Countdown to Clearwater: The battle for jobs

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Countdown to Clearwater: The battle for jobs

The Phillies open spring training Wednesday in Clearwater, Fla. In advance of the first workout and the countdown to opening day, we take a daily look at the top storylines facing this club in camp.

Part 1 – Health

Part 2 – New faces

Part 3 – Charlie Manuel’s future

Part 4 – Young prospects

Part 5 – Defense

Today – Competition for jobs

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Though many of the core spots in the lineup and on the pitching staff are filled, there will be some competition for jobs in this Phillies spring training camp.

A host of candidates will vie for what looks like just three openings in the bullpen. Actually there might only be two openings because team officials were very pleased with the work of Jeremy Horst last season and he could have an inside track on being the second lefty in the bullpen, joining Antonio Bastardo. In addition to Bastardo, Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams and Chad Durbin are set in the bullpen.

Relievers who will compete for jobs in the bullpen include Mike Stutes, Phillippe Aumont, Jake Diekman, Michael Schwimer, Justin De Fratus, B.J. Rosenberg, Raul Valdes, Joe Savery, Juan Cruz and others. We took a look at the bullpen situation a few days ago (see story).

Though newcomer John Lannan comes into camp with a competitor’s attitude -- he says he must win a job -- he lines up to be the fifth starter behind Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Kyle Kendrick. Barring injury, the rotation is set.

In addition to the bullpen, much of the competition for jobs will come in the outfield and on the bench.

The Phils figure to keep five outfielders. Ben Revere is a lock in centerfield. Laynce Nix might have a leg up on a job because he’d bring some lefthanded pop off the bench. John Mayberry Jr. seems to have a good chance of making the club because of his versatility and ability to hit lefthanded pitching. Without Mayberry, the Phils would scramble for help in centerfield if Revere went down. Mayberry plays both corner outfield spots and first base. He would have some value on this team’s bench.

Using this admittedly loose blueprint -- things can change quickly with a trade or an injury -- the Phils would seem to have two open outfield spots with three main contestants. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is on record as saying he hopes newcomer Delmon Young becomes the team’s everyday rightfielder not too long after opening day. (Young could be slowed early in camp as he continues to recover from offseason ankle surgery.)

Despite his hope to have Young’s bat in the lineup, Amaro warns: “He’s going to have to show us he can do it.” The GM was talking about Young’s ability to play rightfield, a position he has not played since 2007.

Young will be given every chance to do that once he’s cleared to play in games. That could come around mid-March. If Young can’t handle the job, Mayberry, Nix and Domonic Brown would all be in the picture there.

Coming into camp, however, Brown is expected to take part in what could be the spring’s best competition, a battle for the leftfield job, or maybe a slice of it, with Darin Ruf. It’s not out of the question that these two could form a platoon. That would force some adjustment of other outfield personnel.

Phillies officials aren’t under pressure to employ a Brown-Ruf platoon. Both players have minor-league options and can be sent to Triple A for more seasoning.

This isn’t Brown’s first spring tryout. Two years ago, he got off to a slow start then broke a bone in his hand as he lost the rightfield job to Ben Francisco. Francisco is a reminder that jobs can be won in spring training, but lost when the games count. His inability to lock down the job during the season led to the acquisition of Hunter Pence. Last year, Brown got a look in big-league camp, but club officials were committed to starting him at Triple A so he could continue his development.

Brown was a hot story in camp a couple of years ago. He’s been replaced as this year’s hot story by Ruf, who slugged his way from non-prospect to the major leagues in 2012. Ruf, 26, is a lifelong first baseman trying to make the conversion to leftfield. He made 29 starts at the position in Double A last season and six more in the majors in September. In the fall, he played the position in Venezuela, where he bashed 10 home runs to raise his total for the calendar year to 52. If Ruf hits, he will be difficult to keep off the team. Same for Brown, actually. That could be a nice competition to follow.

“There’s going to be some battling,” Amaro said. “We’re going to watch them closely. At some point they have to take the reins and let them decide for us whether they can do it.”

Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte, a speedy 22-year-old Venezuelan, is an outside candidate to win a spot in the outfield. Reports on his defense are good and that could enhance his chances if team officials believe they need an extra late-game defensive reinforcement.

In putting together their reserve infield corps, Phillies officials will have to decide whether to keep sure-handed Freddy Galvis or send him to the minors for regular playing time and at-bats. With an aging infield and a defensive question mark in Michael Young at third base, it’s not difficult to imagine team officials opting to keep Galvis in the majors, where he could help at three spots. Kevin Frandsen appears ticketed for a bench job, but veterans such as Yuniesky Betancourt and Pete Orr will also get looks.

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

BOX SCORE

On the surface, it might appear that the Phillies were done in by one bad inning on Wednesday night. After all, they suffered a 7-2 loss at Citizens Bank Park and the visiting Colorado Rockies scored all of their runs in one hellacious burst in the third inning (see Instant Replay).

But there was more to the loss than just one poor inning by starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson. The Phillies came to the plate in nine innings against the Rockies pitchers and managed hits in only two of them while finishing the game with just three. It was the third time in the last four games — all losses — that the Phillies have mustered just three (expletive deleted) hits. Through the first seven innings in this one, they were out-hit, 11-1.

"Well, once again, three hits," manager Pete Mackanin said afterward. "Not a whole lot of good to talk about."

No, there wasn't. Hasn't been for a while. The Phillies have lost five in a row, 9 of 10 and 20 of their last 24 games. Wednesday night's loss left them with the worst record in the majors at 15-29.

