Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Injuries Tempering Promising Spring

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phillies Plunder Pirates 4-2

Darin Ruf and Cesar Hernandez picked up big hits for the Phillies against Pirates left-hander Jonathan Niese in Tuesday's 4-2 victory at Bright House Field. Ruf blasted a two-run homer in the first inning and Hernandez knocked a two-run triple in the second. Phillies left-hander Adam Morgan, who is competing for a job in the rotation, pitched three scoreless frames, walking one batter and allowing a hit to Niese. "The competition in here is just making everybody else better," Morgan said. "So for them to go out and throw three innings scoreless, that's awesome for them. We're here to make the Phillies better, so you can't really root against a guy like that, because we're playing for the same team. "You can't play GM, though. That's one thing I've learned. Once you think you've got it figured out, they throw you a curveball and you never know what's going to happen." Niese gave up four runs on two hits with two walks in three innings. He has permitted eight runs over five innings in two Grapefruit League starts. "I fought through it," Niese said. "Right now, I'm not really worried about the results. I'm just worried about the process, getting the volume. It'll come. The results will be there." Cole Figueroa and prospect Harold Ramirez produced back-to-back RBI singles off Chris Leroux in the seventh to break up the shutout.  "I like the looks I've seen him take at the plate with the ball," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Ramirez. "I've seen the numbers grow, the progression. ... He wants to hit, and [he] goes up there with bad intentions."

The Phillies have a split squad Wednesday, hosting the Orioles and traveling to Ft. Myers, Fla., for a 1:05 p.m. ET contest against the Twins. Jeremy Hellickson starts in Clearwater, Fla., in a 1:05 p.m. ET game that can be watched live on MLB.TV, while prospect Zach Eflin starts in Ft. Myers.


The Outfield Just Got Thinner – The Phillies got bad news on Tuesday regarding Aaron Altherr's injured left wrist. Altherr will have surgery on Wednesday in Philadelphia to repair a torn tendon sheath in the wrist. The Phillies said Altherr, who projected to be one of their Opening Day outfielders, will miss four to six months. "We're hopeful he'll be back before the end of the season," general manager Matt Klentak said. But Altherr's unexpected absence is a blow to an organization hoping to get as many looks at as many young players as possible this season. Altherr certainly fit into that group. The 25-year-old hit .241 with 11 doubles, four triples, five home runs, 22 RBIs and an .827 OPS in 39 games last season. Manager Pete Mackanin essentially declared Altherr one of his everyday outfielders before camp opened last month. But with Altherr likely out until at least July, the Phillies must find somebody to take his place. Odubel Herrera and Peter Bourjos will be in the Opening Day outfield, but Cody Asche and Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Goeddel are in the running to start alongside them. David Lough, Darnell Sweeney and Cedric Hunter suddenly have a better shot at the fifth outfielder's job. Darin Ruf, Emmanuel Burris and others in camp also have played some outfield. Goeddel went 1-for-3 with a double in Tuesday's 4-2 victory over the Pirates at Bright House Field. He is hitting .333 (6-for-18) with two doubles and three RBIs. Asche has not played this spring because of a strained right oblique. He remains day-to-day. "Goeddel has made a great impression," Mackanin said. "Not only does he play a solid defense, he can run. He looks like a heady ballplayer, and I like his swing path. He seems to have good pitch recognition, especially when he gets behind in the count. He doesn't really offer at pitches that are out of the strike zone, which is really nice to see, a young player having good plate discipline like that. I like everything about him so far, and we'll just keep going." Top outfield prospects Nick Williams and Roman Quinn? They are expected to open the season in the Minor Leagues. "It's disappointing, certainly, for a young player who had a lot to prove," Klentak said about Altherr. "We were certainly excited to watch him play. But we're not going to sit here and feel sorry for ourselves. We have a lot of good players in camp that are competing really hard for an opportunity. And now there is an opportunity." Asked if the Phillies could look outside the organization, Klentak said, "We owe it to the guys in camp to give them that chance to fill that spot. We'll survey the market. If there's something out there, we'll explore it, but we feel pretty good about the guys we have here." It is worth noting the Phillies will have priority on the waiver wire through the end of April, so if any outfielders become available, they could get them. Altherr injured the wrist last Friday, when he dived to make a catch against the Braves at Bright House Field. He visited hand and wrist specialist Randall Culp on Monday in Philadelphia. Altherr received a second opinion on Tuesday in New York. The Phillies said Culp will perform the surgery -- officially, he is repairing a torn extensor carpi ulnaris retinaculum -- at the Philadelphia Hand Center. Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira had a similar surgery in July 2013. Teixeira said at the time he expected to be fully healed in six months. He played the following season, although he posted his second-lowest OPS (.711) in 2014 before rebounding with a .906 OPS last season.

