Countdown to Clearwater: New faces in camp


Countdown to Clearwater: New faces in camp

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
Today: New faces

Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are still here. Fan favorite Carlos Ruiz will serve a 25-game suspension at the outset of the season, but he’ll be in uniform, eligible to play, during camp and the exhibition season.

You might not need a scorecard to tell the players in Camp Clearwater, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t new faces. In today’s installment of the Countdown to Clearwater, we take a quick look at some of the newcomers.

Starting pitchers
John Lannan: The 28-year-old lefty from Long Island spent the first six years of his big-league career with Washington so he’s quite familiar with the Phillies. Painfully familiar, in fact. In 19 starts against the Phils, Lannan went 3-13 with a 5.53 ERA. Against everybody else, Lannan was 39-39 with a 3.80 ERA in 115 starts. In Washington, he reached 30 starts and had a sub-4.00 ERA three times. At $2.5 million, he seems to fit well as this club’s No. 5 starter.

Rodrigo Lopez: The veteran righthander will be in camp on a minor-league deal. He is expected to provide organizational depth, much as he did in 2009 when he made five starts for the club.

Aaron Cook: A longtime major leaguer trying to hang on will be in camp on a minor-league deal.

Relief pitchers
Mike Adams: One of the best setup men in the game, he comes in on a two-year, $12 million deal (with an option for a third year) and should waterproof the leaky eighth inning. He could be the team’s most impactful newcomer.

Chad Durbin: He could be another key piece in the makeover of what was a shaky bullpen in 2012. The veteran righthander can be used for an important out against a right-handed hitter in the middle innings, can work multiple innings and late in the game. He can also be a mentor to some of the talented young relief arms the Phils have on the way. For $1.1 million, a solid addition.

Juan Cruz: The veteran righthander has lots of experience but often has trouble throwing strikes. He gets a look as a non-roster invitee.

Zach Miner: The veteran righthander with big-league experience will be in camp on a minor-league deal. He hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2009 and had Tommy John surgery in 2010.

Michael Young: This guy hit .300 seven times, made seven all-star teams and won a batting title during a 12-year run with Texas. He became a spare part with the Rangers, and the Phillies were happy to acquire him for a pair of relievers -- with the Rangers picking up $10 million of his $16 million salary. At 36, Young will try to prove he still has a potent bat after struggling at the plate in 2012. He’s one year removed from leading the American League with 218 hits and hitting .338 with 106 RBIs, so he’s a good gamble. The big question is can the range-challenged Young succeed at third base, a position he hasn’t played regularly since 2010.

Yuniesky Betancourt: The veteran big-league shortstop signed a minor-league deal late in the offseason. He will get some looks as Jimmy Rollins plays in the World Baseball Classic but is likely to provide Triple A depth.

Josh Fields: A former top third base prospect with the White Sox, he will be in camp on a minor-league deal. He hit .322 with Triple A Albuquerque last season and is expected to provide depth at Lehigh Valley this season.

Humberto Quintero: A nonroster invitee, he has made 353 starts behind the plate in the majors. He will push for a big-league job as the Phils look for early-season help while Ruiz serves his suspension for testing positive for a banned stimulant.

Ben Revere: He wasn’t the Phils’ first choice to play center field (he was more like their fourth or fifth), but he’s the guy that comes over from Minnesota for pitchers Vance Worley and Trevor May. Revere, 24, can chase down balls with the best of them, but he doesn’t throw well, doesn’t walk a lot and doesn’t hit for power. At least he’s smart enough to try to keep the ball out of the air and use his speed. “Even my mom gets mad at me when I hit pop flies,” he said shortly after joining the Phils.

Delmon Young: He’s had trouble staying in shape and out of trouble, but at 27, he says he’s ready to maximize the potential that made him the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft. The Phils have just $750,000 invested in him, so he’s a solid gamble. Young had offseason ankle surgery and might not play in exhibition games until mid-March. His opening day status is iffy, but the Phils hope he can play right field and drive in some runs in the middle of the order shortly after.

Jermaine Mitchell: Formerly one of the A’s top prospects, he will get a look on a minor-league deal and should provide depth at Triple A.

Joe Mather: The Versatile outfielder can also play some at the corner infield spots. He appeared in 103 games for the Cubs last season and hit just .209. He comes to camp on a minor-league deal and is expected to provide Triple A depth.

Ender Inciarte: The Phillies love to take chances on Rule 5 players (witness Shane Victorino, Michael Martinez, David Herndon). The speedy Inciarte is this year’s guy, plucked from the Arizona system.

Ryne Sandberg: The team’s new third base coach, a Hall of Fame second baseman, may also be the club’s next manager.

Steve Henderson: Former Tampa Bay Rays hitting coach moves up from the Phils’ minor-league system to become the team’s new hitting coach.

