Phillies Spring Training: News and Notes Live from Clearwater
The Phillies headed into the home stretch of spring training Sunday with a tough 7-6 loss to the Boston Red Sox in Clearwater, Fla. While the result wasn't what fans would have wanted, the Fightin's showed some grit in coming back from a 6-0 deficit to tie the game in the eighth before giving up the winning run in the ninth.
How did the Phillies' key players fare Sunday? Here is a firsthand account of how the game shaped up at Bright House Field, and how some players with a lot on the line fared.
Cliff Lee didn't look especially sharp Sunday. His line: 5.1 innings, nine hits, six runs (four earned), seven strikeouts.
For another pitcher it might look like cause for alarm, but Lee never has had good springs. His first few starts left a lot to be desired—he's given up 16 runs (11 earned) in 16 2/3 innings this spring—but he had rough numbers a year ago in the spring and turned in one of the best pitching performances of the 2012 season. This game shouldn't be a concern.
Lee gave up three in each of the second and third innings, including a three-run homer in the second to Boston prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. He got stronger as the game went on, though, and he gave up only one hard-hit ball after the third.
Don't care much about a bad outing here. Lee got his work in and will be ready to be Cliff Lee when the season starts.
This weekend Chase Utley was looking a lot like the player he was before chronic knee injuries derailed his career.
Whatever rehab schedule he used when he left the team last spring to see a specialist in Phoenix looks like it has worked. As has his strategy of keeping his knee moving during the offseason and not allowing it the time to be idle and get creaky.
Easily lost in the panic over his injuries was that he hit .304 with a homer and 16 RBI in his last 24 games of 2012. He is currently hitting .291 with four homers and 14 RBI in 19 games, but it was this weekend when he suddenly turned it on. Over the three games I attended, he went 5-for-11 with three two-run homers and eight RBI.
He also looked excellent in the field, especially Saturday in Sarasota at Orioles camp, when he had four of the first six chances the Phillies had in the field, including three straight ground balls in the first inning—all of which required significant lateral movement. On Sunday, he went 3-for-4 with four RBI and a stolen base.
Is Chase ever going to be exactly the same as he was when he was one of baseball's best players in 2007 to 2009? It's unlikely. But the way Utley looked this weekend, the Phillies may be able to count on 80 to 90 percent of that player, and that's a heck of a lot better than a lot of other people in Major League Baseball. Fans shouldn't worry. It looks like they'll be getting their second baseman (mostly) back in 2013.
I'm going to get a lot of flak for this, but I'm going to say it anyway: Ryan Howard is back.
During Howard's most productive period from 2006 to 2009, there was a certain sound the ball had coming off his bat, a certain way the ball jumped when it was being hit. That was lacking the last few seasons, but you could see and hear it when Howard was at the plate Sunday.
Over the weekend, the Big Piece went 4-for-10 with a pair of homers and a double that was this close to being another round tripper but was knocked down by a stiff wind in Clearwater.
Even more encouraging was that one of the homers and the double came off left-handed pitchers. Overall, Howard is hitting .440 against lefties this spring, with three homers, three doubles and—brace yourselves—only four strikeouts in 25 at-bats.
Of course, these numbers are bound to even out as the regular season progresses. If Howard can have more success against lefties (he hit a woeful .178 last season with only six homers in 98 at-bats) it will be a boon to the Phillies and their offensive woes.
If Howard can even come close to replicating the seasons he's had in the past, the Phillies could solidify their position as playoff contenders—and go a long way toward giving their excellent starting rotation some real run support.
I published an article Sunday detailing the turnaround that Domonic Brown has shown in camp this spring.
Brown has had a stellar spring and was impressive this weekend, hitting a three-run homer Saturday. Sunday he went 0-for-4 but did strike the ball solidly on a pair of flyouts.
Brown is virtually guaranteed a starter's job at this point, and the Phils would greatly benefit from him carrying this form over to the regular season. If he continues, it would remove a huge amount of pressure from the shoulders of Utley and Howard and give the Phils a threat behind those two that could make teams think twice before avoiding them.
Ben Revere and Jimmy Rollins
Jimmy Rollins is one of the absolute givens of this roster. Ben Revere has pretty much been guaranteed the starting center-fielder spot since the Phillies traded Vance Worley and Trevor May for him on the final day of the winter meetings.
What wasn't certain is where Revere would bat. It looked as though longtime leadoff hitter Rollins was a given at the top of the lineup, but his absence during the World Baseball Classic allowed Charlie Manuel to experiment with the speedy Atlanta native in the top slot. Apparently Manuel liked what he saw.
Saturday and Sunday both saw Revere leading off with Rollins hitting second. Both looked impressive in those slots. Revere was 1-for-4 on Saturday and 2-for-3 with a walk Sunday, scoring a total of three runs and driving in one. He also stole a base and was caught stealing once.
Rollins was 2-for-4 on Saturday with a pair of runs scored. On Sunday he was 0-for-2 but, importantly, walked twice, not a normal occurrence for J-Roll. His second free pass, in the eighth, set up back-to-back homers for Utley and Howard that tied the game.
The Revere-one-Rollins-two lineup looks like it might just work. It maximizes Revere's speed and abilities to get on base (particularly via the bunt), and takes some of that pressure off Rollins, allowing him to take his cuts and use his power and speed as weapons. Time will tell whether Manuel will carry that lineup into the season.
Coming off a shoulder injury that robbed him of his sophomore season, Mike Stutes is in the thick of the battle for the final bullpen spots. He helped his cause Sunday.
Stutes pitched 1.1 scoreless innings against the Red Sox, allowing a walk and a hit, but he got Dustin Pedroia to hit into a double play.
Stutes has given up nine runs in 10 innings this spring, but he's also struck out eight, and he has more of a major league track record than some of the other young pitchers still chasing him for a roster spot. It will take another week to figure out how that battle will shake out, but with no one other than Phillippe Aumont really distinguishing himself, Stutes has as good a chance as anyone to go north with the club.
Jeremy Horst was a hard-luck loser Sunday. Having finished the eighth inning in impressive fashion with a strikeout and a groundout, Horst gave up a pair of leadoff hits in the ninth, but had a huge problem on his hands when Ender Inciarte booted the second hit off the bat of Bryce Brentz to put runners on second and third with no outs. He got out of the inning having allowed only the one run, but it was a less-than-excellent result for another player hoping to make the team.
Horst had a fantastic season a year ago, which may make up for his 5.54 ERA in 13 innings this spring. With fellow lefty Raul Valdez not throwing much better, Horst still has a chance to make this roster, but will need a few solid performances as the spring season draws to a close.