Brad Lidge delivers wisdom to Jeanmar Gomez, Phillies relievers

Brad Lidge delivers wisdom to Jeanmar Gomez, Phillies relievers

CLEARWATER, Fla. — A timeless baseball scene, the kind that has been going on for generations in this game, unfolded in the hallway outside the coaches’ locker room in Phillies camp early Thursday morning.

If you closed your eyes, it could have been Sandy Koufax talking to a young lefty back in Vero Beach ... or maybe Yaz giving tips to a hitter back in the day in Winter Haven … or even Eddie Mathews schooling a group of eager, young hopefuls in Pompano Beach.

It is that moment when the accomplished comes back to camp to impart wisdom on the aspiring.

So there they were, Jeanmar Gomez and Brad Lidge, deep in conversation before Thursday morning’s workout, one longtime closer, one relative newcomer to the role, two members of a unique baseball fraternity bonded by high-wire adrenaline, the sweet euphoria of success and the spleen-splitting agony of failure.

"It's really tough," Lidge said of the emotional toll that the role can take on a closer when he lets a lead slip away and his team loses a ballgame. "You never want to feel like you’re letting your team down. I think for me when I wasn’t throwing well or when I’d have a bad game it was like, 'Man, I let everybody else down.' "

Few know the elation that a closer can feel upon nailing down a tight game better than Lidge. He became a Phillies icon by going 48 for 48 in save chances then dropping to his knees and shouting, “Oh, my God, we just won the World Series,” one magic October night back in 2008.

He also knows the horse kick in the gut that comes with stumbling in the role. There is no safety net for a closer. Failure is completely deflating. Lidge felt plenty of that in 2009 when he followed up his storybook season with 11 blown saves, the most in the majors that year.

So Lidge can completely sympathize with what Gomez went through as the Phillies' closer last year.

He knows the satisfaction that Gomez felt shaking hands with his teammates 37 times after saves.

He also knows the despair that Gomez felt when he pitched so poorly in September that manager Pete Mackanin had to remove him from the closer’s role.

Lidge, who retired after his right arm gave out in 2012, is in camp this week as a guest instructor, and if you think he’s here to sign a few autographs and spin yarns in the bullpen, think again.

As soon as he committed to his visit to Phillies camp, he knew there was one guy he wanted to speak with.

“I kind of wanted to talk to a lot of guys in the bullpen, but specifically Jeanmar, for sure,” Lidge said.

“He had a great season last year. Maybe it didn’t end quite the way he wanted. But for a guy in his first season of closing — he earned that role and he stepped on the accelerator for five months.”

Lidge is also seeking out Hector Neris in this camp. The hard-throwing Dominican with the nasty splitter has the makings of a future closer.

“I think my job here is to make the learning curve happen as fast as possible for these young guys because the arms are there for them to be great setup guys or closers,” Lidge said.

Lidge’s advice to Gomez centered on how to stay strong for a full season. He recalled getting similar lessons as a young reliever from Billy Wagner, then a teammate in Houston.

“That first full season of closing is physically and mentally taxing,” Lidge said. “We talked about ways to stay fresh and stay at a high level all year. He’s shown he can do it. This year it’s just going to be more about maintenance for a full year.”

Lidge spoke with Gomez about his daily, pregame, flat-ground throwing program, about knowing when to back off and save bullets.

“Maybe take a day off now and then so when you get near that finish line in September, you can accelerate up instead of feeling tired,” Lidge said.

Conserving strength for the long haul is one of the reasons Gomez, 29, has decided not to pitch for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic next month.

In 2008, Lidge struck out 11.9 batters per nine innings thanks in part to a devastating out pitch, his hard, downward-breaking slider. The Torpedo.

Gomez is not a typical closer. Over his career, he has struck out just 5.5 batters per nine innings. He relies on command of his sinker and his defense to get him through innings. The command and the movement on the sinker abandoned Gomez in September, causing him to struggle.

Lidge believes Gomez’s recipe can work if he’s called on to close again this season. Mackanin has anointed Gomez the closer — he’s sticking with him much like Charlie Manuel did with Lidge in 2009 — but roles can always change.

“I think you can have success [without a big out-pitch],” Lidge said. “It’s a little bit tougher. You have to be a little more precise [with your location], but you can do it.

“I really believe Jeanmar can have that type of season that he had for five months last year if he doesn’t get tired.

“He’s got everything he needs to close games. He’s got the stuff. He’s got the right mentality, too.”

He also has a year of experience on the high wire.

“With closing, I think it’s just a matter of going through it,” Lidge said. “Experience is the best teacher.”

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin: Adam Morgan is a definite bullpen candidate

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin: Adam Morgan is a definite bullpen candidate

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Just pitch.
 
Don’t worry about the role.
 
Just pitch.
 
That’s Adam Morgan’s mindset this spring.
 
“I’m just trying to show whoever needs to see it that I can be an asset to this team,” the left-hander said after his spring debut against the New York Yankees on Saturday (see story). “I’m just keeping it simple that way. I’m not trying to go out for that fifth (starting) spot. If the fifth spot opens up, I’d be more than willing to do that. If they want to put me in the bullpen, I’d be more than willing to do that. If they want me to be the backup catcher, I’ll be the backup catcher.”
 
The Phillies have plenty of candidates for backup catcher.
 
And the top five spots in their starting rotation, barring an unforeseen development, are accounted for.
 
But there is a way for Morgan to make this team.
 
