'Different' Lee dominates in Phils' win over Fish

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'Different' Lee dominates in Phils' win over Fish

BOX SCORE

The slogan on the new T-shirts the Phillies were sporting around the clubhouse on Monday afternoon was perfect. Too perfect given the way Monday night’s 12-2 win over the Marlins unfolded at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay).

On the front of the shirt was a big picture of Cliff Lee’s face, his hair sweaty and disheveled, sporting a few days of growth on his face with an intense look.

Beneath the picture read the phrase, “I’m Different.”

Yes, Lee’s teammates know him all too well.

Lately, Lee’s performances on the mound have been extraordinary, but Monday night’s was extraordinarily different. See, not only did Lee pitch eight innings for the third game in a row to go with a season-high 14 strikeouts to earn his 14th win of the season, but he also went 3 for 4 with four RBIs and the first triple of his career.

Afterwards, manager Ryne Sandberg said all Lee could talk about was his triple.

“Oh, yeah. He couldn't be more happy about his hitting,” Sandberg said. “We just wanted him to go out and concentrate on his pitching.”

Lee became the first Phillies pitcher to get three hits and four RBIs in a game since a right-hander named “Fidgety” Phil Collins did it in an 11-5 win over the Pirates on July 22, 1930. In that one, Fidgety Phil slugged two homers, which is the way Lee would have preferred to do it rather than hustling around the bases for a stand-up triple.

But that’s all in the game for Lee, who doesn’t play like the typical pitcher. He runs the bases hard, hustles down the line on sacrifice bunts and makes plays in the field, like the one in the second inning when Chase Utley scooped the ball out of his glove to Lee’s bare hand to narrowly rob Logan Morrison of an infield single.

Though he says he’d rather trot around the bases and back to the dugout, Lee isn’t bashful about being a real baseball player as opposed to just a pitcher.

He’s different that way.

“When you’re on the bases it usually means you did something productive,” Lee said. “You worked your way on base. Once you’re there you have to run the bases.

“I try to do everything I can to help the team win. I take it all serious.”

With a .179 batting average and six RBIs, Lee says he is leading the pitchers’ season-long hitting competition. Hardly a friendly competition, Lee is still looking for his first win despite hitting two homers with seven RBIs and a .200 batting average in 2011.

Regardless, Sandberg said he wanted Lee to concentrate on his pitching and there was room for hitting and pitching on Monday night.

In improving to 14-6 with a 2.95 ERA, Lee surpassed the 200-strikeout plateau for the third straight season, as well as the 200-innings marker for the sixth straight year. He also became the first Phillies pitcher to get 14 strikeouts without allowing a walk since Curt Schilling did it against the Yankees on Sept. 1, 1997.

More importantly, Lee gave the bullpen a break after an arduous weekend in Washington. Since the All-Star break, Phils pitchers not named Lee or Cole Hamels have a 7.58 ERA. That means a lot of work for the relievers.

But it’s essentially a night off when Lee takes the mound. He has pitched eight innings in his last three starts, as well as in five of his last seven outings. During that span, Lee has a 4-1 record with a 2.25 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 52 innings.

Lee says he doesn’t try to get strikeouts but sometimes they are a circumstance of the game. With a big lead thanks to a six-run third inning, Lee could keep his approach simple and be aggressive. Strikeouts come quickly when all a pitcher does is throw strikes.

“Just being ahead in the count and pounding the strike zone -- I had a lot of two-strike counts,” Lee said. “I’m not really trying to strike guys out, to be honest with you. I’m just continuing to try and throw strikes and that’s a factor of when you throw strikes and they weren’t squaring it up.”

With a 70-80 record and two more starts likely for Lee, the Phillies' focus is on finishing the season strong. As Lee says, the idea is to play out the season until it’s over whether that means a trip to the playoffs or not.

“That’s part of winning. No matter what team you’re on and no matter what the circumstances are, you have to play hard and you can’t take a single play off or a single pitch off or anything,” Lee said. “It’s about being aggressive and being in the moment and being in tune with what’s going on. If everyone is doing that and everyone is prepared the right way, I like our chances. We have talent. It’s just a matter of executing and staying aggressive.”

The series continues on Tuesday night when Roy Halladay (3-4, 7.28) faces lefty Brian Flynn (0-1, 10.13). Halladay has faced the Marlins twice this year, including the May 5 outing in which he gave up nine runs on four hits and four walks. It was shortly after that game when Halladay learned he needed to have surgery on his right shoulder.

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Tuesday night he'd still like another veteran bat in addition to Howie Kendrick, though he understands the front office is conscious of not blocking young prospects.

The Phillies need offense and the clearest area to upgrade is an outfield corner. But don't expect to see the Phils go after Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders or anyone of that ilk, because those players will require multi-year guarantees and everyday playing time. If you sign one of them, you're basically telling two of Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr that they won't be needed much the next three years. 

That would be unwise. The whole point of rebuilding is filling a roster with young, inexpensive talent and then eventually supplementing that core with established players who fit. Look at what the Cubs did. Look at what the Astros are doing now, adding older players like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Nori Aoki and Josh Reddick to fill in the holes around Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.

