Cliff Lee ponders future after tough-luck loss

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Cliff Lee ponders future after tough-luck loss

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ATLANTA -- The way Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels pitched in the second half of the season, it’s a shame the Phillies aren’t going to the playoffs. The two lefties could have formed a dangerous tandem in the month of October.

Then again, maybe it’s a good thing the Phillies’ season will end on Sunday. This team’s offense would probably just have broken your heart in October anyway.

Two months before Thanksgiving, Lee had the carving knife out Friday night. He pitched eight spectacular innings against the Atlanta Braves, walked none, struck out 13 -- and still lost!

Braves third baseman Chris Johnson gave his team a 1-0 win when he stroked a down-and-in, 0-2 slider into the left-field seats to lead off the bottom of the eighth inning (see Instant Replay).

“It basically came down to one pitch,” Lee said. “I felt like I made a good pitch. I was trying to bury it down and in and it was down and in. I think it was a ball. He put a good swing on it and hit a home run and that’s the game.

“It’s frustrating, but you’ve got to give credit to (Atlanta starter) Kris Medlen. He shut us down for eight innings and (closer) Craig Kimbrel came in at the end. It was a well-pitched game on both sides. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Medlen held the Phillies to two hits over eight innings.

“When a guy pitches like that, you want to back him with a little offense,” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said of Lee. “The conversations in the dugout every inning were, ‘Let’s go. The guy is pitching his tail off.’”

Lee finished his season 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA. His September was spectacular: In five starts, he allowed eight earned runs in 39 innings (1.85 ERA). He walked one -- one -- and struck out 54. That makes him the first pitcher in the history of the game to have a month with 50 strikeouts and one or few walks.

Not too shabby.

In 12 starts after the All-Star break, Lee had a 2.89 ERA. Hamels had a 2.97 in 13 starts after the break.

“I gave the team a chance to win just about every time I took the mound,” Lee said. “As a starting pitcher, I feel pretty good about that.”

Giving the team a chance to win doesn’t always equal a win, especially with this Phillies’ offense.

The Phils have lost eight of their last nine games. They have scored just 19 runs in those nine games. They have not homered in nine straight games, their longest home-run drought since 1989.

Lee, a frequent victim of poor run support, hopes the Phillies add some offense in the offseason.

“No doubt,” he said. “I think we all would. It’s been a big part of our struggles, lack of scoring runs. But we’ve also had games where we scored a bunch of runs and screwed it up on the mound. It takes a total package. You have to hit, pitch, play defense and have a good bullpen.”

Three seasons into his five-year contract with the Phillies, Lee has made the playoffs only once, in 2011. He finished in the top 10 in ERA in the league last year and will do so again this year. That’s a lot of personal success and no postseason to show for it. Lee turned 35 in August. Does he feel like he’s using up a lot of good bullets as his clock ticks?

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m getting up there in age. I’m 35 years old now and when this contract’s over I plan on going home, so I’m running out of opportunities. All I can control is what I can control, and I’m going to do everything I can to help us win. That’s all I know how to do.”

Don’t fret, Lee fans. The lefty still has two guaranteed years left on his contract (at $25 million per season) and a vesting option for 2016. So he could be around for three more years -- and maybe more because he did leave himself wiggle room in his comments.

But he left no doubt that he wants to get back to the postseason while he’s still a difference-maker.

“Right now, I don’t [see myself pitching beyond this contract],” Lee said. “There are a lot of things that can happen between now and then, but I just know that my kids are 12 and 10 and I’ve basically missed the first half of their lives.

“I’m financially able to shut it down, so … that’s how I feel right now. But when the time comes I might look at it differently.

“I also want to finish being good, not struggling and fumbling through at the end. I want to finish strong and take it to the house. Next year, I want to win a World Series, then another one, then another one and take it to the house. That’s what I’m wanting to do.”

End could be near for Jimmy Rollins, who's unlikely to make Giants' roster

End could be near for Jimmy Rollins, who's unlikely to make Giants' roster

The long-expected homecoming for Jimmy Rollins didn't go as planned.

Rollins, now 38, is unlikely to make the San Francisco Giants' opening-day roster.

"We've talked to Jimmy and he knows the scenario and the situation," manager Bruce Bochy told reporters earlier this week. "We're just waiting to hear back from him."

J-Roll was hoping to catch on with the Giants as a utility infielder. San Francisco already has an everyday shortstop in Brandon Crawford, so Rollins' role would have been to back him up, play a little second base and perhaps some third base. 

But Rollins hit just .125 this spring and fell clearly behind fellow veteran Aaron Hill, who is three years younger and at this point simply a better hitter.

Is this the end for J-Roll? If it is, he'll finish with a .264/.324/.418 batting line in over 10,000 plate appearances, 2,455 hits, 511 doubles, 231 homers and 470 steals.

Rollins is one of just four players ever with that many career doubles and steals. The others are Barry Bonds, Ty Cobb and Paul Molitor.

While some players have precipitous drop-offs that lead to retirement -- forced or unforced -- Rollins' decline has been more gradual. His batting average has dipped in each of the last four seasons, from .252 in 2013 to .243 to .224 to .221 last season. 

Rollins latched on with the White Sox last spring and was their opening-day shortstop, but he was released on June 15 as Chicago made room for top prospect Tim Anderson.

Rollins, who played 15 seasons with the Phillies, is the franchise leader in at-bats, hits and doubles. He's second in steals, third in triples and runs scored, ninth in homers and eighth in RBIs.

He also won an MVP, a World Series, four Gold Gloves and made three All-Star teams.

Enough to make the Hall of Fame? That's obviously subjective, but for as much as he did for the Phillies and for how much he impacted the game for more than a decade, Rollins' rate stats -- namely the .251/.317/.395 batting line he posted from 2008-16 -- could keep him out of Cooperstown, even though some of his counting stats are more impressive than Barry Larkin's.

Phillies finalize bullpen; final two bench jobs to be announced later today

Phillies finalize bullpen; final two bench jobs to be announced later today

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies finalized their bullpen Thursday morning and will complete the rest of their roster later in the day, manager Pete Mackanin said.

Lefties Adam Morgan and Joely Rodriguez were named to the final two spots in the bullpen after veteran Luis Garcia was optioned to Triple A.

The final two spots on the roster are both bench jobs. Brock Stassi, Daniel Nava and Jesmuel Valentin are the final candidates.

"We're going to pick two out of three and we'll know by the end of the game," Mackanin said before the Phillies were to play the Yankees in a 1 p.m. game.

There are indications that Stassi will make the roster, leaving the final spot down to Nava and Valentin. Nava is a first baseman/outfielder. Valentin, 22, is a second baseman by trade. If he doesn't make the club, he will play every day at Triple A.

Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr and rookie catcher Andrew Knapp are already set on the bench.

Garcia was sent to the minors one day after pitching poorly against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland. He was tagged for five hits and two runs in two innings of work. One of the hits was a double. Garcia needed 45 pitches to get through the two innings. He did not walk a batter and struck out three.

Garcia will likely close at Triple A.

"He developed a splitter over the course of spring training and we want him to go down and work on it," Mackanin said. "It could be a real good pitch for him in the future."

As far as bullpen roles, Morgan will work as a long man while Rodriguez will be more of a situational lefty. Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos, Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek round out the bullpen.

Gomez will open the season as the closer. He saved 37 games last season but lost the job in September.

"I'm going to go with Gomez," Mackanin said. "He's going to get every opportunity to do the job. If he doesn't, we're going to take a look at it."