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Let's play two, matey
March 25 2006

The Phillies have played the Pirates twice in the past two days.  They lost today's game 8-3.

Jimmy Rollins hit his first homer and was 1-for-3 on the day.  He's hitting .309 this spring.

Abreu was 1-for-2 with a home run.  Aaron Rowand followed up his three hits yesterday with two more today.  He was 2-for-4 as his spring average climbed to .232.

Utley 0-for-3.  Gonzalez 0-for-3 with an error.  Tomas Perez was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.

Brett Myers started the game and went six innings.  He allowed two earned runs on seven hits including a solo home run.  He struck out nine and walked none.

Robinson Tejeda got bombed, giving up three earned runs in 1 2/3 innings on four hits and three walks.  He seems close to a sure thing to start the season in the minors at this point.

Last night the Phillies played the Pirates, winning 5-4.

Mike Lieberthal had two hits in three at-bats to raise his spring average to .263.

Aaron Rowand went 3-for-3 with a home run, his third of the spring, a double and a stolen base.

Chris Coste had just one at-bat on the day, but his two run double in the seventh put the Phillies ahead to stay, continuing his tremendous spring.  "As far as a guy coming up with big hits, that may be the best spring I've seen a guy have. That's very impressive," said Charlie Manuel.

Eude Brito started the game for the Phillies, giving up three earned runs on five hits in two innings.  Brito will likely start the season at Triple-A.

Arthur Rhodes pitched a scoreless inning as his excellent spring continued (spring ERA: 1.29).  Speaking of excellent springs, Geoff Geary (spring ERA:  1.38) went two innings allowing just one hit.

Ricardo Rodriguez has not been excellent this spring, but pitched very well, going three innings without allowing a run.  He did issue three walks.

Tom Gordon went a scoreless inning, striking out two. 

The Phillies play the Red Sox on Sunday.

Peter Pan 1, Cole Hamels 0
March 24 2006

Cole Hamels has "had no back issues at all", according to Mike Arbuckle, in an article you can read here, and here's how comfortable the Phillies feel about it:  They are sending him to start the season at Single-A Clearwater to protect him from cold weather and long bus rides.

"It has nothing to do with ability," said Arbuckle.  "Because of weather and bus rides, we thought it made sense to start him in warm weather and where there are very limited bus rides."

Hamels has pitched just 152 innings in the past three years, mostly in Single-A.  He made it to Double-A Reading for three stats in '05.  He has been dominant, posting a career ERA 1.54 and a ratio under one.  He's struck out 208 batters.  He's allowed just two home runs -- going into last year he hadn't allowed a single long ball in 117 innings. 

Hamels will stay with the team for the time being as he hasn't been officially reassigned yet.

Hello Kitty
March 23 2006

The Phillies played the Detroit Tigers today for the 63rd time this spring training.  Multiple sources of normally reliable information allege  the Phillies and Tigers have played just twice this spring training before today, with the Phillies winning 7-4 on Tuesday and 3-2 on Monday, March 13, but that hardly seems possible.  I'll keep an eye on it for all of us.

The Phillies lost today's game 8-7 in ten innings. 

Ryan Howard set a new Phillies record for spring training home runs, hitting his tenth while going 2-for-4.  Dick Allen hit nine in 1964 when he was just 22 years old.  Allen went on to have a nice year, hitting .318 with 29 HR and 91 RBI in '64.

Still fighting for a spot, Chris Coste was 2-for-2 to raise his spring average to .483.  He may have a chance depending on what happens with Tomas Perez and Bell's back.

Lieberthal was 2-for-4.  Rowand's tough spring continues, he was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts as his spring average dropped to .163.  Rowand is one to watch as he comes out of the gate, he's a career .205 hitter in April.

Robinson Tejeda was on the hill for the Phils.  Unfazed by Tejeda's stellar performance in 2005, the Phillies are likely to send Tejeda back to the minors to start the season in '06.  He still holds onto a sliver of hope to beat out Ricardo Rodriguez for a spot as a long reliever, but it's looking more and more slivery every day given that Tejeda has options while Rodriguez does not.

Tejeda pitched just one inning, allowing a walk, before the game was delayed by rain.  Tejeda did not return after the delay.

Aaron Fultz followed Tejeda, pitching a scoreless inning.

Julio Santana threw two perfect innings.

