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.

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff pitched two innings, allowed a hit, a run, walked one and struck out two in his spring debut on Monday.

Afterward, manager Pete Mackanin was asked what he believed Eickhoff's ceiling was.

"He's a pretty darn good pitcher right now," Mackanin said.

Indeed, he is.

In his first full season in the majors last year, the 26-year-old right-hander led the Phillies' starting staff in ERA (3.65), starts (33) and innings pitched (197 1/3).

He delivered 20 quality starts and became just the fourth Phillie in the last 20 years to make 33 starts and record a 3.65 ERA or better, joining three pretty good pitchers named Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. He walked just 1.92 batters per nine innings and that was fourth-best among NL starters.

"Eickhoff is the kind of guy you can count on," Mackanin said. "He throws strikes. He knows what he's doing."

Eickhoff is intent on building on last year's success in 2017. The guy has a Halladay-like work ethic. He arrived in Clearwater on Feb. 1 and got right to work. After his two innings of work on Monday, he put in a couple of hours in the weight room and on a back field running.

"I just have to continue working," he said. "I have a very high standard for myself as a lot of us in here do. We want to be the best players that we can be."

Eickhoff is working on improving his changeup this spring and his overall goal is to make every start -- as he did last season.

"That's the priority -- make every start," he said. "That's always a priority for me.

"I'd also like to incorporate the changeup a little more and use my slider and curveball and not get heavily reliant on one or the other, which happened several times last year and I think got me into trouble at times. So incorporating both for the duration of the season and just being more crisp with execution and location is my goal.

"I'm always looking to get better. I think the sky is the limit. I'm going to continue working, whether it's being Greg Maddux-esque with command or having a good breaking ball, or throwing a changeup like Maddux and guys like that did. There's always something I'm working on and trying to develop and sharpen up."

Eickhoff lines up to start the second game of the regular season behind projected opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson.

The game
The Phillies lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-2. The Phils are 2-2 on the spring.

Maikel Franco had two hits, including his third homer of the spring. It was a long drive to left field on a 1-2 fastball. He also had a single to right field.

"The thing I like early in the spring from him is he's going deeper into counts," Mackanin said. "I think he's working toward a good year this year."

Stassi impresses
Non-roster player Brock Stassi, a candidate to win a job as a reserve first baseman and outfielder (see story), did not play in the game. He, however, has a single, double and homer in the first three games.

Mackanin gushed about Stassi’s defense when asked about it Monday.

"He's one of the best first basemen I've seen in a real long time," Mackanin said. "He has no need to improve on his defense and I like the way he swings the bat. He's a real solid baseball player so he's a guy I really want to get a good look at."

Pitching matters
Starting pitchers Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin are both projected to pitch at Triple A. Both have been slowed early in camp because of health reasons, but are progressing well. Thompson has a sore right wrist and Eflin is recovering from a pair of surgeries to address tendinitis in both knees.

Both pitchers will continue to throw in the bullpen this week and ramp up to live batting practice next week. There is plenty of time for both pitchers to get their arms ready to open the season. However, the Phillies may decide to take a cautious approach with Eflin and let him build some more strength in his knees before they turn him loose. He could stay in Florida for a couple of extra weeks before joining the Triple A club.

Up next
The Phillies host the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. Clay Buchholz will make his first start of the spring. Here is the Phillies' posted starting lineup for the game:

1. Freddy Galvis, SS
2. Howie Kendrick, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, DH
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Chris Coghlan, RF
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Scott Kingery, 2B

MLB Notes: Josh Hamilton undergoes knee surgery

MLB Notes: Josh Hamilton undergoes knee surgery

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Josh Hamilton has had another surgery on his balky left knee, ending any chance of the 2010 AL MVP making the Texas Rangers' opening day roster.

The arthroscopic procedure Monday was to repair some damaged meniscus cartilage in his left knee. There were no issues with the surgically repaired ACL in that knee.

Hamilton had left spring training in Arizona and returned to Houston for the second time in less than a week to be examined by Dr. Walt Lowe, who also performed Hamilton's season-ending surgery last June.

The latest knee procedure is the 11th in Hamilton's career, and the third since the 35-year-old slugger last played in the majors in 2015.

Hamilton, in camp on a minor league contract, faces six weeks of rehabilitation before he will be able to start running again.

Orioles: Bourn broke finger during football drill
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Baltimore outfielder Michael Bourn hasn't played football since his sophomore year in high school. But it's a pigskin injury that's preventing him from playing this spring for the Orioles.

On Friday, the speedy 34-year-old broke his right ring finger catching a football at a workout. Bourn, who signed a minor league contract on Feb. 20, will be out for four weeks, making it difficult for him to be ready for Baltimore's April 3 opener. He'll make $2 million if he's put on the 40-man roster.

Bourn has difficult competition. Another veteran major league outfielder, Craig Gentry, signed two days before, plus the Orioles want to take long looks at Rule 5 outfielders Anthony Santander and Aneury Tavarez. Joey Rickard, a Rule 5 pick who played with the team last season, is also a serious contender.

Because he signed late, Bourn hadn't played.

"I was ready to go and pretty much ready to get into games the next couple days and now I've got to wait a about four weeks to heal. I want it to heal correctly but I want to push it, too. There's really nothing I can do about it," he said. (see full story)

Indians: Kipnis sidelined by shoulder injury
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has a rotator cuff strain and will stop throwing for a couple days.

Kipnis got a cortisone shot on Saturday, and manager Terry Francona didn't sound very worried about the situation.

"If it was during the season we wouldn't do anything," Francona said before Sunday's spring game against the Chicago Cubs in Mesa. "There's so much time to get ready that to kind of put a Band-Aid on it now didn't seem to make sense."

The 29-year-old Kipnis hit .275 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs last season, helping Cleveland to the AL Central title. He added four more homers and eight RBIs in the playoffs as the Indians made it all the way to the World Series before losing to the Cubs in seven games.

Kipnis had been on a shoulder program.

"I would say probably eight out of 10 guys, as they get their arms loose, you feel something," Francona said. "You throw through stuff and you get through the aches and pains of getting back, but then when there is some history there, you just try to use good judgment.

"He can do all his cardio and everything and all that stuff, but throwing is shut down for four to five days. I don't think he's going to hit today."

The Indians also announced left-hander Tim Cooney will be sidelined for 10 to 12 weeks because of a muscle strain in his arm. Cooney went 1-0 with a 3.16 ERA in six starts with St. Louis last season and was claimed off waivers from the Cardinals in November.

"Originally, they thought it was forearm," Francona said. "It's lower than that. By all accounts, it is an extremely unique area."