Monday, March 7, 2016

Looks Like The Phillies Aren’t Made Of Tin

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phillies Stun Yankees 6-5

Making his 2016 Grapefruit League debut, Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka fought through a long second inning but came out unscathed for a successful start against the Phillies. The same couldn't be said of the New York bullpen as Philadelphia scored six runs in the sixth inning en route to a 6-5 win on Sunday in front of a capacity crowd of 9,877 at Bright House Field. Tanaka retired all three batters he faced in the first but then allowed back-to-back singles to Maikel Franco and Brock Stassi to open the second. Rob Refsnyder made a slick pick at third base to start a 5-4-3 double play, putting a runner on third with two outs. Tanaka then walked Cedric Hunter before striking out David Lough to end his day. It was Tanaka's first game action since undergoing surgery in mid-October to remove a bone spur from his right elbow. For the Phillies, Charlie Morton pitched a solid 2 1/3 innings. He retired the first six batters he faced but allowed a single to Refsnyder and a walk to Lane Adams to start the third. After striking out Slade Heathcott, Morton's day was done. Daniel Stumpf surrendered a one-out single to Starlin Castro for the game's first run, charged to Morton. Philadelphia responded in the bottom of the sixth with a leadoff single by Freddy Galvis off Chad Green. Odubel Herrera also knocked a single before Franco walked to load the bases. Stassi hit a sacrifice fly to make it 1-1. Gabriel Lino walked to reload the bases and Hunter hit a fly ball to left. Ben Gamel fired home but Herrera slid under the tag. Lough's single made it 3-1. Andrew Knapp then crushed a three-run homer to right field off Branden Pinder for the five-run advantage. "He's got a great swing from both sides of the plate," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said of Knapp. "He looks like a hitter, like he knows what he's doing. He's got some size, he's got some power, nice swing." In the seventh, New York scored runs on an Austin Romine double and Tyler Wade infield single to pull within three. Romine doubled home two more runs in the eighth to make it 6-5.

Vincent Velasquez will take the bump for the Phillies on the road against the Pirates in Bradenton, Fla., on Monday at 1:05 p.m. ET, live on MLB.TV and an exclusive audio webcast. A key piece in this offseason's Ken Giles trade, Velasquez will look to rebound from a shaky spring debut, which saw him give up three runs but strike out three in two innings against the Blue Jays.


Location Is Key – On a warm day, balls can fly out of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, so it was an encouraging sign that of the seven outs Charlie Morton earned on Sunday, four were ground balls. The right-handed starter gave up just one earned run on a hit and a walk in 2 1/3 innings while also striking out a pair of Yankees in the Phillies' 6-5 victory. But the groundouts were the most pleasant sight, and he credits that to location. "I'll pitch lefties up and in a lot, trying to get under their hands, and down and in to righties," Morton said. "I try to keep the ball off the barrel with weak contact -- either cut it, sink it in or stay on the corners." While the location was undoubtedly a factor, Morton also credited the lowering of his arm slot -- which he began in 2011 -- for his evolution into a stronger ground-ball pitcher. In particular, it has given much greater movement to his sinker. "My arm started to work a lot better, and I was able to repeat pitches," Morton said. "That's kind of when I started to come into my own in terms of an identity in pitching. I found I was making a lot of mistakes, but I was getting away with mistakes. That's a huge weight off your back when you miss and not get hit real hard." Sunday was Morton's 2016 Grapefruit League debut after facing batters nine days before in batting practice. Morton said that getting the competitive juices flowing was a boost. "To be able to go up and down and keep the ball in the zone until the third inning, I'm really encouraged," Morton said. "I just wanted to pitch, to get outs." Morton retired the first six batters he faced -- the first four via grounders. The third inning was a little trickier, as Rob Refsnyder singled -- on a grounder -- to start the inning. Morton then surrendered a walk to Lane Adams but sent down Slade Heathcott on strikes. Daniel Stumpf came on in relief and gave up an RBI single to Starlin Castro. "He was a little bit up in the zone with his sinker," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said of Morton. "He's got an outstanding sinker, just a little bit up with it. He said he got a little tired. We were pushing him to go three innings. He just got tired late." The 2016 season is Morton's first with the Phillies after spending the last seven with the Pirates. He was acquired in a trade for prospect David Whitehead. Morton went 9-9 last year with a 4.81 ERA in 129 innings.

On His Way Back – Barring any setbacks, Phillies pitcher Jerad Eickhoff hopes to make his Grapefruit League debut later this week. The 25-year-old right-hander threw live batting practice on Sunday morning as he continues to recover from a non-displaced fracture on the outside of his right thumb. "It seems to be doing really well," Eickhoff said. Eickhoff said the session, working with catcher J.P. Arencibia, consisted of about 40 pitches. He threw mostly fastballs but also worked in some changeups and "flipped some curveballs out of the stretch." "It was good to get those back into the mix there," Eickhoff said of his offspeed pitches. Eickhoff hopes to throw a bullpen session on Wednesday, meaning he could be available for game action as soon as Friday afternoon's game against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista. Otherwise, Eickhoff may attempt to pitch on Saturday against the Blue Jays, though Charlie Morton figures to be on schedule for that game. "I was really happy about the progress we've made and everything," Eickhoff said. "It's right on schedule like we've discussed, and I couldn't be more excited." Eickhoff was one piece of a huge trade haul that saw Philadelphia also acquire prospects Jorge Alfaro, Jake Thompson and Nick Williams from the Rangers in exchange for Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman. A bunting drill on Feb. 11 originally sidelined Eickhoff when he couldn't get out of the way of a pitch. In eight starts for the Phillies last year, Eickhoff went 3-3 with a 2.65 ERA. He struck out 49 and walked just 13 in 51 innings.

A Unique Groundout – A reminder, on this Sunday filled with Spring Training games, that the world has no care for our expectations. Not for our expectations as fans, nor for the expectations of players. In fact, it's best just not to expect anything, and let that which comes wash over you simply as it will. Case in point: In the fifth inning of the Phillies' Grapefruit League matchup against the Yankees, outfielder Cedric Hunter grounded out ... to the catcher. See? You could be Yankees pitcher James Pazos trying to throw it past the batter, and the ball will bounce a foot in front. You could be Hunter, who sees the ball bounce in the dirt, check your swing accordingly and the ball will find its way to your bat nonetheless. You could be all of us at home, expecting the ball to bounce in the box or land foul, and instead watch it roll fair down the third-base line. These expectations matter naught to reality. Kudos to Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez for persevering through his shattered expectations and looping around to tag Hunter for the out. That's called embracing the chaos. Of course, none of this applies if you're Vladimir Guerrero. But so few of us are. 

Today In Phils History - Team President William Baker was expecting a different outcome in 1914 when he traveled to New York to deliver a contract to team captain Mike Doolan who had already signed with the Baltimore Federal League club. In 1978, the Phillies signed minor league free agent George Bell who would never amount to much with the Phillies but would prove his power in Toronto. 5 years later, the Wheeze Kids (Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez) appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And, after a long wait, Richie Ashburn was finally elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans' Committee on this day in 1995. Today is also the Birthday of Ed Bouchee who was born on this day in 1933. 

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