Tuesday, March 8, 2016

It Might Take A Few More Zeros To Make The Rotation

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phillies Blank Bucs 1-0

Brock Stassi led off the top of the seventh inning with a double and scored on an Andres Blanco single up the middle to break a scoreless tie, lifting the Phillies to a 1-0 Grapefruit League win over the Pirates on Monday afternoon at McKechnie Field. Both starting pitchers, Jeff Locke for the Pirates and Vincent Velasquez for the Phillies, opened with three scoreless innings. Locke, projected as Pittsburgh's No. 3 starter, faced just one batter over the minimum. He allowed two singles and struck out one. Velasquez, who is competing for a rotation spot, gave up three singles, but only one left the infield. He also walked one, struck out three and benefited from getting two double plays. "I gave up a few hits, bad location," Velasquez said. "But I'm comfortable with today's outcome and hopefully I can do better in the next." It was the first time a pitcher for either team had gone more than two innings. "He threw all his pitches today," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said of Locke. "Fastball, curveball, changeup all played. The curveball really played in the third inning. Efficient with his first-pitch strikes. Six guys retired on three pitches or less. So clean and crisp and a good building block for him."  The Phillies' rally began after A.J. Schugel came in to pitch for Pittsburgh. Stassi, who had entered as a defensive replacement at first base the previous inning, doubled to the right-field corner. After catcher Andrew Knapp struck out, Stassi advanced to third on a wild pitch. Shortstop Ryan Jackson walked. With the infield in, Blanco singled sharply up the middle to drive in the run.

  • Phillies utility infielder Andres Blanco played his first Grapefruit League game after being sidelined with a sore right shoulder. He went 2-for-3 and produced the game's only run with a single in the seventh inning.
  • The Phillies played Keio University, a college team from Japan, at Bright House Field. Phillies right-hander David Buchanan allowed four hits, two unearned runs, one walk and struck out two in three innings. "I felt good," Buchanan told a pool reporter. "The arm felt good. I felt the ball was coming out well. I was keeping pitches down in the zone on both sides of the plate. I was throwing strikes. I felt great. They hit some balls that found holes, but I felt great."

The Phillies host the Pirates on Tuesday at Bright House Field at 1:05 p.m. ET. Left-hander Adam Morgan, who is competing for the No. 5 job in the rotation, and right-hander Andrew Bailey, who is competing for a back of the bullpen job, are scheduled to pitch. Also scheduled to pitch are Yoervis Medina, Chris Leroux and Dalier Hinojosa.


Velasquez Doing All The Right Things – First things first, Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez prefers to be called Vince, not Vincent. Nobody calls him Vincent. Of course, since the Phillies acquired Velasquez in December from the Astros in the Ken Giles trade, his buddies back home in California have started calling him "Vinny from Philly." Velasquez, who pitched three scoreless innings Monday afternoon in a 1-0 victory over the Pirates at McKechnie Field, will find a few Vinnies from Philly if he spends any time in South Philadelphia this summer. "They think it's so funny," Velasquez said. Velasquez plans to be in Philly a lot this summer. He is gunning to be the No. 5 starter and he made a case for himself against the Pirates. He allowed three hits, one walk and struck out three. But perhaps most important to Velasquez, he got double-play ground balls in the first and third innings. Keeping the ball on the ground is a goal for Velasquez. "That's actually a big thing for me right now," he said. "I've never really been a ground-ball pitcher. But I've been utilizing my two-seam [fastball] a lot, and adjusting to apply my fastball and two-seam as much as possible, utilizing it early in the count." Velasquez said he had some short outings last season because he got too deep into counts. "I threw a lot of straight fastballs," he said. Velasquez had a 31.3 ground-ball percentage in 55 2/3 innings last season with Houston. If he had enough innings to qualify, it would have ranked among the lowest in the big leagues. But he is confident his two-seamer will boost that percentage this year. He said he showed a two-seamer occasionally last season, but said he threw only a few because he lacked command of it. "It's shown pretty well," he said about the pitch's improvement this spring. "It's one of the things that'd really help you in early counts, help you get that ground ball whenever you need it." "Over in Houston, I guess they liked the four-seam fastball up in the zone," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "We like the sinker down in the zone, as well as the fastball. Two different pitches. When you get into the middle and later innings as a starter, you have to be able to change speeds and keep hitters off balance. If you're throwing everything hard the whole game, you better have real good command." But so far Mackanin likes what he sees from the prized piece of the Giles trade. "I like his arm, I like the stuff coming out of it," he said. "If he continues to pitch and get hitters out the way he's been getting hitters out, it bodes well for him. "Velasquez is a power pitcher, obviously. I need to see a little more finesse from him. In a three-inning stint, that's hard to do. Today everything was hard, hard, hard. I want to see a little finesse from him."

