Amaro talks job security, manager change & more

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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.

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts despite awful numbers vs. Max Scherzer

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts despite awful numbers vs. Max Scherzer

Despite having awful career numbers against Max Scherzer, Ryan Howard is in the Phillies' lineup against him Tuesday night.

Howard, 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts against the Nationals' ace, bats fourth. 

Howard seems to be coming back to Earth. He hit .357 with seven home runs, four doubles and 16 RBIs in his first 20 games out of the All-Star break, but has gone 2 for 16 with two singles and eight strikeouts since.

Jimmy Paredes gets another start in left field. Peter Bourjos is out of the lineup for a fourth straight game.

The rest of the lineup is standard. Odubel Herrera, who bats second, is 6 for 19 with five walks in his career against Scherzer (see game notes).

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Aaron Altherr, RF
7. Jimmy Paredes, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Phillies (60-71) vs. Nationals (76-55)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies couldn't hit in Monday's series opener, but they did receive the positive of Jake Thompson finally looking like he can get outs at the big-league level. Thompson allowed two runs over seven innings, but the Phils were blanked by Tanner Roark for the third time this season.

The task Tuesday night is no easier.

1. Due vs. Scherzer?
When the Phillies face Max Scherzer, you can essentially chalk it up as an automatic loss. The Phils are one of the weaker offenses, Scherzer is one of the game's best pitchers, and his track record against them is nearly flawless.

Scherzer (14-7, 2.92) has faced the Phillies eight times since 2013. He's 6-0 with 1.74 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP, with 62 strikeouts and 10 walks in 57 innings. 

Scherzer had some early missteps this season, caused mostly by home runs, but he's been incredible since the middle of May, when he tied a MLB record with 20 strikeouts in a game. Since that game, he's 11-5 with a 2.40 ERA and .172 opponents' batting average in 20 starts. He's struck out 181 and walked 29 in those 139 innings. Ridiculous. Otherworldly.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, they'll be seeing a lot of Scherzer moving forward. He's in the second of a seven-year, $210 million free-agent contract with the Nationals that, to this point, he's lived up to.

Scherzer has a blazing fastball and a disappearing breaking ball. He throws strike after strike after strike, which is ironically what gets him into trouble at times. Like Cliff Lee, Scherzer is around the plate so often that hitters tend to attack his early fastballs. The result is a lot of solo home runs. But Scherzer has even corrected that issue of late, allowing just five homers over his last 11 starts.

2. Learn from Herrera
Odubel Herrera has had by far the most success of any active Phillie vs. Scherzer. He's 6 for 19 with a double, a triple and five walks. There are only six players in baseball with at least 20 plate appearances against Scherzer and an on-base percentage higher than Herrera's .458.

Herrera had a multi-hit game Monday, his fourth in his last eight contests. He's hitting .283/.361/.413 in 540 plate appearances this season, providing pretty much the same offense he did a year ago. But still, the Phillies would like to see more consistency from Herrera over the season's final month. His OBP had declined every month this year until August.

Phils manager Pete Mackanin said on Monday that Herrera will remain in center field the rest of the season. Mackanin had indicated several weeks ago that Herrera would see some time in the corner outfield to allow the organization to get a look at Aaron Altherr and perhaps even Roman Quinn in center field in September, but that's no longer the plan. Quinn is on the concussion DL at Double A, and the Phillies don't want to move Herrera around or do anything to affect his confidence at this point.

It still seems likely that Herrera will end up at a different position in the future because the Phillies have better defensive centerfielders.

3. Their steadiest starter
Jerad Eickhoff tonight makes his 27th start of 2016 and 35th career start for the Phillies. He's 9-12 with a 3.87 ERA this season and 12-15 with a 3.57 ERA in his career.

Eickhoff is coming off yet another quality start, his 14th. He's pitched at least six innings in 17 of his 25 starts. 

