Friday, March 11, 2016

Phillies Continue To Surprise This Spring

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phillies Tie Tigers 6-6

Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco looks ready for Opening Day. He hit a pair of home runs Thursday afternoon in a 6-6 tie with the Tigers in a Grapefruit League game at Bright House Field. The Phillies took a one-run lead into the ninth, but Ernesto Frieri allowed a pair of runs, one on a Thomas Field homer. Phils second baseman Ryan Jackson tied the game with a solo homer of his own off Kevin Ziomek to open the bottom of the ninth. Franco hit a two-run homer in the first inning against Jordan Zimmermann and another two-run shot off the Tigers righty in the fourth. "They have a lot of young guys on that team and a lot of free swingers," said Zimmermann. "It's a little more difficult to set them up when you know they're going to be hacking." Franco has four home runs this spring. "A little bit," Franco said, asked if he feels locked in offensively. Zimmermann allowed five hits, four runs and one walk and struck out three in 3 2/3 innings. Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola allowed four hits, two runs and one walk in 2 2/3 innings. He struck out four. Nola gave up a two-run home run to Tigers catcher James McCann in the third inning. "The more at-bats you get, the more locked in you feel," McCann said. "The big thing is just seeing pitches and seeing different pitchers." Tyler Collins singled to score a run in the fourth inning against Phillies left-hander Daniel Stumpf to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead. After Franco's second homer, the Tigers tied the game in the fifth when Nate Schierholtz scored, despite being caught in a rundown at third base. Darnell Sweeney put the Phils ahead in the sixth when he scored from second on an Angelys Nina single and a Tigers error.

  • Right-hander Ernesto Frieri allowed two runs, including a go-ahead home run, in the ninth inning to blow the save. Frieri is in camp as a non-roster invitee and as a candidate to close. He has a 9.82 ERA (four earned runs in 3 2/3 innings) in three appearances. "His velocity is down from what he used to be," Mackanin said. "We haven't ruled him out. We've all seen pitchers struggle. Even good pitchers. There is time left to make decisions."
  • Non-roster invitee Ryan Jackson hit a game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth.
  • The Phillies botched a rundown at third base, allowing Nate Schierholtz to score in the fifth. Third baseman Angelys Nina's throw to the plate was high. "I wasn't really happy about that," Mackanin said. "Back to the drawing board. We'll keep working on it."

Phillies right-hander David Buchanan will start Friday afternoon against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at 1:05 p.m. ET. Right-hander Charlie Morton had been scheduled to start, but he is out with the flu. The bug scratched Jeremy Hellickson from his scheduled start Wednesday. Listen to the game live on an exclusive webcast.


Still Some Work To Do – Aaron Nola prides himself on his tremendous control throwing a baseball. He isn't there yet. He allowed four hits, two runs, one walk and one wind-aided home run in 2 2/3 innings Thursday in a 6-6 tie with the Tigers in a Grapefruit League game at Bright House Field. He threw 65 pitches (45 strikes). He struck out four. "I feel like I should be better than I was making some pitches that I did today," Nola said. "But I'm going to continue to work in my throwing sessions and my side session as camp goes on." Nola has allowed eight hits, six runs and two walks with four strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings in two Spring Training starts. "I feel like there's still a lot of work that needs to be done," he said. "I'm just going to try to continue to work on all my pitches, the running game and pretty much all overall aspects of my pitching. Throwing all three of my pitches for quality strikes when I need to. The biggest thing is getting ahead of most guys. That's what I want to be better at than I was today and my last outing." "He didn't have his command," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "He was all over the place. Just a matter of his command. His stuff was there. He just didn't make good pitches." Nola is expected to start Opening Day or the second game of the season, which would put him in line to pitch the homer opener on April 11 against the Padres at Citizens Bank Park.

Ready For Opening Day – Maikel Franco has looked more than capable this spring of following up his successful rookie season with another strong performance. Franco hit a pair of home runs Thursday. He is hitting .350 (7-for-20) with four home runs and 10 RBIs in eight games. "He looks so much different than he has in past springs," Mackanin said. "I think he feels like he's in for a big year, and I'm hoping he is. I'm going to have to start telling guys, 'Look, if you hit one home run you're going to have to hit two.' That seems to be the standard." Mackanin is referring to Darin Ruf and Cameron Rupp, who each hit two home runs in a split-squad on Wednesday.

Working His Way Back – Right-hander Jerad Eickhoff has not appeared in a game this spring because of a fractured right thumb, which he suffered last month. But he is scheduled to pitch three innings Saturday in a Minor League game at Carpenter Complex. The Phillies said they expect Eickhoff to be ready to join the rotation by Opening Day. "We're being optimistic about that," Mackanin said. "He has no pain. He has no problems. He's throwing his curveball, slider and changeup in his sides and live BP, so as long as he's 100 percent healthy … it's just a matter of getting him stretched out enough. I think we can do it."

