Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Injuries Continue To Shape Phillies Roster

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Twins Top Phillies 7-5

The Twins scored four runs in the seventh inning on Tuesday to beat the Phillies, 7-5, in a Grapefruit League game at Bright House Field. Travis Harrison, Byung Ho Park and Eddie Rosario each knocked in runs against Phillies right-hander Andrew Bailey in the frame. With the score tied in the sixth, the Phillies took a one-run lead when Emmanuel Burriss tripled and scored on a suicide squeeze by infielder Angelys Nina. It was the Phillies' third successfully executed squeeze in four games. "It's something we have to do," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "We can't go toe to toe with the Blue Jays or a team like that. We don't have the pop that they do, but we can manufacture runs. We've been working hard at it, and it's paying off, for the most part." Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff allowed four hits, three runs and two walks and struck out seven in four innings. It was his first Grapefruit League start after fracturing his right thumb last month while bunting. Twins right-hander Phil Hughes allowed nine hits and four runs and struck out nine in 5 1/3 innings. Twins designated hitter Daniel Palka got the call from Minor League camp to help the team in a split-squad situation, and he took advantage of the opportunity, hitting solo home runs in the second and fourth innings. The Twins acquired Palka from the D-backs in October. Minnesota's No. 29 prospect, according to MLBPipeline, he hit .280 with 29 homers and 90 RBIs in 129 games with Class A Advanced Visalia in 2015 and is expected to start the season in Double-A Chattanooga.

  • Right-hander Vince Velasquez allowed six hits, three runs (one earned run) and one walk and struck out five in 5 2/3 innings in a Minor League game at Carpenter Complex. Velasquez is competing with left-hander Adam Morgan for the No. 5 job in the rotation.
  • The Phillies optioned right-hander Severino Gonzalez (7.50 ERA) to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, leaving 48 players in camp. Eight of those players are injured or coming back from injuries: right-handers Frank Herrmann (elbow), Michael Mariot (ankle) and Yoervis Medina (elbow); left-handers Matt Harrison (back) and Mario Hollands (elbow); and outfielders Odubel Herrera (finger), Cody Asche (oblique) and Aaron Altherr (wrist).
Right-hander Charlie Morton starts on Wednesday night at 6:05 ET against the Astros in Kissimmee. Right-hander Andrew Bailey and left-hander Daniel Stumpf also are scheduled to pitch. Bailey, a non-roster invitee, is the favorite to open the season as the closer. Stumpf, a Rule 5 Draft pick, is fighting to win a job in the bullpen.


Impressive Return – The important thing is that right-hander Jerad Eickhoff is on course to pitch during the first week of the season. Eickhoff made his Grapefruit League debut Tuesday in a 7-5 loss to the Twins at Bright House Field. He allowed four hits, three runs and two walks and struck out seven in four innings against a split squad that had four players from the Twins' projected Opening Day lineup, plus top prospect Byron Buxton. "It was good to get that adrenaline going again in a game setting," Eickhoff said. "There was some good and there were some things I could have done better, but I think overall I was happy with how the outing went." "He was rusty," manager Pete Mackanin said, "but he was fine." Eickhoff walked right fielder Miguel Sano twice and allowed a pair of solo home runs to Minor League first baseman Daniel Palka, who will open the season in Double-A. "He was getting me on the heaters there early," Eickhoff said. "I think it's just one of those things. I'm trying to fill up the strike zone, and the ball kind of got up and got out." Eickhoff left the game encouraged with his breaking ball and changeup. "The changeup was really good," he said. "I thought today I threw a handful of good ones for swings and misses, a good four or five of them. For me that was a big lightning bolt in my head for sure." Eickhoff had been behind schedule after fracturing his right thumb while bunting in February. Interestingly, he swung away in a bunt situation in the second inning with runners at the corners with one out. Mackanin called it a miscommunication, indicating they wanted a bunt. "I've been starting to swing the past couple of days, so to get back in the box, I was kind of a nervous wreck," Eickhoff said. "But I got it done, broke a bat. If I had to bunt, I had to bunt. But they didn't ask me."

Ready For Opening Day? – Odubel Herrera laughed and shook his head at the reporter in front of him as though he had eight heads. Come on, of course he will be ready by Opening Day. "It's a little bit behind, nothing major," Herrera said on Tuesday morning at Bright House Field. Herrera has not played in a Grapefruit League game since March 12 because of a bruised left middle finger, an injury he sustained sliding head first into home plate on March 6. It might not be such a big deal, except Aaron Altherr is sidelined until at least July following surgery on his left wrist, and Cody Asche might open the season on the disabled list because of a strained right oblique. Combine those two injuries with Herrera's injured finger, and the Phillies are left with Peter Bourjos, Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Goeddel, Darnell Sweeney, and non-roster invitees David Lough and Cedric Hunter as the only healthy outfielders in camp. Opening Day is 13 days away. Manager Pete Mackanin on Monday expressed concern about Herrera's seemingly slow recovery, but others in the organization do not seem to be alarmed. In fact, folks seem to believe Herrera will be ready by Opening Day. In fact, Mackanin said after Tuesday's 7-5 loss to the Twins that he expects Herrera to be "ready in the next day or two." That said, the Phillies have talked to teams about finding outfield help before the season opener on April 4 in Cincinnati. "I'm getting treatment on it, and it feels better today," Herrera said. "I saw a doctor this morning. There's a little bit of inflammation left, but they're making a finger guard so I can take some swings. And I felt a lot better with the finger guard on. "I anticipate [being] back on the field before next week." Asche, who took batting practice on Tuesday morning at Carpenter Complex, is happy with how he feels, but he is not yet ready to appear in his first Grapefruit League game. Mackanin said that Asche could appear in a Minor League game on Wednesday, although it seems nobody is confident Asche could be ready by Opening Day. "You know, it's really hard to tell, because I've never been in this situation before," Asche said. "I've always just gotten my Spring Training at-bats and then, even if I didn't feel good hitting, I just went and played. So it would be unfair for me to tell you guys that. It would be unfair to everybody making decisions, too. "It's not to the point where it's hurt anymore. It's more where you've got to just get over mental hurdles. It's like if you broke a foot and you wanted to go running. It's going to take baby steps. It's such a violent movement."

