Saturday, March 19, 2016

Phillies Continue To Show Plenty Of Power

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phillies Pound Pirates 15-12

The Phillies would love to have more of the offensive production they had in the fourth and fifth innings on Friday afternoon at Bright House Field. They had 10 hits and scored nine runs in the fourth in a 15-12 victory over the Pirates. The inning included a leadoff double from Cesar Hernandez, five consecutive singles, a suicide squeeze from pitcher Charlie Morton and a three-run homer from Maikel Franco to improve the Phillies to 12-5-2 this spring. The following inning, the Phils put up six more runs, highlighted by Ryan Howard's grand slam off of righty Trey Haley. "It's good to see the guys swing the bats well," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "It's not the regular season, but we need to stay positive and feel good about ourselves at the bat. I emphasized pitching and defense and running this spring -- and not hitting -- and we're hitting better than we expected. We're happy about that." The Pirates' bats were almost as loud. Morton allowed a two-run homer to Pedro Florimonin the second and a solo homer to Matt Joyce in the third. Jose Osuna hit a three-run shot against Dalier Hinojosa in the top of the ninth. Morton made his second Grapefruit League start and struggled against his former team. He allowed four hits, five runs, three walks and the two home runs with three strikeouts in four innings. Pirates starter Kyle Lobstein tossed three scoreless innings, giving up just one hit. He was relieved by Wilfredo Boscan, who allowed seven hits and eight runs in one-third of an inning in the fourth. Guido Knudson allowed three hits and one run in two-thirds of an inning. Haley, who came in next, surrendered six runs on four hits, including three homers. "I've been able to translate what we've been working on in the bullpens to the game," Lobstein said. "That always feels good."

  • Right-hander Charlie Morton allowed four hits, five runs, three walks and two home runs and struck out three in four innings in the Phillies' 15-12 win on Friday. "He was kind of all over the place," Mackanin said. "He didn't miss by a lot, but he didn't have location." "Maybe trying to be a little too fine," Morton said. Morton executed a suicide squeeze in the fourth inning to score a run.
  • Rule 5 Draft pick Daniel Stumpf struck out one in one scoreless innings. He has a 4.50 ERA this spring, although three of the four runs he has allowed in eight innings pitched came in the eighth inning Monday in Sarasota, Fla., vs. the Orioles.
  • Right-hander Dalier Hinojosa, who pitching coach Bob McClure considers a candidate to close, allowed his first runs of the spring in the ninth. He surrendered three runs (two earned). He had previously thrown five scoreless innings.
  • Left-hander Adam Morgan threw 59 pitches in five scoreless innings at the complex. Morgan is competing with Vince Velasquez and Brett Oberholtzer to be the team's No. 5 starter.
  • The Phillies optioned right-hander Jimmy Cordero to Double-A Reading after Friday's game. He allowed two hits and one run in two-thirds of an inning. It was his first appearance of the spring, because he had been sidelined with a sore right biceps. Cordero is the No. 17 prospect in the organization, according to

Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson (0-0, 4.50 ERA) will start Saturday afternoon's Grapefruit League game against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla., at 1:07 p.m. ET. The Phillies have made no announcement, but Hellickson or Aaron Nola will start Opening Day. At the moment, Hellickson is on schedule to make that start. Watch the game live on MLB.TV.


Franco Goes Deep… Again! – Phillies manager Pete Mackanin is thinking what a few other people are probably thinking. Pace yourself, Maikel Franco. "I don't want him to waste all of his home runs in the spring," Mackanin said, smiling. "He looks really good at the plate, aggressive, confident. I'm sure he's going to carry it into the season. It's a good guy to have in the middle of the line up right now." Franco hit a three-run home run to left field in the fourth inning Friday in a 15-12 victory over the Pirates in a Grapefruit League game at Bright House Field. Franco has hit seven home runs this spring, more than any other hitter in baseball. Thirteen players entered the day tied for second with four. "That's what I've been working on," Franco said about showing more power at the plate this season. The Phillies are first in the Grapefruit League with 117 runs. They are second with 28 home runs (Peter Bourjos and Cameron Rupp also homered against the Pirates). Nobody expects them to keep up this pace during the regular season, but it is an encouraging start nonetheless. It isn't just Franco, either. Ryan Howard hit a grand slam over the batter's eye in center field in the fifth inning. It was his second home run in two days. He also laced a pair of singles to finish 3-for-4 with five RBIs. "That wasn't windblown," Mackanin said of Howard's blast. "That was all him." "It felt good off the bat," Howard said. "I didn't know it was going to go there." Howard can appreciate good power as much as anybody. He said he expects big things from Franco this year. "The sky is the limit with Maikel, man," Howard said. "His ball gets small, really quick."