For that reason, a player like Seth Smith would be a worthwhile addition for the Phillies.

Smith, 34, makes $7 million in 2017, the final year of his contract with the Mariners. When Mackanin discusses "professional hitters," Smith is the type. He has one of the better batting eyes in baseball, chasing about eight percent fewer pitches outside the strike zone the last three years than the league average.

He's a career .261/.344/.447 hitter who averages 29 doubles, 16 homers, 56 walks and 102 strikeouts per 162 games.

The left-handed Smith can play both outfield corners, and he's always been very effective against right-handed pitching. He has a .272 career batting average with an .827 OPS against righties compared to .202 with a .594 OPS vs. lefties. 

Smith is a fit for the Phillies for several reasons. They need more offense from the corner outfield. Logically, that outfielder should be a left-handed hitter because the Phillies' projected middle of the order has four right-handed bats in Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp and Kendrick.

Furthermore, Smith, unlike Saunders, for example, does not require everyday playing time. Smith shouldn't start against lefties. That would provide opportunities to Altherr and Quinn in 2017, while protecting against ineffectiveness from Altherr and another injury to Quinn.

And lastly, Smith is not going to cost anything meaningful via trade. He's a 34-year-old platoon player in the final year of his deal. The Phillies could likely land him for an insignificant prospect, perhaps a pitcher who had a high strikeout rate last season in the low levels of the minor leagues. 

For Seattle, it would be more of a salary dump. The Mariners' 2016 payroll is already $20 million more than it was last year, and per reports, they seem willing to spend to improve their starting rotation.

Smith is not a game-changer, that's not the argument here. He's not J.D. Martinez, a much bigger name and better player. Martinez would also fit the Phillies as a one-year option, and they'd likely be interested in keeping him around longer if they could acquire him. But any trade with the Tigers for Martinez wouldn't be nearly as painless for the Phils as acquiring Smith. 

So perhaps more than other available outfielders, Smith would be an offensive upgrade and a player who fits the Phillies' goal of improving without stunting a top prospect's growth.

Top Phillies prospect Mickey Moniak adds muscle, looks for big season 2017

Top Phillies prospect Mickey Moniak adds muscle, looks for big season 2017

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The difference was striking.
 
When Mickey Moniak arrived in Philadelphia to sign his first professional contract six months ago, he was rail-thin and 170 pounds.
 
On Tuesday night, Moniak made a quick visit to the winter meetings to be honored as Baseball America’s high school player of the year for 2016. 
 
He’d added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame.
 
“It’s all muscle,” Moniak said proudly.
 
The Phillies selected Moniak with the first pick in the June draft and signed him for $6.1 million. Just a few months of professional baseball convinced the 18-year-old centerfielder that he needed to get stronger. He recently capped off his first year of pro ball with a three-week stint at the Phillies’ strength and conditioning camp in Clearwater.
 
“It’s something the Phillies wanted me to do and I knew I definitely needed it, too,” Moniak said. “I really enjoyed my first year. I got a taste of what it was like to play baseball for a job and it was a good time.
 
“There were a lot of positives that came out of the first year. I felt like I jumped in there and really competed. I hit well in July. In August, I started to fatigue and I wasn’t prepared for that, being my first season. But it was a good learning experience. I needed to get stronger.”
 
Moniak hit .284 with a .340 on-base percentage, 11 doubles, four triples, a homer and 28 RBIs in 46 games for the Phillies’ prospect-stacked Gulf Coast League team. That club, loaded with young Latin players and first-year talent from the 2016 draft, went 41-17 and advanced to the finals of the league playoffs before losing to the Cardinals.
 
After the playoffs, many of the players from that club participated in the Florida instructional league. Moniak played sparingly, however, after dealing with some soreness in his right hip. He was checked out by doctors in Philadelphia and there are no more concerns.
 
“It was just tightness,” Moniak said. “Everything is good. I’m 100 percent. They said it was either a growing pain or just tightness. I just have to stretch more.”
 
Moniak is an athletic centerfielder with speed and a good left-side bat. He has been compared favorably to former All-Star Steve Finley.
 
"Collectively, we believe Mickey was the best player available in the draft," Johnny Almaraz, the Phillies head of amateur scouting, said on draft night in June. "He's a true centerfielder with incredible offensive ability and the potential to be a perennial All-Star."

Moniak hit .476 with seven homers, 12 triples and four doubles at La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, California, during his senior season. He impressed a rival scout who saw him play five times during the season.

“The bat is good,” the scout said. “He’s going to hit and hit for average. He’s a good centerfielder. He can run. The question is how many home runs will he hit? If he ends up getting stronger, he could be a corner bat that’s unbelievable. There’s no negative here. It’s a good pick.”
 
Now, Moniak is stronger. He looked sturdy in a dress shirt and tie at the winter meetings Tuesday night. He is eager to see how it all translates on the field in 2017.
 
“I’m excited for the season,” he said. “I’m just going to go to spring training and compete and hopefully end up in (Single A) Lakewood, stay healthy and hopefully have a winning season and win a championship. That’s the ultimate goal and if personal stats come with that, too, that’s great.”