Sunday, April 3, 2016

Next Stop: Opening Day!

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phils Edge Prospects 6-5

Cesar Hernandez hit a walk-off single to lead the Phillies to a 6-5 victory over the Futures team, comprised of some of the organization's best prospects, at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday. And the good news continued for the Phils, because if they're looking for an outfielder at some point this season, Nick Williams did what he could to make sure the front office will remember him. Williams, part of the Cole Hamels deal with Texas last July, had a home run, a double and three RBIs for the Futures team. The 22-year-old is rated the organization's No. 3 prospect by He'll open this season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. After joining the organization last year, he batted .320 with four homers and 10 RBIs in 22 games at Double-A Reading. Williams came up with one out and No. 1 prospect J.P. Crawford on first in the first inning and drove in the first run of the game with a booming double to center. He had sacrifice fly in the second and homered to lead off the fifth, breaking a 3-3 tie. All of Williams' at-bats came against veteran Charlie Morton, who will be the Phillies' No. 3 starter this season. Morton pitched 4 2/3 innings in his final tuneup, allowing four runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out three. Right-hander Jake Thompson, the No. 2-ranked prospect, started for the Futures team. The 22-year-old, who was also part of the Hamels trade, held the Phillies to three runs in his five innings, allowing eight hits but also striking out four. The Phillies got on the board in the first with an RBI single by Darin Ruf and an RBI double by Ryan Howard, and Freddy Galvis added an RBI double in the second, all with Thompson pitching. Rhys Hoskins hit a solo homer in the top of the eighth for the Futures team to bring the score to 5-3. In the bottom of the ninth, though, Ruf tied things up with a two-run double, and Hernandez delivered in the next at-bat for the walk-off victory.

  • To make room for Hunter, Burriss and Russell on the 40-man roster, left-handers Matt Harrison (back/disc injury) and Mario Hollands (Tommy John surgery) and outfielder Aaron Altherr (left wrist surgery) were placed on the 60-day disabled list. In addition, right-hander Michael Mariot (right ankle strain) and outfielder Cody Asche (right oblique strain) were placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 25.
  • Eickhoff will start the fourth game of the season and Velasquez the fifth against the Mets, Mackanin said. Hellickson will start on Opening Day against the Reds on Monday followed by Nola on Wednesday and Morton on Thursday.
  • Two notable releases from Minor League camp include left-hander Ken Roberts, who was claimed on waivers from the Rockies last season and made six big league relief appearances for Philly in September and October, and right-hander Greg Burke, a 33-year-old South Jersey native who was in big league camp this spring as a non-roster player. Burke has pitched 80 games in the big leagues for the Padres and Mets.
Veteran right-hander Jeremy Hellickson will make the first Opening Day start of his career Monday when the Phillies play the Reds at Great American Ball Park. First pitch is scheduled for 4:10 p.m. ET. "It's definitely going to be different," Hellickson said. "The emotions are going to be high. The atmosphere is going to be crazy. The adrenaline is going to be flowing, and I'm going to be really excited. I'm grateful for the opportunity, and I'm looking forward to it." Outfielder Cedric Hunter, 28, is expected to make his first big league start after coming to camp as a non-roster player.


