Saturday, March 5, 2016

Phillies Displaying Healthy Amount Of Offense

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phillies Blast Braves 12-11

Maikel Franco hit a three-run homer during a seven-run second inning before Cedric Hunter's three-run, walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth of Friday's 12-11 Grapefruit League win over the Braves at Bright House Field. Franco homered for the second straight day, and he added an RBI single in the fourth, as the Phillies built a 9-2 lead after four innings. Hunter, a non-roster invitee who was released by the Braves at the end of last season, was in the game because he replaced Aaron Altherr in the top of the second. Altherr injured his left wrist diving for a line drive to right hit by Ender Inciarte leading off the game. "You know, that was my team from last year," Hunter said. "I'm over here now and it just kind of feels good to do it the right way with the team we've got here. We put together some good at bats, battled through some tough innings and ended up with the win." The Braves collected 14 hits and drew eight walks to rally in the final two innings, the last two runs coming in on a Darnell Sweeney throwing error in the top of the ninth to give Atlanta an 11-9 lead. However, Hunter hit a towering drive over the wall in right field in the bottom half of the inning. Braves right-hander Lucas Sims, Atlanta's top Draft pick in 2012, started and pitched around a walk in a scoreless first inning. However, he walked two more and gave up three hits while facing seven batters in the second. The final two runs of the Phillies' seven-run inning were charged to right-hander Victor Mateo, who surrendered Franco's homer. Sims is likely to begin the 2016 season at Double-A Mississippi. Veteran right-hander Jeremy Hellickson had early trouble commanding his fastball and gave up back-to-back doubles to Inciarte and Erick Aybar to start the game. He then begin relying more on his changeup and retired the final six batters he faced, five on strikeouts. Hellickson, acquired from the Diamondbacks during the offseason, is in the running to be the Phillies' Opening Day starter. Aybar finished 3-for-3 and Matt Kennelly added a two-run single in the Braves' four-run eighth. "It's always good to win a game, but I'm not real pleased with a lot of things," said Phillies manager Pete Mackanin. "We always talk about pitching and defense. That's how you win games. And the pitching and defense kind of let us down late in the game. I'm not going to be happy about that. But we won so we're going to move on and learn from our mistakes."

  • Rightfielder Aaron Altherr had to leave the game in the second inning when he jammed his left wrist while trying to make a diving catch of a line drive hit by Braves centerfielder Ender Inciarte leading off the game. "I can't say it looked real bad, but we'll wait and see," Mackanin said.
  • First baseman Ryan Howard left the game after two at bats. He was feeling the effects of the flu bug that's been sweeping through the clubhouse this spring.
  • Fans have until 5 p.m. ET on Monday to vote for which player, coach or manager will be added to the Phillies Wall of Fame. The top five choices will form the official ballot for the Wall of Fame Selection Committee. Last year, Pat Burrell became the 36th alumni member to be honored. Click here to participate.

Right-hander Aaron Nola, who also is vying to be the Phillies' Opening Day starter despite having just 13 career Major League starts, will make his Grapefruit League debut in Saturday's game against the Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 1:07 p.m. ET on MLB.TV. Nola, the 23-year-old who was the Phillies' first-round Draft pick out of LSU in 2014, went 6-2 with a 3.59 earned run average as a rookie last season.


Franco Heating Up – Third baseman Maikel Franco played well enough after being called up last season to start being included in the National League Rookie of the Year conversation. A broken wrist in August short-circuited his chances. He's a key piece to the Phillies' rebuilding plan, though, which is why manager Pete Mackanin is so happy to see Franco off to such a hot start this spring. Franco drove in four runs in Friday's 12-11 Grapefruit League win over the Braves at Bright House Field, including his second home run of the spring. "The success he had last year helped him gain confidence," Mackanin said. "When you're a young player and you're in big league camp all of a sudden, you have to get your feet on the ground. You have to feel good about yourself and feel like you belong in the big leagues. Now he knows he belongs in the big leagues. And he's just going to grow from there and get better and better." Said Franco: "[My confidence level is] really good, because that's what I've been working for, to feel comfortable at the plate. And now I feel comfortable and just want to keep doing that. Every day, try to do my job. [Being injured last year was] a little bit frustrating. But I'm healthy, my wrist is getting better. My wrist is 100 percent. Now I'm just trying to do my workouts and what I have to do to get better every single day." The last two years, Franco has struggled in the spring. He was determined to avoid that this year. "That's what I've been working for -- come in early, do my program, do my routine in the batting cage. Be prepared for the game. Now it happened and now I'm happy," he said. "I've gotten focused, seeing the ball pretty good and just trying to go out there and enjoy the game and win."

