Dominican Republic 15, Phillies 2: Ruf's struggles continue

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Dominican Republic 15, Phillies 2: Ruf's struggles continue

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Darin Ruf’s first big-league spring training camp has not gone well so far, but the Phillies remain patient with him.

“Right now things are not going good for him, but he’ll be all right,” manager Charlie Manuel said after Tuesday’s 15-2 loss to the Dominican Republic at Bright House Field.

Ruf went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. The game was not an official Grapefruit League contest, so statistics did not count. In eight official games, Ruf is hitting .130 (3 for 23) with a .286 on-base percentage and a .174 slugging percentage.

Ruf is clearly pressing at the plate.

“It looks like he’s trying too hard,” Manuel said.

Phillies officials aren’t about to panic about Ruf’s struggles at the plate or read too much into them. He proved he could swing the bat last season when he hit .317 with 38 homers and 104 RBIs at Double A Reading. Good hitters can go through tough times and that appears to be what’s happening here.

What Phillies officials cannot ignore is Ruf’s defensive shortcomings in leftfield. He misplayed a catchable ball that went for a double in Tuesday’s game. He has had several misplays in leftfield this spring. Ruf, 26, is a lifelong first baseman trying to make the conversion to leftfield.

If Ruf were hitting, his defensive struggles might blend into the scenery a little. But that’s not happening right now.

There are still 20 more games to play in Florida, plenty of time for Ruf to win a spot on the club. But he needs to start producing just the same.

Ruf does have minor-league options so he can be sent to Triple A.

Dubee defends Hamels
In his third start of the spring, Cole Hamels was tagged for 12 hits and eight runs by the Dominicans (see story). Pitching coach Rich Dubee was unfazed after Hamels’ 59-pitch effort.

“I thought Cole was fine,” Dubee said. “Spring training has a purpose, and one of those things is you have to get your fastball going. And he knows they’re all fastball hitters over there. He threw five curves, seven changes and nine cutters. But he wants to get his fastball command going. That’s the purpose today. It’s not about results.

“His goal was to get 60 pitches in and to try to control his fastball. Heck, he’s facing an all-star team and he doesn’t have all of his weapons. He’s not going to start ripping all of his pitches in a spring training game. When you try to ramp it up too soon, that’s when you have problems. He kept it under control and he made some mistakes with his fastball. But that’s where we have to get to. In this game, you pitch off your fastball, and that was the goal today, to command his fastball.”

Young gets checkup
Phillies officials are expecting to be updated on Delmon Young’s condition some time Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Young had his surgically repaired right ankle examined by doctors in Los Angeles on Tuesday. If all looks good, he could be cleared to ramp up baseball activities.

Young will not be ready for opening day and will need time and work in right field. It would not be surprising if he needed much of April to get ready for game action.

Feature attraction
Wednesday’s pitching matchup is marquee-worthy: Roy Halladay against Washington’s Stephen Strasburg at Bright House Field.

Manuel said Ryan Howard would be in the starting lineup. Howard has started every game as Manuel tries to make sure his slugging first baseman is physically ready for opening day.

Phillies 6, Yankees 5: Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, Brock Stassi shine with bats

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Phillies 6, Yankees 5: Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, Brock Stassi shine with bats

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Pete Mackanin assembled what will probably end up being his opening day lineup for Saturday’s spring home opener against the Yankees.
 
He liked what he saw.
 
Especially from cleanup man Maikel Franco.
 
Franco’s big challenge in becoming a more complete player is to improve his selectivity at the plate. The 24-year-old third baseman looked pretty good in that area in three at-bats.
 
Franco fell behind 0-2 in his first at-bat then battled back to a full count before popping out in the second inning.
 
He smacked a homer to left on a 2-2 slider in the fourth and then in the sixth, he stroked a first-pitch gapper to left-center that went for an inside-the-park homer. The ball got stuck under the padding on the outfield wall and the umpire did not rule it a ground-rule double.
 
