Clearwater Chronicles: Notes, quotes, observations as Phillies spring training ends

Clearwater Chronicles: Notes, quotes, observations as Phillies spring training ends

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies departed their spring home on Friday and will make a brief stopover in Philadelphia before heading to Cincinnati to open their 135th season on Monday.

The goal of any team in spring training is to stay healthy and the Phillies did that. Now the rebuilding club will attempt to take another step forward, improve on the 71 wins it put up last season and find out which young players on the roster will be around for the long haul while giving a good-looking group of prospects another year to grow in the minors.

Here are a few notes, quotes and observations as the Phillies exit Clearwater and head for the regular season:

1. Starting pitching should be this team's strength. The five arms that the Phillies have assembled have the potential to keep games close for six innings most nights. But, with the exception of Vince Velasquez, who looks primed for something big, the starters' ERAs were high this spring. In particular, Aaron Nola had an ERA of 8.38. Jerad Eickhoff finished at 6.86 and Clay Buchholz at 6.65

"I choose to believe that it's just spring training," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Nola showed that his elbow was sound. His velocity was actually up a tick or two. But it's hugely important that he re-find the pinpoint command and ability to locate that made him special in college and special for his first 25 big-league starts.

A better read of this rotation will start Monday when Jeremy Hellickson gets the ball.

2. The Phillies' tight 40-man roster drew a lot of attention this spring and affected some decisions for the opening day roster. The Phils could continue to have tough calls with the 40-man roster during the season, especially if they need catching help and determine that prospect Jorge Alfaro, who is on the 40, is not ready. At that point, the Phils might have to consider bringing up Logan Moore and making a tough call on whom to lop off the 40-man roster. Ditto in the outfield. If the Phils needed a backup outfielder and didn't want to have a 40-man prospect like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams or Dylan Cozens play part time, they might have to look at adding Cameron Perkins, who had a nice spring, to the roster. Again, who goes? Tyler Goeddel would have been the first outfielder to come up, but he was designated for assignment, a move that took him off the 40-man roster and possibly out of the organization, to make room for Brock Stassi.

3. Freddy Galvis had a brilliant spring with the glove. His big test this season will be improving his on-base skills as he tries to hold off top prospect J.P. Crawford. Early in camp, Galvis bristled when he was asked about Crawford. From this perspective, that was a good thing. Maybe he's ready to dig in and make improvements. Internal competition is a wonderful motivator and it's good to see that Galvis isn't conceding anything.

4. Jeanmar Gomez had a terrific spring, allowing just four hits and one run over 9 2/3 innings. He struck out five and walked one. He will open the season as the closer, but Mackanin continues to use qualifiers like "for now." Clearly, Mackanin remembers the struggles that cost Gomez that role last year. And so it seems Gomez will be on a short leash.

5. Newcomer Howie Kendrick showed unselfishness at the plate, moving runners by clearly trying to hit the ball the other way. File that under a veteran who knows how to play the game and set a good example.

6. Maikel Franco's swing looked a lot more under control. We can't recall his helmet popping off once. This is a big year for him as he tries to prove that he is a player worth building around to a front office that already has its eye on coming free-agent markets.

7. The buzz coming from next door at minor-league camp was significant, as much as these ears have ever heard. There was lots of talk about the Triple-A team mashing the ball, about 18-year-old pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez's dominating performances (word is team officials had to slow him down a little), about the strides another big-armed prospect, Franklyn Kilome, has made, and about the way the ball jumps off the bat of Cole Stobbe, last year's third-round pick. The minor-league season opens Thursday, and it will be a fascinating five-month ride as the organization has real prospects worth monitoring.

8. Aaron Altherr scorched the baseball over the final week or so of camp. Everything seemed to come off his bat hard. He is really liking the adjustment he has made in his stance. At the suggestion of new hitting coach Matt Stairs, Altherr lowered his hands. Altherr says it has helped him see the ball better and be quicker to the ball. Back in 2010, when he was still playing, Stairs made the same suggestion to Jayson Werth, whose body-type is similar to Altherr's, and it helped him earn a huge contract with the Washington Nationals.

9. Second base prospect Scott Kingery was the talk of the first half of the Grapefruit League schedule, with Mackanin saying it looked as if the 22-year-old was on a fast track to the majors. But it was another 22-year-old second base prospect that stood out late in camp. By virtue of his being on the 40-man roster, Jesmuel Valentin, who is a month younger than Kingery, got to hang around until the final cut. He hit .366 with a .934 OPS. He will start at Triple A and Kingery at Double A. As stated above, internal competition is good and the Phils have some at second base. And lest we forget, Cesar Hernandez does not turn 27 until May.

10. Eickhoff made good strides with his changeup. It'll be interesting to see where that takes him as he looks to build on last season's breakout, 197-inning season.

11. One of the most memorable quotes from camp was provided by director of player development Joe Jordan, who, in talking about pitcher Drew Anderson said, "We have scouts who will tell you he might be our top pitching prospect." Anderson will open the season at Double A in a rotation that will include former first-round pick Shane Watson, who is back from injury and throwing in the mid-90s.

12. It was pretty sweet to see the reactions of Andrew Knapp and Brock Stassi when they were told they'd made the club. Both of their dads played pro ball and topped out in Triple A, so there's a lot of joy in those households.

