Amaro talks job security, manager change & more

ruben-amaro-slide-usa.jpg

Amaro talks job security, manager change & more

A week after dismissing Charlie Manuel and installing Ryne Sandberg as interim manager, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. spoke to CSNPhilly.com about the change, his job performance, team chemistry and other topics.

Q. Do you hear people saying the Phillies fired the wrong guy?

A. I do not. I’m sure that there are people opining in different ways, but I don’t listen to the radio. I don’t think it does me or the organization any good to listen to that kind of stuff.

Q. It’s not just on the radio, it’s all over the place. What about the notion of it? Does it bother you?

A. That’s the beauty of our business. People are going to have their opinions about the job that we do. But I can’t get caught up in that kind of stuff because I believe in the people who work with me, I believe in the things we’ve done and I believe in the things we’re going to do to get this back on track.

Q. Does Charlie’s dismissal put the bull's-eye on you?

A. I’m sure it does. I’m in charge of the baseball operations department. I believe people can think what they want about why we made this decision, but this wasn’t a decision about laying blame on Charlie Manuel for the last two years of baseball. This is about where we think we’re going to be headed in the next several years and trying to make the right decisions to get back on track.

Q. Are you feeling heat from your bosses?

A. David Montgomery has been very supportive. David and the ownership group -- I know they’re disappointed, but they’re supportive. And until I don’t feel that support anymore, I’ll do anything I can do to get this turned around and our staff will do the same. We’ll do it. I believe we will.

I do have concerns about our club, but I have great confidence in the ability of my group to get things back on track.

Q. You have frequently mentioned that you’ve made mistakes in the bullpen. Evaluate your performance the last couple of seasons.

A. In some areas we’ve done OK. In others we have to improve. We’ve got to get better.

When we take chances in our bullpen, we have to make sure we fortify with better depth.

When we sign a guy like Mike Adams and he can’t perform and we lose the support of Antonio Bastardo because of a suspension, we have to do better by having guys that can step in and do it. And we have to ask the players to step up and do it.

We felt like we had depth with [Phillippe] Aumont and [Justin] De Fratus and [Jake] Diekman and some of the young guys. Aumont has struggled; didn’t take the step forward that we thought he would. Sometimes it’s on the player. Our job is to target guys we think can do a better job in that area.

Q. You’ve made a lot of moves, trades, signings, the last few years. Some worked, some didn’t. Any regrets?

A. I thought a lot of the things we did worked, to be frank with you. We didn’t put another ring on our finger in ‘09, ’10 or ’11, but we absolutely had a chance to. I believe we had championship-caliber clubs. We just didn’t get it done.

I try not to look back. I only look back in the sense we try to learn from things we did. My friends John Vukovich and Dallas Green always said you get very few chances to win a World Championship and when you have the opportunity to win a World Championship that’s what you should do, go for it. We came awfully close in ‘09. We arguably had the best team in baseball for two or three years. We just didn’t play well in the playoffs. I still believe the teams in ‘09, ’10 and ‘11 were better than the team in ’08, on paper. We just didn’t get it done because we didn’t play good baseball at the time.

Q. Did you see anything in the clubhouse, a lack of chemistry or togetherness, that led to manager change?

A. When the expectations are so high and you do not have success, I think it hits everybody across the board from fans to the front office to the players. There’s disappointment. I think that’s what you kind of saw. My job, and the job of the staff and the people in clubhouse and the players, is to get that mojo back. I think we started losing that over the last couple of years by virtue of the performance of the players and by virtue of the fact that our health started to deteriorate. Age was an issue, too. Age and health go hand in hand.

Q. Are there chemistry problems in the clubhouse?

A. I will tell you this: We have had some of the greatest chemistry teams in the history of our franchise over the last several years.

Q. This clubhouse?

A. I’m not sure if we have the same chemistry and I think part of it is because we’re not winning. When you win, there’s great chemistry.

A lot depends on what you mean by chemistry. You don’t have to love your neighbor to have success. There’s a fine line between getting the best people and the best talent, and, honestly, you never know how it’s going to work out.

A lot of our chemistry issues, unfortunately, were caused by the players that we lost health-wise. [Roy] Halladay was not with us for a lot of the season. It’s not a knock on him, he just wasn’t with us. Chase [Utley] missed a lot over the last couple of years. Those are two pretty good leaders in the clubhouse. When they’re not around and part of the fabric of the club, that strikes at your makeup.

Q. What did you think of Jonathan Papelbon’s comments about not coming here for this and saying changes were needed top to bottom?

