Catching prospect Joseph salvaging 'lost season'

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Catching prospect Joseph salvaging 'lost season'

READING, Pa. -- If this is a lost season for the Phillies’ minor league catcher Tommy Joseph, consider him on a search and rescue mission.

The Phillies’ top catching prospect is playing at Double A Reading where he’s working his way back from an early-season concussion that has plagued him for most of the year. Until the injury Joseph seemed to be on the proverbial fast track to the big leagues.

Still just 21 (he turns 22 on Tuesday), Joseph began the season playing for Triple A Lehigh Valley. With catcher Carlos Ruiz in the last year of his contract, a good season at Triple A from Joseph could have been a ticket to a roster spot in the big leagues in 2014.

But on May 4, Joseph took a foul ball off his mask and missed the next month of the season. He was activated and went to Single A Clearwater to get back into shape, but lasted just five games before post-concussion symptoms put him back on the shelf.

Joseph returned to action at the end of June, played a handful of games for Clearwater and now finds himself back at Reading.

“Right off the bat people were saying I could go down to Florida, I’ll be there a couple of weeks to get my feet under me and work my way back up,” Joseph said. “There were a lot of setbacks and it ended up taking a lot longer than people wanted it to.”

Now Joseph is back in Reading where he landed last July when he was acquired by the Phillies with right-handed starting pitcher Seth Rosin and outfielder Nate Schierholtz in a trade for Hunter Pence. But don’t consider 2013 a lost year for Joseph, because as far as he’s concerned, nothing has been lost.

Sure, Joseph has missed out on catching everyday at Triple A, but he doesn’t believe that has slowed him down.

Lost year? No way.

“People who say that obviously don’t believe in me,” Joseph said. “It’s not a lost year. I still get to play every day for the rest of the season and most likely in the winter, too. I don’t understand how it would be a lost season. When you’re in the minor leagues it’s a grind every day to get to your goal, which is the big leagues.”

Still, Joseph has appeared in just 36 games this season at all of his stops. On Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium against Blue Jays' affiliate New Hampshire, Joseph went 2 for 4 with a double in just his third game for Reading. In those 36 games, Joseph is 22 for 123 (.179) with four doubles and three homers. He also has struck out 30 times, though just 15 times at Triple A and once for Reading.

“He’s put some good swings on the ball,” Reading manager Dusty Wathan said after Thursday’s game. “He might be around the ball just a touch, which is why he hit some balls foul. But he smoked a double and muscled a single through short and third.”

Joseph hit eight homers in 80 games for Double A Richmond before the trade and just three in 28 games after joining the Phillies. However, at Single A San Jose in 2011, Joseph pounded 22 homers in 127 games and he hit 16 in 117 games as a 17-year-old in 2010. That shows Joseph has power when he gets a chance to be in the lineup.

However, to get to the big leagues as catcher, it’s all about defense. Wathan, a catcher in 14 pro seasons, likes what he sees in Joseph.

“Defensively, he’s really clean at receiving,” Wathan said. “He did miss a block with [lefty pitcher Jesse] Biddle, but he hasn’t caught him a lot and that’s a tough curveball to block in a tough location.

“He has a great arm, he’s pretty accurate, he receives well and calls a good game. He’s a good leader and has a lot of intangibles that aren’t physical tools.”

Better yet, Joseph is back behind the plate with no restrictions. After a first half of a season in which he spent more time on the sidelines than he’s used to, that’s all that matters to the catcher.

“I’m getting there. It’s nice to be out there with the team again and playing every day. That’s what I want to do,” Joseph said.

“All the [concussion] symptoms are gone, so now it’s just a matter of getting back to where I was and playing the game I love and doing the things I was put on this earth to do.”

Biddle headed for the Futures
Top pitching prospect Jesse Biddle was held to 75 pitches in Thursday’s start because he’s slated to pitch in the Futures All-Star Game in New York on Sunday.

Nevertheless, it was a bit of a rough outing for the lefty. In four innings, he allowed four runs on four hits and three walks. He had five strikeouts, threw a wild pitch and allowed a homer on a hanging curve.

This season, Biddle is 3-9 with a 3.33 ERA and has 107 strikeouts in 97 1/3 innings. But he hasn’t received much run support. Actually, he’s lucky if he gets a run.

Winless since May 21, Biddle has received just 10 runs of support in the nine games since that last win. In his last 14 starts, Reading has given Biddle just 18 runs of support with just 29 runs in his 18 starts.

