Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Phillies Showed Some Promise In Spring Opener

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Blue Jays Defeat Phillies 5-3

Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman is expected to be the Opening Day starter in April, and he took his first step toward that in Tuesday's Grapefruit League opener at Bright House Field. Stroman allowed three hits and two runs in two innings in a 5-3 victory. "My body felt unreal, my knee felt great," said Stroman, who missed most of last year following surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee. "My arm felt pretty good, too. My body is in a good position to go out there every fifth day now and get my work in." Blue Jays shortstop Darwin Barney, who is expected to be a backup infielder, went 3-for-3 with a pair of two-run doubles in the game's first three innings and he drove in a fifth run with a single in the fifth. Phillies right-hander Severino Gonzalez, who is expected to open the season in the Minor Leagues, allowed a two-out double to Barney in the first inning to give Toronto a 2-0 lead. Carlos Ruiz tied the score in the second with a two-out single to center. J.P. Arencibia went 2-for-3 and homered in the fourth to make it 4-3. "He's swinging the bat well," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said of Ruiz. "He's trying to stay on top of the ball. He's been having some good swings lately. It was good to see."

The Phils will take a short drive to Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Fla., to play the Blue Jays on Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Right-hander David Buchanan gets the start as right-hander Vincent Velasquez and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer also are scheduled to pitch. The Phillies acquired Velasquez and Oberholtzer in the Ken Giles trade with Houston.


Looking To Nail Down The Ninth – Phillies right-hander David Hernandez does not remember why the Orioles asked him to close against the Yankees on June 10, 2010. Hernandez had made just 34 career appearances to that point. But he does remember facing a talented lineup and picking up the final out of his first career save on a groundout at Yankee Stadium. It turns out Hernandez's memory is pretty good. He walked a batter with one out in the ninth before getting Derek Jeter to fly out to right field and Nick Swisher to ground out to second base to end the game. "Ever since then it's like, wow, that's pretty cool," Hernandez said after pitching a scoreless inning on Tuesday afternoon in a 5-3 loss to the Blue Jays in the Grapefruit League opener at Bright House Field. Hernandez, 30, hopes to have more of those high-adrenaline moments this season. He entered Spring Training a favorite to be the Phillies' closer with Ken Giles traded to Houston in December. Hernandez signed a one-year, $3.9 million contract shortly before the Giles trade became official. The Phils told Hernandez that he would be their setup man, but he also could have an opportunity to close. Obviously, the Phillies knew they planned to trade Giles. It is an opportunity Hernandez has wanted for some time. He has 19 career saves, but he has never held the closer's job on a full-time basis. "That's always been one of my goals once I got thrown into the bullpen," Hernandez said. "I've had the stuff. It just comes down to helping your team and doing what you can with whatever role you have down there. It's something I look forward to." Manager Pete Mackanin said earlier this spring that not every pitcher in camp wants to close, but Hernandez is not one of them. "It's the anticipation of the phone ringing," said Hernandez, explaining why he loves to close. "That gets your heartrate going. And if you're the closer, you know it's for you. Everything turns up a little bit in the ninth inning. The fans get a little louder. The batters are locking in a little bit more because it's their last at-bat. They're trying to make a push to take the lead or tie the game. That brings the best out of me and I'm pretty sure other closers that go out there." Hernandez's competition to close includes non-roster invitees Andrew Bailey, Edward Mujica and Ernesto Frieri. Luis Garcia is on the 40-man roster. Garcia has closer's stuff, but he could be better suited as a setup man. But Hernandez is the favorite because he is the only free agent the Phillies signed to a Major League contract in the offseason. Interestingly, Hernandez told his agent beforehand that he preferred to play for a West Coast team that has Spring Training in Arizona. Hernandez also said he preferred to play for a postseason contender He clearly didn't check off those boxes with the Phillies, but he said he is happy with his situation. "We've got a lot of good, young players," Hernandez said. "Coming up with the Orioles, we struggled. I was just told by veterans, one day you may be on a team that may struggle and you've got to make sure the rookies and younger guys don't get too down on themselves. It's such a learning curve. It's such a process to find success. "You have your [Mike] Trouts, who hit .330 right away. But it's not always going to be like that. It's something you have to reinforce to the younger guys. You're going to take your lumps, but you have to have the mentality to bounce back and work to get better." Hernandez hopes to pass along that knowledge to the team's younger players during the season. And, if he gets the opportunity, he will pick up some saves along the way.

Showing Some Defensive Promise – It is the little things that Phillies manager Pete Mackanin noticed in the Grapefruit League opener on Tuesday at Bright House Field. Odubel Herrera made a nice catch on a sinking line drive in center field in the fifth inning of a 5-3 loss to the Blue Jays. Aaron Altherr threw out a runner at the plate to end the fifth. And Maikel Franco showed some hustle and reached second base on an error by Blue Jays left fielder Jon Berti in the sixth. The Phillies are keeping Herrera in center, despite the offseason arrival of Peter Bourjos. Altherr is trying to earn regular playing time as one of the corner outfielders. And the team simply wants to take advantage of any opportunities it can on offense. "That's the kind of thing we're looking for and get everybody to do," Mackanin said of Franco's play. Go the distance: The Phillies want to be careful with their young starters this season, but they don't want to baby them either. Mackanin said starters like Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and possibly others could pitch 200 innings this season, if necessary. No, the other J.P.: Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford is not the only J.P. in camp. J.P. Arencibia has played 467 games and hit 80 home runs in his six-year career. He went 2-for-3 with one home run on Tuesday, providing much of the Phillies' offense. The Phillies signed Arencibia to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training in December. He figures to provide catching depth in the event something happens to Carlos Ruiz or Cameron Rupp. Arencibia served as the DH on Tuesday. "It's funny," Mackanin said, "when we were exchanging lineups, [Blue Jays manager John] Gibbons came up to shake my hand. Gibby looked at [Arencibia] and said, 'You're DHing?' Yeah, he swung the bat well." Asche still mending: Outfielder Cody Asche remains sidelined with a sore oblique. Mackanin said Asche is day to day and could begin some outfield work on Wednesday. "He needs to get in there and start swinging the bat," Mackanin said. "He's kind of down in the dumps right now because he can't get on the field."

