2012 All-Star suspended for 25 games

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2012 All-Star suspended for 25 games

From Comcast SportsNetPHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Add catcher to the Philadelphia Phillies' needs this offseason.All-Star Carlos Ruiz was suspended Tuesday for the first 25 games of next season following a positive test for an amphetamine. The 33-year-old catcher had a career year in 2012, hitting .325 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs in 114 games."I am sincerely regretful for my mistake in taking a prohibited stimulant," Ruiz said in a statement issued by the Major League Baseball Players Association. "I apologize to my teammates, the Phillies organization and the Philadelphia fans. I will serve the imposed 25-game suspension to begin the season and I look forward to returning to the field and working toward bringing a championship back to Philadelphia in 2013."Ruiz will be eligible to participate in spring training, including exhibition games."The Phillies fully support Major League Baseball's drug program," the team said. "We are disappointed by the news of this violation of the program. We will support Carlos in an appropriate manner and move forward to achieve our goal to play championship-caliber baseball in 2013."Erik Kratz will likely begin the 2013 season as Philadelphia's starting catcher while Ruiz serves his suspension. Kratz, a career minor-leaguer, filled in nicely when he finally got a chance after Ruiz went down with a foot injury. Kratz hit .248, but had nine doubles, nine homers and 26 RBIs in only 141 at-bats. Kratz also threw out 45 percent of base-stealers (15 of 33).Still, losing Ruiz hurts a lineup that struggled mightily last year. Ruiz moved up from his usual No. 8 spot and took over for an injured Ryan Howard as the team's cleanup hitter for a chunk of the season. He batted fifth after Howard returned in July.The Phillies, who finished 81-81 after winning five straight NL East titles, have several holes to fill. Only Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are certain regulars. Utley, though, didn't play until late May in 2011 and late June in 2012 because of chronic knee injuries.General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. hopes to add a starting center fielder, another starting outfielder and a third baseman either through free agency or trades. Now he'll also need a backup catcher for Kratz for the first month. Brian Schneider served as the team's primary backup the last three seasons, but only batted .212 in 122 games.The Phillies have two top prospects catching in the minors. Sebastian Valle hit .253 with 17 homers and 58 RBIs in 80 games at Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Tommy Joseph, acquired in the trade that sent Hunter Pence to San Francisco, hit .257 with 11 homers and 48 RBIs for the Giants' and Phillies' Double-A affiliates.Ruiz became the eighth player suspended this year under the major league testing program, the second for amphetamines following Baltimore shortstop Ryan Adams. The eight suspensions are the most since 2007.This had to be Ruiz's second positive test for a stimulant. An initial positive for a stimulant does not trigger a suspension, only that the player must undergo follow-up testing.There have been 102 suspensions this year under the minor league testing program.

Jeremy Hellickson set to pitch Saturday — unless he's traded

Jeremy Hellickson set to pitch Saturday — unless he's traded

ATLANTA — Even with the Miami Marlins having filled their need for starting pitching, there remains significant interest in Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson, according to major league sources.

The Phillies have received offers for the 29-year-old right-hander, but none that they have deemed worthy of pulling the trigger on.

Hellickson is scheduled to make his 22nd start for the club on Saturday night. Will he make that start? Time will tell. Talks between the Phillies and interested clubs are ongoing.

Hellickson is coming off two strong starts in which he allowed just six hits and one run in 14 innings against the Marlins. Another strong start Saturday could add more luster to Hellickson’s stretch-run value and bring the Phillies the package they are seeking. The trade deadline is Monday at 4 p.m.

Miami had interest in Hellickson before making a deal to acquire starters Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea from San Diego in a seven-player trade Friday (see story).

Hellickson is viewed by industry insiders as being a fallback option for a number of teams. Demand for him could grow as trades are made and the starting pitching market thins as Monday’s deadline approaches.

Baltimore, Toronto, Texas, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Houston are among teams looking to add starting pitching.

