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.

Dee Gordon honors Jose Fernandez with leadoff homer as Marlins beat Mets

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Dee Gordon honors Jose Fernandez with leadoff homer as Marlins beat Mets

MIAMI — In tribute to Jose Fernandez, left-handed hitter Dee Gordon stepped to the plate as a righty to lead off the first inning of Monday's mournful game.

After one pitch, Gordon switched to his customary left side — and homered in the first at-bat for Miami since the death of Fernandez in a boating accident.

Gordon pulled a 2-0 pitch from New York Mets right-hander Bartolo Colon over the wall in right for his first homer of the season. He tapped his chest after crossing the plate and waved toward the sky, and then sobbed as teammates hugged him in the dugout.

It was another heart-tugging moment in a succession of them over the past two days. The Marlins went on to a 7-3 victory.

The atmosphere was funereal at Marlins Park three hours before the first pitch, with players going through their pregame stretching in eerie silence.

Then someone cranked up the sound system, and bouncy reggaeton reverberated throughout the ballpark. It was a nudge toward a return to normal, as the Marlins and baseball began to move on without Fernandez.

The animal race at the end of the fifth inning was canceled, along with other in-game entertainment, and most of the Marlins' hitters decided to forgo walk-up music. But there was a game against the Mets, the first for the Marlins since their ace died early Sunday.

"This is shallow, but the show goes on," Marlins president David Samson said. "There has been a lot of talking and a lot of crying and a lot of praying and a lot of trying to make sense of something you can't make sense of. There is no sense to a life ended like that, in a way that is so meaningless.

"It's our job to make his life matter, so we're going to do that forever, and forever starts today."

Fernandez made his major league debut against the Mets in 2013 and was scheduled to face them again Monday night in his final start of the season. Instead, Miami and the Marlins mourned the loss of the 24-year-old pitcher, whose talent and captivating personality were a combination unmatched in the sport.

Fernandez and two other men were killed when his 32-foot SeaVee slammed into a rock jetty that extends off the southern tip of Miami Beach at about 3:15 a.m. Sunday, a medical examiner said.

Fernandez was originally scheduled to pitch Sunday before his start was moved back a day. The change may be the reason he decided to go on the late-night boat outing.

"If he had pitched yesterday, maybe fate would be different," Samson said. "I've been thinking about that a lot."

Manager Don Mattingly said, "Obviously it crosses your mind."

The Marlins' game Sunday against Atlanta was canceled, and when they took the field Monday for batting practice, Fernandez's name and number hovered over the field on the huge video screen. Gordon wore a T-shirt that said "RIP," with a photo of Fernandez shaped as the "I."

For the game, the players decided to wear Fernandez's No. 16, with hastily made uniforms flown in. His number was also stenciled on the back of the mound.

The pregame ceremony included a slow, solemn solo trumpet rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Following the national anthem, New York manager Terry Collins led his Mets across the field to share hugs with the Marlins, and fans briefly chanted "Jose, Jose."

The Marlins then clustered around the mound and put their hands to the dirt. Some scratched out Jose's number or a message of love, and some just rubbed the mound — his mound. His career record at Marlins Park was 29-2.

Fans established a makeshift memorial on the plaza outside the ballpark entrance, leaving dozens of flower arrangements — daisies, carnations, roses and lilies, the result as colorful as Fernandez's personality. There were also candles, and messages scrawled on balls, balloons, photos and jerseys.

The situation was emotional even for the Mets, who are in the thick of the chase for an NL wild card with one week left in the season. On their dugout wall hung a Mets jerseys with Fernandez's name and number.

"Hearts are heavy," New York outfielder Jay Bruce said. "From a professional standpoint, you just try to prepare and play the game and respect the game. But I can't even imagine what it's like over in that other clubhouse."

Collins spoke about Fernandez in the present tense.

"He epitomizes what the game's about," Collins said. "Our game is bigger than a lot of things. It will always go on. We'll remember Jose. You've got to play the game in his honor. He would want to be out there."

