Thursday, March 10, 2016

Phillies Sweep Split Squad Matchups

EXHIBITION GAME 1 RECAP: Phillies Obliterate Orioles 8-4

Phillies first baseman Darin Ruf made the case for more playing time Wednesday against the Orioles at Bright House Field. Ruf hit a two-run home run in the first inning against Orioles right-hander Yovani Gallardo and then blasted a solo homer in the fourth against former Phillies righty Vance Worley in an 8-4 victory. Ruf hit three home runs in a span of five at-bats dating to Tuesday's game against the Pirates. "Right now he's doing everything," Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa said about Ruf. "He's playing a good first base. He's swinging the bat well. He's swinging at strikes. We'll see what happens." Gallardo made his first start of the spring since signing a two-year contract with an option last month. He allowed four hits and three runs in two innings as the Orioles fell to 0-9-1 in Grapefruit League play. Manny Machado hit a two-run homer against Phillies right-hander Alec Asher in the third inning. The Phillies improved to 7-3-1. Odubel Herrera collected two RBIs and Taylor Featherston knocked in one run for the Phillies. Xavier Avery belted a two-run homer for the Orioles in the eighth inning.

EXHIBITION GAME 2 RECAP: Phillies Topple Twins 4-2

Catcher Cameron Rupp belted two solo homers to help lead the split-squad Phillies to a 4-2 win over the Twins on Wednesday at Hammond Stadium. Rupp's first homer came in the third inning off lefty Tommy Milone, and he connected on another blast in the fifth against reliever Casey Fien. It was the first two homers for Rupp, who is hitting .500 (5-for-10) this spring. The Phillies used a trio of top pitching prospects, as right-hander Zach Eflin, ranked as Philadelphia's No. 13 prospect by, started and gave up one run on four hits over three innings with two strikeouts. The lone run he allowed came in the second on an RBI single from Twins catcher Juan Centeno. Fellow right-hander Jake Thompson, ranked as the Phillies' No. 2 prospect, also saw action and was impressive, tossing three scoreless frames. He scattered five hits and struck out one. Righty Mark Appel, ranked as the club's No. 4 prospect, was the last to see action, and he struck out three in two innings. He allowed an unearned run in the seventh, keyed by a throwing error from third baseman Angelys Nina. Twins second baseman Buck Britton plated the run with an RBI groundout. Milone started for the Twins, surrendering one run on the homer from Rupp in the third. He was otherwise solid, as it was the only hit he gave up in his three innings of work. He struck out three. "The fastball command was good and I think that's what started it all," Milone said. "And then the changeup. Those were the two pitches that made a difference today." Designated hitter Byung Ho Park went 2-for-3 for the Twins, a day after he hit his second homer of the spring. First baseman Joe Mauer, wearing sunglasses at the plate for the second time this spring to help with vision problems stemming from his 2013 concussion, went 1-for-2 with a single.

The Phillies host the Tigers at 1:05 p.m. ET on Thursday at Bright House Field on MLB.TV. Right-hander Aaron Nola is scheduled to make his second Grapefruit League start of the spring. Nola is expected to start Opening Day or the second game of the season, which would put him in line to start the home opener on April 11 against the Padres at Citizens Bank Park.


Making His Case At First Base – Everybody knows Darin Ruf can hit left-handed pitching. But he sure looked comfortable against right-handed pitchers Wednesday in an 8-4 victory over the Orioles at Bright House Field. Ruf hit a two-run homer in the first inning against Orioles right-hander Yovani Gallardo and then belted a solo homer in the fourth against former Phillies righty Vance Worley. Ruf hit three homers in the span of five at-bats, dating to Tuesday's game against the Pirates. "It's still early," Ruf said. "These stats will be erased at the end of the month. You want to swing the bat well. You want to earn a spot on the team. But it's what you do from April to October that really matters." Ruf, whose homer Tuesday came against Pirates lefty Jon Niese, entered Spring Training expecting to see plenty of playing time against left-handers. His 1.107 OPS against them in 2015 would have tied Nelson Cruz for the best mark in baseball if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. Ruf's .946 OPS against lefties the past four seasons would rank 13th out of 311 players with 250 or more plate appearances against them. Ruf has posted a .660 OPS in 456 career plate appearances against right-handers, which is why Phillies manager Pete Mackanin thinks it makes sense for the Phillies to platoon Ruf and Ryan Howard at first base. As much as Howard has struggled against righties in recent seasons, he had an .802 OPS against them last year. He has a .940 OPS against them in his career. "I just love to be out there playing and hitting and helping my team win," Ruf said about the possible platoon, which is a hot topic in Philadelphia. "Whether that's facing lefties, righties or whoever, I just want to embrace my role, do as well in it as I can. I feel like if you're doing well in your role, you can only increase that role. You can earn yourself more at-bats by doing well with the playing time you're getting." Ruf said he entered this spring more comfortable than perhaps he has been in the past. He credited his offseason hitting program with former big leaguer Dwayne Hosey in Omaha, Neb., for that. "I spent a lot of time this offseason working and refining an approach at the plate," Ruf said. "Over the last two or three years, I've had a lot of people tell me to do different things, try this, try that. I feel like in the offseason I didn't really have a solid plan in place [in the past]. This year, I tried to solidify something in the offseason, work on it for a while, so when I show up it is something I'm going to hopefully stick with for a while." Ruf said that program included incorporating his lower body more, finding a better balance as he hits. Perhaps it will help him enjoy more success against righties. If he does, Mackanin could have a tougher decision on his hands. "Ruf's in a pretty good groove," said Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa, who managed the team with Mackanin managing a split squad in Fort Myers. "He looks very comfortable. He's swinging the bat with a lot of confidence. What comes first? I don't know."

Outside Chance For Asher – Phillies right-hander Alec Asher started in place of Jeremy Hellickson, who got scratched because of the flu. Asher allowed three hits, two runs and struck out five in three innings. He allowed a two-run home run to Manny Machado in the third. Asher is competing for a job in the Phillies' rotation. He went 0-6 with a 9.31 ERA in seven starts last season, so he will have to really prove himself against other candidates like Vincent Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer and Adam Morgan. But Asher hopes his two-seam fastball helps his cause. The pitch has been a focus this spring. "I threw a lot of those today and I felt like they were working for the most part," Asher said. "Velocity only gets you so far. It was time to start working on something that moves a little bit. It's definitely a weapon that I would like to add."

Can Goeddel Step Up? – Can the Phillies come up big in back-to-back Rule 5 Drafts? The question became more important following outfielder Aaron Altherr's surgery Wednesday in Philadelphia to repair a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist. Altherr, who tweeted the surgery went well, is expected to miss four to six months. But his absence leaves a significant hole in the Phillies' young and unproven outfield, creating the possibility they could have two Rule 5 Draft picks in their Opening Day lineup. "I'm disappointed," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Wednesday. "This would be a good year for [Altherr] to establish himself. He's an unproven outfielder and unproven Major League player -- this would have been an ideal year for him to do that. Now he's set back probably a year, which I'm not happy about." Enter Tyler Goeddel, who the Phillies selected with the first overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft in December. The Phillies figured he could make the team as a fourth or fifth outfielder, but he could be pushed into regular playing time, either as an everyday player on in a platoon with Cody Asche. "If they need me to play right field or whatever, I'll be ready," Goeddel said. "I'm going to work hard out there, and hopefully the results will keep producing and make the decision tough on them." Odubel Herrera, who the Phillies selected in the Rule 5 Draft in December 2014, and Peter Bourjos are locks to be in the Opening Day lineup, but the Phillies have few options outside of Goeddel and Asche to be the team's third outfielder. Other outfielders in camp include David Lough, Darnell Sweeney, Cedric Hunter, Nick Williams and Roman Quinn. Top prospects Williams and Quinn will open the season in the Minor Leagues. Infielders like Emmanuel Burriss and Ryan Jackson have outfield experience. First basemen Darin Ruf and Brock Stassi have played in the outfield, too. But Mackanin wants to keep his first basemen where they are. "The thing we all wanted to see out in the outfield was better coverage," Mackanin said. "Speed. Legitimate outfielders. To experiment with [Stassi], who is not a legitimate outfielder, is something I'd rather not do. "That being said, Lough and Hunter are still in the picture. They cover ground. They're good outfielders. Burriss and Jackson can play anywhere. Those will all figure into it." Of course, the Phillies could find help outside the organization. They have the first priority on the waiver wire through the end of April, so if somebody they like is released, they will have a shot at him. Jeff Francoeur could be available at a cheap price. He is in Braves camp on a Minor League contract, but he is not expected to make the team. That said, the Phillies had the opportunity to sign him to a Minor League contract in the offseason and were not interested. But losing Altherr is clearly a blow because the Phillies wanted to see what they have in him. They also needed him for some of the pop in his bat. Altherr is not a power hitter, but he posted an .827 OPS in 161 plate appearances last year. "We knew that going in," Mackanin said about the team's lack of power. "We're aware of that. If this is what we've got, we'll figure out a way to manufacture runs or utilize our speed or things like that. As a manager, you always adapt to the players you have. If you have the Toronto Blue Jays, you just let them hit home runs." It would help if the Phillies get lucky in consecutive Rule 5 Drafts. Goeddel has played well so far. He entered Wednesday's split-squad games hitting .333 (6-for-18) with two doubles and three RBIs in six games. "The results I've gotten so far have been pretty good," Goeddel said. "I feel really comfortable at the plate right now. There are still a couple of things I'm working on, but overall I feel good. Hopefully, I can keep it going."

