In-House Notes from Opening Night at the Birds

In-House Notes from Opening Night at the Birds

As Matt P. already detailed the larger narrative of last night's game, we figured we would add in some other notes of interest for those of you who can't get enough football in August.

So fortunate to be in attendance last night, I was able to scrape together these in-house notes without the guiding hand of the broadcast. Maybe Tolly addressed these in detail. Maybe he didn't. Either way, I'm sure he did it with style.

Think of this as a "who was wearing what and how they looked" kind of thread. Oh, and if you're down for the not-so-subtle impact of post-lockout rule changes, you're in the right place. And now here we go with that which was overwhelmingly noticeable from last night's Eagles-Ravens preseason opener…
1. Vince Young's Familiarity with the Offense—An Attempt to Exhaust Ronnie Brown

While Kulp did his best to convince you of Vince Young's overwhelming capability as a quarterback in the NFL yesterday, we would all do well to temper that optimism with the realization that VY remains unfamiliar with the offense today. And, to borrow from Seinfeld, "it's not like there's anything wrong with that." The guy has had only—what?—less than two weeks to learn the offense that has long-been considered one of the complex in football.

With exactly that in mind, coach Andy Reid announced prior to last night's game that the playbook would be scaled down for the opener in the interest of letting some of the new players show off their athletic skills without having to constantly think their way through the process. When asked for his response, Young seemed grateful for the reprieve, mentioning that his goal for the evening was simply "to make sure I get the guys out of the huddle."

Leading the offense for 17 plays, Young would throw just five times, completing three attempts. Through he dropped back on three other occasions, those plays would result in a sack, an intentional grounding penalty and a 6-yard scramble to pick up a first down.

As VY was doing his best Shane-Falco-dance-around-the-throw-up-in-the-huddle ("Look at it this way, it's the first thing they're doing as a team!"), Ronnie Brown was doing his best not to get injured in the preseason. On those 17 plays spearheaded by Young, Brown touched the ball 10 times, finishing with a total of 9 rushes for 22 yards and 1 reception for 7. After touching the ball more than 50% of the time he was on the field, Brown must have felt like he was still a member of the Dolphins.

And though his contributions Thursday night still aren't any indication of his potential usage rate once the season starts, it was nonetheless entertaining to see what he could do. Hopefully, for the sake of LeSean McCoy and the Eagles rushing attack, Brown isn't so overworked in the preseason as to potentially injure himself, his unfortunate shortcoming in years past.

2. "We Re-Signed Brian Westbrook and He Changed His Name? Oh, that's Ronnie Brown"

While it was great to see No. 36 swinging out for a screen pass and making a guy miss on the sideline, it was a little disheartening to realize it wasn't Brian Westbrook.

For fans perhaps opposed to recycling B-West's number so quickly, Philly.com's Sheil Kapadia has authored a piece explaining the necessity of using 36 in the preseason. Bottom line, Brown won't be keeping the number when it comes time for the real Week 1.

"...An Eagles spokesman said the No. 36 is temporary. The Eagles have 90 guys on their roster and seven retired numbers. That doesn't leave many other options open right now."

Kapadia goes on to discuss not only the acceptable use of No. 36, but also numbers 5 and 20. It's a good read about the honoring the past, while nonetheless moving forward. As you'll be able to tell from a quick look at the article's comment section, retiring numbers is an especially divisive issue and—from a fan's perspective—more often based on subjective emotion than any sort of objective metric.

3. Nnamdi as a Red Zone Threat, Just Kidding, But Seriously…

Alright, that cat is huge. Watching Nnamdi line up across from receivers he's as tall, if not taller than is certainly a departure from the days of our once-small secondary.

Having not seen much of Asomugha's career on the west coast, it's absolutely no wonder that he's become as dominant as he has with that combination of height, speed and athleticism. I know we didn't sign Plax, but maybe Vick can start throwing jump balls to Nnamdi. Just a thought. Not for real. But maybe…

Oh, and while we're discussing new cornerbacks and old jersey numbers, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie took the field last night in what was once-Troy Vincent's No. 23. Is it a big deal? No. But do we notice these things? Yeah. (Note: The Eagles are advertising DRC jerseys with the No. 45 in their game day programs, so he too may be in line for a jersey change.)

4. Post-Lockout Rule Changes [In two parts labeled "A" and "B"]

Separate from the doling out of $9 trillion dollars and making sure retired players receive the healthcare they so deserve, there were a few rule changes attached to the return of football. Two of those adjustments proved evident Thursday night, leaving some fans, and even Andy Reid, at least a little confused.

A. Kick-offs Now Take Place from 35, Hope You Weren't a Fan of the Return Game

Seeing as how I got a beer, went to the bathroom once or twice and left with seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter, this stat may not be exact, but I did not once see a kick brought back out of the end zone.

In the interest of making the game safer and its players less susceptible to injury, kick-offs have been moved forward, resulting in less of an opportunity to return the football. One needs only to think of Ellis Hobbs' special teams incident last year to understand at least some of the motivation behind the move.

