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.”

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."