Hamels' CG gives Phillies win, Manuel milestone

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Hamels' CG gives Phillies win, Manuel milestone

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ATLANTA -- Give Cole Hamels credit for being honest.

The left-hander pitched his first complete game of the season Monday night in beating the Atlanta Braves, 5-1, at Turner Field. The victory snapped an 11-game road losing streak for the Phillies (see Instant Replay).

It was also Charlie Manuel’s 1,000th win as a big-league skipper.

Afterward, Hamels was asked if it meant anything to him to be on the hill for his manager’s milestone win.

“I totally forgot,” the left-hander admitted.

Manuel’s pursuit of 1,000 had been buried under the rubble of the 17 losses that the Phillies had suffered in the 20 games leading up to Monday night.

“Truly, I think it hasn’t been talked about much because we haven’t been playing well, so we’ve been really just focusing on trying to win a game,” Hamels said.

A game. Any game.

“But it’s a tremendous accomplishment,” Hamels said. “It’s a huge milestone. It’s nice Charlie got that out of the way. Now we need to focus on winning two.”

After the game, the Phillies presented Manuel with a signed base emblazoned with “1,000” in red, Phillies-style numerals.

“It’s definitely quite an achievement,” Manuel said. “Like I told my players, they’re the ones that make it happen. They play. The two organizations I’ve been with, they’re the ones that get the players for me. That just goes to show you just how good they are. It’s hard for me to stand there and say I accept all of my accolades because the other people are definitely achieving those for you. That’s kind of how I look at it. I’m sure later on it probably means a lot more to me than right now. We’re still trying to win some games.”

Hamels has been the winning pitcher in 96 of Manuel’s wins.

Alerted to that fact, Manuel quipped, “That’s good. I’ll go back and thank him again.”

Having fallen out of the race in the NL East, the Phillies have to take satisfaction where they can find it.

Monday night, it came in the form of rookie Cody Asche’s three-run homer in the sixth, some strong defense in the field, and, of course, Hamels’ work on the mound.

The two teams waited through a one-hour, 48-minute rain delay before the first pitch. Once the game got going, Hamels started dealing. He allowed just six hits -- two came in the ninth inning when he lost his shutout on his 120th pitch -- walked one and struck out nine.

Despite a 5-13 record, Hamels has pitched very well of late. Since the start of June, he has a 1.98 ERA in eight starts.

Hamels has recently talked about trying to have more fun on the mound and stop worrying about forces beyond his control -- like run support. He actually helped his own cause in this game. He tripled in the third inning and scored on Jimmy Rollins’ single.

Hamels said this was probably his most enjoyable outing to the season.

“Just being able to go out and not let the little things get to you,” he said. “I stuck with my routine during the rain delay. I was able to execute pitches. When you execute pitches against good hitters, I’d say, what, eight out of 10 times, nine out of 10 times, the pitcher wins. I’m glad I was able to win because they’re a tremendous team.”

Indeed, the Braves are. They have lost just four times in the last 21 games and are running away with the NL East.

Hamels lost his bid for a shutout with two outs in the ninth. He was at 109 pitches after eight innings, but made it clear that he wanted to stay in when he grabbed his bat and helmet and got ready to hit in the ninth.

Hamels said he wasn’t disappointed to miss out on the shutout. He was just happy that the team won a game.

Any game.

These are dispiriting times for the Phillies. They still have 44 games left. They need to play better than they have in recent weeks or the remainder of the season will be misery.

“I know we haven’t done it much, but we’ve got to start something,” Hamels said. “The pride that we all have, it has to be for something. There aren’t too many opportunities to play the game of baseball. It’s winding down and we better finish strong because there’s a lot of baseball in the future for a lot of guys and there’s not a lot of baseball for some guys.

“So, it’s how do you want to go out? How do you want to be remembered? It’s more fun going out as a team and ultimately trying to finish strong.”

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."