Amaro, Sandberg shoot down idea of trading ace

sandberd-amaro-slide.jpg

Amaro, Sandberg shoot down idea of trading ace

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- There was a funny scene in the Phillies’ main meeting room Tuesday afternoon.

Reporters had just been invited in for the daily briefing with general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

The flat-screen TV on the wall was tuned to a baseball show. Cliff Lee’s picture flashed across the screen.

The image of Lee caught Amaro’s eye.

“Oh!” he said, his voice full of sarcasm. “We’re trading him now.”

Amaro’s remark drew laughter from the folks in the room and showed that he was aware of the hot rumor on Day 2 of the winter meetings, the one, reported by ESPN, that said the Phillies were willing to listen to offers for Lee and fellow ace Cole Hamels.

“I’ve heard them,” Amaro said. “They’re silly.

“We’re trying to add. I said before, the best way for us to win is with our pitching, particularly at the top of the rotation.”

Several minutes earlier, manager Ryne Sandberg was asked about the rumors.

“I don’t believe they are true,” Sandberg said. “We’re trying to add pitching.”

A smart general manager is always willing to listen to what he could get for his players. You never know when you might get blown away. But listening is not the same thing as trading. Though expectations for the 2014 season are not high, the Phils are still hoping to contend, still hoping to make a run at the postseason, where a 1-2 punch of Hamels and Lee could be dangerous. To trade one of the two pitchers would signal a rebuilding effort and to announce that at this point of the offseason would not help ticket sales.

“We are built to contend,” Amaro said. “That’s our job, to try and win.”

Might there be a time when the Phils transition to a rebuilding effort?

“At some point we may have to do that,” Amaro said. “But not right now we’re not. We’re not there.”

July might be a more realistic time to trade Lee -- if the Phillies are not in contention. But Amaro really thinks this club can contend.

“We’re built to win,” Amaro said. “I like our lineup. I’d like to add some pitching to it.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good lineup as it stands today. If we can improve on it we’ll try. But I like our lineup. We’ve been sitting here and discussing it internally. I like the balance in it. Is it older? Yes, it is. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worse just because it’s older. We just have to get them healthier. If it’s healthy, it’s better than last year, clearly. We have to score more than 610 runs or whatever it was that we scored last year. That was awful. We have to score 700-plus runs to contend. I think the guys that are in the lineup as it stands today can do that.”

The Phils’ 610 runs ranked 13th in the NL in 2013.

Amaro continues to look for starting pitching depth to slot in behind Hamels and Lee.

“If I had to handicap it, I’d say we’d probably go the free-agent route for a pitcher,” he said.

The Phils made offers to Ryan Vogelsong and Scott Feldman earlier this winter, but they signed elsewhere. The Phils don’t seem to be in the hunt for remaining high-priced starters.

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

NEW YORK — Alec Asher’s two-seamer was nearly perfect against the Mets on Saturday night — even if the pitching line was attached to his name was decidedly less so.

The rookie exited after five innings with four unearned runs attached to his name — two Phillies’ throwing errors on playable ground balls will do that — but lowered his ERA to 1.66 in a 10-8 victory that was far, far closer than it needed to be.

Lost in the shuffle of the Phillies bullpen’s attempt at self-immolation was just how effective Asher’s newly-developed two-seam fastball was in the early innings against the Mets’ full lineup. The relatively slow pitch — it was sitting around 90 MPH Saturday — generated six popouts during his perfect first trip through the batting order.

“Being able to throw a pitch that’s not straight works wonders,” Asher said. “Last year, I didn’t really have success throwing the four-seam, so just adding that little bit of movement misses barrels, [generates] mishits and gave me a lot of ground balls and weak contact, which is all I can ask for.”

Opponents are batting just .182 off Asher’s two-seamer in his four starts this year, according to data from Fangraphs.com, a complete 180 from his disastrous September call-up in 2015.

In his first major league starts, Asher struggled to establish a mound presence with a four-seamer that nearly touched 95 mph. Opponents batted .250 and got seven extra-base hits off the four seamer as Asher finished 2015 with an ugly 9.31 ERA.

The Phillies challenged Asher to generative more movement on the pitch and he returned in Spring Training with an entirely new repertoire.

So far, the effort has paid off.

“It’s outstanding. It’s been a real good pitch for him and his changeup,” manager Pete Mackanin said of Asher’s two-seamer. “He didn’t have either pitch last year, and for him to come up with it over the course of the winter and throw those pitches so effectively is huge.”

Asher relied on the changeup to escape the fifth inning — the only high-stress situation he faced all evening.

With four runs already in, a fifth runner poised on third base and a Citi Field crowd beside itself in hopes of a miracle comeback, Asher got pinch-hitter James Loney to top a low changeup out of the zone down the first base line that Tommy Joseph stopped with a dive.

“[I wanted] just to slow the game down and take it pitch by pitch,” Asher said.

Even if Saturday wound up being perhaps a bit more frantic than he would have liked to be, Asher has developed a formula for future success as he prepares for his final start of the season next Friday — also against the Mets — and 2017.

“Just establishing the fastball, commanding both sides of the plate and changing speeds,” he said.

His two-run single in the first inning on Saturday night — his first two career RBIs and, ultimately, the winning margin — was a bonus.

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule. 

Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Catcher Jorge Alfaro is making his second straight start after Saturday's 10-8 win.

Alfaro, the Phillies' top catching prospect, has gone 0 for 11 with a walk in his three career starts, all coming in the last two weeks since he was called up. Alfaro was acquired in the Cole Hamels trade last July and is 1 for 13 with a walk in five games. 

The 23-year-old will catch Jake Thompson in a game that means a lot more to the Mets (1:10/CSN).

Giving Alfaro playing time allows Phillies fans the chance to get a glimpse of the future. Roman Quinn has received plentiful playing time after was called up in the mid-September and Alfaro, like Quinn, is trying to leave an impression on the Phillies' brass before spring training.

Quinn is not in the lineup on Sunday as Aaron Altherr and Cody Asche man the corner outfield spots. Freddy Galvis moved up to second in the lineup after staying in the bottom half of the lineup in recent games.

Ryan Howard will bat fifth, playing likely his final game at Citi Field with the Phillies. While he has batted just .203 in 52 career games at Citi Field, he alos has 11 home runs there after smashing 12 homers at Shea Stadium, the Mets' previous stadium.

Here's the full lineup that will oppose Robert Gsellman and the Mets.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cody Asche, LF
7. Aaron Altherr, RF
8. Jorge Alfaro, C
9. Jake Thompson, P

For more on today's game, check out Steven Tydings' game notes

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule.