Cliff Lee rusty in return as Phillies lose to Giants

uspresswire-phillies-cliff-lee.jpg

Cliff Lee rusty in return as Phillies lose to Giants

BOX SCORE

The scouts were lined up a dozen wide behind the backstop at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night. In case you didn’t hear, Cliff Lee returned to the Phillies’ rotation after two months on the disabled list.

Lee was the feature attraction because, if healthy, and if effective, he could zoom to the top of the list of pitchers that are available before next week’s non-waiver trade deadline.

The left-hander did not exactly drop jaws in his highly anticipated return performance. He went 5 2/3 innings against the San Francisco Giants and allowed 12 hits and six runs in a 7-4 loss (see Instant Replay).

Lee was clearly rusty. He lacked his usual pinpoint command.

“Yeah, a little bit,” the pitcher said after the game. “I wasn’t locating that well. I was behind in the count more than I’d like to be. It was good to be back, but I would have liked the results to be better.”

Lee had not pitched in a big-league game since he went down with an elbow strain on May 18. He made three minor-league rehab starts before the Phillies turned him loose Monday night.

“I would say he was rusty,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “It was evident in the first inning with him going 2-0 on the first couple of batters. When he threw strikes he wasn’t on the corner like he usually is and balls were over the plate.

“Looking at the swings, you usually don’t see balls getting squared up that often when he’s on the corners.

“The velocity was fine. That might improve a little bit along with the command with more outings underneath him.”

Lee’s fastball has been better. He threw nine fastballs in the first inning. Eight registered 90 mph on the stadium radar gun and one reached 91 mph. His fastball sat at about 89 mph the rest of his outing. Truth be told, Lee delivered more gas during his postgame interview than he did on the mound.

Most importantly, Lee said he felt healthy.

“I felt good physically,” he said. “I just wasn’t locating as well as I would have liked.

“But they earned it as well. They got 12 hits off me. You have to give them credit.”

Lee faced 28 batters and threw first-pitch strikes just 13 times. That’s not him.

Scouts from a number of contending teams, including the Blue Jays, Pirates, Royals, Mariners, Tigers, Orioles, Giants and Angels were on hand for Lee’s start. You can bet other teams were charting pitches from the television broadcast. (There’s more than one way to scout a player.)

“I didn’t know how many scouts were here and I didn’t care,” Lee said. “My goal is to give the team a chance to win and obviously I didn’t do that.”

Some scouts may have been in attendance to get a peek at some of the Phillies' available relievers. Very available lefty Antonio Bastardo pitched a scoreless seventh inning and struck out two batters. The Royals and Tigers were specifically on hand to check out Phillies relievers, a source said, and Bastardo’s appearance had the look of a showcase.

Jonathan Papelbon, available and wishing out loud for relocation, did not pitch. Closer-needy teams are watching him.

Papelbon was not needed because Lee gave up a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning and the Phillies, who had 14 singles and zero extra-base hits (see story), couldn’t get it back. The sixth inning started with a single by Michael Morse and a two-run homer by Adam Duvall. Lee allowed a two-out double to pinch-hitter Joaquin Arias and an RBI single to Hunter Pence later in the inning and was gone.

“It’s good to have the first one out of the way,” he said. “I’ll definitely have to make some adjustments before my next start.”

That will come Saturday night against Arizona at Citizens Bank Park. That will be Lee’s last start before the trade deadline, which arrives a week from Thursday at 4 p.m. Lee is scheduled to pitch that night in Washington.

Will he make that start or will he be with another team by then? Tough to say. Lee’s performance Monday night was not enticing. On top of that, it’s tough for scouts to get a complete read on his health in two starts. Taking on Lee comes with risk because he is owed $37.5 million after this season and will cost a team prospects. If Lee remains with the Phillies beyond the non-waiver trade deadline, he could still be moved in a waiver deal in August. That would give teams more time to gauge his health and effectiveness.

Lee, who turns 36 next month, has been traded twice in July in his career, so he is unfazed by the glare of this trade deadline.

“I couldn’t care less about the scouts in the stands or trade rumors or anything like that,” he said. “It’s not my job to make trades and acquire players. That’s their job upstairs. Our job as players is to go out and compete and try to win and it’s really that simple. I can’t get caught up in trades and speculation. I’m a Phillie and I want this team to win.”

