Getting Chase Utley back really gave the Phillies a shot in the arm despite losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates, 11-7, on Wednesday night. Utley immediately smacked a home run in his first trip to the plate. He also went 3-for-5 in his first game back after starting the season on the disabled list with bilateral chondromalacia in his left knee.
The Phillies really need their second baseman as the team moves closer to the All-Star break. But the Phillies are anxiously awaiting the return of first baseman and slugger Ryan Howard, who has been nursing his left Achilles injury. Howard has started a rehab assignment with Class A Lakewood. He is expected to come back after the All-Star break.
Howard could have a significant impact in regard to the type of pitches the other players like Hunter Pence, Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz will receive with his presence in the lineup. Even though Howard will be coming off a major injury, he’s still a threat to most pitchers in the National League.
If he can swing the bat and provide some power, drive in some runs and hit the ball consistently, that should give the Phillies a big lift just as Utley did in his first appearance. He’s not going to be the player who garnered MVP honors or who carried the Phillies with his home run power to the 2008 World Series right now. It’s going to take some time to get his timing back, particularly in the field.
The big thing with Howard as well as Utley is not their fielding. It’s their hitting. The Phillies need to score runs. They’ve had a number of games where runners have been stranded on base.
The Phillies are trying to get back into the playoff race. They’re currently in fourth place in the National League East. The Phillies are nine games out of first place behind the Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves and New York Mets respectively. They’re seven and a half games out in the Wild Card standings. In order for the Phillies to land a Wild Card berth, they would have to leap frog over seven teams. The San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers lead in the Wild Card standings. Two Wild Card teams will make the playoffs this year. The Phillies hope to be one of them.
The Phillies have 74 games left after the All-Star break. It’s going to be interesting to see how big a contribution Utley and Howard can make in the second half of the season. Every series is going to be crucial. The Phillies will have to win most of them or even sweep some of them to move into contention. Everybody will be watching to see if two of the Phillies best players can give them something on a regular basis as the most important part of season take shape.
To say the Phillies are struggling after a terrible road trip where they went 3-10 in their last 10 games would be an understatement. After getting swept by the Toronto Blue Jays, the Phillies will be trying to get back on the winning side Tuesday night, June 19 when they face the Colorado Rockies at Citizens Bank Park. Cole Hamels (9-3, 3.34 ERA), who has been the Phillies best pitcher this season, will step on the rubber. Hamels will go up against Josh Outman (0-2, 8.44 ERA) of the Rockies.
The Phillies have a 31-37 record and are firmly in last place in the National League East, nine games out of first place in the standings. They’re five games out in the race for the two NL Wild Card spots. The San Francisco Giants (37-30) and Atlanta Braves (35-31) are the top two teams in the standings for those playoff berths.
Dennis Eckersley, Hall of Fame relief pitcher and baseball analyst for TBS, feels the Phillies still have a chance to get back into the playoff race and land a spot in the postseason. Eckersley knows the Phillies are trying to tread water until they can hopefully get second baseman Chase Utley and possibly first baseman Ryan Howard back in the lineup. Utley has been suffering from chronic knee problems. Howard has a torn left Achilles. He realizes the Phillies have to climb out of a big hole with the injuries to Howard and Utley as well as pitching ace Roy Halladay (right shoulder injury).
“When you really think about it thank goodness for the extra Wild Card for a lot of people and then particular with the Phillies,” Eckersley said. “Will they overcome those injuries? I would assume I don’t know. I’m not close enough. Like Halladay, what’s going on with him and the Howard-Utley situation? But they had a hard time last year offensively with those guys and the pitching was there. They’ve been good for so long and everything went well for them. They were good, but you have to have the right things happen. This year, it seems like everything is not clicking. Right down to (Cliff) Lee hasn’t won a game yet. That’s hard to do. I mean he’s so good. Sometimes things just don’t happen and let alone have all these injuries like they’ve had.”
The NL East is one of the best divisions in baseball. The Washington Nationals (38-26) and Atlanta Braves are the two top teams respectively in the division. The Phillies would have to leap frog over them as well as the New York Mets (35-31) and Miami Marlins (33-33) who are both ahead of them. But with Major League Baseball adding the second Wild Card, that keeps the Phillies season alive.