Hunter Makes The Cut – He didn't sign until a month before Spring Training. It was a Minor League deal, he was a 28-year-old non-roster invitee, the kind of guy who doesn't get much attention on his way in the door -- or on the way out, either, when he's just another name on the list of players assigned to the complex. Then a funny thing happened to Cedric Hunter. He hit a walk-off homer to beat the Braves in a Grapefruit League game. He had a great at-bat against the Rays, fouling off a pitch in the dirt to protect the runner on a hit-and-run. Aaron Altherr, who had been penciled in as the everyday right fielder, got hurt. Springs often reveal a surprise, a Cinderella player, a heart-warming tale. This year, Hunter was it. Not only did Hunter, whose entire big league resume consists of six games for the Padres in 2011, make the Phillies' Opening Day roster, but he's also projected to be one of manager Pete Mackanin's regular outfielders, along with Odubel Herrera and Peter Bourjos. The only other remaining outfielder is Rule 5 pick Tyler Goeddel; infielders Emmanuel Burriss and Darin Ruf could also play in the outfield if needed. "It's great news. I'm very humbled by it," Hunter said before going 2-for-5 as the Phillies closed out the exhibition season with a 6-5 walk-off win over a Futures team made up of some of the Phillies' best prospects Saturday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. This is the best opportunity Hunter has ever had, even though he batted .288 in 1,151 Minor League games, and he isn't afraid to admit that he got discouraged at times. "I didn't just all the way want to give up," Hunter said. "But there were times I definitely had my doubts. I just know how this game is. Sometimes you can have good years, and it's just about the situation of the team and what they want to do, and it's never really a fair situation. And you can't control it. "A lot of things go through your mind when you put up some good years and don't get called up. In the Braves situation [in 2014 and '15], where they really needed help, not to get called up with them and them being my hometown and everything is definitely a letdown." Hunter had targeted the Phillies because he liked the way they gave players chances last season. For his part, Mackanin came in with no preconceived notions. "He surprised me," the manager said. "I didn't really know much about him. I know he was a perennial .280-plus Triple-A hitter. I didn't know what kind of defender he was, but I found out he's a good defensive player, and I like his aggressive approach at the plate. He gives you quality at-bats and doesn't care if it's lefty or righty." Hunter has been around long enough to understand that he has written a nice opening chapter and that it's still up to him to furnish a happy ending. "To be realistic, it's just beginning," he said. "I haven't proved myself at all on this level yet. So everybody's giving me congrats and I'm happy about that, but in the back of my mind, I'm like, 'Look, this is just the beginning. I've really got to go out and prove myself and show that I'm ready to be here.'"

Phils Finalize Roster – Before getting on the plane taking them to Cincinnati, where their regular season will begin at Great American Ball Park on Monday (4:10 p.m. ET), the Phillies formally finalized their Opening Day roster. Making the team are both Rule 5 Draft picks (outfielder Tyler Goeddel, left-hander Daniel Stumpf) and three players who had come to camp as non-roster invitees (outfielder Cedric Hunter, infielder/outfielder Emmanuel Burriss and left-hander James Russell). The composition of the 25-man roster became largely apparent late Friday night with the announcement that four players -- right-handers Andrew Bailey and Ernesto Frieri, catcher J.P. Arencibia and outfielder Will Venable -- had been reassigned to Minor League camp. The biggest surprise was that Bailey, the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year who is coming back from reconstructive right shoulder surgery, was among those sent out. The announcement came shortly after he had pitched two hitless innings against the Orioles on Friday. "It's frustrating because they told me I pitched good enough to make the team, but yet they sent me to Triple-A," Bailey said Saturday morning. "So we'll see what happens. I'll go down, do my thing and hopefully get an opportunity soon." Bailey, who missed the entire 2014 season, worked his way through the Yankees' farm system last season and made 10 relief appearances in the big leagues down the stretch. He signed a Minor League contract with the Phillies last December. "You've got to take the good with the bad," Bailey said. "I'm not the first guy it's going to happen to, and I'm not the last guy it's going to happen to. No one's bigger than the game. Although players think they deserve to be in the big leagues or whatever, sometimes you've got to put your time in. "I'm back, you know? I pitched in the big leagues last year. In my opinion, I had one bad [Grapefruit League] outing. I know how to pitch. I've played for a long time. I thought I was going to hear differently, but that's the way the business side of things works." Manager Pete Mackanin indicated recently that he'd like to see Bailey, 31, show a little more velocity. But the reality is that, since the pitcher has a May 1 opt-out clause, he's likely to be in the big leagues sooner rather than later if he gets off to a good start at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. "It'll be fine," Bailey said. "It's going to be a fun year [for the Phillies], and hopefully, at some point, I'll be part of it." Here's a complete look at the roster: Rotation: Jeremy Hellickson (RHP); Aaron Nola (RHP); Charlie Morton (RHP); Jerad Eickhoff (RHP); Vince Velasquez (RHP). Bullpen: David Hernandez (RHP); Dalier Hinojosa (RHP); Brett Oberholtzer (LHP); Jeanmar Gomez (RHP); Hector Neris (RHP); Stumpf; Russell. Catchers: Cameron Rupp; Carlos Ruiz. Infielders: Ryan Howard; Darin Ruf; Cesar Hernandez; Freddy Galvis; Maikel Franco; Andres Blanco; Burriss. Outfielders: Odubel Herrera; Peter Bourjos; Hunter; Goeddel.

