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Utley uninjured in WBC action against South Africa
March 10 2006

South Africa, not traditionally considered a baseball powerhouse, fell to the US team today in the World Baseball Classic.  The game was stopped after five innings in accordance with the mercy rule as team USA was winning 17-0.  The mercy rule also stipulates that baseball be criminalized in South Africa until 2018 or there is a formal governmental renouncement of cricket.

Utley had his first hits of the classic, going 3-for-4 with 2 RBI.  Ken Griffey had 2 home runs and 7 RBI.

Roger Clemens, who either will or won't pitch for the Astros this year, shined in his first action in recent memory that didn't involve pitching to a blood relative.  He struck out six in four and a third innings while allowing one hit.

The United States advances to the second round and will play Japan on Sunday.  Japan and USA both were surprising second place finishers in their respective pools.  Team USA finished behind Mexico while Japan's Pool A was won by Korea.

Note:  edited this post, which previously suggested that the game versus Japan was an elimination game (added March 10)

Get on the bus (and stay there for a long, long time)
March 10 2006

The Phillies lost to the Red Sox today, 9-4, in Grapefruit League action.

Ryan Howard hit his fourth home run of the season off of righty David Riske.  Howard also had a double on the day and finished 2-for-4.

Danny Sandoval was 2-for-3 with two doubles.  Chris Coste singled in one at-bat, again playing at catcher.

Pat Burrell went 0-for-3 and Josh Kroeger was 0-for-4.  Matt Kata played shortstop and went 0-for-3 with an error.

The game was delayed about an hour and a half as the Phillies were stuck in traffic.  Lidle was scheduled to start but couldn't get loose, so Zack Segovia pitched started for the Phillies in his first appearance this Spring.  He went one scoreless inning, giving up two hits and striking out one.  Zegovia will be 23 in April -- previously a highly thought of prospect he is trying to coming back after major surgery to his elbow. 

Yoel Hernandez followed Zegovia, giving up a run in an inning.

Corey Lidle then came in, going three innings and giving up five hits and four earned runs.  He allowed two home runs.  Lidle turned things around last year, posting solid numbers after two weaker seasons.  A big part of that was the home runs he allowed, just
18 in his 31 '05 starts after allowing 27 and 24 the two previous years.

Aquilino Lopez pitched an inning, allowing two earned runs on four hits. 

Arthur Rhodes pitched an inning and allowed a run on two hits.

Ryan Franklin pitches tomorrow for the Phillies as they square off against the Astros.

Can someone please get Lleyton Hewitt a glove?  Abreu uninjured in game against Australia
March 10 2006

It's possible team Australia is a little outmatched in the World Baseball Classic.  They've dropped their first two games, losing to Italy 10-0 and 2-0 to Venezuela yesterday despite playing well.  Things have a chance to get downright ugly tonight against the Dominican Republic.

The very young Australian team has just two hits so far in their 42 at-bats.  As a team, they're on-basing .098.  Somewhere out there Frank Robinson is no doubt ready to explain how on-base percentage is overrated and they could still compete if they can play good defense and just mix in a bunt now and then.

One of the two hits came from none other than Phillies infielder Bradley Harman.  Harman singled off of Kelvim Escobar yesterday and is 1-for-5 in the two games.  The only other player on the Australian team with a hit is Trent Durrington, who doubled against Italy and is 1-for-7 in the two games.  Durrington is one of the bigger names on the Australian team, along with Justin Huber and Dave Nillson.  Nillson last played in the Major Leagues in 1999 with the Brewers.  Huber is a former Met now with the Royals.

Harman won't turn 21 until November.  Last season at Single-A Lakewood he hit 11 home runs in 419 at-bats while posting a 303/380/442 line.  He did make an error for Australia and was caught stealing after his single off of Escobar.  Harman is no stranger to caught stealing, in '05 he stole five bases and was caught 11 times.

Abreu went 1-for-4 in Venezuela's game against Italy with a walk and two strikeouts.  Venezuela went 2-1 in their round one games and will advance to the second round -- they will play the winner of today's game between Puerto Rico and Cuba on Monday.