In an encouraging development, struggling Rheal Cormier went two scoreless innings, striking out two and allowing just one hit.

Aquilino Lopez, who had been pitching very well, gave up three runs in one inning, allowing three hits and two walks.

The Phillies play the Pirates tomorrow.

Brave same old world
March 22 2006

The Phillies squared off in spring training action today against the Atlanta Braves, an organization that has won their division 14 times in a row.  Atlanta moved to the NL East in 1994 and have never failed to win it in a complete season since (in '94 they were trailing the Expos when the season was cancelled).  The Phillies did take the NL East in '93 -- the Braves were still in the NL West that year and had to be content with winning that as they had in '91 and '92.   Sadly, since 1990, the Braves have won less than 90 games in a full season just once (88 was good enough to take the division in '01).  The Braves were really terrible as recently as the last century -- in 1990 they finished 65-97, so if we can figure out a way to make them give 500 at-bats to Jim Presley or make Joe Boever their closer things should be fine.

If you're a Phillies fan looking for the Phillies to win the division this year, I can pretty much bottom line it for you: things look a little bleak.  The good news is pretty limited, but here it goes: 14 is a very unlikely number in China.  It's not exactly good news, but it's also the uniform numbers for Pete Rose and Ernie Banks and the number of legs on a pillbug. 

It seems like the core of the Braves should be getting old and feeble soon, but they aren't, and the team keeps reloading.  Smoltz will be 39 this year, and Chipper 34, but virtually everyone else has years left to play.  Andruw Jones starting playing in the big leagues at age 19 and will be just 29 this season.  The other bad news is that the Braves introduced a whole new generation of young players last season, starting with soon to be superstar Jeff Francoeur, but also outfielders Kelly Johnson and Ryan Langerhaus, infielder Wilson Betemit and catcher Brian McCann.

There will be a couple of big changes for the Braves in '06.  Former Philly Johnny Estrada, who handled most of the catching duties last year, was traded to the Diamondbacks in December for pitchers Lance Cormier and Oscar Villarreal.  The move makes room for newcomer Brian McCann, who is likely to see a lot of the time behind the plate for the Braves this year.  Super prospect
Jarrod Saltalamacchia will start the season at Double-A.  Saltalamacchia may be the best catching prospect in baseball -- the only good news for Braves foes is that both McCann and Saltalamacchia can't catch for the same team at the same time.  First baseman Adam Laroche may have some sleepless nights ahead while Atlanta discusses what to do with the pair of backstops.

Another big change will be at shortstop.  Perennial leadoff man Rafael Furcal will be with the Dodgers following six seasons at the top of the Braves order.  Furcal left the Braves as a free agent in the off-season and will be replaced by Edgar Renteria.  Here's a look at what the two have done in the past two seasons:

Player Year Team AB H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
Furcal '05 ATL 616 175 12 58 284 348 429
  '04 ATL 563 157 14 59 279 344 414
                   
Renteria '05 BOS 623 172 8 70 276 335 385
  '04 STL 586 168 10 72 287 327 401

Furcal's offensive numbers are a little better.  Renteria, a right-handed batter, has dramatic splits, hitting much better against lefties.  For his career, his line against lefties is 297/381/448 but just 285/333/384 against righties.  Furcal, by comparison, is a switch hitter whose career numbers are similar against lefties and righties:   281/346/430 versus lefties and 285/348/402 against right handed pitching.  Furcal also offered stolen bases that Renteria probably won't -- he stole 75 bases in the past two years and was caught just 16 times.  In the same two years, Renteria stole 26 bases and was caught 15 times.  This all seems like it should be good news for the Phillies, and it is.  Part of the problem, though, is the Braves have young Wilson Betemit, who can play short and smoked righties in limited action last season, posting a 327/390/464 line against right-handed pitching.

Defensively, however, Furcal is far better than Renteria, who made a remarkable 30 errors for Boston last season.  Here's a look at some of their numbers from last season:

Player Inn PO A Errors FPCT RF ZR
Furcal 1306.1 255 504 15 .981 5.23 .858
Renteria 1293.0 227 398 30 .954 4.35 .811

In the starting rotation, the Braves will be trotting out a lot of familiar faces.  Tim Hudson, John Smoltz and Horacio Ramirez combined to start 94 games for Atlanta in '05, posting a combined 39-25 record.  All three are expected back this season.  They will be joined by Jorge Sosa, coming off his first really good year at age 28  -- he posted a 13-3 mark in 20 starts with a 2.55 ERA.  John Thomson will also likely be part of the rotation, he went 4-6 in 17 starts last year.  Waiting in the wings is yet another top prospect, Chuck James, who may figure in the mix at some point this year along with Kyle Davies.  Davies got 14 starts of the Braves last year at age 21.

