A San Antonio, and he dropped to No. 23 in the organizational rankings. He never reappeared, although he made the Padres' Opening Day roster in 2011 because of a great spring and a late injury to Eric Patterson. Hunter went 1-for-4 with one walk in six games before the Padres optioned him to Triple-A on April 9 to make room for a healthy Patterson. Hunter injured his left groin in July and missed the remainder of the season. He has jumped around since, opening Spring Training 2012 with Oakland before the A's traded him to St. Louis for cash that April. He signed Minor League contracts with the Indians, Braves and Phillies. "It's definitely something I didn't assume would happen in my life," Hunter said. "I think God just puts certain things in your life so you can grow from it. I was [23] when I got up there and I definitely shouldn't have been up there at that time. It just kind of worked out that way. I feel like now I'm a lot more mature. I've learned from a lot of veterans that I've been around in Major League camp, and I feel like it's a different feeling." But he also knows not to get wrapped up in being so close to the big leagues. The Phillies are talking to teams about acquiring another outfielder before Opening Day. If they acquire somebody, Hunter could open in Triple-A. "Obviously, we're thinking about it," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "That remains to be seen. But I like both of the guys I got there [Lough and Hunter]. They've both been really good. Both of them fit right in. It's going to be a tough decision, whether we can keep one or two or whatever." Hunter went 1-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs against the Tigers. He is hitting .302 (13-for-43) with four doubles, one triple, three home runs, 10 RBIs, three walks, seven strikeouts and a .991 OPS. Lough is hitting .310 (9-for-29) with two doubles, one home run, four RBIs, eight walks, five strikeouts and a .942 OPS. "I feel great, but in my mind I'm trying to stay content and just hear the words first than just assume," Hunter said. "We've got a week left. There's no telling what can happen in a week." Hunter knows better than anybody. He spent a week in the big leagues in 2011. He has been trying to get back ever since. "The big leagues are a big step, man," Hunter said. "I'm just glad to get a taste, but it's a little different this time."

Efficiency On Display – If Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola is not ready for the season to start, he looks close. Nola allowed two hits, one run, two walks and struck out three in six innings Monday afternoon in the Phillies' 4-3 victory over the Tigers in a Grapefruit League game at Joker Marchant Stadium. It was his best performance of the spring, which is a good thing considering Opening Day is two weeks away. "My body feels a little bit more in tune, my command feels a little bit more in tune," Nola said. "It felt good, other than the third inning when I walked the leadoff batter and he scored. I got myself in trouble that inning." Nola recorded 10 ground-ball outs, limiting him to 65 pitches. He threw his changeup more frequently later in the game, which proved effective. "I got some contact on that, some swings and misses on that, which I needed," he said. Nola has worked on his changeup throughout the spring. "I definitely feel like I've made a lot of strides with it since last year," he said. Nola is on schedule to start the second game of the season on April 6 in Cincinnati, which will allow him to start the home opener at Citizens Bank Park on April 11 against the Padres. Jeremy Hellickson is in line to start Opening Day on April 4, although the Phillies have made no official announcement. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said it could come in the next couple of days.

Futures Game Debut – The Phillies are trying something new before they open their season April 4 in Cincinnati, hosting a "Phillies Futures Game" on April 2 at Citizens Bank Park. The 2016 Phillies will play against some of the organization's top Minor League prospects, many of whom are on MLBPipeline's Top 100 Prospects list. That group is expected to include shortstop J.P. Crawford, outfielders Nick Williams and Roman Quinn and right-handers Jake Thompson, Mark Appel and Zach Eflin. Others are expected to be announced. In the past, the Phillies hosted a Major League team the weekend before the season opener. But the opportunity to see some of the best prospects in baseball could entice Phillies fans to the ballpark. "We are extremely excited to showcase some of our young talent from our Minor League roster, who will be selected to be on the Phillies Futures team," Phillies farm director Joe Jordan said. "It's going to be a fun matchup for our fans in Philadelphia as our Major League roster plays ball against the All-Stars of our farm system during the final Spring Training game of the season." Fans 14 and under will receive a PGW Phillies Futures Series Fathead, featuring the logos of the Phillies' Minor League affiliates. Fans can purchase tickets at phillies.com at the Phillies ticket windows at Citizens Bank Park. Ticket prices range from $10 to $35. Visit phillies.com/futures for further information and upcoming additions to the lineup.

Today In Phils History - Today is a simple recollection as we note that today would have been Cory Lidle's 44th birthday. 

The Phillies have begun the spring with a 14-5-2 record (15-5-2 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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