Bronx bombed
March 9 2006

Phillies fell today to the New York Yankees in Spring Training action.  The Yankees pounded out 17 hits and won the game 8-3.

Alex Gonzalez (1-for-3) homered for the second straight day, this time off of righty Jeffrey Karstens.  Josh Kroeger (1-for-4) hit his first home run of the Spring.

Shane Victorino had three hits in four at-bats, including a double.

Rowand continues to struggle this Spring, going 0-for-3 today.  Lieberthal is also in a funk, he was 0-for-3 as well.

Brett Myers got the start.  He gave up a grand slam to Eric Duncan in the first inning and the Phillies never got back into the game.  Myers went three innings, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out five.

Aaron Fultz got hit again, giving up a home run to Shelley Duncan in the ninth.  No need to push the panic button with Fultz till he pitches in games that count, but hopefully someone at least knows where it is if needed.  Fultz was outstanding last season, but it was the only season in his six-year career where he posted an ERA under 4.50.  On the other hand, I'm pretty content to go with what-have-you-done-for-me-lately as a motto in lieu of what-did-you-do-for-the-Rangers-in-2003.

The dynamic duo of Haigwood and Gonzalez, together forever in the minds of Phillies fans, were both back on the mound.  Haigwood pitched two scoreless innings but allowed four hits and a walk.  Gonzalez was battered, giving up three runs on four hits and a walk in one inning.

Phillies play the Red Sox tomorrow afternoon.  Mercifully, Adam Stern should still be with team Canada in the WBC.

There's no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you'll enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?  (Airplane!)
March 9 2006

Washington Nationals GM Jim Bowden can take almost all of it, with the possible exception of former Phillie Marlon Byrd's tenth inning throwing error that led to the Nats sixth Spring Training loss yesterday.  This coming off of a Tuesday loss in which they gave up 22 runs to the Florida Marlins.  The Nationals held the Fish to 26 hits that game, on a day where the most recognizable name in the Florida lineup was Wes Helms. "I have been embarrassed the last two days.  There's going to be major cuts in the next 48 hours. It's time to take it to another level," said Bowden.

"I just don't want to be embarrassed," he added. "That's all I ask."

He apparently has come to the wrong place.  And I can't wait to see who they bring in after they cut these guys.  I can't help but feel bad for Marlon Byrd, who seems like he should have an opportunity with Washington given the chaos that is their outfield (it looks like it's Ryan Church, an injured Jose Guillen and Alfonso Soriano, if the continued efforts to talk him down from the ledge work out.  Oh, and a lot of Michael Tucker, whose career highs in home runs and RBI are 15 and 62, despite seemingly having been around since Prometheus enraged the gods by bringing fire to mankind).

Frank Robinson also seems befuddled:  "I just don't know why we can't throw and catch the ball."

Throwing the ball seems like it's going to be the bigger problem of the two.  More specifically, pitching it.  If you thought the Phillies starting rotation had problems, give a little thanks you aren't a Nationals fan.  It starts out reasonably enough, with Livan Hernandez and John Patterson at the top, but then things kind of fall apart.  Brian Lawrence, who the Nationals were counting on as their third starter, looks to be out for the season with tears in his labrum and rotator cuff.  This leaves Washington with three open spots in their starting rotation, with competition for the spots between Ramon Ortiz, Pedro Astacio, Tony Armas, Jr, Jon Rauch and Ryan Drese.

In 2005, the NL East had five solid teams that beat each other up.  Every one of the five teams won at least 81 games.  By comparison, the San Diego Padres won their division with an 82-80 record as the only team in the NL West to win 81 or more games.  Here's a look at how many teams in each of the six divisions finished .500 or better in '05:

Division # of teams
NL-E 5
NL-C 3
NL-W 1
AL-E 2
AL-C 3
AL-W 2

This year's NL East is going to look a lot different than it did last year.  The Marlins and the Nationals both seem likely to trend downward, leaving an opening for anyone who know's who their third starter is less than a month before the start of the season.