13. Entering camp, Knapp knew he had a chance to make the team because he was already on the tight 40-man roster. But early in camp, he did not look good at the plate. He started off 1 for 22 and was clearly pressing because he knew what was at stake. Once he got the vibe that he was going to make the club, his play improved dramatically, at the plate and behind it. He threw out four runners on the bases in the final week of camp, one with a hat tip to Valentin for a nice pick, and showed extra-base pop. He had a three-run double in the spring finale Friday.

14. Zach Eflin looks to be in terrific shape and could be poised for big things now that his knees don't hurt anymore. He had surgery on both of them in the fall to fix tendinitis issues. The Phillies will give him a few more weeks to build leg strength, so he will open the season on the disabled list before moving into the Triple A rotation.

15. Reliever Colton Murray had a tremendous spring. He gave up just two runs in 11 innings, held hitters to a .161 batting average and had a WHIP of 0.91. He was taken off the 40-man roster in October but will give the team something to think about if he continues to pitch well at Triple A.

Tonight's Lineup: Sputtering Phillies sit Maikel Franco, Michael Saunders vs. Rockies

Tonight's Lineup: Sputtering Phillies sit Maikel Franco, Michael Saunders vs. Rockies

Losers of 18 of their last 22 games, the Phillies are desperate for a spark. 

And Pete Mackanin is hoping the bench can revive the Phils' sputtering offense tonight vs. the Rockies.

Maikel Franco, Michael Saunders and Cameron Rupp will all sit vs. Rockies righty German Marquez (2-2, 4.34).

In come Andres Blanco at third, Ty Kelly in left field and Andrew Knapp behind home plate.

Saunders' day off comes a night after he was dropped to eighth in the lineup, where he went 0 for 3 with a strikeout. 

Franco continued to struggle in Tuesday's loss, going hitless with two strikeouts. The embattled third baseman is now hitting just .221 on the year and continues to struggle with his plate discipline. 

Rupp, who is hitting .118 over the last week, has more strikeouts (5) than hits (2) in that span. He will be replaced by Knapp, who is off to a solid start to his MLB career. The backup is crushing right-handed pitching with a .847 OPS and 10 of his 11 hits on the year coming vs. righties.

Tuesday will be just Kelly's second start as a Phillie.

Here is tonight's lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Aaron Altherr, RF
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Andres Blanco, 3B
6. Odubel Herrera, CF
7. Ty Kelly, LF
8. Andrew Knapp, C
9. Zach Eflin, P

Phillies held to 3 hits again, pounded by Rockies in return home

Phillies held to 3 hits again, pounded by Rockies in return home

BOX SCORE

The loudest noise made by the Phillies' offense on Monday night was the thud — clearly audible above the small crowd — that Odubel Herrera created when he smashed his batting helmet on the dirt infield after grounding out to third base to end the seventh inning.

Herrera's frustration spoke for an entire team. The Phillies were hammered, 8-1, by the Colorado Rockies (see Instant Replay). They were out-hit, 13-3. The loss was the Phils' 18th in the last 22 games and they have been outscored 126-89 over that span.

The loss left the Phils at 15-27 for the season, matching their worst 42-game start since 2000 when they finished 65-97 in front of tiny crowds at Veterans Stadium in Terry Francona's last season as skipper.

Over the last two games, both losses, the Phils have just six hits.

"Three hits today, three hits yesterday," manager Pete Mackanin said. "You're not going to win a lot of games getting three hits."

Aaron Altherr had two of the Phillies' hits, both doubles against Colorado rookie Jeff Hoffman, who was very impressive with seven walk-free innings and seven strikeouts.

Herrera went hitless in three at-bats and is hitting just .200 in the month of May and .232 overall — not what the front office expected when it signed him to a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension in the offseason.

"It's very frustrating because I feel like I am being selective and waiting for my pitch, but when I make contact things don't happen," Herrera said. "I feel like I'm swinging the bat well, but I'm just missing."

Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff gave up nine hits, seven of which were singles, and four runs over six innings. Four of the hits that Eickhoff allowed came in the third inning when the Rockies scored three times. Two of the runs scored on a flare double and the other on a groundball through a drawn-in infield.

"I executed a lot of good pitches," Eickhoff said. "I got a lot of the contact I wanted. The ball just didn't land in the gloves."

Eickhoff did not walk a batter. He struck out four.

Despite being 0-5 with a 4.70 ERA in nine starts, the right-hander believes he has made strides his last two outings. He gave up three runs (two earned) over six innings in his previous outing at Texas. Prior to that start, he worked on fixing a mechanical flaw in his delivery.

"These past two have been night-and-day different," he said. "I felt great today and in Texas and I'm going to keep that positivity going."

Finding other things to be positive about with this team is becoming difficult.

This Phillies team was not expected to contend; it is still in a rebuild. But things weren't supposed to be this bad, either.

"I'll tell you what, I'm getting frustrated, too," general manager Matt Klentak said before the game. "This team is better … there is more talent on this team than we've shown in terms of our record.

"We'll pull out of it. We will. That's what talented players will do. I'm not going to tell the fans they shouldn't be frustrated. We've gone through a tough stretch.

"But I'm not ready to call it regression. I think there's been a lack of consistency on our team in general, with some players more than others. There's been a lack of consistency, but especially for young players, two months is a relatively small sample size to categorize it as regression."

At 29-17, the Rockies have the best record in the National League. They have 16 road wins, which is one more than the Phillies have overall. The Rockies are in town for three more days. This ugly start could get even uglier.