A.J. Burnett, Phillies open 2nd half with loss

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A.J. Burnett, Phillies open 2nd half with loss

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ATLANTA -- In the long run, a bad start against the Atlanta Braves on a rainy Friday night probably won’t affect A.J. Burnett’s trade value all that much.

After all, the guy is in his 16th big-league season and the book on him is as thick as a 48-ounce Porterhouse. Rival teams know who he is and what he can do.

But two weeks before the trade deadline, it’s always preferable when a very available pitcher turns in a quality outing. Burnett failed to do that as the Phillies came back from the All-Star break and suffered a 6-4 loss to the Braves at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

“Everything was up, man,” Burnett said after giving up 10 hits and six runs in five innings. “Everything was up and I was off. The changeups were up. The curveball was up. A few innings in the middle I got it where I wanted to, but I was inconsistent, and you can't pitch against this club and be inconsistent."

Burnett entered the game on a nice roll, recording seven straight quality starts.

He was presented with a tidy 2-0 lead in the second inning, but that didn’t last long. Burnett allowed a leadoff home run to Jason Heyward in the bottom of the second then gave up four two-out hits, including one to the opposing pitcher, and three more runs as his 2-0 lead became a 4-2 deficit.

“You want to come out when you get an early lead and put up a shutdown inning and I just didn’t do it,” he said. “No excuses. I just didn’t get it done.”

Nine of the 10 hits that Burnett allowed came with two outs. Five of the six runs he allowed came with two outs.

“A pitch here, and a pitch there ... you have to make pitches,” he said. “I was in counts where you have to make pitches, and I just didn't."

Burnett appeared to be angry, possibly with catcher Cameron Rupp, after he left the game. Burnett said he was angry with himself.

“Six runs in five innings,” he said. “That was pretty much the reason. No excuses. I just didn’t get it done.”

Manager Ryne Sandberg also said Burnett was simply frustrated with himself.

"Ten hits and six runs," Sandberg said. "He labored."

With their top two catchers on the disabled list, the Phillies have been using Rupp and Koyie Hill at the position. Both could be headed back to Triple A in the coming week as Carlos Ruiz and Wil Nieves are expected to soon come off the disabled list.

With the loss, the Phillies fell to 12 games under .500 and 11 games back in the division.

The only drama now is who will be here in two weeks when the trade deadline arrives. The Phillies have three starting pitchers who could go -- Burnett, Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick. They have a pair of relievers -- Antonio Bastardo and Jonathan Papelbon -- who could be had. They have a power bat on the block in Marlon Byrd.

Byrd went hitless with a strikeout and a walk Friday night. The Phillies had just six hits.

Ryan Howard, who entered the game hitting .141 in his previous 21 games, had a walk and a two-run single against winning pitcher Ervin Santana in the sixth inning. The single was a broken-bat hit, but Howard still swung the bat better than in recent games. He lined out to right in the eighth. Heyward made a terrific diving catch to rob Howard of a hit.

Cole Hamels pitches for the Phillies on Saturday night.

“The guys bounce back each day, that’s been the demeanor of the team,” Sandberg said. “Come back tomorrow. We have Cole on the mound, so we’ll look forward to that.”

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin: Adam Morgan is a definite bullpen candidate

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin: Adam Morgan is a definite bullpen candidate

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Just pitch.
 
Don’t worry about the role.
 
Just pitch.
 
That’s Adam Morgan’s mindset this spring.
 
“I’m just trying to show whoever needs to see it that I can be an asset to this team,” the left-hander said after his spring debut against the New York Yankees on Saturday (see story). “I’m just keeping it simple that way. I’m not trying to go out for that fifth (starting) spot. If the fifth spot opens up, I’d be more than willing to do that. If they want to put me in the bullpen, I’d be more than willing to do that. If they want me to be the backup catcher, I’ll be the backup catcher.”
 
The Phillies have plenty of candidates for backup catcher.
 
And the top five spots in their starting rotation, barring an unforeseen development, are accounted for.
 
But there is a way for Morgan to make this team.
 
“He’s definitely a bullpen candidate,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
 
Mackanin is on record as saying he’d like to have two lefties in what likely will be a seven-man bullpen. It might not work out that way, but that would be Mackanin’s preference.
 
Morgan is one of what appears to be four candidates along with Joely Rodriguez, Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett. Ramos and Burnett are experienced major-league veterans in camp on minor-league contracts. Rodriguez is the only pure lefty reliever on the 40-man roster. Morgan, of course, is on the 40-man roster, but he’s mainly been a starter in his career.

There’s a long way to go in spring training and it would not be surprising to see general manager Matt Klentak add to the list of lefty relief candidates with some type of pickup before the end of camp.
 
But for now, it’s just these four.
 