Predicting Power – If you didn't notice Maikel Franco last year, don't worry: You were hardly alone. Franco spent the first six weeks of the year in the Minors, then missed 45 of the final 48 games of the season due to a broken wrist. As the Phillies were in the midst of losing 99 games and names like Kris Bryant, Noah Syndergaard, Joc Pederson, Kyle Schwarber and Jung Ho Kang were dominating a historic National League Rookie of the Year Award class, Franco was somewhat lost in the shuffle. It's safe to say that's not going to happen again, and that was even before Franco smashed his Major League leading seventh homer of the spring on Friday afternoon in a wild 15-12 win over Pittsburgh in Clearwater, Fla. While we know not to put too much emphasis on spring blasts off Minor Leaguers like Guido Knudson, what Franco is doing isn't to be ignored, either. First and foremost, it's a pretty terrific sign that the wrist injury has healed, and that's important, because there were plenty of pre-injury signs last year that Franco had this in him -- even if few really saw it. For example, we can run Statcast™ data queries to identify the hitters who managed to barrel up the largest percentage of extremely likely hits. To define that, we set the parameters as being "batted balls over 100 mph, with a launch angle of between 10 and 25 degrees," (where zero is defined as being right back at the pitcher). The Major League batting average on those types of balls is .595, which is to say, you really, really want to be hitting balls like that. With a minimum of 20 tracked batted balls, the list of players who barreled their balls in that way last year is impressive: Percentage of batted balls 100-mph-plus at 10-25 degrees launch angle, 2015: 1. Miguel Sano, 16.7 percent; 2. Paul Goldschmidt, 14.9 percent; 3. Randal Grichuk, 14.5 percent; 4. Lucas Duda, 14.4 percent; 5. Chris Carter, 14.3 percent; 6. Justin Smoak, 14.2 percent; 7. Mike Trout, 14.0 percent; 8. Ryan Howard, 13.9 percent; 9. Yoenis Cespedes, 12.5 percent; 10. Giancarlo Stanton, 12.3 percent; 11. Pedro Alvarez, 12.3 percent; 12. Franco, 12.2 percent. That's an interesting combination of the game's biggest stars and guys who have trouble making contact but crush the ball when they can find it. But contact wasn't really Franco's issue; in a sport where the average strikeout percentage was 20.4 and several topped 30 percent, Franco's was just 15.4 percent. Of the 33 hitters with at least 300 plate appearances and a .490 slugging percentage, only three struck out less often than Franco: A.J. Pollock, Anthony Rizzo, David Ortiz. To take that to a somewhat unexpected extreme, what if we compared the 2015 stats of Franco and another 23-year-old Mid-Atlantic third baseman with a much higher profile, Manny Machado? Franco: .280/.343/.497 -- 7.8 K percent -- 15.5 BB percent -- 128 wRC+; Machado: .286/.359/.502 -- 9.8 K percent -- 15.6 BB percent -- 134 wRC+. (wRC+, or Weighted Runs Created Plus, is an all-inclusive offensive stat that is park-adjusted and sets 100 as league average, meaning it can be read as "Franco was 28 percent above average in 2015.") It's shockingly similar. Machado hit 35 homers to Franco's 14, but he also had more than twice as many plate appearances. Given a full season of playing time, could Franco match Machado's offensive output, even if he's not likely to bring the same elite defense? It's not out of the question. When Franco hit two homers off of Yovani Gallardo earlier in the week, he told's Todd Zolecki that because he knows he'll be in the lineup this season, he feels "more patient, more relaxed," than he had in previous springs. That might help explain the power we're seeing in Florida right now. But it's not like this was completely unexpected. After all, just because you didn't watch Franco excel last year, it's not like it didn't happen.

