Bats and bullpen push Phillies to win at Wrigley

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Bats and bullpen push Phillies to win at Wrigley

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CHICAGO – The Phillies came into Wrigley Field on the heels of two losses in Texas in which the bullpen could not protect a late lead.

So pretty much the last thing Phillies fans wanted to see Friday afternoon was Ryne Sandberg popping out of the dugout with one out in the sixth inning to remove a starting pitcher who was pitching with a lead and doing quite well.

Really? You’re entrusting this bullpen to get 11 outs, Ryno?

Jake Diekman, Justin De Fratus, Antonio Bastardo, Mario Hollands and Jeff Manship made Sandberg’s decision to go to the ‘pen early a good one, as they combined for 3 2/3 shutout innings in the Phillies’ 7-2 win over the Chicago Cubs at the 100th season opener at Wrigley Field (see Instant Replay).

The Phillies are 2-2 on the young season.

They’d be 4-0 if the bullpen had pitched as effectively in Texas as it did Friday at chilly Wrigley, where the game-time temperature was 38 degrees with a wind chill of 28.

The offense, a major concern in spring training, continued to click as the Phillies out-hit the Cubs, 11-3. Chase Utley belted a two-run homer to give the Phils the lead in the fifth inning and added an RBI single in the seventh. Utley is 7 for 18 (.389) on the young season. John Mayberry Jr. came off the bench with a two-run, pinch-hit homer in the eighth to push the Phillies’ lead to four runs. Mayberry has four RBIs in two pinch-hit at-bats so far.

The extra cushion made life a little less stressful on the relievers, but there was no denying their effectiveness: None of them gave up a hit. Bastardo walked two batters in the eighth, but kept it together and rolled an inning-ending double play ball.

Roberto Hernandez became the second Phillies’ starter to get a win as he held the Cubs to two runs over 5 1/3 innings.

Hernandez was at 73 pitches when Sandberg came out to get him after he struck out the first batter in the bottom of the sixth.

The decision to remove Hernandez immediately raised eyebrows, but the manager had his reasons.

“I had an eye on him,” Sandberg said. “He hadn't really thrown to hitters in nine days because of rain. He had a simulated game in the cage in Florida, which wasn't real life at all. His velocity went down to 85, 86 (mph). He still had movement on the ball, but they had the middle of the lineup -- the left-handed bats -- coming up so I elected to go with Diekman there.”

The lefty Diekman made quick work of two lefty hitters and De Fratus, who hadn’t pitched since spring training, got the third on opening the bottom of the seventh.

The lefty hitters were a big concern to Sandberg because the wind was blowing out to right at 23 mph. He figured Diekman had a better chance of neutralizing them than Hernandez, a right-handed sinkerballer.

Sandberg said it took no extra nerve to go to his bullpen, though he would have been second-guessed all the way back to Philly if the ‘pen didn’t come through.

“The guys in the bullpen need to pitch,” he said. “It's early in the season. They need that experience. To see them come through, like Hollands two days in a row, that's all part of it. The guys are going to pitch. I've already seen improvement.

“They all chipped in and did a good job with matchups.”

Sandberg managed as if this was a must-win and for him it probably was, though he wouldn’t admit it. These are the Cubs, after all, the team with which he enjoyed a Hall of Fame playing career, the team he dreamed of managing until he had to go to Philadelphia to find managerial upward mobility. Sandberg was part of a Hall of Fame foursome, joining Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins in throwing out a ceremonial first pitch.

“Well, it was Opening Day and that’s a big deal out here,” Sandberg said. “It’s a big deal at Wrigley Field today. It’s good to take the first game and set the tone for the series. We’ll get after it again tomorrow.”

By going deep into his bullpen, Sandberg could have manpower issues in the coming days. The Phils are scheduled to play Saturday, Sunday and Monday before their next off day. However, none of the relievers who worked Saturday were extended much. Diekman threw 12 pitches, De Fratus 13, Bastardo 18, Hollands 10 and Manship 2.

Sandberg heard a few boos from the chilly crowd when he brought Manship in to face the final batter of the game. Sandberg just wanted Manship to get some work before cobwebs developed on his body. Brad Lincoln still has not appeared in a game. Sandberg said Lincoln was healthy. The right-hander was acquired from Toronto in the offseason and was a shoo-in to make the team because he is out of minor-league options.

Blue Jays 10, Phillies 4: Aaron Nola hit hard in final Grapefruit start

Blue Jays 10, Phillies 4: Aaron Nola hit hard in final Grapefruit start

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies got the good health they were looking for from Aaron Nola this spring.

But the overall results weren't so good.

Nola struggled in his sixth and final Grapefruit League start Tuesday night. He was roughed up for seven hits, including two home runs, and five runs and did not make it out of the second inning in the Phillies' 10-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Nola finished the Grapefruit League portion of his spring with an ERA of 8.38 after giving up 18 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He gave up 28 hits, walked seven and struck out 23.

"People say it's spring training but nobody wants to go out there and give up runs," Nola said.

While he wasn't happy with the numbers he put up in camp, Nola was pleased with his health. He missed the final two months of last season with an elbow strain. He said that is completely behind him.

"I feel good," he said. "The ball is coming out of my hand really good.

"Tonight was the best I've felt all spring. I just left some balls up and they took some good swings. It was a tough night."

Manager Pete Mackanin weighed in on Nola's spring.