“The problem is too many teams in that division who have gotten better,” Eckersley said. “So, it’s going to be difficult even if they’re full force. I think more than the Phillies being right this year. You have to be happy with the extra Wild Card. It gives you a chance.”
The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series last year. The Cardinals got hot at the right time and got into the postseason as the Wild Card. In fact, St. Louis defeated the Phillies, who had won 102 games last year. So, anything is possible.
“When you have Halladay, Lee and Hamels, you can beat anybody,” Eckersley said. “Last year, I was shocked when St. Louis beat them. I really was. It took a 1-0 game to beat them. I’m sure that Phillies fans think that any way they can get there. They got a shot to win it. That’s a great example in St. Louis.”
The Phillies have a big home stand with Colorado, Tampa Rays and Pittsburgh Pirates this week. There’s 94 games left in the season. That’s a lot of baseball yet to be played. Nevertheless, the Phillies are going to have to start winning some series in order to turn this season around.
For the first time since Jimmy Rollins declared the Philadelphia Phillies were the team to beat in the division before they even won anything, they'll open spring training with something to prove.
The Phillies' streak of five consecutive NL East titles that began with Rollins' bold declaration in 2007 ended last year when they finished 81-81 and in third place behind Washington and Atlanta.
Since winning the franchise's second World Series championship in 2008, the Phillies have taken one step backward each season. They lost the 2009 World Series, the 2010 NLCS, and were eliminated in the NLDS in 2011.
After missing out on the postseason in 2012, the Phillies hope to make another run. The quest begins Wednesday when pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater, Fla.
Here are five top questions facing the Phillies this spring:
1. Are the injured stars healthy?
Injuries to Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay were a major reason why the Phillies slumped last year. Utley and Howard, the team's Nos. 3-4 hitters, combined to miss 160 games to start the season. Halladay, the No. 1 starter, missed a two-month stretch in the middle.
Utley hasn't played a Grapefruit League game since 2010 because of chronic knee problems. He was more active this offseason and is expected to be ready for Opening Day, barring any setbacks. But, Utley's production began to decline before the injuries. His batting average has dropped every year since he hit a career-high .332 in 2007. His power numbers also are trending downward.
Utley averaged .301 with 29 homers and 101 RBIs between 2005-09 and made five straight All-Star teams. Since 2010, he's averaged .264, 13 and 51. The 34-year-old Utley is entering the final year of his contract, so he needs a solid year to get another lucrative deal.
Howard returned to the lineup right before the All-Star break last season after recovering from surgery on a torn Achilles' tendon. He hit just .219 and struck out 99 times in 260 at-bats. But the three-time All-Star first baseman also had 14 homers and drove in 56 runs in only 71 games.
Howard is entering the second season of a $125 million, five-year extension. The Phillies need the former NL MVP to be the player who averaged 44 homers and 133 RBIs between 2006-11.
Halladay, a two-time Cy Young Award winner and eight-time All-Star, was plagued by a shoulder problem last year. He'll be 36 in May and has thrown nearly 2,700 innings. So, his days as a dominant pitcher may be over.
Halladay won 40 games, and threw a perfect game and a postseason no-hitter in his first two seasons with the Phillies in 2010-11. He was 11-8 with a 4.49 ERA in 25 starts last year.
There may be no player in the majors with a stronger work ethic and more dedication to his craft than Halladay. He's determined to regain his old form, and those who know Halladay wouldn't bet against him.
2. Who plays the outfield?
The Phillies used to be loaded in the outfield with former All-Stars Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez and Hunter Pence. They also had slugger Pat Burrell in '07 and '08. Now they'll have at least two and possibly three new starters.
Ben Revere was acquired from Minnesota to play center field. Delmon Young was signed as a free agent to play right field, though he hasn't played there regularly since 2007. Left field will be up for grabs between rookie Darin Ruf, former top prospect Domonic Brown and John Mayberry, Jr.
Ruf, the minor-league home run champion in 2012, is making the transition to the outfield after playing first base. He hit 38 homers in Double-A and Triple-A last season, and has potential to be a legitimate slugger in the big leagues.