Wally Joyner: Assistant hitting coaches are all the rage in the majors and the Phils now have one in the former sweet-swinging first baseman. Joyner, 50, graduated from the same Atlanta-area high school as Domonic Brown.

Rod Nichols: The new bullpen coach groomed many Phillies pitchers in the minors and will be a valuable addition as a crop of homegrown relievers ascends to the majors.


'Next year' arrives: Lovable Losers Cubs, Indians begin World Series

'Next year' arrives: Lovable Losers Cubs, Indians begin World Series

CLEVELAND — The last time the Cleveland Indians won the World Series, Dewey led Truman in the polls. The Chicago Cubs' last title was 13 days after the first Ford Model T car was completed.

Lovable losers known for decades of defeat meet in this year's championship, a combined 174 seasons of futility facing off starting Tuesday night at Progressive Field.

Cleveland's last title was in 1948, when 16 teams from the East Coast to St. Louis competed in a just-integrated sport. The Cubs are trying to win for the first time since 1908 , a dead ball-era matchup at a time home runs were rarities along with telephones.

No player is alive from the last championship Cubs or even the last to make a Series appearance -- Tuesday marks the 25,948th day since the Cubs' Game 7 loss to Detroit in 1945. One player remains from the 1948 Indians, 95-year-old Eddie Robinson.

"It seems like it's just forever," Robinson said Monday from his home in Fort Worth, Texas. "When we got home from Boston, there was a monumental parade. It just looked like everybody in Cleveland came out on Euclid Avenue."

One team's fans will let loose with the celebration of a lifetime. But while history weighs on the supporters, Cubs manager Joe Maddon focuses his players with a now-centered battle cry of "Win the Inning!"

"Air conditioning is popular right now. So is color TV," he said. "You've just got to change with the times."

Both teams worked out under cloudy skies Monday as the new 59-by-221-foot scoreboard behind the left-field seats -- the largest in the major leagues -- trumpeted the Sisyphean matchup. While the Cubs play in Wrigley Field, the 102-year-old brick-and-ivy jewel on Chicago's North Side, the Indians are in a 22-year-old throwback-style ballpark originally called Jacobs Field.

Led by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs led the major leagues with 103 wins during the regular season, then beat San Francisco and Los Angeles in the playoffs. But since the playoffs expanded in 1995, only four teams with the best regular-season record won the title: the 1998 and 2009 New York Yankees, and the 2007 and 2013 Boston Red Sox.

"I promise you, our guys are going to be in the present tense," Maddon said. "I think we all have a tremendous amount of respect for history and what's happened before us or not happened before us. But, you know, you go in that room right now, they're very young. Really not impacted by a lot of the lore."

Jon Lester, 7-1 in his career against Cleveland, starts for the Cubs and Corey Kluber opens for the Indians. Lester is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three postseason starts this year and 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in a trio of Series outings. He learned to prepare from watching Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett in Boston.

"They prepared the same way for this start as they would for a regular start during the season," he said.

Kluber pitched shutout ball twice in the playoffs before allowing two runs in five innings in Game 4 at Toronto. His father, Jim, was born in Cleveland and rooted for the Indians growing up in suburban Highland Heights.

"I think every parent is excited if their kid has a chance to play in the World Series," said the 30-year-old right-hander, who could win his second AL Cy Young Award in three years.

Both teams were dealing with injuries that caused changes in planning.

Chicago included outfielder Kyle Schwarber, out since tearing knee ligaments on April 7. He played a pair of games in the Arizona Fall League, going 1 for 6 with a double and two walks.

"Reports are good," Maddon said. "He's swinging the bat well. He's running really well."

Cleveland, juggling all year because of health mishaps, put on pitcher Danny Salazar, who could start Game 4. The All-Star right-hander has not pitched since Sept. 9 because of forearm tightness but threw a simulated game Sunday.

Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis was dealing with a sprained left ankle, hurt when he jumped and shortstop Francisco Lindor accidentally stepped on his foot while celebrating the last out of the ALCS.

"He might not be 100 percent, but I don't think it's going to get in the way," Francona said.

Cleveland fell three outs short of the 1997 title when Jose Mesa blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 7 at Florida and an error by second baseman Tony Fernandez led to the Marlins' winning run in the 11th.

The Series starts just after a ceremony across the street when LeBron James and the Cavaliers receive championship rings before their opener celebrating this year's NBA title, the first for Cleveland's big league teams since the NFL's Browns in 1964.

"It's a pretty neat set of circumstances," said Indians reliever Andrew Miller, the ALCS MVP. "Obviously the fans wish they had won quite a bit previously, but I think the Cubs are even going to overshadow us in that history."

While Chicago has many famous fans, among them actor Bill Murray and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Cleveland is rooted on by Tom Hanks and Drew Carey. And the Indians' losing history received nationwide attention in the 1989 film "Major League," featuring Charlie Sheen as Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn.

