Thursday, March 31, 2016

Phillies Close out Grapefruit League Action With A Win

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phillies Ground Astros 8-4

Houston ace Dallas Keuchel looks ready for Opening Day. He allowed two hits and struck out six in seven scoreless innings, but the Phillies roared back in an 8-4 victory Wednesday afternoon in a Grapefruit League game at Bright House Field. It was the final Spring Training game for both teams in Florida. Keuchel dominated the Phillies, but they scored eight runs in the eighth inning against Astros relievers Pat Neshek, Tony Sipp and James Hoyt. The inning included a lineout RBI from pinch-hitter Ryan Howard, as well as Cesar Hernandez executing a suicide squeeze to allow Will Venable to score from third to tie the game. It was the Phillies' third suicide squeeze of the spring and their fourth successful squeeze play overall. Maikel Franco's single scored a run to give the Phillies the lead and Andres Blanco hit a grand slam to seal it. Astros second baseman Jose Altuve hit a three-run home run to left field with two outs in the fifth inning against Phillies right-hander Jeremy Hellickson to give Houston the lead. It was Altuve's second homer of the spring. Hellickson allowed four hits, three runs, one walk and struck out five in 4 2/3 innings. He finished the spring with a 3.31 ERA. "I felt great," Hellickson said about his spring. "I've just got to get better still with two outs and guys in scoring position. I've got to get those big outs when I need them." After Preston Tucker doubled and Alex Bregman replaced him as a pinch-runner, the Astros scored another run in the bottom of the ninth off a single from Jason Castro.

  • The Phillies Broadcasters Foundation announced that the deadline to apply for its 2016 Kalas Award is May 31. The Kalas Award is given to a college student(s) who has a stated desire and shown initiative towards a career in sports broadcasting. Applications are available online at
  • Former Phillies public relations boss Larry Shenk has written a book, The Fightin' Phillies: 100 Years of Philadelphia Baseball from the Whiz Kids to the Misfits. Shenk is the Phillies' unofficial historian, having spent more than 50 years with the organization.
The Phillies head north to Reading, Pa., where they play a seven-inning exhibition Thursday night at 6:05 p.m. ET against some of the Phillies' top prospects. Prospects in the lineup include J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp.


Welcome Back – The Phillies re-signed Edward Mujica to a Minor League contract on Wednesday, a day after releasing the veteran relief pitcher. Mujica had activated an out clause in his original contract when the Phillies did not add him to their roster by midnight ET on Sunday. That gave the club 48 hours to make a decision, and it elected not to put the 31-year-old in its Opening Day bullpen. Mujica, who will report to Minor League camp on Thursday, allowed two runs on four hits with two walks and seven strikeouts over 8 1/3 Grapefruit League innings. The 10-year veteran spent last season with Boston and Oakland, posting a 4.75 ERA over 49 appearances. After his release, Mujica had expressed an openness to staying with the organization. "I'll have to see," he said. "[Manager Pete Mackanin] told me I'm going to have pretty good chances, if I go to Triple-A, in getting back to the big leagues."

Future On Exhibit – 2016 is about the future, so it makes sense that the Phillies are playing two of their final three exhibition games against some of their top prospects. They will play seven innings Thursday night in Reading, Pa., and Zach Eflin and Mark Appel will pitch for the prospects' team. The Phillies play the prospects again Saturday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. Jake Thompson and Ricardo Pinto will pitch that game. In between, the Phillies will host the Orioles on Friday night. Here is the prospects roster: Pitchers (nine): Right-handers Thompson (No. 2), Appel (No. 4), Pinto (No. 10), Eflin (No. 13), Edubray Ramos (No. 29), Victor Arano, Miguel Nunez, and left-handers Joely Rodriguez and Tom Windle. Catchers (two): Jorge Alfaro (No. 6) and Andrew Knapp (No. 9). Infielders (nine): J.P. Crawford (No. 1), Scott Kingery (No. 11), Malquin Canelo (No. 12), Rhys Hoskins (No. 20), Tommy Joseph, Angelo Mora, Brock Stassi, Jesmuel Valentin and Mitch Walding. Outfielders (six): Nick Williams (No. 3), Roman Quinn (No. 7), Carlos Tocci (No. 14), Dylan Cozens (No. 23), Aaron Brown (No. 28) and Andrew Pullin.