Revere is a singles hitter, but his speed is an asset. Young could provide much-needed balance to a left-handed heavy lineup if he stays in shape and out of trouble. He hit .267 with 18 homers and 74 RBIs for Detroit last season, and was MVP of the ALCS against the New York Yankees.
3. Will Michael Young be a solution at third base?
The Phillies acquired the seven-time All-Star infielder from Texas to replace Placido Polanco at third base. Young, a former Gold Glove winner at shortstop, hasn't played third regularly since 2010. He's also coming off a down year at the plate by his standards (.277, 8, 67).
The team expects the 36-year-old Young to benefit from being able to concentrate on playing one position after filling a utility role the last two seasons. The peace of mind could not only help his defense, but his offense. From 2003-11, Young hit at least .300 seven times and averaged 17 homers and 90 RBIs.
4. Can pitching get the Phillies over the top?
The Phillies slugged their way to the postseason in 2007-09 and then relied on their aces and a strong bullpen in 2010-11. Their lineup clearly lacks the punch it once had, so the Phillies have to do it with pitching. Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, if they're all healthy, are still as formidable as any top 3 on any staff. Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan round out the rotation, which has dropped off since Roy Oswalt was the No. 4 starter.
Closer Jonathan Papelbon is coming off an All-Star season in his first year in Philadelphia. Giving Papelbon leads to protect was the problem. The Phillies improved their late-inning situation by signing Mike Adams. The righty has been one of the best setup men for several years. If Antonio Bastardo pitches the way he did in 2011 and some of the young arms step up, the bullpen could be the team's biggest strength.
5. How will Charlie Manuel handle lame-duck status?
Manuel enters his ninth season as the team's manager. He's first on the franchise's all-time list in wins and is one of only two managers — Dallas Green was the other in 1980 — to lead the Phillies to a World Series title in 130 seasons. But Manuel is in the final year of his contract and his potential heir apparent — Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg — will be in the dugout this year.
The Phillies promoted Sandberg from Triple-A manager to third-base coach. Manuel's success gives him some leeway, but there certainly will be plenty of speculation about his job if the Phillies struggle early or endure a long losing streak. — (AP)
PITTSBURGH — If only Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies had gotten this 1-0 win last October.
Halladay was nearly flawless for eight innings Thursday and the Phillies showed off their pitching from the start, opening a new season by edging the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Missing injured stars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, the Phillies scored the lone run they needed on a sacrifice fly by Carlos Ruiz in the seventh. New closer Jonathan Papelbon pitched a perfect ninth for his first National League save.
"It was a good game for us," Halladay said. "It went the way we wanted and Papelbon came in and got his feet wet and got that out of the way. All in all I think it was a good way to do it."
For Halladay and his teammates, it was a familiar score with a different winner. Their season ended last year when Halladay lost a 1-0 decision to Chris Carpenter and the St. Louis Cardinals in the deciding Game 5 in the first round of the NL playoffs.
The Phillies start this season as the favorites to win their sixth straight NL East title.
Making his 10th opening day start, Halladay didn't argue when manager Charlie Manuel opted to bring in Papelbon.
"I understand at this point," Halladay said. "A couple weeks from now I'm going to fight him."
The two-time Cy Young winner sparkled, giving up just two first-inning singles while striking out five without issuing a walk.
Halladay was pulled three outs before getting a chance at his 21st shutout.
"We just didn't get many pitches to hit," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said.
The Pirates are hardly the Cardinals — who went on to win the World Series last year — yet starter Erik Bedard nearly matched Halladay pitch for pitch, giving up only one run in seven innings. He struck out four and walked one, though it wasn't enough to keep Pittsburgh from losing its first season opener since 2006.
"I've done it before so it wasn't a big deal but it was nice to get the chance to do it with a new team and it was nice to pitch well in front of the fans," Bedard said. "Anytime you lose, though, you wind up disappointed. I wish I wouldn't have been able to hold them off the board but they got one across and that made the difference."
Ty Wigginton, filling in while Howard continues to rehab his left Achilles, singled with one out in the seventh and John Mayberry followed with a double to right.
Ruiz, who had three hits, sent a fading liner to right and Jose Tabata made the catch, but Wigginton slid under catcher Rod Barajas' tag to give Philadelphia the lead.
It was just a run, but it was plenty for Halladay.