Plans for a public funeral had not been finalized, but it was expected to be Thursday, the Marlins' final off day of the season.

Fernandez defected from Cuba at age 15, won the NL Rookie of the Year award and became a two-time All-Star. His enormous popularity in South Florida bridged the divide between the franchise and fans antagonized by too much losing and too many payroll purges.

Fernandez left behind a girlfriend who is expecting their first child, the mother who came with him to the United States and the grandmother who helped raise him.

On Sunday evening, the entire team took two buses to Fernandez's family home and met for 45 minutes with his mother, grandmother and other relatives and friends.

Fernandez's agent, Scott Boras, spoke to reporters near the batting cage — or at least tried to. He said he paid his respects to the family before coming to the ballpark.

"His mother wanted me to tell everyone how she felt," Boras said. "She showed me pictures of him as a boy. She actually made his uniform when he was 7 or 8, with Cuban red pants."

Boras then cut short the interview because he couldn't stop crying.

Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler played with Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez when the two were growing up in Cuba. They traveled together to Venezuela for a youth tournament.

Soler said Fernandez's ability was obvious, right from the start.

"Since he was a child, since we were kids, I knew he had something," Soler said through a translator. "He had a talent. It was very impressive."

Fernandez's death in a boating accident at the age of 24 cast a dark shadow over the major leagues on Sunday. Miami's home game against Atlanta was canceled, and several ballparks observed moments of silence. Wrigley Field's iconic hand-operated scoreboard displayed Fernandez's No. 16 in its pitching column next to Miami.

But the loss of Fernandez was felt most acutely in baseball's growing Cuban community.

"He was one of those guys that everybody loved," St. Louis Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena said. "He was one of those guys that everybody knew exactly what he meant to our community. For us, it's a big, big loss. It's one of those things where our thoughts and prayers are obviously with his family, the Marlins' organization and the fans. But it gets a little bit closer because he was part of our Cuban family."

There were 23 Cubans on opening-day major league rosters this year, an increase of five over last season and the most since the commissioner's office began releasing data in 1995. Many of the players share similar stories when it comes to their perilous journey from the communist country to the majors, and the difficulty of adjusting to life in the United States.

A native of Santa Clara, Cuba, Fernandez was unsuccessful in his first three attempts to defect, and spent several months in prison. At 15, Fernandez and his mother finally made it to Mexico, and were reunited in Florida with his father, who had escaped from Cuba two years earlier.

He was drafted by the Marlins in 2011, and quickly turned into one of the majors' top pitchers.

"How he was on the mound was a reflection of him," Oakland first baseman Yonder Alonso said. "A guy who had a lot of fun, was himself. A very talkative guy, he would come into the room and you'd know he was in the room. Never big-leagued anyone, very professional. No matter what, he would talk to you about hitting, because he thought he was the best hitter, and he (would) talk to you about pitching, because he thought he was the best pitcher."

Alonso said Fernandez's death was "a big-time shock." Yasiel Puig used torn pieces of white athletic tape to display Fernandez's jersey on the wall in the home dugout at Dodger Stadium. Cardinals rookie Aledmys Diaz, who had known Fernandez since they were little kids, declined an interview request through a team spokeswoman.

"We Cuban players know each other well and all of us have a great relationship," Pena said. "For us, it's devastating news when we woke up. We were sending text messages to each other and we were showing support. It's something that obviously nobody expects."

Fernandez, who became a U.S. citizen last year, also was beloved for his stature in the Cuban community in Miami.

"He was a great humanitarian," Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman said through a translator. "He gave a lot to the community and I think that's why he got a lot of respect from the community in terms of what a great person he was and always giving, in terms of always willing to help out in whatever way he can to try to better and progress within the community someone that perhaps wasn't as fortunate as he was."

The 28-year-old Chapman lives in the Miami-area in the offseason. He said he spent some time with Fernandez while he was home.

"He would come by my house. I would go by his," Chapman said. "We would have long conversations. We would talk a lot. We spent a lot of good amount of time together. It was very special for me."