Ooh . . . Canada?!  Utley, Abreu uninjured in second game of WBC
March 8 2006

Team USA lost to Canada 8-6 in an upset in the World Baseball Classic.

After falling behind 8-0, USA put up six runs in the fifth inning charged by a Varitek grand slam, but couldn't get any closer and fell to 1-1 in the tournament.

Michael Young got the start at 2B.  Chase Utley came off the bench and went 0-for-2 on the day, twice hitting the ball hard.  In the sixth he smashed a line out to second base.  In the bottom of the eighth, with two outs and two on, he crushed a ball to that looked like it had a chance to do major damage, but it was tracked down by Canadian Red Sox Adam Stern in center. 

Bobby Abreu and Venezuela beat Italy 6-0.  Abreu, who played center field again today, was removed for defensive replacement and former Phil Endy Chavez in the eighth.  This is an interesting approach to using Chavez -- maybe they couldn't figure out a way to have him pinch hit with men on base and the game on the line.

Abreu went 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI.

Gonzalez rocks the Kazmir
March 8 2006

Phillies fall 4-3 to the Devil Rays in Spring Training action.

Alex Gonzalez homered off of tough lefty Devil Dog Scott Kazmir.  Ut-oh.  Always glad to see a Phillie go deep, but let's start fitting people for electrical shock collars if they are tempted to continue to pontificate about a 1B platoon with Ryan Howard.  Howard flailed against southpaws last year but I'd let him flail a whole lot longer before I went that route.  Gonzalez is a good guy to have around but his career numbers against lefties are 258/323/408 (please note that I only mention Tomas Perez as a possible platoon-mate here parenthetically as if it weren't really something to consider.  If only hoping made it so.  Tomas's career numbers versus lefties:  254/296/390).

Shawn Garrett also homered, a two-run shot in the ninth inning.

Matt Kata doubled in his lone at-bat.

Jon Lieber got the start for the Phillies and went three innings allowing six hits but just two earned runs.  He struck out four and walked none.

Ricardo Rodriguez and Julio Santana both pitched better after recent struggles.  Each threw two scoreless innings.  Rodriguez allowed four runners while Santana allow just two and stuck out two.

Geoff Geary, also in the hunt for a spot in the pen, had a bad outing in what's been a nice Spring.  He gave up three hits and two earned runs in two innings.

Who do we talk to about getting the South African WBC team in the NL East?
March 8 2006

Good news from the WBC as Rheal Cormier pitches well in team Canada's opening game --he went one and a third innings allowing just one walk while striking out two.  The less inspiring news is the guys he got out:  Jonathan Phillips, Jason Cook, Ricardo Siljeur (caught stealing) and Shannon Ekermans, who has apparently undergone a career change since helping to mastermind the 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan (little joke there -- that guy was
Shawn Eckhardt).

One of the only things I feel real comfortable saying about the Phillies bullpen at this point is that they're going to be really old.  Of course we'll be counting on Flash Gordon (38 this season) and Arthur Rhodes (36) at the back end of the pen, but let's not forget that the granddaddy of them all, Rheal Cormier, turns 39 next month.

Thirty-nine next April doesn't worry me that much.  What worries me more is the combination of 39 plus being just absolutely god-awful last season -- he struggled through much of last year with tendonitis in his throwing shoulder.  Here's a look at Cormier's numbers in the last three years:

Year IP H BB SO ERA Ratio
2003 84.7 54 25 67 1.70 0.93
2004 81.0 70 26 46 3.56 1.19
2005 47.3 56 16 34 5.89 1.52

This just doesn't seem like a good trend -- in 2005 he allowed more hits than he did in 2003 despite pitching more than 37 fewer innings.

Cormier has been with the Phillies for the past five season -- 2003 was by far the best year of his 14-year career and the only time he's posted an ERA under three.   He was a starting pitcher for several years before being converted to a reliever in 1999 with the Red Sox.