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The dew on the infield grass had barely dried when Andrew Knapp was marched out to the firing squad at Phillies camp early Sunday morning.
 
He took his position at first base and looked across the diamond where Phillies instructors Doug Mansolino, Chris Truby and Larry Bowa were lined up at third base, shortstop and second base, respectively. Armed with fungo bats and a dozens baseballs each, the trio of sharpshooters proceeded to smash bullet one- and two-hoppers at Knapp, who was tasked with pulling them out of the dirt to complete the putout.
 
“Good job,” shouted Bowa, a tough grader when it comes to infield work, as Knapp finished up the hellacious early-morning drill.
 
Knapp is a catcher by trade, but he will continue these intense individual sessions at first base throughout the spring — in addition to his regular defensive work behind the plate.
 
A 25-year-old switch-hitter, Knapp was the Phillies’ second-round selection in the 2013 draft. He’s getting a lot attention in this camp because he has a shot to make the club as a reserve player. The Phils are in need of a backup catcher and a backup first baseman and Knapp, in big-league camp for the second time, is trying to show he can handle both assignments in one package.
 
“Last year it was more of a happy-to-be-here thing,” he said. “I was just trying to pick as many brains as I could and take in as much knowledge as I could.
 
“But this year it’s more of a let’s-go-win-a-job kind of deal.”
 
General manager Matt Klentak and manager Pete Mackanin first floated the idea of carrying Knapp as a two-position reserve at the winter meetings.
 
Of course, it came with a lot of qualifiers. Knapp is still considered a developing player and team decision-makers would have to consider what impact a reserve role would have on his development. Also, the prototypical backup catcher in the majors is a plus defender who has experience handling a big-league pitching staff. Knapp has never played in the majors and his defense is considered a work in progress. Later in the winter, the Phillies signed two big-league veteran catchers (Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan) to minor-league deals and they are very much in the mix for the job.
 
“I kind of understand there’s a definite value in having a veteran guy as a backup, but I think I can do the job on the field,” Knapp said.
 
A potential separator for Knapp could be his bat and his versatility if he can continue to develop it. He is not a novice at first base. He played there as a sophomore at the University of California. Knapp also has this going for him: He’s on the 40-man roster and with so many young prospects on it and the probable need to add an outfielder like Chris Coughlan later in camp, that could work in Knapp’s favor.
 
Another factor that could held Knapp’s chances: The Phillies’ development blueprint calls for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro to get the bulk of the playing time at first base and catcher, respectively, at Triple A.
 
“You’d like to see him get 500 at-bats, but it’s not a perfect world,” Bowa said. “Our Triple A team is loaded. He might find himself in the same role at Triple A. if that’s the case, it might be best if he came here if he swings the bat like he can and he can provide versatility.
 
“A guy like him can give you some options and flexibility. When you face the Mets and they have three stud right-handers throwing 95, it might be nice to have a guy like that to give (first baseman) Tommy Joseph a blow.”
 
Knapp had a brilliant season with the bat at Double A in 2015. He hit .360 with 11 homers, 56 RBIs and a 1.050 OPS in 55 games, earning him the franchise’s Paul Owens Award as minor-league player of the year.
 
Knapp tapered off at Triple A last season. He hit .266 with eight homers, 46 RBIs and a .719 OPS over a full season. Knapp’s day last summer typically started with defensive work at 1:30 in the afternoon.
 
“I would get my hitting in, but I don’t think there was as much of a focus on it as there was the year before,” he said. “I do think last year I took a real step forward defensively, especially in the second half of the year. I kind of had a tough first half, but the second half I really honed in on the defensive part, blocking and throwing mostly, just kind of keeping everything in front and shutting down the running game.”

A lot of eyes will be on Knapp when the exhibition games start next week.
 
“We need to find out if he’s capable of doing it,” Mackanin said. “Catching is a defensive-oriented position. We need good defense. We need good game calling, a catcher who can handle pitchers, and that’s what we’re going to be looking at from a guy like Knapp as well as the other guys. We’re going to take a good long look at that.
 
“He’s definitely in the mix. I want to play him a lot to see him. We all want to see what he can do offensively and defensively. From what I’ve been told he’s shown a lot of improvement and we’re going to look for that. We’re looking for the 25 best men. There’s a good chance he might be one of them.”
 