Hurdle has preached the word "finish" as Pittsburgh's mantra for 2012 after the Pirates collapsed following a brief flirtation with first place last July. Pittsburgh could never get started, however, against Halladay.
Baseball's best pitcher over the last decade gave up singles to Alex Presley and Jose Tabata to start the game, eerily similar to the two hits he allowed against St. Louis in that Game 5 last fall. The Cardinals, however, turned those hits into the game's only run.
Pittsburgh — which brought in veterans Clint Barmes and Barajas to help kick-start one of baseball's weakest offenses last season — didn't get that close.
Andrew McCutchen, who signed a $51 million deal last month as the linchpin of the Pirates' rebuilding project, grounded into a double play and Neil Walker flied out to end the first-inning threat.
That was the only chance the Pirates got against Halladay. Pittsburgh's only two baserunners over the final eight innings came on hit batters.
"Nobody solves Roy Halladay," Presley said. "I don't need to tell anyone how good he is. He pitched a great game. He shut us down after the first inning."
And Papelbon took care of the ninth. Manuel never hesitated to bring in the former Boston reliever despite Halladay's dominance.
Halladay never threw more than 88 pitches during spring training and had 92 in eight innings. That was enough for Manuel.
"He hadn't been stretched out," Manuel said. "I figure if he went into the ninth and they took some pitches he was going to go to 105-112 somewhere in there. By three or four starts he'll be wound up to go 115-120."
Bedard tried to his best to keep pace. Mixing speeds and locating his curveball expertly, the lefthander who has been plagued by injuries throughout his career worked quickly. His only bobble came in the seventh, but it was enough to prevent the Pirates from staying unbeaten all-time in opening day games against the Phillies.
NOTES: Pittsburgh starter A.J. Burnett, on the 15-day DL, joined the Pirates for opening day festivities but is expected to start for Class A Bradenton on Friday. He is eligible to return on April 10 ... Halladay's 10 opening day starts are tied for the fourth-most in baseball history ... The two teams are off Friday and meet again Saturday. Jeff Karstens will start for the Pirates while Cliff Lee gets the nod for Philadelphia. -- (AP)
When the Philadelphia Phillies open the regular season on Thursday, April 5 against the host Pittsburgh Pirates at 1:30 p.m., it’s going to be interesting to see how well the team plays without second baseman Chase Utley and first baseman Ryan Howard. Utley and Howard are two key players who have been a part of the 2008 World Series championship as well as the five consecutive National League East title teams.
Both players have been major run producers for the Phillies. Without the power of Utley and Ryan who are both nursing knee and Achilles injuries respectively, the Phillies will need some production from several places in the batting lineup. Rightfielder Hunter Pence and shortstop Jimmy Rollins are capable of stepping up.
However, it will be interesting to see what leftfielder John Mayberry Jr. does as the season gets started. Mayberry really struggled in spring training, hitting just .192. He recently broke a 0-for-19 slump with a home run.
Despite the slow beginning, this could be a big year for him. He will be in the starting lineup against the Pirates. Mayberry should get plenty of swings at the plate.
A year ago, Mayberry showed everybody what he could do right off the bat. He came in as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning and nailed a single to drive in the winning run to give the Phillies a 5-4 victory over the Houston Astros. He hit .273 with 15 home runs in 104 games. He also drove in 49 RBIs and scored 37 runs. It was a very productive season for him.
The Phillies are going to rely on him a little more this year particularly when it comes to his versatility. He’s capable of playing all three outfield positions as well as first base. The 6-foot-6, 234-pounder, has the range and the quickness to cover a lot of ground in the outfield. At first base, he has good instincts. He knows how to cover the bag.
Mayberry is the son of former major league first baseman John Mayberry Sr. His dad could really play the position. With Howard rehabbing, Jim Thome should get a lot of work at first base. But if needed, Mayberry should be able to step in and play some games.
Mayberry, 28, is one of the best athletes on the team. He was a great scholastic baseball and basketball player at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Mo. In 2002, Mayberry was chosen by the Seattle Mariners in the Major League Baseball Draft. He decided to play college baseball instead of signing a baseball contract. He played baseball for Stanford University where he was an All-Pac-10 selection.