A. I think Papelbon’s comments come out of frustration that we just weren’t doing well.

Q. Is he a positive force in your opinion?

A. I’m not sure if he’s positive or negative. I like when he’s out there on the mound. That’s the most important thing for me. I’ve gotten good feedback on how he’s been with the young relievers, so there’s some things that he’s done well.

Q. Would a change of scenery for Papelbon benefit the club?

A. For me, Pap at the back end of our bullpen is crucial if we want to win games. I believe we’re going to be a contender next year. How good our club will be? Who knows? A lot depends on if we get guys on the field.

Q. How about Jimmy Rollins? Are his lapses in hustle getting more difficult to take?

A. Jimmy is another case of guys having expectations of winning. I think that for everybody, it’s only human nature to come to the ballpark with a little different mindset. When you don’t come to the park knowing you’re going to win every day and you’ve been living that for the last seven years, I think it takes its toll after a while, and I think that’s what has happened with Jimmy a little bit.

Q. We know Jimmy has a no-trade clause and he’s said he won’t waive it. But would a change of scenery be good for him?

A. You’d have to ask Jimmy. Jimmy is our shortstop. We signed him for a reason. We kept him on our club because of what he brings to the table. Just like I told every other player, what I said to the club when Ryne took over -- we have an expectation to win and when you step on the field, regardless of who’s your neighbor or who’s playing with you, we have an expectation to go out there and do what we can to win.

Q. What can you do as GM to turn things around?

A. We’ve got a lot of issues. We’ve got catching issues. Outfield issues still. We have to figure out how the outfield will be constituted. Could it be [Darin] Ruf, [Ben] Revere and [Domonic] Brown? It could be. Do we need to improve on it athletically and defensively? Absolutely. Do we need to improve and figure out what we’re going to do behind the plate? That’s crucial. And probably the most important thing is building a championship-caliber bullpen which it hasn’t been over the last couple of seasons.

Q. You talked about young relievers earlier. Do you question the development of these young pitchers?

A. It’s my job to question everything. These are things I have to continue to discuss with the people in our organization.

Everybody wants to lay blame. It’s not necessarily about laying blame.

Q. This is not laying blame. Are your pitchers coming here ready in your mind?

A. Well, they’re handling the minor leagues OK. The question is: Are they able to handle being in the big leagues?

The issue we have, and it’s an issue that makes it difficult for the young players in today’s world, particularly on a club like the Phillies, is that the expectation is that when a player hits the mound for the Phillies he’s going to be perfect. That’s not reality. We have to have some level of patience and we have to groom some guys. Some guys are mentally strong enough to handle it fast, some are not. They’re not robots. We’ll keep working at it.

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff pitched two innings, allowed a hit, a run, walked one and struck out two in his spring debut on Monday.

Afterward, manager Pete Mackanin was asked what he believed Eickhoff's ceiling was.

"He's a pretty darn good pitcher right now," Mackanin said.

Indeed, he is.

In his first full season in the majors last year, the 26-year-old right-hander led the Phillies' starting staff in ERA (3.65), starts (33) and innings pitched (197 1/3).

He delivered 20 quality starts and became just the fourth Phillie in the last 20 years to make 33 starts and record a 3.65 ERA or better, joining three pretty good pitchers named Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. He walked just 1.92 batters per nine innings and that was fourth-best among NL starters.

"Eickhoff is the kind of guy you can count on," Mackanin said. "He throws strikes. He knows what he's doing."

Eickhoff is intent on building on last year's success in 2017. The guy has a Halladay-like work ethic. He arrived in Clearwater on Feb. 1 and got right to work. After his two innings of work on Monday, he put in a couple of hours in the weight room and on a back field running.

"I just have to continue working," he said. "I have a very high standard for myself as a lot of us in here do. We want to be the best players that we can be."

Eickhoff is working on improving his changeup this spring and his overall goal is to make every start -- as he did last season.

"That's the priority -- make every start," he said. "That's always a priority for me.

"I'd also like to incorporate the changeup a little more and use my slider and curveball and not get heavily reliant on one or the other, which happened several times last year and I think got me into trouble at times. So incorporating both for the duration of the season and just being more crisp with execution and location is my goal.

"I'm always looking to get better. I think the sky is the limit. I'm going to continue working, whether it's being Greg Maddux-esque with command or having a good breaking ball, or throwing a changeup like Maddux and guys like that did. There's always something I'm working on and trying to develop and sharpen up."

Eickhoff lines up to start the second game of the regular season behind projected opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson.

The game
The Phillies lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-2. The Phils are 2-2 on the spring.

Maikel Franco had two hits, including his third homer of the spring. It was a long drive to left field on a 1-2 fastball. He also had a single to right field.

