Friday, March 18, 2016

Phils Fall To Rays As Roles Solidify

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Rays Route Phillies 6-1

Rays second baseman Logan Forsythe continues to hit the baseball well this spring. Forsythe hit a leadoff home run in the first inning off Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez in the Rays' 6-1 win over the Phillies at Bright House Field on Thursday. He entered the game hitting .500 (10-for-20) with five doubles, one RBI and six runs scored in eight games. It was the only run allowed in five innings by Velasquez, who is competing to be the Phillies' No. 5 starter. He pitched himself out of trouble in the fifth, when he allowed a single to Brandon Guyer and a ground-rule double to Nick Franklin, putting runners on second and third. Velasquez then struck out Luke Maile and Forsythe on fastballs to end the inning. "You know he has the good stuff," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said about Velasquez. "It all boils down to his pitchability. He certainly looked good when he got into trouble. That was key." Rays left-hander Matt Moore allowed one run in 4 2/3 innings, striking out eight in his third spring start. Ryan Howard doubled off him in the second before he hit a solo home run to right field in the fourth to tie the game. Howard is 3-for-6 with two doubles, one home run and two RBIs against left-handers this spring. "I feel like we're in a good place [at this point of the spring], like we've been able to get some conditioning in," Moore said. "Out there at the end of my outing, at the fourth and fifth innings, feeling like we're getting to the end of the pitch count, I'm just happy with the way we were able to get a good mix going." Moore said he wasn't really surprised by the strikeouts. "Just throwing the same pitches I normally throw," Moore said. "Sometimes they hit them sometimes they don't. ... My changeup and curveball, whenever I could get them below in the zone were pretty effective, I was doing a pretty good job of getting ahead in the count." Steve Pearce hit his first long ball in the sixth, and Richie Shaffer and Mikie Mahtook added home runs in the eighth inning for the Rays, both off Phillies left-hander Elvis Araujo.

  • Outfield prospect Cornelius Randolph, who the Phillies selected in the first round of the 2015 Draft, has had his right wrist immobilized recently after sliding awkwardly into a base. The Phillies said Randolph is OK. He is scheduled to begin hitting again Friday. Randolph is the No. 84 prospect in baseball, according to
  • Right-hander Yoervis Medina felt a pop in his right elbow Tuesday, forcing him to leave that game against the Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla. Medina said through a translator he has elbow inflammation and will miss the next two weeks.
  • Right-hander Frank Herrmann has not pitched this spring. He had a MRI on Tuesday, which revealed a right flexor strain.
  • Right-hander Michael Mariot remains sidelined after rolling his right ankle earlier this spring.

Phillies right-hander Charlie Morton faces his former team on Friday afternoon in a Grapefruit League game against the Pirates at Bright House Field at 1:05 p.m. The Phillies acquired Morton in an offseason trade, and he is a lock to make the rotation. The game can be seen on MLB.TV. Left-handers Adam Morgan and Brett Oberholtzer will pitch in a Minor League game at Carpenter Complex. Morgan and Oberholtzer are competing for the No. 5 job in the rotation.


Is The Rotation Complete? – Vince Velasquez showed Thursday why he might be the favorite to be the Phillies' No. 5 starter. The right-hander allowed three hits, one run, one walk and struck out seven in five innings in a 6-1 loss to the Rays in a Grapefruit League game at Bright House Field. Velasquez allowed a leadoff home run to Logan Forsythe in the first inning before retiring 13 of the next 14 batters he faced. He had runners on second and third with one out in the fifth, but struck out Luke Maile on a 95 mph fastball and Forsythe on a 93 mph fastball to end the inning. "You can't go wrong with putting up zeroes," Velasquez said of the competition to be the No. 5. "It's a good battle so far. They're putting up zeroes. This is the time -- it's really a grind right now. It's coming down to the wire." Velasquez's performances against Maile and Forsythe in the fifth impressed Phillies manager Pete Mackanin, who said the final decision on the fifth starter will be made late in camp. "The thing I liked about him the most was when he got into trouble with a couple guys on base, he softened up," Mackanin said. "He changed speeds. We talked about that early in the spring when I said he had to show a little finesse. He sure showed that today." "The changeup was money," Velasquez said. But it is Velasquez's power arm that made him the key piece in the Ken Giles trade in December. And it is that power arm that had Maile and Forsythe swinging and missing in a critical situation. "Later on in the season I may have a situation where I'm at 89-90 pitches, and I need to get out of it this inning," Velasquez said. "It's something where you have to bear down. You've got to win that battle." Velasquez has a 3.21 ERA (five earned runs in 14 innings) in three Grapefruit League starts. He has walked four and struck out 16. His competition is left-handers Adam Morgan and Brett Oberholtzer. Morgan has allowed two runs in nine innings this spring. Oberholtzer has pitched eight scoreless innings, but the Phillies like his versatility and might start him in the bullpen. Both are scheduled to pitch in a Minor League game Friday at Carpenter Complex. "It's probably going to be our toughest decision, really," Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure said. The winner is expected to join Jeremy Hellickson, Aaron Nola, Charlie Morton and Jerad Eickhoff in the rotation. Eickhoff allowed three hits, one run, two walks and struck out four in four innings in an instrasquad game at Carpenter Complex. He is scheduled to make his first Grapefruit League start Tuesday against the Twins in Clearwater. He had been sidelined earlier this spring because of a fractured right thumb and slowed lately because of a blister on his foot. "Felt good," Eickhoff said. "I'm just happy to be walking over here in one piece this time." Eickhoff believes he still has time to be ready to join the rotation come Opening Day. "Every time I'm on the mound I feel better each time and I think that's key, just make steps in the right direction," he said. "That's all I can ask for."