Expected In Pen On Opening Day – The Phillies feel better and better about David Hernandez's chances of being ready by Opening Day. He pitched a scoreless inning Friday in a Minor League game at Carpenter Complex. He also pitched an inning Tuesday, but has not appeared in a Grapefruit League game since March 1 because of right triceps tendinitis. He could pitch in a Grapefruit League game in the next two or three days. "His ability to open the season healthy is on track and is looking fine," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. Hernandez struck out two and got a flyout to center field. His fastball sat in the 92-94 mph range. He also threw his breaking ball and changeup. "I felt good," Hernandez said. "I was just trying to throw strikes. Next time, I'll try to hit more corners. My arm is definitely getting better. I have no discomfort when I'm pitching, just a little stiffness when I'm cooling down. I have no trouble getting loose and staying loose, and that's a good sign." Phillies utility infielder Andres Blanco caught Hernandez. Blanco is the team's emergency catcher, so they wanted to get him some work behind the plate. "I was happy to see him look healthy," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said.

A Different Look In The Outfield – The Phillies need another outfielder, don't they? Aaron Altherr will not return from left wrist surgery until July at the earliest, and Cody Asche could miss the beginning of the season because of a strained right oblique. Their injuries leave Odubel Herrera, Peter Bourjos and Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Goeddel as the projected Opening Day outfield with some combination of Darnell Sweeney and non-roster invitees David Lough and Cedric Hunter as their fourth and fifth outfielders. But general manager Matt Klentak said Friday afternoon at Bright House Field that the Phillies are not aggressively pursuing outfield help. "We've got our ears open for opportunities, but I wouldn't characterize it as active," Klentak said. "This is the time of the year where most teams are starting to connect with each other to talk about different scenarios that are going to play out at the end of camp -- who is going to make the team, who may not. So those conversations have begun -- generally, anyway." So even if the Phillies are not frantically calling clubs for help, they have talked to teams about it and are watching the waiver wire. The Phillies have priority on the waiver wire through the end of April, so they could pick up somebody in the next couple of weeks. "I wouldn't say it's any more likely than it would be at any other position," Klentak said about an outfield acquisition. "But with Altherr obviously being out for an extended stretch, and with Asche not on the field, if there's a way for us to add depth, I think it's something we'll have to explore." Klentak said it is possible Asche could be ready by Opening Day, despite the fact that he has not played in a Grapefruit League game. But because of the nature of Asche's injury, the team also knows it must be careful with him. Herrera has not played since Saturday because of an injured right middle finger. He had X-rays recently, but they were negative. The Phillies said they do not think it is serious. Bourjos, who has a .645 OPS the previous four seasons, entered Friday hitting .333 (9-for-27) with three doubles, one triple, one RBI, three walks and eight strikeouts. Goeddel, who has not played higher than Double-A, had hit .250 (9-for-36) with two doubles, one home run, five RBIs, four walks and nine strikeouts. Goeddel's play the rest of the month could factor into the Phillies' sense of urgency in finding outfield help. Herrera made the adjustment from Rule 5 pick to everyday outfielder last season. Can the Phillies expect Goeddel to make the same adjustments and play on an everyday basis? "[Goeddel] hasn't shown us anything that would suggest he can't do that," Klentak said. "We've been encouraged with, not even the results so much of his ABs, but sort of the way he's gone about it. He's got a very mature approach in the batter's box. I think that's something as we're projecting how he'll do in the big leagues this year; that's something that gives us some comfort. We think he can compete. He knows how to work a count. He's not afraid to hit the ball the other way. In fact, he often tends to hit the ball the other way. I think that lends itself to him having an easier adjustment. But we'll see."

