Monday, March 14, 2016

Pitching Continues Phils Spring Dominance

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phils Blank Bombers 3-0

Ryan Howard and Cesar Hernandez drove in runs to chase CC Sabathia early and the Phillies held on for a 3-0 Grapefruit League victory over the Yankees on Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Philadelphia left-hander Adam Morgan blanked the Yankees on one hit over four innings, marking his third start of the spring. Morgan walked one and struck out two. "It's always encouraging when you throw good," Morgan said. "But you can't get too high, you can't get too low. So right now, I'm just staying the course." New York committed three errors behind Sabathia, including one by the veteran hurler himself, leading to three runs (two earned). Scheduled to throw three innings, Sabathia completed just 1 2/3, permitting five hits while throwing 29 of 49 pitches for strikes. It was the second spring start for the former Cy Young Award winner, who is competing for the fifth spot in New York's rotation. "I think just my control, I was kind of off with the two-seamer," Sabathia said. "I think the cutter was working good, but I got into some counts and couldn't put some guys away. I've got some work to do as far as that goes." Yankees catcher Brian McCann left the game after two innings due to a bruise on the inside of his left knee. McCann was caught by the ricochet of a Sabathia pitch that hit Howard, but said he would have stayed in the game had it been a regular-season contest. Michael Pineda (three innings) and Aroldis Chapman (one) had scoreless outings for the Yanks.

  • Ryan Howard made his third straight start. The Phillies want him to show that he can hit left-handed pitching this spring and, in the first inning, he had an RBI double to right against Yankees lefty starter CC Sabathia.

Alec Asher, who was acquired from the Rangers last July as part of the Cole Hamels trade, will make his third Grapefruit League appearance, and second start, against the Orioles on Monday at Ed Smith Stadium. First pitch is 1:05 p.m. ET (listen to an exclusive webcast). Severino Gonzalez, Ernesto Frieri and Edward Mujica are also scheduled to pitch. Asher made his Major League debut for the Phillies last season and made seven starts.


Cashing In On Catch – The fastball caught a little too much of the plate and Blue Jays leadoff hitter Kevin Pillar crushed it. On the Phillies' bench, coach Juan Samuel had the same reaction as everybody else: The ball would carry over the head of center fielder Odubel Herrera for extra bases. Except that Herrera was off with the crack of the bat. He raced onto the warning track, extended his glove and made a backhanded catch a moment before slamming into the padded wall. The sellout crowd roared. Samuel, who works with the team's outfielders in addition to coaching third, was pleased. This was tangible evidence in Saturday's 8-5 win that all those lonely early morning workouts, while the grass is still dewy and the gates are still locked, were paying off. Herrera was primarily a second baseman when the Phillies took him in the Rule 5 Draft before the 2015 season and converted him to the outfield. It's not a stretch to say that, a year ago, he likely wouldn't have made that catch. "I feel good that a lot of the hard work we've been putting in allowed that play to happen. But I know I need to continue to work on going back on balls," Herrera said, with Samuel interpreting, on Sunday. "It's gratifying to do that after putting so much work in. I feel that I've improved in a few areas, but I know that I need to continue to polish my defense out there. The only thing in my mind is to try to get better all the time." Samuel didn't want to overwhelm Herrera last season. This spring he added more advanced defensive techniques, such as going back to the wall and running to a spot without watching the ball. "He's come a long way. But I'm not satisfied," Samuel said. "I'd like to see more of him going to the ball. I just wanted him to be more comfortable so he doesn't even have to think about it. At times I see him thinking, 'I'm going to hit it.' I don't want him to feel like there's a wall there and, 'I'm going to get hurt.' He shouldn't play that way. "Until I can see him [consistently] going back there with confidence and he knows he's not going to get hurt when he runs into the wall, that's when I'll know he's got it." That's why the play Herrera made to rob Pillar was so encouraging. "I was looking at him and seeing if he's got the route he needed to take. Which he did. And when he caught it, I was like, 'Wow, that's a great play.' Because it was over his head and I didn't think he had a shot at it. But he got back there," Samuel said. "That's what you want. And I saw him take his eyes of the ball and look at the wall a couple times, then keep going. And I said, 'That's it right there.'" Samuel tells Herrera that he needs to get to the spot first, that he can't arrive at the same time as the ball. He tells him to notice when he hits the warning track. He tells him that he probably has three steps once he hits the dirt. He tells him that if the ball is still in the air after the second step that it's time to peel off and play the carom. There had been some speculation after the Phillies claimed Peter Bourjos off waivers that he would play center and Herrera would move to left. The inclination now seems to be to leave Herrera where he is. That could change when fleet prospect Roman Quinn is ready, but the philosophy is to avoid shuttling him back and forth if possible. Herrera and Samuel have become close, despite a 30-year age difference. They're both Latino, which is part of it. But Samuel was also a second baseman who was moved to the outfield. He can fully appreciate the transition Herrera is trying to make. "He's such a hard worker," Samuel said.