Still, at no point did you ever think "this guy is going to take off."

Following the USA-Mexico soccer game Wednesday night, the touch lines were still visible on the field's surface. Colored over in black so as not to be distracting, though still noticeable, Wednesday's end-line provided an especially interesting perspective on the new return game, as it worked to effectively bisect the end zone. With the benefit of that added perspective, it was easy to see that nearly every kickoff landed in the last five yards of those end zones. Some kicks sailed out the back entirely.

Granted, the wind will work to change some of the dynamic as the season progresses, but return game figures to become far less of a factor in football given the new rules, an obviously difficult realization for specialists like Devin Hester and Leon Washington. Already voicing opposition to the change, Cleveland Browns returner Josh Cribbs tweeted:

 “I see an immediate amendment on the kickoff rule either b4 the end of the year or beginning of next year bc without that part of the return game it might as well be a scrimmage....”

After watching exactly what you did at the Linc Thursday night, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was similarly moved to comment: “To me, it will swing the balance of the play dramatically to the kickoff team.”

Even with all that in mind, another trip to Cribbs' Twitter page will reveal his celebration of a 103-yard return during the third quarter of last night's San Diego Chargers-Seattle Seahawks game.

B. "Marty, Should We Challenge?" "They're Already Reviewing it, Andy." "Oh, Really?!"

What would have potentially been a Mike-Kafka fumble returned for a touchdown during the third quarter was called back after an official review.

Looking up at the video screen and walking the length of the sideline toward the north end zone, Andy repeatedly reached for the red flag dangling from his pocket. Though he never pulled it out, his gestures indicated that he was certainly considering it.

What those in attendance later came to realize was that the officials had already overturned the play themselves. While I couldn't see if anyone actually went under the tent, or if the referees just huddled to get the call right, this was the first instance in which the new replay rules may or may not have come into effect.

In short, all scoring plays are now reviewable without a coach having to weigh the benefit of objecting to a play versus the risk of losing a timeout. So, for those of you who cringe every time Andy has one of these decisions to make, you can all take some comfort. At least some of the responsibility, some of the time, has been taken out of his hands.

Regardless of whether or not video reviewed was used—again, I couldn't really tell—the Kafka-not-fumble did expose one of the new rule's coolest wrinkles. What if Raven running toward the end zone had the presence of mind to purposefully step out of bounds just before reaching the goal line?

Granted, he would have to be more than confident in his offense's ability to convert from the one-yard-line, but since it wasn't a scoring play, the turn of events would have forced Reid to potentially gamble a timeout without the benefit of an automatic review. There is a Brian-Westbrook-lays-down-at-the-one-to-keep-the-clock-moving moment in some bright athlete's future if he is smart enough to realize it.

Like the new rules? Hate em? Think Nnamdi should be on the field every play, offense and defense (still kidding, maybe)? Want more, less of Ronnie Brown? Predisposed to hate DRC out of love for Troy Vincent? See you in the comments.

Best of MLB: Alejandro De Aza drives in 5 runs in Mets' win over Cards

Best of MLB: Alejandro De Aza drives in 5 runs in Mets' win over Cards

ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright lost his glove trying to tag out Yoenis Cespedes and lost the game, too, when Alejandro De Aza homered and drove in five runs to send the New York Mets over St. Louis 10-6 Thursday night.

Seth Lugo (1-2) pitched five scoreless innings for his first big league win. The Mets took two of three to win their first series at Busch Stadium since 2008.

Brandon Moss hit two home runs for the Cardinals and Jedd Gyorko and Stephen Piscotty also connected.

The Mets led 3-0 in the fifth when Wainwright (9-8) and Cespedes were involved in a bizarre play.

Cespedes tried to go from first to third on a bloop single by James Loney. When several Cardinals chased the ball, Wainwright covered third base. Cespedes slid and his cleat pinned Wainwright's glove to the bag -- he would've been out, but when Wainwright pulled away his hand, the mitt stayed stuck under Cespedes' foot.

Because Wainwright didn't control the ball, Cespedes was called safe in a ruling upheld by replay. Moments later, De Aza hit a three-run homer to make it 7-0 (see full recap).

Scherzer's arm, Harper's bat help Nats blank O's
WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer allowed two hits over eight innings and Bryce Harper's two-run double helped the Washington Nationals avoid a four-game home-and-home sweep with a 4-0 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday night.

Scherzer (14-7) struck out 10 and did not walk a batter. He retired 12 straight after Adam Jones's fourth-inning double and 21 of 22 before Mark Trumbo's leadoff single in the eighth.

Jayson Werth's solo home run staked Washington to a 1-0 lead. Daniel Murphy's RBI double in the eighth came before Harper's second hit helped the Nationals pull away.

The Nationals had lost four straight including three in a row to the Orioles, who won twice in Baltimore before the teams shifted to Washington.