"There's a lot of baseball left, and I know we're better than this," Mackanin said. "We just have to have some kind of spark to get out of it. Win a couple in a row and it could put us on a winning streak."

It's not going to be easy to start the winning streak in Thursday's series finale against Colorado. The Rockies have the best record in the National League at 31-17 and they have outscored the Phillies, 23-5, in the first three games of the series.

That's a serious beating.

"They have some really good hitters in that lineup and it's a deep lineup, too," Hellickson said. "There are no easy outs."

Conversely, there have been many easy outs in the Phillies' lineup in this series. The Phils did not get their first hit Wednesday night until Andrew Knapp singled with two outs in the fifth inning. The Rockies' starting pitchers in this series have held the Phils to two runs in 20 innings. And two of those pitchers were rookies, Jeff Hoffman and German Marquez. Tyler Chatwood pitched seven shutout innings Wednesday night.

The Phillies' starting pitching in the month of May has been brutal. Phillies starters have a 6.39 ERA in the month, second worst in baseball over that span.

The team is 4-17 in the month.

"It's been kind of surprising," Mackanin said of the rotation's problems this month. "I know they're better than that. We're going to put something together. I believe that."

Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. He's been a different pitcher in May. His ERA in the month is a hefty 7.30 in five starts. The difference in the months: Hellickson located his finesse repertoire down in the strike zone in April. He's been up in the zone in May. On Wednesday night, Rockies hitters fought off his middling fastball and didn't miss his soft stuff because it was up. Carlos Gonzalez had the big hit against Hellickson in the Rockies' seven-run third. He jumped out of his shoes to hack at a 2-1 changeup and hit it for a three-run home run.

"He had poor command of his changeup," Mackanin said. "He was yanking his changeup, not locating it. That's his out pitch. He didn't have it tonight.

"He's had a lot of good starts for us. When he doesn't locate, he gives up a run here or there, but he kind of gets it back. For that one inning, it fell apart on him."

Hellickson allowed eight baserunners on six hits and two walks in the Rockies' seven-run third inning. He gave up a double, a triple, a homer and three singles in the frame.

"I beat myself that inning by falling behind and walking too many," the pitcher said. "When I did make a good pitch, they found a way to get hits off those, too."

This is the third straight season that the Phillies have endured a 4-20 stretch.

"It's not easy," Hellickson said. "It's not fun. It's just something you deal with. It's not fun."

During this stretch, Mackanin has benched his cleanup hitter, Maikel Franco (see story). Otherwise, he has kept his sanity.

"I remember when I took over in '15, the team was scuffling, really not playing well," Mackanin said. "Then something clicked and we started beating teams. Last year, we had a good first part of the season and then kind of scuffled at the end. Sometimes one little thing clicks and you get better.

"In a long season, these things sometimes happen. I remember Atlanta, the first half last year, was terrible. They had a real good second half. I believe we just need to get something going. We're going to put something together. I believe that."

Best of MLB: Chris Sale misses strikeout record, but Red Sox rally for win

Best of MLB: Chris Sale misses strikeout record, but Red Sox rally for win

BOSTON -- Dustin Pedroia waved home the tiebreaking run on a wild pitch, then singled in two more during Boston's seven-run seventh inning on Wednesday night and the Red Sox beat the Texas Rangers 9-4 for their third straight victory.

Chris Sale (5-2) struck out six, falling short in his attempt to become the first pitcher in baseball's modern era to strike out at least 10 batters in nine straight games in one season. He allowed three earned runs, six hits and a walk in 7 1/3 innings and received more runs of support in the seventh inning alone than in any previous game this season.

Sam Dyson (1-5) faced seven batters in relief of Martin Perez and gave up four hits, three walks -- two intentional -- and a wild pitch without retiring a batter. Mike Napoli homered for Texas, which has lost three of four to follow a 10-game winning streak (see full recap).

Ellsbury hurt as Yankees blank Royals
NEW YORK -- Helped by a great first-inning catch that forced center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury from the game with a concussion and sprained neck, Luis Severino won for the first time in a month and led the New York Yankees over the Kansas City Royals 3-0 on Wednesday night.

On the first pitch of the game, Ellsbury sprinted 107 feet and raised his glove above his head to catch Alcides Escobar's fly. Ellsbury's head jarred into the wall as the ball landed in his glove, and he crumpled to the field.

Ellsbury was checked by manager Joe Girardi and head athletic trainer Steve Donohue and remained in the game, then was replaced by Aaron Hicks starting the second.

Didi Gregorius homered against Jason Hammel (1-6) leading off the third inning, Gregorius' seventh hit in a span of 12 at-bats.

His fastball reaching 99 mph, Severino (3-2) allowed four hits over eight innings, struck out seven, walked one and threw a career-high 114 pitches.

Dellin Betances struck out the side in a perfect ninth for his fourth save (see full recap).

Rendon, Roark help Nationals beat Mariners
WASHINGTON -- Anthony Rendon hit a three-run homer for his eighth of the season, Tanner Roark allowed a run over seven innings and the Washington Nationals defeated the Seattle Mariners 5-1 on Wednesday night.

Rendon has three homers and eight RBIs in the Nationals' two victories to open this three-game series.

Roark (4-2) completed seven innings for the first time in seven starts and held the Mariners to 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position.

Mariners rookie Sam Gaviglio (0-1) allowed all five runs -- one earned -- over six innings as the Mariners lost their fifth straight.

Seattle's Robinson Cano went 3 for 4, including an RBI single and a double that center fielder Michael Taylor's glove prevented from being a home run.

Rendon had gone 12 games without an RBI before the series. But after driving in five runs Tuesday, he drove in three more to help Washington grab a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the first (see full recap).