Trimming The Roster – Carlos Ruiz has played a significant role in the Phillies' success for nearly a decade. They hope his presence in camp this spring influences the future, too. The Phillies on Friday optioned catcher Jorge Alfaro to Double-A Reading and reassigned catcher Andrew Knapp to Minor League camp. Alfaro is the No. 3 catching prospect in baseball and the No. 96 prospect overall. Knapp earned the Phils' Minor League Player of the Year Award in 2015, and he is ranked No. 9 among the team's prospects by Both need more time in the Minor Leagues before being ready to play in the big leagues. Each young backstop mentioned Ruiz's tutelage as one of their more positive experiences in camp. Ruiz, who is in the final year of his contract, is playing with Panama this week in the World Baseball Classic qualifier. "I took a lot from Chooch on the defensive side of stuff, like how to handle a pitching staff and how to get guys through innings, stuff like that," Knapp said. "I mean, every time I talk to Chooch, I'm always asking him, 'How do you do this?'" Alfaro said. "He's got a lot of experience, you know? It was awesome." Knapp hit .250 (4-for-16) with one double, one home run, four RBIs, four walks, three strikeouts and a .900 OPS in eight Grapefruit League games. Alfaro hit .294 (5-for-17) with two RBIs and a .588 OPS in six games. "I felt pretty comfortable in the box all camp," Knapp said. "That was a positive." Both are talented offensively. Phillies coaches raved about Alfaro's raw power earlier in camp, with Mike Schmidt saying Alfaro's build reminded him of former All-Star Dick Allen. But both catchers know they must improve defensively, too. "You have to be a good defender behind the plate," Alfaro said. "Hitting -- I don't really worry about too much, because I really want to be a good catcher. In the Minor Leagues, I want pitchers telling me they want me to catch them." Alfaro certainly has the tools to catch. After the Phils' 15-12 Friday win, manager Pete Mackanin said that Alfaro "has the best arm I've seen, maybe ever." One scout told Mackanin that he rated Alfaro's arm an 80 on a 20-80 scale, which he said he had never done before. Knapp said he wants to improve his game management. "It's situationally based," Knapp responded when asked what Ruiz told him about game management. "You have first and third with a big hitter on deck, what are you going to do? Stuff like that, kind of how the game flows. When pitchers are struggling, how do you work with them to get through the inning? Stuff like that." Of course, the question for both catchers is how close they feel they are to the big leagues. Knapp is expected to open the season in Triple-A, while Alfaro is expected to start in Double-A, because he missed most of last season with an ankle injury. If something should happen early this season to Ruiz or Cameron Rupp, veteran J.P. Arencibia is expected to get the call. But later in the season, who knows? And if both eventually make it either this year or beyond? Each also has the ability to play either first base or the outfield. "I always think that I want to be the best catcher wherever I play," Alfaro said. "It doesn't matter if it's Rookie league or Double-A. It doesn't matter if it's in the big leagues. It doesn't matter where I play. I just want to be the best. I never think how close I am. I never worry about that. They make the decisions. I'll just play hard wherever I go." And Alfaro will be asking plenty of questions along the way. "I like to learn," he said. "[Maikel] Franco, [Freddy] Galvis, Ruiz. I learned a lot from them. They helped my routine. They helped me a lot. They talked to me a lot. We always talk on the field, off the field. How to be professional, how to play the game, playing hard -- they always talk to me like that, like what you have to do to come here and stay here." "It's getting close," Knapp said about a potential big league arrival. "This is baseball. A lot of things happen. Injuries happen. I just have to be ready for the call."