With run support like that Biddle is lucky to have won three games.

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Ichiro in CF, 4 hits away from 3,000

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Ichiro in CF, 4 hits away from 3,000

Ryan Howard is in the Phillies' lineup Tuesday night, batting fourth against Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler. 

It's the second start in three games for Howard, who has actually been productive lately when he's gotten a chance to start. He went 2 for 3 on Saturday and had a homer in three of his previous five starts. Over that span he's gone 6 for 21 with three home runs and five RBIs as the Phillies' starting first baseman.

One of those homers was against Koehler last week at Citizens Bank Park, a two-run shot.

Howard's struggles this season have been well-documented and he's still hitting just .165, but he and Tommy Joseph have produced from a power standpoint. The only team in the majors that has more home runs from its first basemen than the Phillies (24) is the Cubs (26).

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

And for the Marlins:

1. Ichiro, CF (four hits away from 3,000)
2. Martin Prado, 3B
3. Christian Yelich, LF
4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
5. Chris Johnson, 1B
6. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
7. Jeff Mathis, C
8. Miguel Rojas, 2B
9. Tom Koehler, P

Blanco's injury led to promotions for Phillies prospects Jesmuel Valentin, Scott Kingery

Blanco's injury led to promotions for Phillies prospects Jesmuel Valentin, Scott Kingery

The Phillies' top prospect, shortstop J.P. Crawford, was not considered for a promotion to the majors this week when Andres Blanco was placed on the 15-day DL with a fractured finger, but Blanco's injury did create a cascade effect that resulted in two of the organization's other middle infield prospects earning call-ups.

Second baseman Jesmuel Valentin was promoted this week from from Double A Reading to Triple A Lehigh Valley to replace Taylor Featherston, who the Phillies added in Blanco's spot. And 2B Scott Kingery was promoted from High A Clearwater to Reading to take Valentin's place.

It's a positive development for the Phillies, who have stockpiled so many intriguing prospects that singles hitters like Valentin and Kingery were mostly afterthoughts much of the season. 

Valentin, the son of former big-league shortstop Jose Valentin and the 51st overall draft pick in 2012, was acquired by the Phillies in August 2014 from the Dodgers in exchange for Roberto Hernandez. 

Valentin, 22, made the Double A All-Star Game this season and hit .276/.346/.399 in 388 plate appearances with Reading before the promotion. He looks like a future utility infielder who could maybe turn into something more.

The Phillies also received 21-year-old reliever Victor Arano in that Hernandez trade. Arano has been excellent this season at Clearwater, posting a 2.29 ERA in 32 appearances with 68 strikeouts and just 15 walks in 59 innings. 

The Phillies got two legit pieces for Hernandez, a journeyman fifth starter who is now out of baseball. It's crazy to think they received a better return for Hernandez than for Chase Utley. 

As for the right-handed hitting Kingery, he made his Double A debut on Monday, going 0 for 3 for Reading. He had a good run at Clearwater, hitting .293/.360/.411 in 420 plate appearances with 29 doubles and 26 steals. He was the Phils' second-round pick last year out of the University of Arizona. Kingery is a 5-foot-10, speedy second baseman who has a solid approach at the plate. He probably won't hit for power, but Kingery looks like the type who could eventually hit for average and take walks, perhaps one day turning into a more polished, instinctive and consistent version of Cesar Hernandez.

Quinn finally back
Roman Quinn, out since June 4 with an oblique injury, began a rehab assignment Monday in the Gulf Coast League. In two games, the speedy, 23-year-old, switch-hitting centerfielder has gone 2 for 6 with a walk, a steal and two runs scored. 

He'll spend a few days in the GCL, where Mickey Moniak and Jhailyn Ortiz are currently playing, before advancing back up the chain. Moniak, by the way, had another multi-hit game Tuesday and is batting .321 through 90 plate appearances.

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Phils look to continue mastery of Giancarlo Stanton

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Phils look to continue mastery of Giancarlo Stanton

Phillies (46-55) at Marlins (53-46)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

Another impressive start by Jeremy Hellickson and some timely late offense led the Phillies to a series-opening win in Miami Monday. Now they go for the quick series win, which would be their first in four tries since the All-Star break.

Let's take a closer look at Tuesday's matchup:

1. One donut shy of a dozen
The Phillies' 4-0 win last night was their 11th shutout victory of the season, the most in baseball. The Mets and Dodgers are tied for second with nine.