Though there’s no guarantee that Hellickson will be moved, he is the most likely Phillie to go. Reliever David Hernandez is next on the list. A number of teams are looking for relief help. The feeling around baseball is that the Phils could move Hernandez before Monday’s deadline, but the return would only be marginal.

The Phillies have received some interest in closer Jeanmar Gomez, but not to the degree one might expect for someone with 27 saves. Because Gomez lacks power stuff, rival teams do not view him as a closer on a contending team.

FOX Sports reports that the Rangers have interest in right-hander Vince Velasquez, but the Phils would have to be blown away to move the 24-year-old right-hander. Velasquez started for the Phillies on Friday night.

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons repeatedly emphasized at summer league he wanted to work on “everything” leading up to training camp.

As a point-forward who plays multiple positions, he has more than just one role to address this offseason. But what does “everything” entail? With a wide range of responsibilities on the court, Simmons is honing in on specific areas.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

Shooting
Simmons has been criticized for his reluctance to shoot. During his one season of college ball at LSU, he averaged 19.2 points off 11.7 field goal attempts per game (56 percent made). Over six summer league games (including both Utah and Las Vegas), Simmons took 22 field-goal attempts and shot 32.2 percent. He had less than 10 attempts in four of the games, and attempted 15 in the Sixers’ finale. Simmons attempted one three in summer league action.

While in Utah and Las Vegas, the Sixers encouraged Simmons to be more aggressive. At 6-foot-10, Simmons is able to get to the rim. Once there, many times he passes it off rather than finishing himself. The Sixers don’t expect Simmons to become a 30-point-per-game scorer, but he will be a key part of their offense.

“You always want him to be as good of a shooter as he can be,” Las Vegas summer league head coach Lloyd Pierce said this earlier month. “It’s not going to be his strength. His strength is going to be passing, facilitating, playmaking. That’s going to be an added bonus, whatever the percentage or the number is.”

Dribbling
Simmons averaged 5.5 assists per game during summer league (second on the team by 0.3 dimes to T.J McConnell). Conversely, he committed 3.8 turnovers.

The Sixers signed two point guards this summer, Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez, and McConnell is returning from last season. Head coach Brett Brown said after the draft he does not plan to utilize Simmons as the primary one-guard right away as the 20-year-old learns the league. But early on, Simmons will have the rock in his hands plenty of times given his natural ball-handling abilities, especially when grabbing the rebound and running the fast break.

"I think it's the hardest position to play in the NBA,” Brown previously said. “I think to just give him the ball in that capacity is borderline cruel. He needs to feel NBA basketball. And maybe he evolves there."

Weight room
After college, Simmons put on 20 pounds from his training and entered the draft at 242 pounds. He stood out among the competition in summer league play with his NBA-ready stature. Simmons said he would like to get up to 246 or 247 pounds this offseason.

“Not too heavy,” he said.

With the size of a forward and the skills of a guard, the Sixers will be able to utilize Simmons to create mismatches both in the backcourt and at the hoop.

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Rupp back behind the plate for Phillies

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Rupp back behind the plate for Phillies

After scoring five first-inning runs on their way to a 7-5 win against the Braves on Thursday, Pete Mackanin decided not to tinker with the Phillies' lineup too much.

In fact, the only change will be at catcher. The struggling Cameron Rupp will get the start on Friday and bat sixth after Carlos Ruiz was behind the plate on Thursday. Rupp, who was one of the few bright spots for the offense in the first half, is just 5 for 31 since the All-Star break. On the season, Rupp is still batting .271 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs.

Aaron Altherr came off the DL with a bang, tallying three hits, including a two-run homer on Thursday. Mackanin has said Altherr will get a long look in right field and Thursday night was a glimpse of why. 

With Altherr's regular presence in the lineup, Cody Asche has been put on notice. After going on a tear from early June to early July, Asche is batting .094 (5 for 53) in his last 17 games. With Altherr and Odubel Herrera entrenched in right and center, Asche will have to get hot to stave off prospect Nick Williams, who seems to be finding his groove at Lehigh Valley.

Here is tonight's lineup:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Cody Asche, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Vince Velasquez, P