Knapp is determined to show that he is.
 
“It’s open for someone to go take it and I want to be that guy,” he said.

Roman Quinn hopes new offseason plan results in that elusive healthy season

Roman Quinn hopes new offseason plan results in that elusive healthy season

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Roman Quinn’s bio covers a wide range of body parts. There’s the Achilles tendon, as in torn, the quad, as in torn, and the oblique, as in strained. Twice. The word concussion also appears in there.
 
Sick and tired of having things go ‘pop’ in his body, Quinn decided to try something new after last season.
 
In early November, he rented an apartment “two minutes” from the Phillies’ spring-training facility and for three-plus months worked under the supervision of Paul Fournier, the team’s strength and conditioning guru.
 
“Paul and I worked five days a week,” Quinn said Saturday. “Strength. Flexibility. It was something I wanted to do because in the past I was doing something wrong in the offseason. I was ready for the season but I ended up getting leg injuries. Paul put together a plan to get my body right and he was there the whole time to tell me if I was doing something wrong. I’m going to carry it into the season.”
 
Quinn, 23, made a solid showing in a big-league cameo with the Phillies in September. In 15 games, he had a .373 on-base percentage and showed off a big arm in the outfield. Alas, he did not play in the final five games of the season after injuring his oblique for a second time.
 
Quinn’s play in September fueled speculation that he would be in the Phillies’ opening day outfield this season. Even manager Pete Mackanin said there was a good chance it could happen. But that late-season oblique injury served as one last reminder of Quinn’s inability to stay healthy and the Phillies ended up bringing in two outfielders, Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders, this offseason.
 
Kendrick and Saunders were added first and foremost to provide some veteran impact and offense in the lineup. But you have to believe Phillies officials might have stopped at one veteran bat or brought in a semi-regular player to share time with Quinn if Quinn’s health history wasn’t such an issue. He’s never stayed on the field for a full season.
 
“If that was the case I can definitely see where they’re coming from,” Quinn said. “I know I need to play a full season and be healthy and prove that I can play 160-something games.”
 
Saunders’ signing last month pretty much made it official: Quinn will open the season in center field for Triple A Lehigh Valley. Quinn said he was not disappointed by that. He applauded the signing of Saunders.
 
“I think it was a good team decision,” he said. “He’s a really good player and he’s going to provide a lot for this team.
 
“Those things are out of my control. All I can do is go out and compete and play my heart out.
 
“I’ve never played at Triple A. If I do end up in Triple A, I’m going to make the most of it and play hard and compete like I have throughout my time in the minor leagues.”
 
When Quinn is healthy and on the field, he is a dynamic player, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound switch-hitter with gap power and blazing speed. He has 159 stolen bases in 356 minor-league games since being selected in the second round of the 2011 draft and passing on a scholarship to Florida State to sign with the Phils.
 
Quinn has the arm to play any outfield position. He showed that September 14 when he gunned down Sean Rodriguez at the plate in the ninth inning to help preserve a win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in Philadelphia. The throw registered 96 mph on MLB.com Statcast.
 
96.
 
The Phillies have one starting pitcher — Vince Velasquez — who throws that hard.
 
“It was a pretty cool feeling,” Quinn said.
 
In high school, Quinn was often used as a closer. He said he hit 94 mph on the radar gun back then.
 
Though Quinn is ticketed for Triple A, Phillies management is eager to see him play in Grapefruit League games. He was arguably the most exciting player on the field during his time in big-league camp last year.
 
“What we saw in September was a really exciting player with a lot of promise who has a chance to be an impactful big leaguer,” general manger Matt Klentak said. “But we want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for Roman developmentally. He’s never had an at-bat at the Triple A level and we don’t believe some additional time in the minor leagues will stunt his development.”
 
At Lehigh Valley, Quinn will be flanked by Dylan Cozens and Nick Williams in a prospect-studded outfield. All three could be in Philadelphia at some point this season.
 
“If I do end up at Triple A, we’re going to have a pretty stacked team,” Quinn said. “It will be exciting because we all could be knocking on the door of the big leagues.
 
“I know just getting that little taste last year made me feel like it was somewhere I belong. I’m hungry.”