Strange as it is, Eickhoff has faced the division-rival Nationals only once in his career so far. He allowed two runs to them over seven innings with 10 strikeouts in his penultimate start last season.

Eickhoff has been much better this season at home (3.27 ERA) than on the road (4.56).

4. A night for small ball
One of the Phillies' goals this season was to manufacture runs because they don't have a ton of power. That will be especially necessary tonight against Scherzer, who's shut down every Phils hitter with pop.

Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp are a combined 5 for 31 (.161) off Scherzer. Ryan Howard, who's unlikely to play, is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Herrera has gotten on base with regularity against him, and Cesar Hernandez is 5 for 18 with a double. Herrera and Hernandez will need to reach base and run tonight. Scherzer, however, does a better job than most aces of controlling the running game. He's allowed just 11 steals on 14 attempts in 60 starts with the Nationals.

5. This and that
• A loss tonight would put the Phillies 12 games under .500. Their record hasn't been that bad since June 27, which was 53 games ago.

• The Phils are 6-12 against the NL East since the All-Star break.

• It would have been difficult for Jayson Werth to play up to the seven-year, $126 million contract he got with the Nationals after 2010, but when you look back at his tenure in Washington he's had only two bad years out of six. In more than 3,000 plate appearances with the Nats, Werth has hit .269/.361/.442 for an .803 OPS that is 18 percent better than the league average over that span.

Best of MLB: Mets win in 10th on Yoenis Cespedes' walk-off HR

Best of MLB: Mets win in 10th on Yoenis Cespedes' walk-off HR

NEW YORK -- Yoenis Cespedes homered with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the New York Mets a 2-1 victory over the Miami Marlins in the first game of a pivotal series between National League playoff contenders Monday night.

Jose Reyes dashed home to score the tying run in the eighth on a dangerous collision at the plate, and the Mets pulled even with Miami for second place in the NL East. With its seventh victory in nine games, New York remained 2 1/2 games behind St. Louis for the league's second wild card.

It was an exhilarating win for the Mets, who appeared to be at a major disadvantage on the mound in the opener of a four-game set. New York was shut out for six innings by Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, but Mets starter Rafael Montero also put up zeros in his first major league start since April 2015 (see full recap).

Martinez's 13 K's, throwing error give Cards win
MILWAUKEE -- Stephen Piscotty scored on a throwing error in the ninth inning after Carlos Martinez struck out a career-high 13, leading the St. Louis Cardinals over the Milwaukee Brewers 6-5 on Monday night.

With two on and nobody out in the ninth, Yadier Molina dropped down a bunt. Reliever Tyler Thornburg (5-5) threw to third base for a force out, but Jonathan Villar's throw to first was wild, allowing Piscotty to score.

After Martinez held Milwaukee to one run over six innings, the Brewers scored four runs in the seventh to take a 5-3 lead. St. Louis tied it in the eighth on a two-run homer by Randal Grichuk off Corey Knebel.

Seung Hwan Oh pitched a perfect ninth for his 14th save. Miguel Socolovich (1-0) pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings to pick up his first win.

Jedd Gyorko and Kolten Wong each hit solo home runs for the Cardinals (see full recap).

Royals keep rolling, take down Yankees
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Dillon Gee kept the Royals' momentum going with six sharp innings, Alcides Escobar hit a three-run homer and Kansas City beat the New York Yankees 8-5 on Monday night to open their three-game set.

Gee (6-7) allowed only four hits and a run in the latest impressive start by the Royals' staff, helping the reigning World Series champions win for the 18th time in 22 games.

Lorenzo Cain, Kendrys Morales and Alex Gordon drove in runs off Michael Pineda (6-11) during a five-hit salvo in the first inning. Pineda then retired 15 straight before getting into a two-on, no-outs jam in the seventh that led to Escobar's homer off reliever Blake Parker.

Starlin Castro drove in two runs for the Yankees, the second in a four-run eighth inning that forced Kansas City manager Ned Yost to summon fill-in closer Kelvin Herrera (see full recap).