“Hey, you see my speed?” the not-so-fleet-footed Franco said with a laugh after coming out of the game. “It’s like Cesar’s (Hernandez) speed.”
 
Mackanin liked the totality of Franco’s at-bats, not just the results.
 
“He had two long, deep-count at-bats,” Mackanin said. “He worked the count deep and that was good to see.”
 
There are many miles to go before opening day, and Franco still has many miles to cover before he’s the complete player he wants to be and the selective hitter the front office wants to build around.
 
Franco vowed to keep working on it under new hitting coach Matt Stairs.
 
“He told me my focus should be when I stay to the middle of the field, I'll have a lot of success,” Franco said. “I am trying to work on it and put focus on it. I talked to (Howie) Kendrick about hitting and he's helped me. I'm going to stay on it every single day. I'm trying to do my job, trying to do the best I can.
 
“When I stay in the middle, when I try to hit the ball up the middle, something is going to happen. That's what I want to do, what I want to keep doing.”
 
Franco hit .255 with 25 homers and 88 RBIs last season, but his on-base percentage was just .306.
 
He was asked whether he had any personal goals for the season.
 
“The first thing is to try to be healthy,” he said. “I just want to play in 162 games. Other than that, I'll just do everything I can do.
 
“Every single day I want to do my best and not try to force the situation. I think I can do better than last year. This year should be very good and much better than last year.”
 
The game 
The Phillies won it, 6-5, on a walk-off RBI single by Brock Stassi in the bottom of the ninth inning. The hit scored Rhys Hoskins, who had doubled. Hoskins drove a homer to deep center earlier in the game.
 
Hoskins, who turns 24 in March, has 55 homers and 206 RBIs the last two seasons. He will move to Triple A this season and play first base.

Stassi is a candidate to win a job on the bench (see story). He hasn’t hurt himself in the first two games. He homered Friday and had the game-winning hit Saturday.
 
“I’m feeling pretty good early on,” he said. “Gotta keep it going.”
 
Pitching in
Adam Morgan pitched two scoreless innings. Prospect Ricardo Pinto pitched a scoreless inning. It’s not out of the question that he transition to the bullpen at some point this season.
 
Mark Appel showed his big stuff with three strikeouts in two innings of work, but his control problems also surfaced as he threw a wild pitch that resulted in two runs.
 
Up next
Probable opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson makes his spring debut Sunday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin.
 
Here is the Phillies’ posted lineup for that game:
 
1. Cameron Perkins CF
2. J.P. Crawford SS
3. Daniel Nava LF
4. Cameron Rupp DH 
5. Andres Blanco 2B
6. Dylan Cozens RF
7. Ryan Hanigan C
8. Brock Stassi 1B
9. Taylor Featherston 3B
 
Right-hander Joe Biagini will start for Toronto.
 
Jerad Eickhoff will start for the Phillies against Tampa Bay on Monday. Clay Buchholz will start against Baltimore on Tuesday. Both of those games are in Clearwater.

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies' roster

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies' roster

TAMPA, Fla. -- When Phillies camp opened earlier this month, Brock Stassi was considering mentioning his ability to play the outfield to manager Pete Mackanin.

Though he’s played mostly first base during his six seasons in the Phillies' system, Stassi has been used occasionally in left field. He’s also played the position in winter ball in Latin America. Even going back to high school, Stassi played center field.

As it turned out, Stassi didn’t need to have that conversation with Mackanin. The manager actually approached the player early in camp and told him he planned to get him some time in the outfield as well as at first base.

Mackanin and the Phillies' front office value versatility and they want to have it on their bench. Stassi has come to his second big-league camp as a serious candidate to win a job on the bench. His left-handed bat -- which he showed off with a solo homer in Friday’s 9-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees -- would be attractive to the Phils. So would his versatility.

And if the ability to play first base and outfield isn’t enough versatility, Stassi can actually offer something else.

He can pitch.

In fact, the Cleveland Indians drafted him as a pitcher after his junior year at the University of Nevada in 2010.