After his junior year, he was selected by the Texas Rangers as the 19th pick overall in the 2005 draft. Mayberry spent three years in the Rangers minor league system before the Phillies acquired him. In 2008, the Phillies traded outfielder Greg Golson to the Rangers for Mayberry. He spent a good part of the next three years on the Phillies AA and AAA minor league teams.
This will be his first full year as a starter. The Phillies have the pitching staff with Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Vance Worley and relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon to keep the games close.
They’re going to need some timely hitting to move the runners as well as score some big runs. Mayberry should be able to give the Phillies a lift with his bat and base running.
The Phillies will open the season with two of their major stars, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, on the sideline. Howard, Phillies first baseman, is still nursing a postseason Achilles injury while Utley, Phillies second baseman, has been dealing with chronic knee problems.
Howard and Utley are two key players who helped bring the Phillies a World Series championship in 2008. They were also part of the team’s fifth consecutive National League East championship in 2011.
With these two players out for some time, the Phillies will need some timely hitting, good fielding and great pitching. In addition, they’re going to need leadership. That’s where shortstop Jimmy Rollins comes into the picture. Rollins, 33, has had a way of giving the Phillies a lift with his confidence, swagger and style of play over the years.
If you remember, he was the player who said “we are the team to beat,” a few years ago. Nobody is expecting Rollins to make that statement this year. However, the Phillies could use somebody to set a tone at the beginning of the season. Rollins has a way of stepping up and making big plays. The Phillies organization has seen that over his major league career, which goes back to 2000. That’s how long he’s been in Philly.
Rollins has the credentials. He’s a 2007 National League MVP and three-time Gold Glove winner. He’s played in three all-star games. He was a key player on the World Series championship team. He has a career .272 batting average with 170 home runs, 725 RBIs and 373 stolen bases.
In 2011 the Phillies had a historic year, winning 102 regular season games. They won more games than any team in the majors. The team really stumbled in the playoffs losing in the first round in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals, the eventual World Series champion.
Rollins hit .268 with 87 runs scored, to go with 63 RBIs and 30 stolen bases in 2011. That’s nice, but when the lights came on in the playoffs, Rollins took his game to the next level. He hit .450 with nine hits and six runs scored against the Cardinals.
The Phillies have acquired some veterans in the offseason like reliever Jonathan Papelbon, Jim Thome (first baseman), Ty Wigginton (utility player) and outfielder Juan Pierre. The Phillies have rookie infielder Freddy Galvis, who could receive some playing time with the injury to Utley. Of course, the Phillies have a great player in outfielder Hunter Pence along with a tremendous pitching staff that includes Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Vance Worley.
But Rollins is the glue. He makes them go. If he gets off to a good start, the Phillies should be able to tread water until Howard and Utley return.
A year ago, Rollins was a big story. He was a free agent. There was some talk about whether or not the Phillies would re-sign him. That question was answered when he signed a reported three-year $33 million deal which includes an option for a fourth year.
It’s a good thing the Phillies made this deal. They need experience and leadership that only Jimmy Rollins can provide.
CLEARWATER, Fla. — An older, wiser Jimmy Rollins has ditched his annual rite of spring: Trading trash talk with National League East counterparts.
But as the new-look Philadelphia Phillies prepare for the season after seeing their five-year reign atop the division end in 2012, Rollins isn't conceding anything either. The longtime shortstop remains confident in the talented nucleus assembled here.
"Everybody is in the right mind frame," Rollins said. "We're a complete team. We're not going out there with role players. We're going out there with everyday players, every game."
Rollins, 34, was drafted by the Phillies out of high school in 1996 in the midst of the organization's 13-year playoff drought. But prior to the 2007 season, Rollins famously declared a young-and-upcoming Phillies squad "the team to beat."
The Phillies made good on Rollins words. They chased down the New York Mets in September and won the division on the final day of the regular season. They then went on a tear that resulted in two World Series appearances, and one title.
Rollins, in 2007, won National League MVP, but that was six years ago. Many of the names in the clubhouse have changed since then. And those that remain — Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz and Cole Hamels — are not in the same point in their careers.
Last season offered proof. The Phillies finished 81-81, to post their first non-winning season in 10 years. But they also didn't play a single game in the first half with Howard, Utley and Roy Halladay healthy at the same time. All three missed large chunks of the season with injuries.