Morgan, who turns 27 on Monday, started and pitched two scoreless innings against the Yankees on Saturday and will likely continue to have his innings stretched out throughout the Grapefruit League season, just in case he’s needed as a starter.

Ramos and Rodriguez both pitched an inning Saturday. Ramos allowed a hit and a run. Rodriguez had a clean inning. Burnett was tagged for two hits and two runs on Friday.
 
Morgan made 21 starts for the Phillies last season. He also made two relief appearances and finished the season with a 6.04 ERA. He was sent to Triple A in July and returned in mid-August. He made nine starts after returning and pitched at least six innings and gave up two or fewer earned runs in four of them.
 
During his time in Triple A, Morgan started throwing a two-seam fastball or sinker. He’s continued to throw it this spring and believes it will help him.
 
“I learned to trust the two-seamer last year and that’s what I hope to keep moving forward with,” he said.
 
Will it take him to the Phillies’ bullpen?
 
He hopes so. He got a taste of relieving last season and liked it.
 
“Oh, yeah, I loved it,” he said. “Every time the phone rang down there, I was on high alert. It was awesome. It’s a rush.
 
“But wherever I land, I land. I’d be willing to play anywhere on this team.”

Phillies 6, Yankees 5: Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, Brock Stassi shine with bats

Phillies 6, Yankees 5: Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, Brock Stassi shine with bats

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Pete Mackanin assembled what will probably end up being his opening day lineup for Saturday’s spring home opener against the Yankees.

He liked what he saw.

Especially from cleanup man Maikel Franco.

Franco’s big challenge in becoming a more complete player is to improve his selectivity at the plate. The 24-year-old third baseman looked pretty good in that area in three at-bats.

Franco fell behind 0-2 in his first at-bat then battled back to a full count before popping out in the second inning.

He smacked a homer to left on a 2-2 slider in the fourth and then in the sixth, he stroked a first-pitch gapper to left-center that went for an inside-the-park homer. The ball got stuck under the padding on the outfield wall and the umpire did not rule it a ground-rule double.

“Hey, you see my speed?” the not-so-fleet-footed Franco said with a laugh after coming out of the game. “It’s like Cesar’s (Hernandez) speed.”

Mackanin liked the totality of Franco’s at-bats, not just the results.

“He had two long, deep-count at-bats,” Mackanin said. “He worked the count deep and that was good to see.”

There are many miles to go before opening day, and Franco still has many miles to cover before he’s the complete player he wants to be and the selective hitter the front office wants to build around.

Franco vowed to keep working on it under new hitting coach Matt Stairs.

“He told me my focus should be when I stay to the middle of the field, I'll have a lot of success,” Franco said. “I am trying to work on it and put focus on it. I talked to (Howie) Kendrick about hitting and he's helped me. I'm going to stay on it every single day. I'm trying to do my job, trying to do the best I can.

“When I stay in the middle, when I try to hit the ball up the middle, something is going to happen. That's what I want to do, what I want to keep doing.”

Franco hit .255 with 25 homers and 88 RBIs last season, but his on-base percentage was just .306.

He was asked whether he had any personal goals for the season.

“The first thing is to try to be healthy,” he said. “I just want to play in 162 games. Other than that, I'll just do everything I can do.

“Every single day I want to do my best and not try to force the situation. I think I can do better than last year. This year should be very good and much better than last year.”

The game 
The Phillies won it, 6-5, on a walk-off RBI single by Brock Stassi in the bottom of the ninth inning. The hit scored Rhys Hoskins, who had doubled. Hoskins drove a homer to deep center earlier in the game.

Hoskins, who turns 24 in March, has 55 homers and 206 RBIs the last two seasons. He will move to Triple A this season and play first base.

Stassi is a candidate to win a job on the bench (see story). He hasn’t hurt himself in the first two games. He homered Friday and had the game-winning hit Saturday.

“I’m feeling pretty good early on,” he said. “Gotta keep it going.”

Pitching in
Adam Morgan pitched two scoreless innings. Prospect Ricardo Pinto pitched a scoreless inning. It’s not out of the question that he transitions to the bullpen at some point this season.

Mark Appel showed his big stuff with three strikeouts in two innings of work, but his control problems also surfaced as he threw a wild pitch that resulted in two runs.

Up next
Probable opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson makes his spring debut Sunday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin.

Here is the Phillies’ posted lineup for that game:

1. Cameron Perkins CF
2. J.P. Crawford SS
3. Daniel Nava LF
4. Cameron Rupp DH 
5. Andres Blanco 2B
6. Dylan Cozens RF
7. Ryan Hanigan C
8. Brock Stassi 1B
9. Taylor Featherston 3B

Right-hander Joe Biagini will start for Toronto.

Jerad Eickhoff will start for the Phillies against Tampa Bay on Monday. Clay Buchholz will start against Baltimore on Tuesday. Both of those games are in Clearwater.