Stassi returned to school for his senior year in 2011 and was a two-way player. The Phillies selected him in the 33rd round of the draft that year as a hitter, even though on draft day there was some confusion.

“Initially, I was announced as a left-handed pitcher then they changed it to outfielder,” Stassi said. “Then I got to Williamsport (the Phillies’ New York-Penn League team) and had a first baseman’s mitt in my bag, and I was like, ‘All right, let’s go. You’re going to be playing first.’”

Stassi’s minor-league managers in the Phillies' system have always been aware of his pitching background. He has made nine pitching appearances during his time in pro ball, including four with Triple A Lehigh Valley last year. All were in relief in long extra-innings games.

“I got a win and a loss,” Stassi said.

He recalled the loss with a big laugh.

“I shook off Logan,” he said, referring to catcher Logan Moore, another candidate pushing for a spot on the Phillies’ bench. “I shook to the fastball against a lefty. It wasn’t the right move and Logan won’t let me forget that. The guy hit a triple. Then I got hit with a comeback one-hopper right on the butt. It was like a 14-inning game.”

Stassi throws a fastball, curveball and changeup.

“My fastball is like 84,” he said with a laugh.

Many position players in a big-league clubhouse were pitchers at some point in the baseball journey. Roman Quinn, who broke into pro ball as a shortstop and is now a centerfielder, was used as a closer in high school and hit 94 mph on the radar gun.

“I believe it,” Stassi said. “That guy’s got a cannon. I had to catch him when he was playing shortstop. He’d come charging in on a close play and he’d let one loose and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ And even from the outfield he’s got a cannon.”

Stassi’s arm doesn’t bounce back the way it used to when he pitched in college.

“Every time I have to pitch now I’m hanging for like two weeks,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t grab the baseball and gut out an inning if Mackanin ever needed it.

“Hey, if that’s what it takes,” he said.

Figuring out the Phillies’ bench at this point of camp is a little like solving a Rubik’s Cube. There are many possible combinations. Infielder Andres Blanco is a sure thing and outfielder Aaron Altherr seems like a good bet. So does outfielder Chris Coghlan.

Andrew Knapp, Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday and Moore are the candidates for backup catcher. Knapp can also play first base. And it’s not out of the question that the Phils would carry three catchers.

They could fill the perceived final spot on the bench with an infielder such as Pedro Florimon or another outfielder such as Daniel Nava, Andrew Pullin or Cameron Perkins. Or it could be Stassi, whose versatility is a plus.

“There’s a lot I like about Stassi,” Mackanin said.

Stassi comes from a baseball family. His brother, Max, is a catcher with the Houston Astros. They played for their dad, Jim, at Yuba City High School near Sacramento, California. Jim was a catcher who reached Triple A during his playing days in the Giants system.

“My dad always talked about the value of versatility in high school,” Brock said. “He preached it to the whole team. You might have two second basemen and they’re pretty equal, but you want both bats in the lineup so you might have to play outfield. It’s good to be able to do it. Don’t take it as a knock that you’re not at your normal position -- you’re in the lineup.”

In addition to wearing several different gloves, Stassi can swing the bat. He was Eastern League MVP in 2015 when he hit .300 with 15 homers, 90 RBIs and a .863 OPS for Double A Reading. He hit .267 with 12 homers, 58 RBIs and a .806 OPS at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season.

Stassi has been described as “a grinder” by members of the Phillies’ player-development staff, and that’s a compliment. More than one thousand players were selected ahead of him in the 2011 draft. His signing bonus was just $1,000. He’s never appeared on one of those Top 10 prospect lists and never been on a 40-man roster, never mind appeared in a big-league game. But he’s continually moved up the ladder and now, at age 27, is under serious consideration to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench.

And maybe -- if needed in a pinch -- in the bullpen, too.

“Oh, man, it would be a dream come true,” Stassi said. “Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of playing in the big leagues. Just the path that I’ve taken -- I've had to earn everything, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It would be really awesome to make this team.”