Countdown to Clearwater: Now that Mackanin has those 2 bats, how will he line them up?

Countdown to Clearwater: Now that Mackanin has those 2 bats, how will he line them up?

The Phillies begin spring training in Clearwater, Florida, on Feb. 14. Leading up to the first workout, we will take a daily look at the important issues and storylines of camp.

Pete Mackanin got his wish.

Back in September, he talked openly about his desire to add two veteran bats to the Phillies’ feeble lineup.

When asked at the time about Mackanin’s wish list, general manager Matt Klentak acknowledged that the skipper was right — the Phillies needed to upgrade their offense.

But Klentak went on to caution that he, as steward of the present and future, would remain committed to a long-term, youth-based rebuild of the club. The implication was pretty clear: Yeah, the Phillies would get a hitter in the offseason, but two? Not at the expense of blocking the path of a young player who would need the chance to show he has staying power and impact potential.

Klentak struck quickly and added a veteran hitter, Howie Kendrick, in a November trade with the Dodgers.

A month later, the winter meetings arrived. Mackanin gave the Kendrick addition a public thumbs-up and once again expressed his desire to add another hitter.

Klentak, meanwhile, remained on the fence, citing his responsibility to balance the future with the present.

Two weeks into the New Year, the Phillies signed left-handed-hitting outfielder Michael Saunders, an all-star with the Toronto Blue Jays last season.

Mackanin got his wish.

But so, too, did Klentak.

Saunders, 30, came on short-term contract — one year with a club option. He won’t be a long-term blockade to a young player and he should help the Phillies have a more productive offense in 2017. Lord knows they need one after finishing last in the majors with 610 runs and a .685 OPS last season, and second-to-last in batting average (.240) and on-base percentage (.301.)

“We had been monitoring both the free-agent and trade market for a hitter and ultimately felt that signing Michael Saunders made sense for us,” Klentak said. “He’s a player who has shown at times to be an impactful middle-of-the-order bat with athleticism and upside who is still relatively young. And he comes on a short-term deal with the flexibility of a club option.”

Saunders hit .253 with 24 homers, 57 RBIs and an .815 OPS in Toronto’s thundering lineup last season. He lines up to start in right field for the Phillies. The Phils had considered going with rookie Roman Quinn at the position but ultimately decided on a more proven bat while giving the speedy Quinn some development time at Triple A.

Quinn will still get a bunch of playing time in big-league camp as the team prepares him for a full-time jump that could come later this season.

“Roman is coming into camp with a chance to compete and be on the big-league club,” Klentak said. “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. But we want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for him 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.”

In addition to Quinn, the Phillies plan to take a good look at shortstop J.P. Crawford in spring training. He will play a lot as starter Freddy Galvis competes for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. Crawford, ultimately, will open at Triple A in a prospect-studded lineup.

Saunders, a Canadian, has decided to skip the WBC so he can adjust to life with his new club. That will afford Mackanin time to figure out where to hit him in the lineup. The early guess is that Saunders would bat fifth, behind Maikel Franco.

The Phillies landed upon a leadoff man last season when Cesar Hernandez reached base at a .413 clip in the second half.

So now that we have a place to start, let’s take a peek at what Mackanin might ultimately decide on for his lineup:

2B Cesar Hernandez (S)
LF Howie Kendrick
CF Odubel Herrera (L)
3B Maikel Franco
RF Michael Saunders (L)
1B Tommy Joseph
C Cameron Rupp
SS Freddy Galvis (S)

Of course, this is just a guess. This lineup would give the Phils some on-base strength in the top-third and some pop in the middle — and even at the bottom. Galvis had 20 homers last season, but his on-base percentage was just .274, the worst in baseball. He needs to get on base more, even if it requires sacrificing some home runs.

Franco, 24, also needs to improve his plate discipline.

Mackanin believes that the addition of Kendrick and Saunders will take some pressure off Franco. No longer will he think he has to be the man in the Phillies’ lineup and that could help him be The Man and push 30 homers and 100 RBIs. Last year, he had 25 homers and 88 RBIs.

“I think there were times last year when Franco felt like he had to carry the team, and he didn’t have to do that,” Mackanin said. “Hopefully Kendrick and Saunders will help in that respect.

“Franco just needs to continue to progress and mature as a player and understand the need to just relax, know the situation, know the pitchers, know the score, the inning, and hit accordingly, and I think he’ll do that.

“Saunders will definitely help in all of that because he gives us more balance in our lineup. I’m hoping all our young guys learn something by watching the approach that Kendrick and Saunders take into every at-bat. A good bat is a good bat and I’m happy to have them both.”

Next: Day 9 — Will Pete Mackanin's contract be extended? 