Hellickson Wants The Ball On Opening Day – The Phillies haven't named their Opening Day starter yet. The choice seems to boil down to Aaron Nola, who was pitching for LSU two years ago, and Jeremy Hellickson, who has more than five years of big league service time. Hellickson made his pitch against the Braves on Friday at Bright House Field. After giving up back-to-back doubles to Ender Inciarte and Erick Aybar to open the game, he retired the next six batters he faced, five of them on strikeouts as the Phillies went on to a 12-11 victory. "He knows how to pitch," said manager Pete Mackanin. "He changed speeds, he hit spots. He wasn't happy when he gave up that run, even in Spring Training, which we like to see. " The Phillies have amassed a lot of good young arms, but acquired Hellickson from the Diamondbacks (and signed Charlie Morton as a free agent) to add some veteran stability to the rotation. "After the first couple of batters, I felt sharp," Hellickson said. "My fastball command was a little shaky. But after those first couple of batters I got locked in a little bit, started pitching backwards. The off-speed stuff was pretty good today. I've just got to work on the fastball command a little more. "I think I threw all my pitches today. As I said, the fastball command was a little shaky. It just wasn't there today. So I just kind of went away from that early and worked on my off-speed stuff. Last year I tried to establish my fastball early in games. Games like this I probably would have tried to keep forcing it instead of going to my off-speed early. I'm going to try to get back to more changeups, more curveballs this year."

Goeddel Proving He Was Worth The Pick – Manager Pete Mackanin heard Tyler Goeddel was pretty good even before the Phillies took the outfielder with the first pick in the Rule 5 draft last December at the Winter Meetings. He heard good things about the two hits Goeddel got against the Yankees in a split squad game in Tampa on Thursday while he was managing the squad that stayed behind to play the Astros. He finally got to see it for himself on Friday when the 23-year-old outfielder whacked a two-run double in a 12-11 win over the Braves at Bright House Field. "At the Winter Meetings, his name came up quite a bit, and not just from our people in our room. Friends of mine on different teams mentioned how much they liked him. Scouts that I knew told me he was a pretty good-looking player," Mackanin said. "And I had heard he looked really good on [Thursday.] This was my first chance to see him, and I like him a lot." In a precautionary move, Goeddel left the game after being hit on the helmet by an off-speed pitch in the sixth. "I feel good. They checked me out and everything's fine," he said. Goeddel, who was left unprotected by Tampa Bay after batting .279 with a .783 OPS for Double-A Montgomery last season, will get a long look this spring. But he also wants to make a good first impression. "At the same time, I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I want to show them what I can do. So I'm trying to come out every day and do something to help the team, whether it's in the batter's box or out on defense. I'm just trying to compete." And, yes, he was aware that this was the first time he was playing in front of Mackanin. "A little bit," he said. "I'm sure he reads the reports. But obviously I want to play well in front of Pete and the rest of the staff. It was nice to get a hit in front of him for sure." Goeddel also has an interesting back story. His father, David, is a legend in the biotechnology industry. While at Genentech, he successfully used genetic engineering to make bacteria create synthetic human insulin, human growth hormone for use in therapeutic medicine. Later he co-founded a company, Tularik, in 1991, that sold for $1.3 billion in 2004. "He's a pretty smart guy," Goeddel said. "Human growth hormone is a hormone [that occurs naturally] in your body. He was able to clone it so people who need more can take it. It's funny with all the baseball HGH stuff going on. It's definitely ironic, being in professional baseball with all that stuff going on." His brother also played baseball at UCLA. As a result, their father has taken more interest in the sport. "Ever since we got to high school he's been part of the baseball craze. Reads everything on it. Tries to learn as much about the game as he can so he can help us," Goeddel said. "At this point he knows as much about baseball as any dad I know. He's been a great help for me growing up with mental stuff, physical stuff. He studies swings. He helps me with everything. It's great."

Today In Phils History - The 1993 World Series could have been quite interesting if Elizabeth Crooks' letter of support (for which she was awarded a $100 War Bond on this day in 1944) persuaded more fans to adopt the teams new nickname, the Blue Jays. The 1980 season could have ended differently for the Phillies had they gained more support when the players (by a vote of 40-0) voted to call a strike against owners, the first team to approve the strike. Speaking of strikes, in 1995 the replacement Phillies won their exhibition opener thanks to former major leaguer Jeff Stone who went 2-2 with a walk an hit by pitch in the leadoff spot. The following season provided much better news for the Phillies when former pitcher (and Senator) Jim Bunning was elected (along with Orioles manager Earl Weaver) to the Hall of Fame by the veteran's committee. Another manager was honored, but in quite a different way, two years ago when the Phillies and Braves honored Jim Fregosi who had passed away the previous week.  Birthdays today include a legend from the early days of baseball, Sam Thompson, who was born on this day in 1960 and the other birthdays are coming out of the bullpen in Kent Tekulve (1947) and Ryan Franklin (1973). 

The Phillies have begun the spring with a 2-2-1 record (3-2-1 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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