Altherr Optimistic About Return – The Phillies are hopeful Aaron Altherr can rejoin the team in as little as four months. He had surgery Wednesday morning in Philadelphia to repair a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist. Altherr tweeted afterward, "Had successful surgery this morning and ready to start the rehab process and get back better and stronger than ever!" Altherr is not the first player to have surgery to repair what is known medically as the extensor carpi ulnaris retinaculum. But many notable players who have had the surgery had it midway through the season or at the end of the season, giving them the entire offseason to recuperate. Altherr won't have that luxury. He plans to play again this year. Here is a look at a few of the players to have had the injury: Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira tried to play through the injury early in 2013 before having surgery that July. He returned to the Yankees' lineup in April 2014, but posted the lowest OPS (.711) of his career. He returned to form (.906 OPS) last year. Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista had surgery in August 2012. He returned by Opening Day 2013, but posted his lowest OPS in four seasons (.856) before returning to form in 2014 (.928 OPS). Rays outfielder Sam Fuld had surgery on April 3, 2012, giving him a similar timeline as Altherr. He returned July 24. Fuld originally injured himself late in 2011, but tried rest and rehab in the offseason. He aggravated the wrist in March 2012. Fuld's unsuccessful attempt at rehab convinced Bautista to have his surgery when he did. Mark DeRosa had surgery in October 2009, but he called his procedure a "total failure." He played only 73 games with the Giants in 2010-11. Rickie Weeks had surgery in May 2009. He returned the following season, posting a career-high .830 OPS. Pat Burrell suffered the same injury in August 2004 and had been scheduled for surgery two weeks later. But Burrell changed his mind after a second opinion. He missed one month. He also had one of the best seasons of his career in 2005, hitting .281 with 32 home runs, 117 RBIs and an .892 OPS.

Today In Phils History - The Phillies took a long overdue stand (with pressure from a picketing threat from the NAACP) on this day in 1962 when they left the Jack Tar hotel and moved to Rocky Point because it did not allow black guests (Reuben Amaro, Tony Taylor, Tony Gonzalez, Ted Savage, and Marcellino Lopez had been staying in private homes, while Wes Covington owned his own home in the area). 6 years later, Richie Allen finally returned to spring training after an unexcused 2 day absence from the team to seek medical advice on his injured hand. And I can't believe that it has already been 5 years since the Phillies signed manager Charlie Manuel to a 2-year extension. Lastly, let us remember a couple of frequently forgotten pitchers, Wayne Twitchell (1948) and Mike Timlin (1966) who are celebrating birthdays today. 

The Phillies have begun the spring with a 7-3-1 record (8-3-1 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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