With all three healthy this year — and the additions the Phillies made this winter, too — Rollins thinks the team can once again be a contender.
"We did what we needed to do (in the offseason)," Rollins said. "We just needed to fill a couple of holes and get the other guys back healthy, and we've done that. (Relief pitcher Mike) Adams is going to be huge from what he's done, and being able to continue that, it's going to be great. Mikey Young, he's just a professional hitter. The little man out in center field, Tootsie Pop, Ben Revere, he's going to bring that energy. Shane (Victorino) left, and we've got a guy who can come in and steal bags, so we don't miss a beat there.
"It's different, but it's a great dynamic what we have now. It's a good feeling. As you can see, it's nice and calm. Last year, everybody was uncertain. There's a lot more certainty around here."
Rollins may have retired his panache for making bold statements. But it wasn't all that long ago that he made one worth remembering.
After the Phillies finished the 2012 season in Washington, Rollins said the Nationals, who won the division, would have been a second-place team if the Phillies were healthy. Rollins isn't reliving the past, but he's also hasn't lost faith in his team's ability to return to the top of the division.
"That was last year," Rollins said. "And this year is different. Nothing has changed in our mentality or my mentality about how I feel about where this team should be or will be. The players we have, I like it. I was talking to (manager) Charlie (Manuel), the bullpen is good. The lineup has an opportunity to be real deep.
"Play some good quality baseball on both sides, the mental side of the game, it's going to be a fun team."
NOTES: Utley, a second baseman, will play in Friday's intrasquad game and will also likely start in the Phillies' first Grapefruit League game Saturday, according to Manuel. Utley hasn't played in a spring exhibition game in each of the last two years while battling chronic knee pain. Hamels will start in the opener Saturday against the Houston Astros, with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan scheduled to follow in the next week. Halladay will pitch opposite Justin Verlander in Sunday's game against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Fla. If that rotational order holds up through the spring, Hamels could get the start on the regular season's opening day. ... Hall of Fame 3B Mike Schmidt arrived in Phillies camp on Wednesday for his annual work as a hitting instructor. . The Phillies' intrasquad game on Friday will begin at noon at Bright House Field and admission is free to the public. -- (AP)
CLEARWATER, Fla. — Chase Utley will likely start the season on the disabled list for the second straight year because of problems with both knees.
The five-time All-Star second baseman left camp to see a specialist, and it’s uncertain when he’ll be ready to play for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Utley was believed to have only an injured right knee, but general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. indicated Monday the left one may be causing more trouble.
“The guy’s got bad knees. We know it and that’s a fact,” Amaro said. “We’re just trying to limit and also make sure he’s ready to go and play the bulk of the season. He told me his right knee feels much better. His left has been bothering him.”
Utley hasn’t played in a game this spring because of his condition, which forced him to miss all of last spring and the first 46 games of the regular season. He was diagnosed last February with patellar tendinitis, bone inflammation and chondromalacia, which is pain due to irritation under the kneecap. Surgery didn’t guarantee a cure, so he opted for rehab instead and played through pain when he came back.
“We haven’t had any discussions about surgery,” Amaro said. “He’s got a cartilage issue. You can’t grow cartilage. It’s partially tendinitis and partially a cartilage issue.”
The tight-lipped Utley said Saturday he hoped to play in a game this week. Obviously, those plans are on hold. However, Amaro expressed some optimism that Utley isn’t going to miss a significant part of the season.
“He’s been improving the last couple weeks, but not to the point where he can get on the field,” Amaro said. “I would think it would be doubtful for him to be prepared to play second base for us on opening day. Really this is about making sure he’s healthy and playing a significant amount of the season so whatever time it takes for him to feel confident about his knees, that’s the important part whether it’s tomorrow or the next week.”
Amaro said he’s not looking outside the organization to replace Utley. Placido Polanco also can play second base if the Phillies wanted to add a third baseman instead.
The plan for now is to use Freddy Galvis at second. Galvis, a top prospect once considered the shortstop of the future, has been adjusting to the new position.
“I keep working hard, so we’ll see what happens,” Galvis said. “It’s a little different angle. You see the whole field at shortstop. Biggest difference is turning the double play. At shortstop, I can see the runner. But so far, everything is good.”