Who You Gonna Call? – Opening Day is 13 days away, and the Phillies need a closer. Mackanin said that right-hander Andrew Bailey (5.40 ERA) is probably the frontrunner. Bailey allowed four hits and three runs in the seventh inning on Tuesday to blow a save after not allowing a run in his first four appearances. "I want to see more velocity out of him," Mackanin said. "I know he can pitch. He's a true competitor. He has that good curve ball and cutter. But I want to see more velocity." There are other candidates to close. David Hernandez is behind schedule because of tendinitis in his right triceps and appeared in his first Grapefruit League game on Monday. Dalier Hinojosa has allowed two earned runs in six innings. Bailey and Hernandez have some closing experience. Hinojosa does not, but he had a 0.78 ERA in 18 appearances last season, and Mackanin has no problem having a closer without any closing experience. "I go by what I saw from Hinojosa last year and this spring," Mackanin said. "He's aggressive. He throws strikes. He's got that split and a slider. A changeup as well. He's a competitor. He's in the mix. They're all in the mix. It's a big mix." The Phillies have 15 healthy relievers in camp. Bailey, Hernandez, Hinojosa, Edward Mujica, Jeanmar Gomez and Brett Oberholtzer are favorites for six spots. The seventh job is more wide open. "All the way to the end," Mackanin said about how long the bullpen battle will last. "We have to start eliminating some guys, mainly because we don't have enough innings for everybody. We got a good look out of everybody. Everybody has had a fair shake in that regard, including the position players. So now we just need to whittle it down. We're running out of time." Left-hander James Russell has made a case for a job. Two errors in the sixth put runners on second and third and no outs, but Russell, a non-roster invitee, got a popout to first and struck out two to end the threat. "That's the sign of a Major League pitcher," Mackanin said. "When you can do something like that, boy, that's special." Russell is competing with left-handers Daniel Stumpf and Bobby LaFromboise for a spot in the bullpen.

Will He Return This Season? – The Phillies anointed Aaron Altherr one of their everyday outfielders months ago. Then, earlier this month, Altherr tore the tendon sheath in his left wrist, an injury that required surgery. The wrist will be immobilized another four weeks, and he is not expected to play until July, at the earliest. It is a blow for a young player the Phillies planned to test against Major League pitching for an extended stretch this season. "Definitely, it's disappointing," Altherr said at Bright House Field on Tuesday morning, his first time in the clubhouse since the surgery. Altherr, 25, hit .241 with 11 doubles, four triples, five home runs, 22 RBIs and an .827 OPS in 161 plate appearances last season. The Phillies liked what they saw, and they wanted to know if he could be part of their future outfield. Altherr believes he can still make an impression, and he plans to play again this season. "Oh, definitely," he said. "No doubt. I definitely can see myself being back sometime before the season's over. Definitely I have that goal in mind to get back before then." It is possible. Rays outfielder Sam Fuld had the same surgery on April 3, 2012, giving him a similar timeline, and he returned on July 24. Others have had the surgery during the season, which delayed their return until the following year. Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira had the surgery in July 2013. He returned to the lineup in April 2014 but posted the lowest OPS (.711) of his career. He returned to form (.906 OPS) last season. Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista had the surgery in August 2012, then returned by Opening Day 2013 but posted his lowest OPS in four seasons (.856 OPS) before returning to form in 2014 (.928 OPS). Mark DeRosa had surgery in October 2009 but called his procedure a "total failure," and he played only 73 games with the Giants in 2010 and 2011. Rickie Weeks had surgery in May 2009, returned the following season and posted a career-high .830 OPS. "A couple guys have texted me about it, just to tell me to be patient, it might take a while," Altherr said. "I don't really want to hear that. I just want to hear you can get back as soon as possible. I'm going to try as hard as I can to get back faster. "Everybody heals differently. It's just a matter of how my body feels and how it feels after I can start rehabbing and moving around. It's really up to me how I feel and how soon I can be back."

Today In Phils History - With the exception of the Phillies signing former Marlins regular Luis Castillo in 2011, today is all about alumni birthdays as Gavvy Cravath (1881), Johnny Moore (1902), and Bo Diaz (1953) were all born on this day. 

The Phillies have an impressive record this spring… 14-6-2 (15-6-2 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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