Welcome To The Chooch Show – The home crowd was treated to The Chooch Show at Rod Carew Stadium on Thursday night. Playing in front of 11,744 spirited fans, Panama catcher Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz hit two home runs and collected four RBIs to lead his squad to a 9-2 win over France in the first round of the World Baseball Classic qualifier. After opening the game's scoring with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the first, Ruiz hit a solo moonshot in the third and then a two-run blast in the fifth. Panama is now set to host Colombia -- which defeated Spain, 9-2 -- at 9 p.m. ET on Friday. Spain will face France at 2 p.m. ET in an elimination game earlier in the day. In qualifier games played in Mexicali, Mexico, the hosts defeated the Czech Republic, 2-1, and Nicaragua walked off over Germany. The Czechs and Germans will meet in an elimination game at 3:30 p.m. ET Friday, and Mexico takes on Spain at 10:30 p.m. All qualifier action can be watched on and, or followed via MLB Gameday. Playing in his fourth WBC competition with Panama, Ruiz showed why he's been able to stay in the big leagues for a decade. "It's all about being positive," Ruiz said through a translator. "I believe I'm still a young player. I feel like a 26-year-old, not a 36-year-old. I'm proud to play with a team that has young players and such an experienced coaching staff -- especially guys I played with like [manager] Carlos Lee, [bench coach] Olmedo Saenz and [pitching coach] Lenin Picota." Once Lee saw Ruiz join Team Panama from Phillies Spring Training earlier this week, he had a feeling he would be doing some damage at the plate. "Honestly, that's the best shape I've ever seen him in," Lee said. "He's ready to go, and you can see it. He's taking good swings, taking good pitches. Two homers, that's not going to happen every day. But if you put yourself in a position to have good swings, good results can come out." While Ruiz stole the spotlight on Thursday night, Panama right-hander Paolo Espino pitched a perfect three innings, striking out four, to begin the contest. The Nationals farmhand only needed 33 pitches to get through his outing, so he'll be eligible to return to the mound on Saturday if Lee desires. Espino said everything was working well for him on the mound -- location, fastball command and his slider -- and that he only threw one changeup. By the time Lee made a pitching change, though, Panama had a four-run lead, so Espino was held back with the future in mind. Panama is guaranteed to play on Saturday, win or lose on Friday, and Espino would have been ineligible to pitch the rest of the qualifier had he surpassed 50 pitches. Naturally, Espino wanted to keep going deeper in the game but understood Lee's decision given the pitch limits. And on a night that belonged to Ruiz, perhaps it's no surprise that Espino chalked up his success to his catcher. "I think Carlos Ruiz makes a big difference for our pitching staff," Espino said through a translator. "I've known him for a long time, and he has a lot of experience. Today he called a great game, and I just tried to match him pitch for pitch, whatever he asked for." Panama broke open the game with a four-run sixth inning. Following Ruiz's two-run homer, Carlos Quiroz nearly went back-to-back, but his double bounced off the top of the wall in left field. No matter, as the next batter, shortstop Javier Guerra, went deep to right field to extend Panama's lead to seven runs. France didn't do itself any favors, committing three costly errors that led to three runs for Panama. In the second inning, on consecutive at-bats, shortstop Felix Brown booted a ball and left fielder Douglas Rodriguez dropped a routine fly. The miscues led to a sacrifice bunt and subsequently a two-run single by Eduardo Thomas. In the sixth inning, Norbert Jongerius dropped a fly ball in left field, allowing Luis Castillo to score. "We can't compete that way if we make errors," France manager Eric Gagne said. "We know we've got to play better defensively. Pitching was OK, but we can't make mistakes. We've got one guy who's affiliated, and he's in A ball, so we've got to make good plays. But there's a lot of positives. A lot of guys have probably never seen 90 mph in their life, so it's a good experience." France's first run came in the top of the fifth, when Frederic Hanvi roped a double down the left-field line to score Andy Paz. Jorge Hereaud drove home a second run in the ninth with a soft single to right field.

Today In Phils History - Unfortunately, the perfect game that Harry Coveleski threw on this day in 1909 was in an exhibition game against Trinity College in Durham, NC. 5 years later, the Phillies saw Babe Ruth for the first time as Baltimore's manager, trailing 6-0 in the sixth, called on Ruth to pitch the rest of the game when he allowed only 4 base runners as the Orioles game back to win 7-6. 13 years later, another Hall of Famer made his debut as Phillies Legend Richie Ashburn was born on this day in 1927. 

The Phillies have begun the spring with a 12-5-2 record (13-5-2 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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