Galvis has drawn high praise from manager Charlie Manuel and Amaro.
“Freddy’s done a nice job for us,” Amaro said. “Until somebody unseats Freddy, I think he’s one of the candidates. I like Galvis. Has Galvis done anything to warrant not playing? He’s been our best player this spring. We’re going to give him a chance.”
The Phillies already are without Ryan Howard. The former MVP is recovering from surgery on his left Achilles and is unlikely to return before June. Howard remains in a walking boot, though he’s doing some light exercising and cardio work.
Howard suffered a setback early in spring when he developed an infection around the wound near his surgically repaired leg.
“Status quo on Ryan, trying to heal the wound and once the wound is healed, we’ll get him doing more stuff,” Amaro said.
Utley batted just .259 with 11 homers and 44 RBIs in 103 games last year, and his batting average and slugging percentage have dropped each season since 2007. It’s possible the 33-year-old Utley may never be the same player who once was considered one of the best all-around stars in the majors.
“I worry about Chase because it’s a chronic knee problem,” Amaro said. “About his career? I don’t know.” — (AP)
The Philadelphia Phillies are putting the finishing touches on spring training as the regular season is just four days away. The Phillies will open against the host Atlanta Braves on April 1 at Turner Field. The first pitch will be at 7:10 p.m.
There are a number of storylines with the Phillies this season. However, Domonic Brown will be the focus of attention. During the spring, everybody has been talking about Brown’s spectacular play in Clearwater, Fla.
He’s batting .373 with 17 RBI and seven home runs. He’s produced four doubles and scored 22 runs. The way he’s played in spring training has been nothing short of fantastic.
The Phillies are going to need some good and consistent play from their left fielder. There’s been a lot of talk about Brown’s ability to become a solid hitter. So far, he has shown a tremendous amount of development with his swing.
The Phillies are a veteran team with shortstop Jimmy Rollins, 34, second baseman Chase Utley, 34, and first baseman, Ryan Howard, 33. They could definitely use a good young player in the starting lineup every day. Moreover, Utley and Howard are coming off seasons that limited their play because of injuries. Howard played just 71 games following his Achilles injury. Utley played just 83 games due to chronic knee problems. At 25, Brown looks like that player right now.
The 6-foot-5, 200-pounder, is a terrific athlete. Brown was an outstanding wide receiver in high school. He grew up in Zephyr Hills, Fla. and played sports at Pasco High School before moving to Stone Mountain, Ga., where he starred at Redan High School. Brown was a good enough wide receiver to play Division I football. He had a chance to play for the University of Miami before signing with the Phillies. In 2006, he was drafted in the 20th round by the Phillies.
Brown climbed the ladder in the Phillies’ minor league system. He played in their Gulf Coast League. He got promoted to the New York-Penn League. He moved from A-level baseball to AA, where he starred in Reading. He also played AAA baseball for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. His minor league career has been stellar.
In 2009, he was the Phillies’ best prospect. The following year, he was regarded as the best prospect in the majors by Baseball America.
In 2010, he played his first game for the Phillies when then-centerfielder Shane Victorino got hurt. He had an impressive debut on July 28 against the Arizona Diamondbacks in a 7-1 victory. He went 2-for-3 with a single and a double. He had two RBIs, too. Overall, he batted .210 in 35 games with the Phillies. Brown didn’t have big numbers at the plate. But he did enough to impress Manager Charlie Manuel, and get a spot on the postseason roster. He made three appearances going hitless in two rounds in a season where the Phillies lost to the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series.
Brown has shown flashes of brilliance with the Phillies over the last two years. The team just needs to see some steady contributions from him.
In 2012, Brown played 60 games with the Iron Pigs hitting .286 with five homers and 28 RBIs. However, he hit .235 with five homers and 26 RBIs with the Phillies.
But from all accounts, Brown is playing at an extremely high level this spring. And not just at the plate, but in the field as well. He’s been able to display a strong arm and good speed in terms of getting to the ball.
After not making the playoffs last season, this is a big year for the Phillies. Sports Illustrated has already predicted the Washington Nationals as the winner of the 2013 World Series. The Nationals are in the Phillies’ division. That should give them a lot of incentive whenever they play their National League East rival.