Bailey And Others Reassigned – Right-handers Andrew Bailey and Ernesto Frieri, catcher J.P. Arencibia and outfielder Will Venable have been reassigned to Minor League camp. The moves were announced after Friday night's 8-7 loss to the Orioles at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies open the regular season against the Reds on Monday at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. The team will fly to Cincinnati after Saturday afternoon's final exhibition game against the Phillies' Futures team. Manager Pete Mackanin had said prior to the game that Bailey, the South Jersey native and 2009 American League Rookie of the Year Award winner who is trying to make a comeback from a series of injuries, had a pivotal appearance against Baltimore. The 31-year-old reliever came in to pitch the seventh and got Pedro Alvarez to ground into a double play after Julio Borbon led off with a walk. He struck out Xavier Avery to end the frame. He then pitched a perfect eighth. Bailey went 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA in nine spring appearances. Over 10 innings, he struck out 10 batters and walked one. Six of his outings were scoreless. Mackanin stressed that he isn't writing Bailey off. "We just need to see a little bit more," Mackanin said. "We need him to go down there and improve his command. He's a little bit behind for whatever reason. We'd just like to see him pitch a little better. That's what it boils down to. "You know how this works. We're going to see plenty of guys up and down. At this point, we feel he's capable of pitching in the Major Leagues. He's proven it. He needs a little bit of fine-tuning." All four were non-roster players who are on Minor League contracts. Mackanin said each has a chance to make a contribution this season. He mentioned that Venable was fighting an uphill battle because he didn't sign until March 28 after being released by the Indians. "We just haven't seen enough of Venable," Mackanin said. "We've seen him in the past, but he just got here so late that he's going to go down to Triple-A [Norfolk] and get some at bats. We've got flexibility with a lot of players." While the Phillies have 31 players remaining, they are expected to officially announce their final roster Saturday, but Friday night's transactions seem to leave just 25 healthy players: Pitchers (12): Jeremy HellicksonAaron NolaCharlie MortonJerad EickhoffVince VelasquezDavid HernandezBrett OberholtzerJames RussellJeanmar Gomez, Hector NerisDaniel Stumpf and Dalier Hinojosa; Catchers (2): Carlos RuizCameron Rupp; Infielders (7): Ryan HowardDarin RufCesar HernandezMaikel FrancoFreddy Galvis, Emmanuel BurrissAndres Blanco; Outfielders (4): Odubel HerreraPeter BourjosTyler Goeddel, Cedric Hunter. Of course, that could change with a trade, waiver wire acquisition or injury.
Beginning And Ending - Phildelphia became one of the stops during Jay Johnstone's journey through baseball when they signed him in 1974. Dale Murphy, hampered by injuries, only played a handful of games after the Phillies released him on this day in 1993. And in 2011 the Phillies opened the season with their first three game sweep since 1899... if only the season ended the same way that it began.  

The Phillies have an impressive record this spring… 15-11-3 (18-11-3 if you include the exhibition games against Reading and 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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