“He’s definitely a bullpen candidate,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
 
Mackanin is on record as saying he’d like to have two lefties in what likely will be a seven-man bullpen. It might not work out that way, but that would be Mackanin’s preference.
 
Morgan is one of what appears to be four candidates along with Joely Rodriguez, Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett. Ramos and Burnett are experienced major-league veterans in camp on minor-league contracts. Rodriguez is the only pure lefty reliever on the 40-man roster. Morgan, of course, is on the 40-man roster, but he’s mainly been a starter in his career.

There’s a long way to go in spring training and it would not be surprising to see general manager Matt Klentak add to the list of lefty relief candidates with some type of pickup before the end of camp.
 
But for now, it’s just these four.
 
Morgan, who turns 27 on Monday, started and pitched two scoreless innings against the Yankees on Saturday and will likely continue to have his innings stretched out throughout the Grapefruit League season, just in case he’s needed as a starter.

Ramos and Rodriguez both pitched an inning Saturday. Ramos allowed a hit and a run. Rodriguez had a clean inning. Burnett was tagged for two hits and two runs on Friday.
 
Morgan made 21 starts for the Phillies last season. He also made two relief appearances and finished the season with a 6.04 ERA. He was sent to Triple A in July and returned in mid-August. He made nine starts after returning and pitched at least six innings and gave up two or fewer earned runs in four of them.
 
During his time in Triple A, Morgan started throwing a two-seam fastball or sinker. He’s continued to throw it this spring and believes it will help him.
 
“I learned to trust the two-seamer last year and that’s what I hope to keep moving forward with,” he said.
 
Will it take him to the Phillies’ bullpen?
 
He hopes so. He got a taste of relieving last season and liked it.
 
“Oh, yeah, I loved it,” he said. “Every time the phone rang down there, I was on high alert. It was awesome. It’s a rush.
 
“But wherever I land, I land. I’d be willing to play anywhere on this team.”

Phillies 6, Yankees 5: Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, Brock Stassi shine with bats

Phillies 6, Yankees 5: Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, Brock Stassi shine with bats

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Pete Mackanin assembled what will probably end up being his opening day lineup for Saturday’s spring home opener against the Yankees.

He liked what he saw.

Especially from cleanup man Maikel Franco.

Franco’s big challenge in becoming a more complete player is to improve his selectivity at the plate. The 24-year-old third baseman looked pretty good in that area in three at-bats.

Franco fell behind 0-2 in his first at-bat then battled back to a full count before popping out in the second inning.

He smacked a homer to left on a 2-2 slider in the fourth and then in the sixth, he stroked a first-pitch gapper to left-center that went for an inside-the-park homer. The ball got stuck under the padding on the outfield wall and the umpire did not rule it a ground-rule double.

“Hey, you see my speed?” the not-so-fleet-footed Franco said with a laugh after coming out of the game. “It’s like Cesar’s (Hernandez) speed.”

Mackanin liked the totality of Franco’s at-bats, not just the results.

“He had two long, deep-count at-bats,” Mackanin said. “He worked the count deep and that was good to see.”

There are many miles to go before opening day, and Franco still has many miles to cover before he’s the complete player he wants to be and the selective hitter the front office wants to build around.

Franco vowed to keep working on it under new hitting coach Matt Stairs.

“He told me my focus should be when I stay to the middle of the field, I'll have a lot of success,” Franco said. “I am trying to work on it and put focus on it. I talked to (Howie) Kendrick about hitting and he's helped me. I'm going to stay on it every single day. I'm trying to do my job, trying to do the best I can.

“When I stay in the middle, when I try to hit the ball up the middle, something is going to happen. That's what I want to do, what I want to keep doing.”

Franco hit .255 with 25 homers and 88 RBIs last season, but his on-base percentage was just .306.

He was asked whether he had any personal goals for the season.

“The first thing is to try to be healthy,” he said. “I just want to play in 162 games. Other than that, I'll just do everything I can do.

“Every single day I want to do my best and not try to force the situation. I think I can do better than last year. This year should be very good and much better than last year.”

The game 
The Phillies won it, 6-5, on a walk-off RBI single by Brock Stassi in the bottom of the ninth inning. The hit scored Rhys Hoskins, who had doubled. Hoskins drove a homer to deep center earlier in the game.

Hoskins, who turns 24 in March, has 55 homers and 206 RBIs the last two seasons. He will move to Triple A this season and play first base.

Stassi is a candidate to win a job on the bench (see story). He hasn’t hurt himself in the first two games. He homered Friday and had the game-winning hit Saturday.

“I’m feeling pretty good early on,” he said. “Gotta keep it going.”

Pitching in
Adam Morgan pitched two scoreless innings. Prospect Ricardo Pinto pitched a scoreless inning. It’s not out of the question that he transitions to the bullpen at some point this season.

Mark Appel showed his big stuff with three strikeouts in two innings of work, but his control problems also surfaced as he threw a wild pitch that resulted in two runs.

Up next
Probable opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson makes his spring debut Sunday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin.

Here is the Phillies’ posted lineup for that game:

1. Cameron Perkins CF
2. J.P. Crawford SS
3. Daniel Nava LF
4. Cameron Rupp DH 
5. Andres Blanco 2B
6. Dylan Cozens RF
7. Ryan Hanigan C
8. Brock Stassi 1B
9. Taylor Featherston 3B

Right-hander Joe Biagini will start for Toronto.

Jerad Eickhoff will start for the Phillies against Tampa Bay on Monday. Clay Buchholz will start against Baltimore on Tuesday. Both of those games are in Clearwater.