Of course, the Braves were a wildcard team last year. Atlanta has added B.J. Upton and his younger brother Justin in what should be one of the most talented outfields in the majors.
This is a big series for the Phillies. After playing the Braves, they open against the Kansas City Royals on Friday, April 4 at Citizens Bank Park for a three-game series. Then the Phillies will entertain the New York Mets. The Phillies need to get off to a good start. A good year from Brown could make a big difference.
For a team that finished 17 games out of first place, the Philadelphia Phillies are quite confident they can regain the NL East crown they relinquished to Washington after a five-year run.
"The Nationals had a great year last year, but we had a lot of injuries," slugger Ryan Howard said. "Call us old if you want to. If you want to sweep us under the rug, just don't be surprised."
The Phillies' streak of five consecutive division titles ended in 2012 with an 81-81 finish. Injuries were a major factor for the decline. Howard and Chase Utley, the team's Nos. 3-4 hitters, combined to miss 160 games to start the season. Ace Roy Halladay was out for a two-month stretch in the middle.
While the facts say the Phillies are trending downward — they've taken one step back each season since winning the 2008 World Series — players insist they have plenty left to contend now that they're healthy.
"We're a complete team now," former NL MVP Jimmy Rollins said. "We're not going out there with role players. We're going out there with everyday players, every game."
Rollins makes a valid point. After Howard and Utley both returned, the Phillies went 44-34. They even made a late run toward a playoff berth, pulling within three games of the second wild-card spot with 11 games left before finishing 4-7.
Howard had an excellent spring and seems fully recovered from his Achilles' injury. Utley, who has battled chronic knee problems, played exhibition games for the first time since 2010 and will start the season in the lineup instead of on the disabled list.
Halladay hasn't been the same dominant pitcher he was for a long stretch, but the Phillies still have a pair of aces in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.
"We're very close to being a championship team, but when the time comes and we have to step between the lines, we have to play the best baseball we can for 173 games," Hamels said, adding an 11-win postseason run in his calculations.
"We have to look at it that way. If we don't take that approach then we're selling ourselves short. That's the attitude we're giving and you can feel it in the clubhouse and I can see the work ethic that we have with the type of players that we have," he said.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. didn't make a big splash in the offseason for change. Still, he filled important holes with talented players. Seven-time All-Star Michael Young was acquired from Texas to play third base. Center fielder Ben Revere came over from Minnesota in a trade. Right fielder Delmon Young, setup man Mike Adams and starter John Lannan were free-agent signings.
Manager Charlie Manuel raved about the new guys in the spring.
"Michael Young is going to be a real good player for us," Manuel said. "Not only is he going to hit, he's going to hit for a high average and he's going to show some power in the National League and he has a chance to hit more homers than people think. He's definitely going to be a big offensive player for us and his defense won't be lacking."
Revere replaces former All-Star Shane Victorino, who was traded to Los Angeles last July before signing with Boston in the offseason.
"Ben is a better offensive player than I thought he was," Manuel said. "He can run, he can bunt better than Vic. He doesn't have the pop Victorino had but he's faster than Victorino. Ben is going to play within himself more and he's going to be a big-time team player."
The additions of both Youngs and Revere along with the emergence of former top prospect Domonic Brown gives the Phillies a chance to have a dynamic offense. They'll need Hamels and Lee to be elite starters, especially if Halladay is just average. The bullpen led by closer Jonathan Papelbon is deep. Adams solves the team's eighth-inning woes, and there are several young arms with potential.
"We have talent in our bullpen and as the season goes on, you're going to see guys blossom," Manuel said.
If the Phillies don't win, the rebuilding could start even before the season ends. Manuel, Halladay, Utley and All-Star catcher Carlos Ruiz are in the final year of their contracts. Ruiz will miss the first 25 games because of a suspension for violating baseball's substance-abuse policy.
No doubt there's a sense of urgency to win now.
"I don't think there's anybody in there that's thinking 'I got two or three years left to do this, so I got time,'" Halladay said. "I think we all want to do it now. Hopefully that's the goal. I think all the guys that are getting older realize you have less chances to do it. I would think the urgency would still be the same." -- (AP)