Maddon prepared for the Series while watching some baseball movies, "42" -- "we had to beat the Dodgers before I could watch it" -- and "Field of Dreams."

"I'm that guy," he said. "I cry easily, so the connection to the past is very important, very important."

Once ridiculed in Philly, Terry Francona is 4 wins from Cooperstown

Once ridiculed in Philly, Terry Francona is 4 wins from Cooperstown

If Terry Francona wins four ballgames over these next nine days, he is going to Cooperstown.

And not as a visitor.

Francona sits at the helm of a Cleveland Indians team that has so far rolled through the postseason, winning eight of nine games as it opens play Tuesday night against the Chicago Cubs in a World Series that is filled with compelling storylines.

Of course, the biggest storyline is the “Lovable Loser” angle.

Both clubs long ago became punch lines for their failures. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908 and their shortcomings have been blamed on everything from the curse of a billy goat to black cats to too many day games at Wrigley Field to Steve Bartman. The Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948. They were so notoriously synonymous with losing that Hollywood made a couple of movies about them. Well, sort of.

With four more wins, one of these teams will shed the Lovable Loser tag forever.

And if it’s Francona’s Indians, he will forever be honored with a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. You can bank on it. That’s where managers who win three World Series end up.

Time flies.

It was 20 years ago this week that the Phillies hired Francona for his first big-league managerial job. He was 37 at the time. He’d managed at the Double A level with the Chicago White Sox and been on the Detroit Tigers’ big-league coaching staff. Loaded with personality, smarts and the experience that came with growing up in baseball family (his dad played 15 seasons in the majors), being the best college player in the nation at the University of Arizona, and, probably most important, having been humbled by the ups and downs of 10 injury-riddled years as a big-league player, Francona was considered an excellent managerial prospect when the Phillies hired him. But he never deluded himself. He knew he got the job because the Phillies were rebuilding, because they were going to be young and bad for a while and he had the personality and youthful resilience to deal with it all. “If the Phillies were ready to win, they would have hired Jim Leyland or somebody like that,” he used to say.

Francona took over a 95-loss team in Philadelphia. He managed the club for four years, never had a winning season and was jeered out of town with slashed tires after the club lost 97 games in 2000.

Was Terry Francona a great manager in Philadelphia? Nope. Few people are great out of the gate in any line of work. But Francona had little chance to succeed in those Phillies years. There wasn’t close to enough talent on the field. The club was going through a sloooooow rebuild and the organizational focus in those years was probably more about getting a new stadium than putting a winning team on the field.

Francona was committed to becoming a successful manager when he left Philadelphia. That’s why he didn’t want to take a year off after he was fired. He wanted to stay in the game, stay in sight. He took a job in the Indians’ front office, then a year later was back in uniform, first as a coach with the Texas Rangers, then as a coach with the Oakland A’s.

In the fall of 2003, Francona interviewed for managerial jobs in Baltimore and in Boston. At the time, reporters in Baltimore asked him about the possibility of getting a second chance to manage.

“It would be like getting a mulligan,” Francona said.

The answer infuriated some in Philadelphia.

It shouldn’t have.

Francona’s use of the word ‘mulligan’ showed self-awareness, humility and accountability. It showed that he knew he had hooked his first chance into the woods, that he had made mistakes, that he’d learned from them and was ready to tee it up again. Francona’s use of the word mulligan showed how human he was and that is a priceless quality in the art of leading a group of men through the ups and downs of seven months of baseball and getting them to lay it all out for you night after night. Joe Torre had that quality. Charlie Manuel had it. Joe Maddon, the man Francona beat out for the Boston job and now squares off against in the World Series, has it. Francona has it. Just look at the way he kept the Indians believing after injuries wounded their starting pitching.

Of course, all of these aforementioned managers have or had talented players. That ultimately is how you win. Just ask Torre, who was dismissed as a loser until George Steinbrenner gave him some talent. Torre led it beautifully and ended up in the Hall of Fame.

Francona got his second chance to manage in Boston in 2004 and quickly led a talented group of players to a curse-busting title, that franchise’s first World Series championship in 86 years.

He won another in 2007.

He has managed 12 seasons since leaving Philadelphia and the growth experience that it provided. He has won 90 or more games in eight of those seasons. Yeah, he has had good players. But he’s led them well. And he’s done it particularly well this month, maneuvering his bullpen pieces like a master chess champion.

The World Series is upon us and it should be a good one as baseball’s two Lovable Loser franchises vie to end decades of frustration.

And 20 years after his managerial odyssey began with many losses and much ridicule in Philadelphia, Terry Francona, already a big winner in his career, has a chance to punch his ticket to the ultimate winner’s circle, the Hall of Fame, with four more victories and another World Series title.