Injury Could Impact OF Depth – The Phillies could use some good news about Aaron Altherr's left wrist. Altherr injured it Friday, when he dived to make a catch in a Grapefruit League game against the Braves at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla. The wrist is in a splint, but Altherr said Saturday he does not believe the injury is serious. Still, he traveled to Philadelphia to see a specialist Monday. The Phillies have not announced the results of that visit. The Phillies entered camp arguably thin in outfield depth. Odubel Herrera, Peter Bourjos and Altherr projected as the Opening Day outfield, with Cody Asche and Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Goeddel projected as the fourth and fifth outfielders. But if Altherr or anybody else misses an extended period or if somebody struggles to the point the Phillies need to look elsewhere for help, internal candidates in camp include David Lough, Darnell Sweeney and Cedric Hunter. Top prospects Nick Williams and Roman Quinn are expected to open the season in the Minor Leagues. But if Phillies manager Pete Mackanin is concerned about potential depth issues in the outfield, he did not seem bothered following Monday's 1-0 victory over the Pirates at McKechnie Field. "Not really because I know we have Bourjos, who covers a lot of ground," Mackanin said. "We have Odubel and Altherr. All three are legit center fielders. I know Lough is a good defender. I didn't know a lot about Cedric, but it looks like he can handle himself. Goeddel is good to see, but not a surprise because he was advertised as a good defender. He covers ground well. "Defense to me, is so important. Especially when you don't have available your starting outfielders. Coverage is important." No team enters Spring Training expecting everybody to stay healthy and everybody to play to their potential, but the Phillies have little margin for error if one or two don't. Herrera is the safest bet, coming off an impressive rookie season. He hit .297 with 30 doubles, three triples, eight home runs, 41 RBIs, 16 stolen bases and a .762 OPS in 537 plate appearances last season. Bourjos is brilliant defensively, but he has hit a combined .231 with a .645 OPS the past four seasons. The Phillies believe Bourjos will bounce back with regular playing time. Altherr certainly has talent and potential, but he has only 166 plate appearances in the big leagues. Meanwhile, Asche is trying to bounce back from a disappointing 2015 and Goeddel has never played higher than Double-A. Lough hit .201 with a .555 OPS in 144 plate appearances last season with Baltimore, and has hit .255 with a .672 OPS in 741 plate appearances in his career. Sweeney, whom the Phillies acquired from the Dodgers in August in the Chase Utley trade, played left and center field last season. Hunter has not played in the big leagues since 2011, although he has extensive outfield experience. He hit .283 with a .751 OPS with Triple-A Gwinnett last year.

Putting Up Zeros – Brett Oberholtzer sent a few text messages back and forth with his father Monday afternoon at McKechnie Field. Oberholtzer had just pitched three scoreless innings in the Phillies' 1-0 victory over the Pirates, giving him five scoreless innings in two spring appearances. They are exactly the performances he needs as he competes to win a rotation job. "I told him I feel a lot better this spring than any other as far as being prepared to pitch at the big league level," Oberholtzer said. "Not saying I'm hitting my stride by any means, I don't think any of us are, but it feels great to be able to execute the majority of my pitches. I like contact. For me quick outs, not so many pitches, is a great thing. I take pride in trying to go late in the game." Oberholtzer followed Vince Velasquez, who also is competing for a rotation job. They offer different looks. Velasquez is a hard-throwing right-hander, while Oberholtzer is a left-hander with a fastball that has averaged 89.6 mph over the past three seasons, according to FanGraphs. "I like the way he attacks the zone," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said about Oberholtzer. "He's an aggressive pitcher. Everything I've seen so far, I like." Oberholtzer prefers to start, but if the first four spots in the rotation go to Aaron Nola, Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff and Charlie Morton and Velasquez edges him for the No. 5 job, he would be expected to open the season in the bullpen. Oberholtzer is out of options and it would be a stunner if the Phils risked losing him to another team. "I'm prepared for any role and any opportunity I get," he said. "I guess later in spring we'll find out a little bit more, but right now I can only do what I can do." He also is keeping an open mind. He knows if he pitches well, an opportunity to start should come at some point. Teams don't play an entire season using only five starters. "I've thought about that, too," he said. "Maybe just being a bullpen guy then the first opportunity comes [to start]."