The Dangers Of The BP Homer – The Home Run Derby is still a full four months away, but MLB's biggest sluggers have been showcasing their extreme power early in Spring Training by belting home runs into stadium parking lots and dinging up cars. Nelson Cruz did it. Russell Martin did it. Kyle Schwarber did it twice. And now Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco has gotten in on the fun, but Freddy Galvis probably isn't so thrilled about that ... considering it was his windshield that was smashed. "Franco got me," Galvis said with a smile, referring to his teammate Maikel Franco. Fortunately, he also said that insurance will cover the damage. This isn't the first time a baseball has wrecked a vehicle parked outside the Phillies' clubhouse. Parking is a hazard as balls from Bright House Field and from the Carpenter Complex can land there easily. But parking there is a practice started long ago by veterans. "I don't know, man," Galvis said when asked why players park there. "We'll have to move down, all the way to center field. You've got to." The kicker here is that Galvis wasn't even parked in his designated parking spot.

The Dick Allen Debate Continues – During the 2014 Winter Meetings in San Diego, the Golden Era Committee met to consider a list of candidates for the Hall of Fame. When the results were announced, Dick Allen (and former Twins great Tony Oliva) had fallen one vote short. That brought renewed attention to one of the most prodigious sluggers in history. Also one of the most complex, enigmatic and controversial. "God Almighty Hisself: The Life and Legacy of Dick Allen" by Villanova law professor Mitchell Nathanson is the first biography of the 1964 National League Rookie of the Year Award winner and the 1972 American League Most Valuable Player Award winner. It's also a work of impressive scholarship and gracious prose that attempts to untangle the myth from the reality and, even more ambitiously, to explain why such a magnificently talented player clashed repeatedly with front office personnel, managers, the media and fans throughout his career. Even the title hints at the paradox. At first glance, it appears to be a description of Allen's formidable skills. Instead, it is a quote from one of his vexed managers, George Myatt of the Phillies: "I believe God Almighty Hisself would have trouble handling Richie Allen." Nathanson begins by establishing a counterintuitive fact, that Allen was shy and, in some ways, insecure. What was often viewed as moodiness by those who didn't know him well was simply a function of being uncomfortable in the spotlight. Partly as a result, Allen developed a reputation for being lazy. Even his managers and coaches didn't know he often got his work in early in the morning or even away from the park because he was more at ease when nobody was watching. Circumstances exacerbated Allen's troubles. He signed with the Phillies, the last team in the league to integrate, an organization that had never had an African-American superstar. In 1964, Allen was farmed out to the organization's Triple-A affiliate in Little Rock, Ark., which was in the throes of early integration. Along the way, Allen became distrustful of the entire structure of pre-free agency baseball. It's probably not surprising that he discerned a plantation mentality. In fact, there's a remarkable passage in which Phillies owner Bob Carpenter attempts to negotiate with Allen by explaining that players were property controlled by management. What didn't register at the time was that he viewed that as an issue for all players, black and white. Allen was also an individualist at a time when conformity was the norm, both in baseball and society at large. And he never forgot a slight. His relationship with the Phillies began to sour even before he made his Major League debut, when the team left him vulnerable to a waiver claim. That, the constant position changes and the contract battles represented disrespect. When Allen stood up for himself, he was fined and suspended, which only reinforced his sense of being treated unfairly. It's all here. The race riot outside Connie Mack Stadium in North Philadelphia in August 1964 that turned many fans against Allen, even though he was largely apolitical. The fight with teammate Frank Thomas that stoked resentment when the older white player, who hit him with a bat, was released. Writing cryptic messages to booing fans in the infield dirt. Allen's willingness to push the limits by skipping batting practice or even games, the disappearances, the resulting trades, the turmoil that seemed to follow wherever he went. Was Allen a malcontent or just ahead of his time? The tendency here is to view the carefully collected anecdotal evidence as an explanation rather than an excuse for his behavior. Allen certainly could have helped himself by being more willing to get along. Instead, he remained true to himself and stoically accepted the consequences. There's a certain nobility to that. Unsurprisingly, Allen declined to be interviewed for the book, just as he refused to campaign for the Hall of Fame. But he wrote an autobiography, and there is a mountain of source material, all buttressed by followup interviews with dozens who followed his career closely. It's worth noting that one of those, respected former Philadelphia Daily News columnist Stan Hochman, pushed hard for Allen's election by the Golden Era Committee. Allen is eligible to be considered for the Hall of Fame again in 2017. The hunch here is that if each of the electors reads this book, he will make it easily this time.

Today In Phils History - Time to return from the winter slumber. On this day, the Phillies have opened camp in three separate locations throughout their history In Hot Springs, Arkansas (1911), Leesburg, Florida (1922), and Miami Beach, Florida (1946) the latter of the three being the last year that they would hold spring training somewhere other than Clearwater. Today is also the birthday of two former All Stars who played for the Phillies in Jim Konstanty (1917) and Ron Gant (1965).

The Phillies have begun the spring with a 0-1 record (1-1 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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