Hopefully Cormier's problems last season were due to his shoulder and got sorted out by last September, leaving him poised to bounce back in '06.  He was hammered all season in '05 until the very end, posting an ERA above five in every month until September, when he put up three and a third scoreless innings in his last five appearances of the season.

Exhibit ball!  Utley and Abreu uninjured in opening games of WBC
March 7 2006

The world baseball classic is here, like it or not, and it's pretty hard not to notice if you like baseball.  For weeks the complaints have piled up -- about the rules, the rosters, about everything.  They were right, there are a lot of problems.  But then the WBC brought out it's big guns:  they started playing games.  And I dare any baseball fan to try to ignore
matchups like the one we saw today between Venezuela and the Dominican Republic:  Johan Santana against Bartolo Colon.

Santana started for Venezuela, Colon for Dominican Republic.

The Dominican lineup featured a wicked top six of the batting order that went Soriano, Tejada, Pujols, Ortiz, Alou, Beltre.  Ha.  That's absurd.  And pity the poor pitchers on pitch counts that are going to make it harder to pitch around guys -- I'd definitely be tempted to walk all six of them and try to get Encarnacion in the seven-hole to ground into a double-play.

Beloved Phillie and Gold Glover Bobby Abreu played CF for Venezuela, going 0-for-4 with a walk and four men left on base.

The Dominican Republic got two home runs each from Ortiz and Beltre and won the game 11-5, powered by a five-run ninth inning in which they lit up new Met Jorge Julio.

The US team opened against Mexico.  To the befuddlement of many, beloved Phillie Chase Utley batted eighth in a lineup that included Randy Winn and Brian Schneider.  Eighth?

Utley went 0-for-3 with a strikeout.  USA won 2-0 on solo shots by Derrek Lee and Chipper.  Seven US pitchers combined for a four-hit shutout.

Note:  Chase Utley actually batted ninth, not eighth in the USA lineup (added March 8)

Like a ray of not a good baseball team
March 7 2006

Phillies beat the Devil Rays 5-4 in Spring Training action.

Ryan Howard homered for the third time this Spring.

In news of guys looking for a spot on the Phillies bench, Michael Bourn doubled in his lone at-bat, driving in a run. Peter Bergeron also drove in a run, going 1-for-2 with a single.  Matt Kata and Shawn Garrett had rough days at the plate, Kata was 0-for-4 and Garrett 0-for-3.

Ryan Madson strengthened his grip on a rotation spot,  allowing one hit and one earned run in three innings.  Yoel Hernandez allowed a hit and a walk in two innings, allowing an earned run while striking out two.

Arthur Rhodes pitched a perfect inning.  Aquilino Lopez, who has been impressive so far, allowed a single run on two hits while striking out two.

Someone named Jeremy Cummings allegedly got the save for the Phillies.  I am suspicious they may have made him up, but, if not, he went two innings and allowed an earned run, giving up three hits and a walk.  This may be a fictional person they tried to slip in to see if anyone were paying attention -- keep your wits about you and let's be careful out there. 

Phils get the Devil Dogs again tomorrow afternoon.

Jeremy Cummings uncovered
March 7 2006

 A closer look reveals he's not only real but pitched well for St. Louis in AA and AAA last season, most impressively posting a 2.77 ERA in the hitter's paradise that is the Pacific Coast League.

Cummings, a non-roster invitee, is a 29-year old righty who has been both a starter and reliever during his six year minor league career.

According to a February 26 article in the Springfield News-Leader, Cummings "was demoted from Triple-A Memphis to Double-A Springfield last May after failing a test for performance-enhancing drugs."

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean Ryan Franklin is going to post an
ERA under five

March 6 2006

If you've been worrying about the Phillies starting rotation there's no reason to stop now.  The Phillies lost their first Spring Training game of the season today, falling 5-2 to the Cincinnati Reds.

Pat the Bat was Pat the Sat, out with the sore foot.  He's expected to play tomorrow, complete with some sort of brace.