It seems like there should be a glimmer of hope with the bullpen as Kyle Farnsworth and his 1.98 ERA last year joined the Yankees in the off-season.  Remember that the Braves season ended in the 18th inning with 21 year old Joey Devine on the hill -- a good young pitcher but a guy who had just five innings of major league experience when Chris Burke's home run sent the Astros to the NLCS.  The Braves still don't have a completely reliable closer, and look likely to stat the year with Chris Reitsma back in the role.  He may be joined in the pen by Lance Cormier and Oscar Villarreal, who came over in the Estrada deal.  No sign of Dan Kolb, who closed for the Braves for some of '05, posting an ERA near six to go with his eleven saves and is now a Brewer.

I try to feel the sunshine, you bring the rain (Guns N' Roses)
March 22 2006

The Phillies faced the Braves today in spring training action.  The game was called after ten innings and ended in a 4-4 tie.

Ryan Howard hit his ninth spring training home run, a three-run shot off of Jorge Sosa.  Howard was 2-for-4 on the day and is hitting .370 this spring.

Chris Roberson was 3-for-5 and stole a base.  Alex Gonzalez was 2-for-4 with two singles.

Shane Victorino was 0-for-5, dropping his average to .239.  Hank Blalock's brother was 0-for-2 (I bet he never, ever gets tired of that).  Jake Blalock is a prospect no matter who his brother is -- he's 22 and hit .279 in Single-A last year, stroking 11 home runs and driving in 65.

Ryan Franklin sailed through three innings before allowing solo homers to Andruw Jones and Jeff Francoeur (let's all just learn to spell it now, I don't think he's going away.  It's 'oeur', apparently).  Franklin gave up three hits and two walks in five innings, holding the Braves to two runs.

Geoff Geary pitched a scoreless inning, lowering his spring ERA to 1.64.

Yoel Hernandez pitched an inning and allowed two runs on two hits and two walks.

Tom Gordon pitched a perfect inning.

Matt Squires pitched two scoreless innings.  Squires is 27 and pitched very well in the low minors from '01-03, posting a 1.21 ERA in '03 in just 29 2/3 innings and a 1.86 ERA in '03.  He had shoulder surgery in '04 and struggled last year coming off the operation.

Split squad sweep
March 21 2006

Split squads of Phillies played two games today, against the Tigers and the Pirates.  The Phillies won both games, beating the Tigers 7-4 and the Pirates 5-2.

In the game against the Tigers, Pat Burrell hit a home run, his second of spring training. 

Danny Sandoval was 1-for-4 with a two-run double.  He's almost surely headed back to the minors to start the season but hitting .300 for the spring. 

Chris Coste was 1-for-1 with a single.  Abraham Nunez was 2-for-3 and Bobby Abreu had a double in three at-bats.

Gavin Floyd started the game and pitched very well for the second straight appearance.  He went five shutout innings and struck out five, allowing two hits and two walks.  He's 3-0 for the spring with a 2.30 ERA.

The Phillies shut the Tigers out through seven.  After Floyd, Arthur Rhodes and Ricardo Rodriguez each threw a scoreless inning.  Rodriguez was coming off an awful appearance over the weekend but struck out two and allowed just one hit.

Both of the pitchers back from playing with the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, Robinson Tejeda and Eude Brito, pitched.   They each pitched one inning, each allowing two hits and a two-run homer. 

In the game against Pittsburgh, Chase Utley put the Phillies out to an early lead with a two-run home run off of Pirate starter Zach Duke in the first inning.  Utley was 1-for-4 on the day.

Shane Victorino was 2-for-3 with two triples.  Alex Gonzalez singled twice in four at-bats to raise his spring average to .294.  Tomas Perez was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.  Chris Roberson was 0-for-3 but walked twice, his first walks in 38 spring at-bats.  Roberson is hitting at .289. 