"One thing I like is that his velocity is way up," Mackanin said. "I think his arm is healthy and that's good to see more than anything.

"He hasn't shown the command that makes him a good pitcher, but I think that will get there."

Nola gave up home runs to Troy Tulowitzki and Melvin Upton Jr.

Nola lines up to pitch the fifth game of the regular season a week from Saturday in Philadelphia.

He only threw 51 pitches Tuesday night so he has room for a good bullpen session and another start before that outing. The start will come at the minor-league complex on Sunday. He will then join the team in Cincinnati for Monday's season opener.

Murray injured
Reliever Colton Murray ran his scoreless string to 10 1/3 innings before allowing a two-run homer in his third inning of work. Murray left the game with what looked like a lower back injury. He fell to the ground in pain after throwing a pitch. Earlier in the day, Murray was told that he would open the season in Triple A.

Minor matters 
Infielder Cole Stobbe, 19, the Phillies' third-round pick in last year's draft, and 18-year-old righty Sixto Sanchez were named winners of the Bill Giles and Larry Rojas awards for their standout work in minor-league camp. Both are among the organization's most highly touted young prospects.

Up next
The Phillies will split the squad and play two games on Wednesday. One team will go to Lakeland to play the Tigers. The other will go to Bradenton to face the Pirates.

The battle for one of the final spots in the bullpen will take center stage as Luis Garcia starts in Lakeland and Joely Rodriguez in Bradenton.

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Busy, busy day of roster moves in Phillies camp.

Let's try to put it all in perspective.

First, the facts:

Veteran infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan was released from his minor-league contract.

Right-handed pitcher Alec Asher was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for a player to be named later or cash.

Infielder Pedro Florimon and relief pitchers Cesar Ramos, Hoby Milner, Pat Venditte and Colton Murray were all informed that they will not make the opening-day roster, but they remain in big-league camp as non-roster invitees.

OK, what does it all mean?

Let's start on the position-player side. The starting eight is set, but there are still openings to fill on the bench before the team's charter flight lifts off from Tampa International Airport early Friday evening.

Barring something unforeseen, infielder Andres Blanco, outfielder Aaron Altherr and catcher Andrew Knapp will all make the 25-man roster. That leaves two openings on the bench.

Coghlan, a former National League Rookie of the Year and member of last year's World Series-winning Chicago Cubs team, asked for his release after the club raised the possibility of him signing an advance consent form. Advanced consent gives a team more control of a player and also allows a team to release a player with no further financial commitment up to 45 days into the season. Coghlan decided to move on, as was his contractual right, and is expected to land with another club.

Coghlan's departure reduced the field of candidates for the two bench jobs to three -- Brock Stassi, Daniel Nava and Jesmuel Valentin.

All signs point to lefty-hitting first baseman/outfielder Brock Stassi being rewarded for his excellent spring with a spot on the roster. The 27-year-old from the Sacramento area, the team's 33rd-round draft pick in 2011, has never played in the majors.

With Stassi looking good, the final spot on the bench is down to Nava and Valentin. They are two very different players. Nava is 34 and has five years of big-league service time. He is in camp on a minor-league deal, essentially looking to keep his career alive. Valentin, on the other hand, is 22 and very much a prospect. The team must decide if it wants to go with the veteran outfielder or the young second baseman for the final spot on the bench.

"With the way Stassi, Nava and Valentin are playing right now, one way or another we're going to be making tough decisions on the bench," general manager Matt Klentak said.

With Asher off the 40-man roster, the Phillies have the space to add Stassi.

They would need to create one more spot, probably by waiving a player, if they want to keep Nava.

Valentin is already on the 40-man roster so the team would not have to lose a player to keep him, but doing that would cost the young player the development opportunity that would come with regular at-bats in Triple A.

"I'm not opposed to starting that way if he wins the job and that's how we open," Klentak said of Valentin. "If we concluded after a few weeks that playing time just isn't there and we need to send him back down and get somebody else up, we can do that. That's the beauty of roster flexibility and having players on the big-league club with options. We can make those decisions in real time throughout the year."

So let's move on to the bullpen.

Five spots are set with Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos, Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek.

It's likely that the team will go with seven relievers. That means there are two open spots with three candidates -- Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez and Luis Garica -- still standing. All three are on the 40-man roster, so that makes the personnel mechanics a little easier. 

The team probably needs a long reliever and Morgan profiles as that guy.

Rodriguez and Garcia are both scheduled to pitch in separate games on Wednesday, so their performances will be worth watching, though Klentak said not all roster decisions are based on spring performance. 

Garcia has had a number of chances in the majors the last four seasons. He has recently added a splitter and team officials are intrigued by that, so he has remained in the mix.

There is a slim chance the team could carry all three of these relievers and go with an eight-man bullpen and a short bench, but that would be tough to do in the National League. When the decisions are made, look for a five-man bench and a seven-man bullpen.

But, remember, things can change quickly on a 25-man roster once the season begins. Ender Inciarte was on the Phillies' opening-day roster in 2013 and gone a day later. Cedric Hunter was there last year and gone two weeks later.

"We have to make sure we're disciplined to the notion that the end of spring training is not a finish line," Klentak said. "The end of spring training is the starting line for a long major-league season. Whatever we can do to preserve as many assets and players and different possibilities as we can, we need to factor that in as we're making out our opening-day roster."