Will This Be A Good Year? – It has been one heck of a spring for Phillies manager Pete Mackanin. He opened big league camp in February for the first time as a full-time manager after managing the Pirates in 2005, the Reds in 2007 and the Phillies in 2015 on an interim basis. He hammered home the importance of fundamentals and playing with energy. His boss, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak, noticed his efforts and how his players responded to his words, too. Klentak tore up Mackain's one-year contract this month and replaced it with a two-year contract with a club option for 2018. Mackanin begins his first full season as manager Monday on Opening Day in Cincinnati. "It's already hit me," he said before Wednesday afternoon's 8-4 win over the Astros at Bright House Field. "I keep telling my wife, it's not that big of a deal. I've managed quite a few games in the big leagues. Managing is the same everywhere you go. It's getting through Spring Training, and doing the things I wanted to do and focusing on certain fundamentals, that is one thing that is the most important part of it, rather than during the season. I'm a manager, and I'm just managing." The Phillies finished their Grapefruit League schedule at 15-10-3. It does not translate into regular-season success, but Mackanin thinks he accomplished what he wanted to accomplish this spring. He thinks there are reasons to be optimistic about 2016. "I think with our rotation, and the bullpen we're going to have, excluding the closer right now, I think we're going to be in a lot more games than we were last year," Mackanin said. "I think that's going to lead to more wins. How many remains to be seen." Ten Phillies pitchers not named Cole Hamels, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Adam Morgan posted a combined 6.19 ERA in 106 starts (65.4 percent of their games) last season. The Phillies also had a 34-37 record following the All-Star break with Maikel Franco, who could be their best hitter, missing 46 of those games. But while nobody is expecting the Phillies to contend this season, they expect to be better. They do not expect to finish with the worst record in baseball for the second consecutive season. It should be interesting to follow, because of the young players on the current roster and the prospects coming up through the system. Their Opening Day roster could look very different from their mid-August roster. "I was really happy to see all of those young guys I had heard about but hadn't seen," Mackanin said. "And they really looked like they've got a chance to be real good players. "My focus right now is on the guys we have on the Major League level. And I really don't want to discount those guys, their turn will come. But I'm hoping we're not going to have to take a chance on bringing them up early, because the guys we have at the big league level are doing so well that there's going to be no rush."

Could This Be The Year? – If one had to bet on the first prospect to join the Phillies this season, one might take outfielder Nick Williams or right-hander Jake Thompson. Williams and Thompson will open the season in Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and based on their skill sets and the organization's needs, their paths to the big leagues could be the shortest. But shortstop J.P. Crawford figures to get the most attention this season, and understandably so, as he is the No. 5 prospect in baseball, according to MLBPipeline. He also has the brightest future, making him the Phillies' prospect to watch in 2016. "I think about it all the time," Crawford said about his call to the big leagues. But patience is key, perhaps for Phillies fans more than anyone. Crawford, 21, has played only 86 games at Double-A Reading. He hit .265 with 21 doubles, seven triples, five home runs, 34 RBIs and a .761 OPS in 351 at-bats last season, and he hit .150 with one RBI, three walks and three strikeouts this spring. He has room to improve, and that means he needs more time to develop in the Minor Leagues. Besides, there is no rush. The Phillies are rebuilding for the future, so 2017 and beyond are more important than 2016. The Phillies want to make sure Crawford is ready to play every day and succeed whenever he gets the call. They don't want to yo-yo him from the big leagues to the Minor Leagues, and they don't want him to split time at shortstop with Freddy Galvis. When he is up, he will be up, and he will be playing. "If it happens, it happens," Crawford said about a potential promotion. "I'm not really going to think about that. But if I do, I do. If I don't, I don't." Of course, Crawford could force the issue with his own play. He could start the season in Reading and dominate, earning a relatively quick promotion to Triple-A. And if he plays well there, perhaps he'll warrant a promotion before the end of the season. But there are plenty of "ifs" there. Could Crawford make the big leagues this year? Yes, but only if he is ready. After all, the long-term is much more important than a little short-term spike in fan excitement.
Today In Phils History - When the Phillies lost the marathon on opening day in 1998 against the Mets, they did so with a number of players making their first appearances in a Phillies uniform including Doug Glanville, Bobby Abreu, Mark Lewis, and Alex Arias. Five years later they would showcase another overhauled roster with the additions of  Jim Thome, Tyler Houston, Kevin Millwood, and David Bell. And five years after that they would field another collection of new faces in Chad Durbin, Pedro Feliz, Geoff Jenkins, and So Taguchi. Six years later, one of the stalwarts on that championship team, Jimmy Rollins, would make his 14th consecutive opening day start at shortstop setting a NL record and tying the major league record set by Cal Ripken. However, there is one surname that can overshadow the rest of the events from this day... DiMaggio. Even though it was Vince who was acquired on this day in 1945. 

The Phillies have an impressive record this spring… 15-10-3 (16-10-3 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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