Best of MLB: Pirates spoil Rich Hill's no-hitter with walk-off HR in 10th inning

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Best of MLB: Pirates spoil Rich Hill's no-hitter with walk-off HR in 10th inning

PITTSBURGH -- Dodgers lefty Rich Hill lost his perfect game on an error in the ninth inning, then lost his no-hitter on a leadoff home run in the 10th by Josh Harrison that sent the Pittsburgh Pirates over Los Angeles 1-0 Wednesday night.

Hill became the first pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 1995 to take a no-hit try into extra innings.

The Pirates didn't have a runner until Jordy Mercer led off the ninth with a sharp grounder that third baseman Logan Forsythe misplayed for an error. Hill retired the next three batters.

Hill (9-5) came back out for the 10th and Harrison sent his 99th pitch of the night into the first row of seats in left field, just out of the reach of Los Angeles leftfielder Curtis Granderson. Hill struck out 10 without a walk.

Juan Nicasio (2-5) picked up the win after working the top of the 10th (see full recap).

Orioles regroup after Britton’s save streak ends at 60
BALTIMORE -- Zach Britton's AL-record run of converting 60 straight save attempts ended amid the evening shadows of Camden Yards, when the Orioles closer blew a two-run lead and failed to get out of the ninth inning in a game Baltimore ultimately won in the 12th, 8-7 over the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday.

Baltimore led 7-5 heading into the ninth when Britton entered to seal the victory, just as he had been doing successfully since the final days of the 2015 season. On this occasion, however, the left-hander gave up three straight hits before a sacrifice fly by Matt Joyce tied it.

Following a walk to Khris Davis, Britton was replaced by Miguel Castro (3-1), who quelled the uprising.

Manny Machado led off the 12th with a home run off Simon Castro (1-2) to end a game that lasted 4 hours, 20 minutes.

Britton's streak began on Oct. 1, 2015, extended through all of last season and went for 11 more saves this year. He had not blown a save since Sept. 20, 2015, at Tampa Bay.

Britton finished well short of Eric Gagne's major league mark of 84, set from 2002-04 (see full recap).

Schwarber, Cubs continue surge with win over Reds
CINCINNATI -- Kyle Schwarber hit a three-run homer in the ballpark near his home, Tommy La Stella added a two-run shot while subbing for Kris Bryant, and the Chicago Cubs kept their second-half surge going with a 9-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday night.

The defending World Series champions have won eight of 10. They are 11 games over .500 for the first time this season and have their biggest lead in the NL Central, 3 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee.

Left-hander Mike Montgomery (4-6) allowed four hits in six shutout innings, filling in for Jon Lester in the rotation. Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and Scott Schebler homered in the ninth for the Reds (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 8, Marlins 0

Instant Replay: Phillies 8, Marlins 0

BOX SCORE

A trio of rookies stepped up and led the Phillies to an 8-0 win over the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night.

Mark Leiter Jr. spun a gem on the mound, Nick Williams reached base three times and scored three runs and Rhys Hoskins drove in five runs with a homer and a double.

One night earlier, the Marlins pounded out 27 hits and scored 19 runs in sweeping a doubleheader from the Phillies.

The shutout was the Phillies' fourth of the season. Their majors-worst record stands at 46-79.

Starting pitching report
In his fifth big-league start, Leiter pitched seven shutout innings. He held the Marlins hitless for the first five innings. The only hit he gave up was a leadoff double to Miguel Rojas in the sixth. Leiter then got three quick outs. The 26-year-old right-hander walked two and struck out five. All of the strikeouts came in the first two innings.

Marlins lefty Justin Nicolino was tagged for eight hits and six runs in 2 1/3 innings.

Bullpen report
Luis Garcia and Hector Neris completed the shutout.

At the plate
The Phillies had 11 hits.

Williams singled with two outs in the first inning and scored on an RBI double by Tommy Joseph. The Phillies hit for the cycle in the third inning and scored five runs. Freddy Galvis and Jorge Alfaro had RBI hits. Hoskins had the big blow, a three-run homer into the second deck above left field. Three innings later, Hoskins smacked a two-run double with two outs. He has seven homers and 16 RBIs since joining the club. All of the homers have come in the last 10 games.

The Marlins had just two hits.

Transaction
The Phillies added right-hander Drew Anderson from Triple A Lehigh Valley as bullpen insurance. He will likely return to Triple A on Thursday. Outfielder Cameron Perkins was sent to Triple A.

The Phillies signed veteran pitcher Henderson Alvarez to a minor-league contract. He is scheduled to pitch Friday for Lehigh Valley.

Up next
The series concludes on Thursday afternoon. Jake Thompson (1-1, 4.20) will be added to the roster and pitch for the Phillies against Marlins right-hander and former Phillie Vance Worley (2-3, 4.82).

The defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs comes to town to start a three-game series on Friday night.