The Rotation Battle Continues – Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff still has not pitched in a Grapefruit League game this spring, but the Phillies said they believe he will be ready to join the rotation at the end of the month. If that happens, the Phillies figure they have four-fifths of their rotation set with Jeremy Hellickson, Aaron Nola, Charlie Morton and Eickhoff, who has been sidelined with a fractured right thumb. The fifth job is available, and the top three candidates appear to be Vince Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer and Adam Morgan. Velasquez and Oberholtzer each pitched three scoreless innings on Monday against the Pirates in Bradenton. Morgan pitched three scoreless innings in Tuesday's 4-2 victory over the Pirates at Bright House Field. Morgan has allowed three hits, two runs and one walk in five innings this spring. "The competition in here is just making everybody else better," Morgan said. "So for them to go out and throw three innings scoreless, that's awesome for them. We're here to make the Phillies better, so you can't really root against a guy like that, because we're playing for the same team. "You can't play GM, though. That's one thing I've learned. Once you think you've got it figured out, they throw you a curveball and you never know what's going to happen."

I Got Your Southpaw Right Here – Darin Ruf did what he does against left-handed pitchers on Tuesday, homering against Pirates southpaw Jon Niese. Ruf's first homer of the spring handed the Phillies a two-run lead in the first inning. He entered camp as the favorite to play regularly at first base against left-handed pitchers this season because of his success against them in the past. His 1.107 OPS against lefties in 2015 would have tied Nelson Cruz for the best mark in baseball if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. His .946 OPS against lefties the past four seasons ranks 13th out of 311 players with 250-or-more plate appearances. Ryan Howard, who has struggled against lefties in recent seasons, has not played since Friday because of a flu that has spread throughout the team. Manager Pete Mackanin said Howard could play as early as Wednesday.

9th Inning Still Up For Grabs – Phillies right-hander David Hernandez said there is no reason to be alarmed. But Hernandez has not pitched since March 1 because of right triceps tendinitis. It might not be an issue, except the Phillies are looking for a closer since trading Ken Giles in December. Hernandez missed the entire 2014 season following Tommy John surgery. "More of a day-to-day thing," general manager Matt Klentak said Tuesday evening. The Phillies signed Hernandez to a one-year, $3.9 million contract in December. He was the only free agent they signed to a Major League contract in the offseason, giving him front-runner status to be the Phillies' closer. Hernandez said on Tuesday afternoon that he has no shoulder or elbow injury. "We're good," Hernandez said. "I'm on schedule." The 30-year-old righty, who is 25-35 with a 4.15 ERA over six seasons, is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Wednesday. "Just taking it slow," Hernandez said. "I'm just trying to manage my appearances." Non-roster invitees Andrew Bailey, Edward Mujica, Ernesto Frieri and James Russell also are competing to be in the back of the Phillies' bullpen. Bailey threw a scoreless inning on Tuesday in a 4-2 victory over the Pirates. He has thrown two scoreless frames this spring. Mujica and Russell each have thrown one scoreless inning, while Frieri has allowed three runs in 2 2/3 innings.

Today In Phils History - On this day in 1921, the Phillies opened their only spring training in Gainseville, Florida. 22 years later the Phillies welcomed Babe Dahlgren to the team while bidding farewell to Lloyd Waner and Al Glossop at the same time. In 1970, the Phillies were the benefactors of some sloppy play as they trounced the Mets 13-3 thanks to 8 New York errors. Some of the older birthdays for the day include John McPherson (1869) and Tom Delahanty (1872). However, some Phillies from recent memory also have birthdays today including Terry Mulholland (1963) and Benito Santiago (1965). 

The Phillies have begun the spring with a 5-3-1 record (6-3-1 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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