The Phils' pitching staff was obviously at its best in April, when it set the MLB record for strikeouts per nine innings in the month at 10.4. The Phillies had five shutouts in April, two in May, two in June and now two in July. 

And it's not like the Phils have just taken advantage of bad teams here, shutting out the Braves or Padres repeatedly. They've shut out the Nationals twice, the Mets, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Pirates, Marlins and Diamondbacks. All of those teams except Arizona (which has a good offense) is above .500 and in the playoff hunt.

It's been written here many times that the most important short-term decision the Phillies made this past offseason was to raise the floor of the starting rotation. They've done it, and more importantly they've done it with youth. The Phillies' mediocre, veteran-laden 2015 staff had just seven shutouts all season.

2. Walk this way
Maikel Franco and Cameron Rupp both had productive nights Monday in their returns to the starting lineup. Franco went 1 for 2 with a double and three walks, scoring the Phillies' first and ultimately game-winning run in the eighth. Rupp went 0 for 2 but also walked three times and saw 26 pitches.

How rare is it for two Phillies to walk three times in the same game? It hadn't happened since Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz did it on April 5, 2010 at Nationals Park in Roy Halladay's Phillies debut.

Franco and Rupp may have been the two most unlikely Phillies to walk three times. Franco is an aggressive swinger, and Rupp walked just three times in the season's first two months. Rupp had just 11 in 248 plate appearances this season before Monday.

The Phillies averted disaster with two of their productive, young hitters after Franco was hit by a pitch on the wrist (again) in Pittsburgh and Rupp was hit on the helmet. 

3. Eickhoff's turn
Two of Jerad Eickhoff's last three starts have seen him start strong and fall apart in the middle innings. He allowed six runs (five earned) on nine hits over five innings against the Marlins last week after beginning the game with three scoreless innings.

Right before the All-Star break, Eickhoff was cruising at Coors Field with four shutout innings before the umpire's strike zone shrunk and Eickhoff's control disappeared. He allowed two runs in the fifth and six in the sixth.

In between those two outings was a well-pitched game in which Eickhoff allowed two runs in six innings to the Mets for yet another quality start.

So even though the results lately have been ugly for Eickhoff, even though his ERA has risen from 3.30 to 3.98 in the span of three weeks, he hasn't been all that bad. He just needs to avoid that one big inning.

Eickhoff, who is 6-11 with a 3.98 ERA in 20 starts this season, is 0-2 with a 6.55 ERA against the Marlins this season. He pitched six shutout innings against them in their lone meeting last year.

Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich have caused the most problems for him, going a combined 6 for 15 with three doubles and two homers.

4. Time to hit Koehler
The Phillies have had three looks at mediocre Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler (7-8, 4.42) this season and failed to hit him all three times. 

On May 7, Koehler allowed one run on two hits over seven innings with eight strikeouts in a game the Phillies eventually won. 

On May 18, he allowed two runs to them in seven innings and induced 16 groundballs.

And then last week, matched up against Eickhoff, Koehler again gave up just two hits, this time over eight innings. He allowed two homers but only one of the Phils' three runs was earned.

It's hard to explain why, all the sudden, the Phils have stopped hitting the 6-foot-3 righty. Last season, a worse Phillies team scored 15 runs against him in 21 innings. 

The Phillies are familiar with Koehler's repertoire, which includes a fastball in the 93 to 95 mph range, a curveball, slider and changeup. In the first two meetings this season he threw them a ton of fastballs, 115 in all. But last week he threw just 38 fastballs among 110 pitches. He threw 34 curveballs in that game, by far the most he's thrown this season. Don't be surprised to see a similar game plan tonight given how well it worked last week.

Current Phillies have hit just .201 against Koehler with three homers (Ryan Howard, Cody Asche, Freddy Galvis) in 144 at-bats.

5. Marlins notes
• Ichiro has gone 0 for 4 as a pinch-hitter in the Marlins' last four games. He's sitting on 2,996 career hits, meaning he could get his historic 3,000th against the Phillies this week with a big game or two. It would require the Marlins to sit one of Ozuna, Yelich or Giancarlo Stanton, though.

• Stanton this season against the Phillies: 3 for 33 (.091), one extra-base hit (a homer), two RBIs, 14 strikeouts. 

Against everyone else, Stanton has hit .257/.350/.524 with 20 home runs and 53 RBIs. If you remove the Phillies from the equation, Stanton's OPS this season would be 52 points higher, .874 instead of .822.