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.”

Hits King Pete Rose on Phillies' Wall of Fame ballot

Hits King Pete Rose on Phillies' Wall of Fame ballot

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies have released their Wall of Fame ballot for 2017 and Pete Rose is on it for the first time.

Baseball’s all-time hits king joins Steve Bedrosian, Larry Christensen, Jim Fregosi, Gene Garber, Placido Polanco, Ron Reed, Scott Rolen, Manny Trillo and Rick Wise on the ballot.

The Phillies had to receive permission from commissioner Rob Manfred to include Rose on the ballot. Rose was placed on baseball’s permanently ineligible list in 1989 after he admitted to wagering on baseball during his time as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. The ban precludes him from appearing on the ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Rose is still on the ineligible list, but Manfred has shown some leniency in recent years and Rose has been able to participate in some ceremonies. He was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds' Hall of Fame last summer. 

Rose was one of the stars on the Reds’ Big Red Machine, a club that won back-to-back World Series in 1975 and 1976. He came to the Phillies as a free agent before the 1979 season. He spent five years with the Phils and his leadership was considered key in getting a talented team over the top on its way to winning the 1980 World Series. 

The Phillies’ Wall of Fame ceremony will take place Aug. 12 at Citizens Bank Park. 

Fans have a voice in the voting, which is has begun on the team’s website -- www.Phillies.com. Fans can select their top three choices and the five finalists will serve as the official ballot for a special Wall of Fame selection committee.

Phillies 6, University of Tampa 0: Prospects put on a show

Phillies 6, University of Tampa 0: Prospects put on a show

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies offered up a sneak peek of their Triple A roster on Thursday and, frankly, it was kind of exciting.

Now, we won't go overboard here. That’s never a wise thing to do when a bunch of solid major-league prospects beat up on a college team in a spring training game. Lessons have been learned over the years. Remember that time Domonic Brown electrified camp when he turned around a 96-mph fastball from Justin Verlander and hammered it like a missile over the right-field wall?

Enough said.

But if things like home run power and bat speed and rocket throwing arms and good infield work light up your radar gun then this was a fun day and an entertaining peek at what's going to be playing 60 miles north of Philadelphia at Lehigh Valley in a few weeks.

Manager Pete Mackanin used a lineup filled with prospects for the team’s annual good-will exhibition game against the University of Tampa.

The Phillies won the game, 6-0. They out-hit UT, 12-2, in the seven-inning game.

“This gave us home-field advantage for next year when we play these guys,” Mackanin quipped afterward.

The skipper was in a good mood and justifiably so.

The kids put on a good show.

“I know it’s a college team, but we looked good all around,” Mackanin said. “We swung the bats well. We played well defensively.”

The Phillies' farm system has improved over the last couple of seasons. There are players at the upper levels -- and even more at the lower levels -- with game-breaking tools. Those tools were displayed in this game.

• Centerfielder Roman Quinn singled and scorched a line-drive home run over the right-field wall. Quinn is working on shortening his swing this spring. The home run came on a quick swing and jumped off his bat.

• Scott Kingery, the 22-year-old second baseman picked by the Phillies in the second round of the 2015 draft, made three nice plays in the field, one to his right, one to his left and one on a double-play ball. He actually projects to open at Double A, but could be a quick mover. Jesmuel Valentin projects to play at Triple A. He's been bothered by a sore shoulder.

• Outfielder Nick Williams was hitless but drove the ball well.

• Dylan Cozens, the lefty-hitting behemoth who swatted 40 homers, the most in all of minor-league ball, for Double A Reading last season clubbed a long home run over the batter’s eye in center field.

“Ryan Howard is the only guy I’ve ever seen do that,” one longtime security guard at Spectrum Field said.

“The ball makes a different sound coming off his bat,” Mackanin observed.

• Top prospect J.P. Crawford booted a ball in the first inning, but that happens. He came across the second base bag like a blur when he teamed with Kingery in turning a double play.

• Andrew Pullin showed his sweet lefty stroke with a scorching base hit to right field. It was one of those line drives that nose-dived into the ground because it had so much hard top-spin on it. Pullin has a short, Jim Eisenreich type of swing, and it will carry him to the big leagues someday, maybe even this year as he would be an intriguing bat to have coming off the bench.

• And then there was catcher Jorge Alfaro. Power -- with his throwing arm and his bat -- is his big tool. He showed it gunning down a would-be base stealer with a laser-beam throw to second and later by lining a pitch off the top of the wall in right-center. Alfaro seemed to simply flick his wrists and drive the ball through a stiff wind. With no wind, it was a homer.

Again, all of this came against a college team. All of these prospects still have miles to go in their development and the rigors of the unforgiving baseball schedule, not to mention pitching that improves with every step, has a way of thinning the field.

But these prospects -- and their tools -- impressed the field boss.

“If they go to Triple A and pound the ball like they did today -- that’s what we’re hoping for,” Mackanin said. “It was a good day to give those guys some confidence. We want to see what they can do and what they can’t do. It was against a college team, but you can get a good glimpse of the future, see what they’re capable of doing. I’m going to try to see the young guys as much as I can early in the spring.

“It’s really encouraging to see these guys. Every one of them has very good potential, more than I’ve seen since I’ve been here.

“I was talking to Charlie Manuel (who sees the entire system in his front office role) before the game and he said up and down the system we have a lot of good players. Perhaps not necessarily blue-chip prospects but enough where you know some of them are going to make their way to the top and this is a good start with what we’re looking at right now.”