Frontrunner For Closer – The Phillies still need a closer, but they could be closer to finding one. The club has 13 Grapefruit League games remaining following Thursday's 6-1 loss to the Rays at Bright House Field. Plenty of things can happen in that time, but some candidates have emerged from the pack. Right-hander Andrew Bailey could be the frontrunner. He has allowed one hit and struck out five in four scoreless innings. He struck out the side Tuesday against the Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla. "Bailey has done it before, so just talking about it, I would lean more towards looking at him as the guy, only because he's done it before and had success," pitching coach Bob McClure said. "But it could change. It could change. I'm kind of up in the air on it a little bit." McClure coached Bailey in Boston in 2012, but the righty had shoulder issues then. "He's much improved since then," McClure said. "I might have to pitch him in a Minor League game. He's been so efficient." McClure also mentioned another interesting candidate: right-hander Dalier Hinojosa. He has thrown the ball very well in camp, allowing two hits, one walk and striking out seven in five scoreless innings. He went 2-0 with a 0.78 ERA in 18 appearances last season after the Phillies claimed him off waivers from Boston in July. "Hinojosa has showed me that he might be able to do it," McClure said. "He has an out pitch. He gets righties and lefties, so he'd definitely be somebody I'd look at in that role, too." David Hernandez entered camp the favorite because the Phillies signed him to a $3.9 million contract in December, making him the only free agent they signed to a Major League contract. But Hernandez has been slowed because of right triceps tendinitis. He could pitch in his first Grapefruit League since March 1 on Saturday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin. Hernandez still has time to get ready for the season, but he might not have long enough to earn the closer's job. The Phillies figure to carry seven pitchers in the bullpen. Bailey, Hinojosa, Hernandez, Edward Mujica, Brett Oberholtzer and Jeanmar Gomez are strong choices for the first six spots. Rule 5 Draft pick Daniel Stumpf could have the edge for the final spot. Because Stumpf is a Rule 5 pick, the Phillies have plenty of incentive to keep him on the roster and give him additional evaluation during the season. The other left-handers in camp can open the season in the Minor Leagues without risk of being lost. Bobby LaFromboise has pitched well. He is out of options, but because he signed a Minor League contract he can open the season in Triple-A. Left-hander James Russell also is on a Minor League contract. He has a June 1 out clause, which again gives the Phillies further time to evaluate him. Elvis Araujo and Mario Hollands, who is behind schedule following Tommy John surgery last year, both have options remaining. "We've got plenty of time to see more of them," McClure said of his bullpen candidates.

Howard Working On Lefties – Ryan Howard flashed a smile Thursday afternoon at Bright House Field. He had doubled and homered earlier against Rays left-hander Matt Moore in a 6-1 loss. Howard is 3-for-6 with two doubles, one home run, two RBIs and one strikeout against lefties this spring. That is noteworthy because, well, Howard's ability to hit left-handers has been a bit of a topic lately. "I don't know what you're talking about," Howard said. "No clue." Of course, he is very aware of the talk and where he stands. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has said Howard will have to hit lefties to earn playing time against them this season. At the moment Howard, who hit a 0-2 pitch for his homer in the fourth, and Darin Ruf could platoon at first base. "You've got to see them in order to be able to hit them and make adjustments against them," Howard said. "Spring Training is a great time to be able to do that and work on what you need to work on. It's tough, you may get 10 at-bats against lefties over the course of Spring Training. You try to take them as much as you can. You're going to see them during the season, coming out of the bullpen and sometimes as starters as well." Howard had a .418 OPS in 107 plate appearances against lefties last season. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, his OPS against lefties would have been the lowest in baseball by 47 points. Conversely, Ruf's 1.107 OPS against lefties would have tied Nelson Cruz for the best mark in baseball, if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. "It's good to see," Mackanin said of Howard. "I think he's rising to the challenge. We'll continue to get a look at that for the rest of the spring." Howard, who is 5-for-25 overall this spring, is in good spirts compared to last season. He acknowledged as much. "This camp for me … I just came back trying to have fun," Howard said. "Smile again. Just putting in the work, trusting everything I was doing this offseason, just trying to relay it onto the field."

Opening Day In Question – It seems less and less likely Cody Asche will be ready to play by Opening Day. Asche remains sidelined with a strained right oblique, although he is progressing. He played four innings in left field during an intrasquad game on Thursday at Carpenter Complex. He had no balls hit his way and did not hit. "I'm about as anxious as anybody to return," Asche said. "It's been no fun. But at the same time you've got to realize -- take your time with it. Do it once and do right." Asche hopes to face live pitching in batting practice at some point over the next couple days. From there, he will need to hit on the field before he plays in a Grapefruit League game. The Phillies have 13 games remaining before they head to Philadelphia to play three exhibition games before Opening Day. Asche could start the season on the disabled list and get more plate appearances in Florida before he rejoins the team. "I'll let them decide if they deem me ready or not," Asche said. "I'm sure they'll act in the best interest of me. I've just got to trust them."

Today In Phils History - It was on this day that the Phillies promoted Ed Wade to the GM position... the rest, unfortunately, is history. It is also the birthday of Garvin Hamner who was born on this day in 1924. 

The Phillies have begun the spring with an 11-5-2 record (12-5-2 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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