Another Day, Another Injury – The Phillies are a little thin in the outfield these days. Aaron Altherr will miss four to six months following surgery Wednesday to repair a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist. But Cody Asche also has been sidelined. A MRI on Wednesday confirmed he has a Grade 1 strained right oblique. The Phillies said Asche remains day to day. "Well, there is no timetable [for his return]," manager Pete Mackanin said. "I'm hoping tomorrow he feels better. I don't know. Those things are funny. I've had an oblique strain before, and it's one of those things that it's hard to get rid of. Rest is probably the best thing. It's a day-to-day thing." Altherr and Asche were two of the Phils' five outfielders projected to make the Opening Day roster. The others were Odubel Herrera, Peter Bourjos and Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Goeddel, who are healthy. The only other outfielders in camp with a chance to make the team are David Lough, Darnell Sweeney and Cedric Hunter. Top prospects Nick Williams and Roman Quinn will open the season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Infielders like Emmanuel Burriss and Ryan Jackson have some outfield experience. Mackanin said he has no plans to use first basemen Darin Ruf or Brock Stassi in the outfield. "It's not too serious, but at the same time, it's enough to cause some precaution," Asche said. "I just basically have to go on how I feel. If I feel good, I can keep progressing."

A Little More Seasoning Needed – It was no coincidence that the Phillies sent righties Jake Thompson, Mark Appel and Zach Eflin to Minor League camp on Thursday. They expect big things from the trio. "I think deep down, we all kind of see that and think about that," Appel said about their collective futures. "The three of us have played against each other at different levels of the Minor Leagues and now we're all on the same team, and we see each other's talent and we get excited about it." These were the Phillies' first roster transactions of spring -- not because the pitchers didn't meet expectations, but because they are such a critical part of the club's future. Philadelphia needs them to get ready for the Triple-A season, which means building up arm strength by increasing their workload as spring progresses. That would not have happened in Phillies camp. Thompson, Appel and Eflin are the No. 2, No. 4 and No. 13 prospects in the organization, according to Thompson and Appel are the No. 55 and No. 70 prospects in baseball. The trio will open the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, forming one of the most talented rotations in the Minor Leagues. The Phillies want them to begin their preparations for that season. What happens after that is up to them. "Hopefully, we'll all get up [to the Majors] at the same time and play for 10 years," Thompson said. "That's how it's supposed to work. Obviously, things happen and people pan out and people don't. But I think the Phillies are definitely building their team that way, not just with pitchers, but with some of the young position players, too. I think that's the idea." Thompson allowed eight hits and one unearned run in five innings in his Grapefruit League appearances. Appel allowed two hits and two runs (one unearned) in four innings. Eflin allowed five hits and two runs (one earned) in five innings. "The main goal was just to open up myself and meet as many people as I can, just learn as much as I can," Eflin said. "I learned an incredible amount, mostly pitching stuff, but also how to handle yourself off the field and in the clubhouse." They all pitched on Wednesday in a split-squad game against the Twins in Fort Myers. Phils manager Pete Mackanin made the trip to get one last look at the pitchers who could be in the rotation before the end of the season. "I think yesterday was really good for me, Jake and Zach," Appel said. "I think the three of us are going to have a lot of fun over there. We're going to get ready for the season, and we're all going to work hard and get back here soon. So I think it's a really good place to be right now. We're all working hard. Spring Training is exactly that -- Spring Training. Getting your body right for the season. If they knew that I wasn't going to start on the big league club this year, then it's a great thing for us to go over there. Instead of getting one or two innings every week, go ahead and get three to five, get extended and get ready for the season." The Phillies believe Thompson is the most well-rounded pitcher of the group and might be the closest to the big leagues. Appel probably has the best stuff. Eflin's stuff is arguably as good as Appel's, but the Phils want him to finish batters on a more consistent basis. "It's going to be fun for us to get on a little rhythm over there," Thompson said. "Hopefully we go back-to-back-to-back [in the regular season]. That would be cool to see. But, yeah, just continuing to be around each other and feeding off each other's successes. Just the internal competition should be really good." Thompson and Eflin live nearby in Clearwater, Fla., just a three-minute walk away from one another, so they see each other regularly. But it seems clear that the trio gets along well. Like Thompson said, they expect friendly competition in Triple-A. And maybe -- just maybe -- they will all pan out to become the core of the Phillies' rotation for years. "It would be incredible if that happened," Eflin said. "I know we have a lot of work to do. But it would be a lot of fun."

Called Into The Commissioner’s Office – Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has not played in a Grapefruit League game since Friday. Howard missed the first few days because of the flu, which has been running through Phillies camp this spring, but the team said he missed Thursday's game against the Tigers at Bright House Field because of personal reasons. Sources said Howard met with MLB investigators about the Al Jazeera America report from late December that linked him to performance-enhancing substances. MLB said at the time that it would investigate the claims, which Howard has vehemently denied. In fact, Howard filed a defamation lawsuit in early January against the network, which announced a short time later that it will shut down at the end of April. "I haven't spoken to anybody as of yet," Howard said last month. "I know, I guess there's an investigation underway, so I'm sure that's probably going to take place." Howard also said last month he has no idea why his name is one of the names that appeared in the report. "I haven't the faintest idea," he said. "I really can't tell you. I really don't know." Howard is expected to be back in camp Friday.

Today In Phils History - The year before the team acquired Tom Hilgendorf from Cleveland in 1975, a Phillies legend was born... Happy Birthday Bobby Abreu! I should also mention that a happy birthday is in order for Art Ruble (1903), Jack Spring (1933), and Phil Bradley (1959). 

The Phillies have begun the spring with a 7-3-2 record (8-3-2 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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