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.

Scott Kingery pops 2 homers in second game with Triple A Lehigh Valley

Scott Kingery pops 2 homers in second game with Triple A Lehigh Valley

Scott Kingery's power didn't take long to transition to Triple A.

In his second game since being promoted from Double A to the IronPigs, the Phillies' second base prospect belted two homers in Lehigh Valley's 14-5 loss to Pawtucket on Tuesday night.

Arguably the most exciting player on the Phillies' farm this season, Kingery caught everyone's attention by blasting 18 home runs in 69 games at Reading. That, along with a .313/.379/.608 batting line and 19 stolen bases, earned him a highly anticipated jump to Triple A and Coca-Cola Park, home of the IronPigs.

"It looks like you can get one out to left," Kingery said ahead of his Triple A debut on Monday. "But it looks real deep to center."

Kingery was right — both of his shots Tuesday went to left field. He finished 2 for 5 with three RBIs in the leadoff spot for Lehigh Valley, hitting in front of a loaded lineup of J.P. Crawford, Jorge Alfaro, Dylan Cozens, Nick Williams and Andrew Pullin.

The IronPigs are an International League-best 49-29 and that should only improve with Kingery now in the fold.

"I know what I'm capable of and I know what I need to improve on," Kingery said Monday. "Wherever I'm at, I'm going to come out here and try to work on whatever I think I need to improve on and to give myself the best shot to get moved up."

In his debut, Kingery made a dazzling, over-the-head diving catch that was featured on ESPN's SportsCenter (see story).

On Tuesday, he was back to the long ball.

Best of MLB: Nationals run all over Jake Arrieta, Cubs in win

Best of MLB: Nationals run all over Jake Arrieta, Cubs in win

WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer allowed one run and two hits as the Washington Nationals knocked Chicago Cubs starter Jake Arrieta out in the fifth inning on the way to a 6-1 victory Tuesday night in a showdown of the past two NL Cy Young Award winners.

Scherzer (9-5) was dominant in his six innings of work, striking out six with no walks and retiring 16 of the final 17 batters he faced. The right-hander allowed an earned run in the first inning for the first time since April and his streak of 10-plus strikeout games ended at six, but he was in control almost all night.

Arrieta (7-6), on the other hand, struggled with his control as he issued a season-high six walks and allowed five earned runs, getting the hook two batters into the fifth inning. The 2015 Cy Young winner hadn't walked more than three batters in a game this season.

He and catcher Miguel Montero allowed seven stolen bases, matching the Montreal Expos/Nationals franchise record. Nationals shortstop Trea Turner had four of those (see full recap).

Beltre’s 9th-inning HR lifts Rangers to win
CLEVELAND -- Adrian Beltre hit his 450th career home run, a solo drive in the ninth inning off Cody Allen that sent the Texas Rangers over the Cleveland Indians 2-1 on Tuesday night.

Beltre drove the first pitch from Allen (0-4) into the left field bleachers, and moved into sole possession of 39th place on the all-time homer list.

Keone Kela (4-1) stranded a runner in the eighth. Matt Bush allowed Michael Brantley's one-out single in the ninth while getting his 10th save.

Both teams managed to get only three hits. The pitcher's duel came one night after the Indians rallied from a 9-2 deficit for a 15-9 win Monday. The Rangers hit four home runs while the Indians scored a season high in runs. A night after striking out 17 times, Texas hitters fanned 16 times in the win.

Indians manager Terry Francona missed the game after his second trip to the hospital this month. He left Monday night's game because he wasn't feeling well and spent several hours at Cleveland Clinic undergoing tests. Bench coach Brad Mills filled in for Francona, who is expected to return Wednesday (see full recap).

Healy grand slam gives Athletics victory
HOUSTON -- Ryon Healy's first career grand slam broke a tie in the sixth inning and the Oakland Athletics held on for a 6-4 victory over the Houston Astros on Tuesday night.

The score was 1-1 when Matt Joyce singled to start the sixth. Jed Lowrie singled with one out before Yonder Alonso drew a walk with two outs to load the bases and chase Mike Fiers (5-3). He was replaced by James Hoyt, who was greeted with Healy's 18th homer -- a full-count shot which landed in the second row of the seats in right field to put the Athletics up 5-1.

Sean Manaea (7-4) allowed a season-high nine hits, but just one run in 5 2/3 innings for his first win over the Astros in seven starts.

The victory is the fourth straight for the Athletics and just their second against Houston in the last 17 games (see full recap).