Staggering Story And Stats – Nearly 13 years have passed since Taylor Hooton, a promising 17-year-old baseball prospect, took his own life as a result of anabolic steroid abuse. Half of his high school teammates were using some form of performance-enhancing substance in 2003 to "get bigger," and Hooton -- then 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds -- was urged by a coach to "get bigger" as well. On Monday, the Taylor Hooton Foundation introduced the latest efforts in its tireless resolve to reach impressionable youths who, unfortunately, still want to "get bigger." In an on-field ceremony before the Twins-Orioles game in Sarasota, Fla., the foundation launched its 2016 public-service campaign -- "It's All Me" -- featuring advisory board members from all 30 Major League Baseball rosters. To inaugurate the 2016 campaign, Taylor Hooton Foundation President Don Hooton presented a framed and matted print of J.J. Hardy's version of the PSA to the Baltimore shortstop before the game. Similar presentations will be made through March 20 by Don Hooton to other advisory board members at Grapefruit and Cactus League games. "Steroids are just like any other drug, they can kill you," Hardy said. "I'm just standing up for the youth. It's a good cause. Nobody should do them, especially young kids." "We are so excited to have these world-class athletes step up to be role models for our young people," Hooton said, "and we feel strongly that these public-service ads will send a powerful and valuable message. Education is, without question, the most effective weapon we have to fight the epidemic of appearance and performance-enhancing drug use by our young people and these players are showing kids that they've achieved success the right way." In addition to Hardy, American Leaguers on the advisory board include Elvis Andrus of the Rangers, Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays, John Danks of the White Sox, Brian Dozier of the Twins, Logan Forsythe of the Rays, Charlie Furbush of the Mariners, Brett Gardner of the Yankees, Dillon Gee and Alex Gordon of the Royals, Ken Giles and Dallas Keuchel of the Astros, Jason Kipnis of the Indians, James McCann of the Tigers, Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox, Josh Reddick of the Athletics and C.J. Wilson of the Angels. National League advisory board members include Jake Arrieta of the Cubs, Jay Bruce of the Reds, Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals, Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, Nick Markakis of the Braves, Mark Melancon of the Pirates, Joe Panik of the Giants, Anthony Rendon and Logan Schafer of the Nationals, Tyson Ross of the Padres, Christian Yelich of the Marlins and Brad Ziegler of the D-backs. The Brewers, Mets, Phillies and Rockies will announce representatives in the near future, as their THF reps at the end of last season changed teams. For the campaign, a print ad for each of the foundation's current advisory board members has been created, with images provided by THF national partner Getty Images, and will be made available to each player's respective team program/magazine for publication during this season. In addition, "It's All Me" PSAs will run in programs at MLB jewel events. Advisory board members will also take part in educational activities in their local communities. Board members provide input on the most effective ways to educate North America's youth about the dangers of anabolic steroids and other appearance and performance enhancing drugs. The Taylor Hooton Foundation has spoken to and educated more than one million people. Education, rather than random testing, is clearly the primary solution, especially considering that the median age for first-time steroid users is 15. A startling 85 percent of high school athletes say they never have had a coach, parent or teacher talk to them about the dangers of such drugs. Nearly one out of every five adults are unaware that high school anabolic steroid use is a problem; nearly two million middle school and high school kids admit to using steroids, for appearance and performance; and 36 percent of males 18-25 say they or someone they know has taken steroids or HGH. The Taylor Hooton Foundation has a Latin American outreach and travels throughout the Caribbean, speaking to thousands of RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) athletes, coaches and parents in partnership with MLB. Additionally, the foundation introduced a new eLearning program in 2014 -- narrated by Bob Costas -- to Little League Baseball that is offered to its one-million adult coaches and other volunteers. More information about the Taylor Hooton Foundation and its efforts is available at taylorhoot.org and allmeleague.com.

Today In Phils History - The Phillies lost and important piece in 1941 when pitcher Hugh Mulcahy became the first major-leaguer drafted into service for World War II. And while not humorous at the time, it was on this day in 1994 when John Kruk underwent surgery for testicular cancer. Thankfully, he didn't simply take his ball and go home. Birthdays today include Jack Bentley (1895) and, Future Hall of Famer Dick Allen (1942).

The Phillies have begun the spring with a 4-3-1 record (5-3-1 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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