"The thing I like early in the spring from him is he's going deeper into counts," Mackanin said. "I think he's working toward a good year this year."

Stassi impresses
Non-roster player Brock Stassi, a candidate to win a job as a reserve first baseman and outfielder (see story), did not play in the game. He, however, has a single, double and homer in the first three games.

Mackanin gushed about Stassi’s defense when asked about it Monday.

"He's one of the best first basemen I've seen in a real long time," Mackanin said. "He has no need to improve on his defense and I like the way he swings the bat. He's a real solid baseball player so he's a guy I really want to get a good look at."

Pitching matters
Starting pitchers Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin are both projected to pitch at Triple A. Both have been slowed early in camp because of health reasons, but are progressing well. Thompson has a sore right wrist and Eflin is recovering from a pair of surgeries to address tendinitis in both knees.

Both pitchers will continue to throw in the bullpen this week and ramp up to live batting practice next week. There is plenty of time for both pitchers to get their arms ready to open the season. However, the Phillies may decide to take a cautious approach with Eflin and let him build some more strength in his knees before they turn him loose. He could stay in Florida for a couple of extra weeks before joining the Triple A club.

Up next
The Phillies host the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. Clay Buchholz will make his first start of the spring. Here is the Phillies' posted starting lineup for the game:

1. Freddy Galvis, SS
2. Howie Kendrick, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, DH
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Chris Coghlan, RF
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Scott Kingery, 2B

MLB Notes: Josh Hamilton undergoes knee surgery

MLB Notes: Josh Hamilton undergoes knee surgery

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Josh Hamilton has had another surgery on his balky left knee, ending any chance of the 2010 AL MVP making the Texas Rangers' opening day roster.

The arthroscopic procedure Monday was to repair some damaged meniscus cartilage in his left knee. There were no issues with the surgically repaired ACL in that knee.

Hamilton had left spring training in Arizona and returned to Houston for the second time in less than a week to be examined by Dr. Walt Lowe, who also performed Hamilton's season-ending surgery last June.

The latest knee procedure is the 11th in Hamilton's career, and the third since the 35-year-old slugger last played in the majors in 2015.

Hamilton, in camp on a minor league contract, faces six weeks of rehabilitation before he will be able to start running again.

Orioles: Bourn broke finger during football drill
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Baltimore outfielder Michael Bourn hasn't played football since his sophomore year in high school. But it's a pigskin injury that's preventing him from playing this spring for the Orioles.

On Friday, the speedy 34-year-old broke his right ring finger catching a football at a workout. Bourn, who signed a minor league contract on Feb. 20, will be out for four weeks, making it difficult for him to be ready for Baltimore's April 3 opener. He'll make $2 million if he's put on the 40-man roster.

Bourn has difficult competition. Another veteran major league outfielder, Craig Gentry, signed two days before, plus the Orioles want to take long looks at Rule 5 outfielders Anthony Santander and Aneury Tavarez. Joey Rickard, a Rule 5 pick who played with the team last season, is also a serious contender.

Because he signed late, Bourn hadn't played.

"I was ready to go and pretty much ready to get into games the next couple days and now I've got to wait a about four weeks to heal. I want it to heal correctly but I want to push it, too. There's really nothing I can do about it," he said. (see full story)

Indians: Kipnis sidelined by shoulder injury
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has a rotator cuff strain and will stop throwing for a couple days.

Kipnis got a cortisone shot on Saturday, and manager Terry Francona didn't sound very worried about the situation.

"If it was during the season we wouldn't do anything," Francona said before Sunday's spring game against the Chicago Cubs in Mesa. "There's so much time to get ready that to kind of put a Band-Aid on it now didn't seem to make sense."

The 29-year-old Kipnis hit .275 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs last season, helping Cleveland to the AL Central title. He added four more homers and eight RBIs in the playoffs as the Indians made it all the way to the World Series before losing to the Cubs in seven games.

Kipnis had been on a shoulder program.

"I would say probably eight out of 10 guys, as they get their arms loose, you feel something," Francona said. "You throw through stuff and you get through the aches and pains of getting back, but then when there is some history there, you just try to use good judgment.

"He can do all his cardio and everything and all that stuff, but throwing is shut down for four to five days. I don't think he's going to hit today."

The Indians also announced left-hander Tim Cooney will be sidelined for 10 to 12 weeks because of a muscle strain in his arm. Cooney went 1-0 with a 3.16 ERA in six starts with St. Louis last season and was claimed off waivers from the Cardinals in November.

"Originally, they thought it was forearm," Francona said. "It's lower than that. By all accounts, it is an extremely unique area."