Corey Lidle got the start for the Phillies and threw five shutout innings, striking out five.  He allowed three hits and a walk.

Fultz followed Lidle.  He went two innings and allowed a run on a home run to prospect Jose Bautista.

Julio Santana, who seems sure of a spot in the Phillies pen, gave up three hits and a run in one inning.  His spring ERA is 4.66.

Aquilino Lopez, who likely does not have a spot unless he can beat out the optionless Ricardo Rodriguez, threw a scoreless inning for the save.  He allowed a hit and a walk and has a spring ERA of 3.38.

Finally, David Bell and his recovering back played in a Minor League game and went 1-for-5 with a double.

The Phillies play the Braves tomorrow afternoon.  Ryan Franklin will be on the hill, looking for his third straight solid spring start.

It's the end of the World Baseball Classic as we know it (and I feel fine)
March 21 2006

Japan has won the first World Baseball Classic, beating Cuba last night 10-6 in the tournament's final game. 

Japan jumped out to an early 4-0 lead, scoring four runs in the top of the first on three hits, two walks and a hit batter.  In the fifth they expanded their lead to 6-1 on a double by Ichiro, two singles and a sacrifice fly.  Cuba rallied, getting two in the sixth and two in the eighth to bring the game to 6-5, but Japan put the game away with a four run top of the ninth.  Japan did not homer in the final game and managed to score ten runs with just one extra-base hit, Ichiro's double.

The Japanese team went just 3-3 in the first two rounds of the Classic, losing twice to the Korean team and once to the US.  They finally beat the Koreans in the semifinals, 6-0, to advance to the final game against Cuba.

The Japanese team hit .311 overall, which was the highest mark in the tournament (the US was second at .289).  Japanese pitchers combined to post a 2.49 ERA, striking out 62 batters in 68 1/3 innings.  As a team they posted a ratio of 0.92, allowing just 52 hits and 11 walks.  Five time All-Star and holder of the all-time single season hit record Ichiro Suzuki hit .364 during the eight games.  Left fielder Hitoshi Tamura had three home runs and nine RBI.   First baseman Nobuhiko Matsunaka was 13-for-30 (.433) with four doubles.

No matter what Pat Gillick does for the Phillies over the next few years, a tremendous part of his legacy will be the addition of Ichiro to the 2001 Mariners while the Seattle GM.  Ichiro was the first Japanese position player to play in the states, and the signing came at a time when many in baseball thought Japanese players were too frail to be successful in the major leagues.  They were wrong.  Gillick discusses the Ichiro signing and other issues in an October, 2005 interview with Scout.com, which you can read here.

The last Phillies to be eliminated from the WBC were Robinson Tejeda and Eude Brito.  They were with the Dominican team that lost to Cuba 3-1 in Saturday's semifinal game.

The two combined to throw just 2 1/3 innings during the Dominican team's seven games.  They returned to the Phillies yesterday -- Tejeda still has a chance to make the team as a long reliever while Brito will likely start the season in the minors.  Here's a look at their numbers from the Classic:

Player G IP H BB SO ERA
R Tejada 2 1.1 1 3 1 6.75
E Brito 1 1.0 0 1 1 0.00

For five years in the minor leagues, I wore the same underwear and still hit .250, so no, I don't believe in that stuff. (Dusty Baker, on superstitions)
March 21 2006

The Phillies reassigned pitchers Clay Condrey, Travis Minix, Brian Sanches, Ryan Cameron, infielders Bobby Scales and Joe Thurston, and outfielders Peter Bergeron and Shawn Garrett to their minor league camp today.

In spring training Scales was 0-for-12.  Bergeron hit .409 in 22 at-bats.  Joe Thurston was 4-for-17.  Garrett hit .226 with two home runs and six RBI in 31 at-bats.

Clay Condrey pitched five innings and gave up four earned runs.  Travis Minix allowed an earned run in 3 1/3 innings.  Brian Sanches pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out six.  Ryan Cameron pitched just 2 2/3 innings, allowing three earned runs.

Plan 9 from outer space
March 20 2006

It's looking more and more like David Bell won't be ready to go, but not to worry, the Phillies have responded quickly, giving Alex Gonzalez a chance to show what he can do in the outfield.  It's not exactly clear how having Gonzalez in the outfield helps the Phillies with the void at third base, but it's creative.  And there's more: Tomas Perez is in the mix,
too, and will try his hand in the outfield this spring as well.

As part of their ongoing effort to acquire every player who can only be identified via dental records or their middle initial, the Phillies added Alex S. Gonzalez and Abraham O. Nunez in the off-season, partially as insurance for the struggling David Bell.  Nunez has somehow escaped outfield consideration in the master plan, but stay tuned.

Alex Gonzalez has appeared in 1,376 games during his twelve year career but none in the outfield.  He turns 33 next month, so here's hoping he's feeling spry.  The real reason it doesn't make much sense isn't that he's never done it before, it's, and stop me if you've heard this one before, that he on-based .320 or higher once in the last six years (.323 last year). 

As hard as it is to believe, given that he's seemingly been with the Phillies since MTV's programming was music-related, Tomas Perez is actually younger than Gonzalez.  He's played in 682 games, appearing in the outfield once.  I just lack the personal fortitude to go through Perez's offensive numbers, but suffice it to say he hits like a slick-fielding utility infielder who should be prevented, by force, if necessary, from ever owning or even touching a first baseman's glove.  Perez has actually appeared in as many games as pitcher as he has at outfielder (one).  This begs the question if whether, while we're out in Candyland seeing if these guys can play outfield, it might be worth a stop at Grandma Nutt's house of pitching to see if either of them can contend for a spot in the rotation.

Both Gonzalez and Perez likely could play outfield if pressed, the question is should they? The answer is not unless they play in a situation where they cannot possibly be called on for a meaningful at-bat -- in which case it probably doesn't matter who is out there.  Chris Roberson, a legitimate outfielder in the making but likely on his way back to the minors at age soon-to-be-27, must feel like he's won the baseball equivalent of Shirley Jackson's lottery.  Peter Bergeron and his .409 spring average may be good for a roll of the eyes as well.

Last season, the Phillies approach to their bench was to try to gum you to death, and it was well implemented.  Perez, Endy Chavez, Ramon Martinez and Jose Offerman combined to get 325 at-bats with all the teeth of Earthworm Jim.  Ramon Martinez led that group with a .317 on-base percentage.  Perez is the only one of those four likely to make an appearance for the Phillies this year.  Hopefully the congressional inquiry into the relationship between Endy Chavez and the NL East will have something for us soon.  Endy
spent most of his career with the Nationals/Expos before joining the Phillies last year and is now with the Mets.  The most likely explanation for this is pheromones, but we can't be sure till we hear back from the panel.  Suffice it to say there are some nervous Braves and Marlins fans out there.

The Phillies haven't really solved their problems with the bench from last year.  Things may have even gotten a little worse -- in '05 Polanco was around for part of the year and they almost always had Michaels or Lofton on the bench at the start of a game.  In a world where everyone (for example, David Bell) is healthy, the Phillies opening day bench would
likely look like this:  Victorino, Fasano, Nunez, Gonzalez, Perez.  The only question mark seems to be Perez, who may not win the final spot on the roster.

The bottom line is a get-well-soon notice to Bell's back and a renewed plea to the other starters:  Let's be careful out there. 

It takes about 3,882,858,586 Twinkies to reach the moon (or so says Wikipedia), but less than fifty to lose to the Phillies
March 20 2006

The Phillies faced the Minnesota Twins and 2004 AL Cy Young winner Johan Santana in spring training action today, winning 8-5.

Bobby Abreu hit a home run off of Santana, his first of the spring.  Utley was 2-for-4 with a triple and a double, both off of Santana.  Aaron Rowand was 2-for-4 with a double.

Lieberthal went 1-for-2 to raise his spring average to .179.

Chris Coste failed to do anything spectacular for the first time in two games, he was 0-for-1 with a strikeout.

Brett Myers got the start for the Phillies, going five innings and giving up two runs on four hits and three walks.  He struck out five and allowed solo home runs to Tony Batista and Lew Ford.

Yoel Hernandez gave up two earned runs in an inning.  Cormier allowed an earned run in one inning.

Geoff Geary went two scoreless innings to earn the save and lower his spring ERA to 1.80.

Johan Santana whiffed seven Phillies in 3 2/3 innings, but allowed four earned runs on six hits.

Phillies are in split-squad action tomorrow, facing the Tigers and the Pirates.

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