Ubaldo Jimenez (5-11) allowed one run and five hits over six innings (see full recap).

Escobar pushes surging Royals past Marlins
MIAMI -- Alcides Escobar homered and drove in two runs to lead the surging Kansas City Royals past the Miami Marlins 5-2 on Thursday night.

Salvador Perez and Kendrys Morales also drove in runs for the Royals as the defending World Series champions have won 15 of 18 to pull within four games of the second AL wild card spot.

Kansas City starter Edison Volquez (10-10) pitched five innings and allowed two runs, both unearned, and three hits.

The Royals' bullpen, which has been a successful formula for the reigning two-time AL pennant winners, pitched four scoreless innings to push their franchise-record scoreless streak to 38 2-3 innings -- the best in the majors since 2002-03 when San Francisco tossed 39 1-3 straight.

Kelvin Herrera pitched a flawless ninth for his ninth save in 11 chances.

Tom Koehler (9-9) allowed four runs, three earned, and seven hits in six innings for the Marlins (see full recap).

Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

The Phillies’ decision to trade beloved catcher Carlos Ruiz to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday was ultimately made by Ruiz himself.

“This was about doing the right thing for Carlos because he has meant so much to this organization,” general manager Matt Klentak said Thursday night.

“Once Carlos cleared trade waivers last week, we started thinking about it. The Dodgers expressed some interest. Pete [Mackanin] and I talked to Carlos over the weekend. We discussed whether he wanted to finish the year with us or get the chance to chase another championship ring.

"He took a few days to discuss it with his family and got back to us Wednesday in Chicago and said that he'd be interested in exploring the opportunity and we finalized things with the Dodgers today.”

As a veteran of 10 seasons in the majors and five consecutive with the same team, Ruiz, 37, could have vetoed the deal. He chose to accept the deal because he wanted another chance to play in the postseason. He will serve as a backup to catcher Yasmani Grandal with the Dodgers, but is expected to get playing time. Ruiz's .368 on-base percentage from the right side of the plate could be a nice complement to the lefty-hitting Grandal.

The Phillies acquired the Dodgers’ backup catcher, veteran A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitching prospect Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later in the deal. The Phils will not decide on the player to be named until after the minor-league season ends in mid-September. The Phils also sent an undisclosed amount of cash to the Dodgers. Ruiz is owed about $2 million in the form of salary and a contract buyout for 2017. Ellis, 35, is finishing up a one-year deal that pays him $4.5 million.

"This deal was not motivated by cash,” Klentak said. “It was about doing the right thing for Carlos, giving him the chance to get another ring.”

Klentak said he was "adamant" about getting Ellis back in the deal. The Phillies have two catching prospects in the upper minors in Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp, but the club would like to see them finish their minor-league seasons.

“Carlos has been such an important leader for so long, we knew we had to fill a role on and off the field,” Klentak said. “There is a reasonably good chance one of our young catching prospects will be in the big leagues before the season is over. Both our Double A and Triple A teams are in pennant races and we believe it's important for them to continue to get meaningful at-bats and play in meaningful games.”

Ellis is expected to join the Phillies in New York this weekend. It’s not easy going from a first-place team with legitimate World Series hopes to a rebuilding club.

“I talked to A.J. this afternoon,” Klentak said. “He is a true professional. It's never easy for a guy who has been in one place his whole career to be told out of the blue that it's time to go. A.J. is determined and excited about contributing to the Phillies.”

Bergjans, a 23-year-old right-hander, pitched at Haverford College. He was an eighth-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 2015 and is 3-13 with a 4.98 ERA for Single A Rancho Cucamonga this season. He has 133 strikeouts and just 29 walks in 130 innings.

"Tommy was an excellent college performer,” Klentak said. “He has controlled the strike zone well in a tough league. We're always looking to add starting pitching and we had a chance to do it. He strikes out better than a batter an inning and limits walks which was appealing.”

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

The Phillies have undergone massive changes on the field and off over the last couple of seasons.
 
Those changes have reached the club’s amateur scouting department.
 
According to major league sources, the club recently fired three longtime members of that department, including Mike Ledna, a high-ranking coordinator and national cross-checker. Ledna was the No. 2 man under former scouting boss Marti Wolever, who was let go two years ago and replaced by Johnny Almaraz.
 
Almaraz has overseen the last two drafts with a staff of mostly holdover scouts. He has clearly begun to put his stamp on the department with his recent shakeup. Ledna’s firing was preceded by the club’s decision to part with Steve Cohen and Paul Scott. They covered the talent-rich state of Texas.
 
It is not clear whether more changes on the scouting staff are coming. Over the last year or so, the Phillies have hired a new club president (Andy MacPhail), general manager (Matt Klentak) and manager (Pete Mackanin). The playing roster has also been churned, most recently with Carlos Ruiz being traded to the Dodgers on Thursday (see story). His parting leaves Ryan Howard as the lone member of the 2008 World Series championship team still with the club.