Sal Fasano hit a solo home run for the Phillies in the in the fifth (side note:  if anybody should be catching for the Italian team in the World Baseball Classic, shouldn't it be Sal Fasano?  Yes, he was born in Chicago but he could have played the two-Italian-sounding-names card and edged out the Norristown, PA, born Mike Piazza two to one for the honor.   Here's a suggestion for WBC 1.1, if we ever get there -- some eligibility requirements more stringent then which country's flag is your favorite).

Alex Gonzalez played short and got the Phillies other RBI on a fourth inning single.  He was 1-for-4 on the day.

Shane Victorino led off and continued to hit well, he went 2-for-3 with two singles.

It was another outing for Ryan Franklin that isn't going to leave anyone feeling warm and fuzzy.  In two innings he gave up four hits and two earned runs.

Gavin Floyd's line looks better than his last appearance, he gave up a single run in two and two-thirds innings, allowing one hit and two walks.

Aaron Fultz got hit again, giving up a two-run home run.  Brian Sanches struck out three in one and one-third scoreless innings.

Getting Uggla-ier and Uggla-ier for the Fish
March 6 2006

Pokey Reese has had his contract terminated by the Marlins, reducing the number of players associated with the Marlins that you've heard of to approximately four.   Reese, who is apparently dealing with personal issues, left camp on Wednesday and failed to notify the Marlins of his whereabouts for 72 hours.

According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, his absence leaves the Fish options at second base as Dan Uggla, Alfredo Amezaga, Mickey Lopez, Scott Seabol and Lenny Harris.  I assume Lenny Harris is only included in the list for purposes of comic relief -- he'll be 41 this year.   Scott Seabol is somewhat recognizable as the guy who filled in for the Cardinals a bit when Scott Rolen went down last year.  He'll be 31 this season and has 106 career at-bats with a career on-base percentage of .270.  Amezaga will be 28 this year and has 217 career at-bats and a career on-base percentage of .265.  Mickey Lopez will be 31 this year and has four career at-bats.  Dan Uggla seems to have the funniest name and is the front-runner for the job -- he'll turn 26 on Saturday and seems likely to get his first career at-bat in 2006.  Amazingly, Uggla is the youngest guy on the list at 26 -- if I were the Fish and my choices were to be young and bad or old and bad, I'd go with young and bad.

Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis must feel like they are atoning for sins from a past life.

It's hard to tell how bad the Marlins will be this season, but I expect describing it may require harsh language before it's all said and done.  In 1998, Florida won just 54 games.  They followed that up with a 64-98 1999 season -- during that 1999 season, then minor-leaguer Kevin Millar famously proclaimed, "We're challenging the Marlins to a seven-game series, and the winner stays [in the majors].  We'd beat them in six games."  In 2006 the good minor leaguers in the Marlins organization won't be able to challenge the big league club -- they'll be playing for it.

Chase Utley uninjured in WBC practice game
March 6 2006

In World Baseball Classic News, Chase Utley went 5-for-5 with a home run on against a split squad of San Francisco Giants on Sunday, while playing a tune-up game for the United States team.

Six games have been played so far, all in Group A in Tokyo, Japan.  If you listen closely you can hear chants of "Wait till the World Ping-Pong Classic" coming from China, who were outscored 40-6 in their three games.  Korea finished first in the group after a surprising 3-2 win over Japan.  Japan is second in the group at 2-1 with Chinese Taipei in third place at 1-2.  As the top two finishers in the group, Korea and Japan advance to the second round of the tournament, which begins March 16.

USA is in Group B.  The winner of Group B (which also includes Canada, Mexico and South Africa) will play Korea, while the second place finisher in Group B will get Japan.  It may be worth it for USA to lose to Japan in the semi-finals just to see what Bobby Valentine has to say about it.

Ten Phillies are participating in the Classic:

US:  Utley
Venezuela:  Abreu, Tomas Perez
Canada:  Cormier, Scott Mathieson, Aaron Myette
Dominican Republic:  Robinson Tejada, Eude Brito
Panama:  Carlos Ruiz
Australia:  Bradley Harman

USA plays its first game tomorrow against Mexico.

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