5th Spot Still Open – Opening Day is three weeks away. With that in mind, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin and his coaches met informally Sunday morning to kick around some early thoughts on how the regular-season roster might be constructed. One of those decisions will be to pick a fifth starter. Coincidentally, two of the candidates -- left-handers Adam Morgan and Brett Oberholtzer -- were lined up to pitch against the Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Sunday afternoon. Morgan was impressive, shutting out the Yankees on one hit and one walk while striking out two over four innings in the Phillies' 3-0 win. So was Oberholtzer, who posted three shutout innings, allowing four hits. Vince Velasquez, who is also in the mix, gave up two runs in four innings of his start against the Blue Jays on Saturday. "Let me put it this way: It's a problem, but it's the kind of problem we were hoping to have," said Mackanin. "So it's a great problem and we're just going to continue to see them pitch and hope that the best man wins." The final decision could also be impacted by which pitchers have options (Morgan, Velasquez), projected upside and which could be used out of the bullpen. "Some guys are capable of [relieving]. Some guys are not capable of doing that," Mackanin said. "I know, for example, Oberholtzer has pitched as a starter and out of the bullpen. And I know Velasquez did it for Houston last year. "But, you know, he's the guy we were hoping to build with as a starter. So I don't know. Anything's an option. But we like what we see. Morgan may or may not be able to [relieve], but he's pitched so well down here [as a starter]." Morgan, 26, needed just 39 pitches on Sunday. "It was fun. It's still a simple game plan. Trying to keep the ball down and work efficiently. And it worked out. I'm not trying to complicate anything. Really just trying to keep the ball down and get them out in less than three pitches. It's always encouraging when you throw good. But you can't get too high, you can't get too low. So right now, I'm just staying the course." Said the 26-year-old Oberholtzer: "It's the big leagues, so there's always competition. I honestly don't look at it any other way than to just go out there and do the things I can control -- work hard and get better." There was other rotation-related news Sunday. The two veteran starters who were added this offseason to add experience, Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton, each pitched four impressive innings in Minor League camp games at the Carpenter Complex after being sidelined by the flu. Hellickson pitched four perfect innings, striking out four while throwing 55 pitches, 26 for strikes. Morton didn't allow a run, either. He gave up two hits, walked one and struck out four. "I'm really happy with what I'm seeing in terms of swings on my sinker, because it doesn't seem like there are a lot of really good swings," Morton said. "It's early March. Hitters haven't gotten their timing yet. But for Spring Training, I feel like I'm in a good spot." Hellickson was also pleased. "It felt good to get some work in," he said. "It was good to get some up and downs. My stuff felt really good."

One Eye On The Tournament – Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp played three years for the University of Texas. He's a proud alum, ready to say nice things about the school at the drop of a cowboy hat. Still, he admits he started paying close attention to the Longhorns basketball team this year only after it became clear they had a pretty good team. Now that the NCAA Tournament is about to begin, though, the Horns team won't have a bigger fan. "I'm not a big basketball guy," Rupp said Sunday. "But once March Madness starts, it's time to turn it up. Because it seems like every night there's a buzzer-beater. You don't see that during the regular season. So I'm excited. I think they're going to surprise a lot of people. [Coach Shaka Smart] has done a really good job." He's optimistic Texas will fare better than many experts expect. "I think they have a good chance," he said. "They're inconsistent, but they've had a lot of big wins. So I think that's going to play in their favor. And they play in the Big 12, which had an unbelievable season with West Virginia, Kansas, Texas. Oklahoma, Iowa State, Baylor. All those teams were Top 25 all year. Having played in those environments I think is going to help them a lot." While at UT, Rupp never attended a game at the Frank Erwin Center. But he plans to watch every game of the tournament that the Phillies schedule allows. "I don't know where we'll be or if I'll even have a chance to watch it. Some games are in the afternoon when we're playing," he noted. "But, absolutely, I'll sit down and watch when I can. I watched quite a few games during the regular season. Earlier in the year I didn't pay much attention to it. But as the season went on and they started playing well, I started watching it more." Rupp makes his living playing baseball in front of fans. But he enjoys rooting for his college, too. "It's always fun to have a passion for something," he said. "It's kind of like football. I'll go hog wild when I'm sitting on the couch and watching a game. It means something, especially playing there. You want to see them be successful because when you were there, everybody else wanted to see you be successful. So I think it's a lot of fun."

Today In Phils History - Today the Phillies parted ways with Roger Connor in 1893 but did receive Jack Boyle, Jack Sharrott and cash in return from the New York Giants. In 1963, the Phillies purchased the contract of Ryne Duren. It is also the birthday of Butch Rementer (1878) and Steve Lake (1957). 

The Phillies have begun the spring with a 10-3-2 record (11-3-2 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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