Hamels, Phillies continue spiral with 11th shutout

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Hamels, Phillies continue spiral with 11th shutout

BOX SCORE

MIAMI – The saddest words spoken in the Phillies’ little corner of the world Wednesday night were not these:

The Phillies have lost six games in a row.

Or these:

The Phillies have lost 10 of their last 12 games.

Or these:

The Phillies are a season-worst 12 games under .500.

Or these:

The Phillies are a season-worst 10½ games off the pace in the NL East.

No. The saddest words spoken in the Phillies’ little corner of the world came in the clubhouse after this dead team lost, 5-0, to the Miami Marlins (see Instant Replay).

“I’ve dealt with that for a while,” said Cole Hamels, referring rather dismissively to a first inning that saw the Phillies come up empty after putting runners on second and third base with no outs.

I’ve dealt with that for a while.

In other words, Hamels was saying he had become numb to the lack of run support that has plagued him for a couple of seasons now.

Hamels’ words were a sad commentary on the state of this team’s offense.

And so is this:

The Phillies have been shut out 11 times in 84 games. Only San Diego has been shut out more.

“It’s a lot,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “It’s hard to believe.”

Sandberg met for several minutes after the game with GM Ruben Amaro Jr. The manager said he would speak to his flopping team before Thursday night’s game.

What will be the message?

“I’ll come up with something,” he said.

Hamels did not pitch well. After going at least seven innings in his previous 10 starts and racking up a brilliant ERA of 1.88 in that span, the lefty struggled with his command and lasted just five innings in slipping to 2-5 on the season. He allowed five hits, walked four and hit a batter.

Hamels allowed a single and two walks in the first inning. He ended up pitching out of the bases-loaded jam, but the 34-pitch inning took a toll on him. Control issues hurt him in the fourth and fifth innings as the Marlins scored three times.

Sandberg believed that the first inning had an effect on Hamels -- the top of the first.

“He was missing off the plate and threw a lot of pitches,” Sandberg said. “He wasn't the sharpest he's been.

“Man, going all the way back to the first inning as far as setting the tone on the offensive side of things, second and third with no outs. I mean, who knows? Maybe there is an effect there on Cole's first inning. You never know. Make two outs and get two runs. Maybe it's a different tone.

“I think he'd like a couple of runs there. And we would as a team, too. With Cole taking the mound, that works hand in hand. ‘Cole's pitching, let's get some runs early and let him pitch.’ A pretty good combination, runs and him on the mound. But we didn't have the runs.

“I can see how it could affect him. Just having to be perfect and not having the runs to work with.”

Ah, but Hamels said it didn’t affect him.

I’ve dealt with that for a while.

Again. Sad.

Hamels blamed only himself for his poor outing.

“Any time you have a 30-pitch inning, especially to start off the game, it’s putting you in a real big bind,” he said. “I wasn’t locating. I was getting behind. I wasn’t executing in the right way. That’s the struggle I put myself in with not even being able to compete and go deep in the ballgame.”

The first inning wasn’t the only one in which the Phillies’ bats came up small. They had the first two runners on base in the sixth and got nothing.

For the game, the Phils had just five hits, all singles, and were hitless in six at-bats with a runner in scoring position.

“That's the frustrating part of it,” Sandberg said. “Having the right guys up at the right time. Once again, (Ben) Revere and (Jimmy) Rollins with two hits apiece. Neither of them score.”

Hamels recently admitted to being frustrated by all the recent losing, but he said Wednesday night that he was happy to be a Phillie. He was composed as he spoke with reporters after this game, but the former World Series MVP made it clear that he expected more when he decided to stay with the Phillies and sign a contract extension two years ago.

“Losing isn't fun,” he said. “We're all accustomed to winning, so when you're not doing so you want it and press instead of just going back to basics and playing simplified baseball. I'm probably a big culprit of it, trying to be too fine and not calm down. It puts you in a stressful situation and that isn't a good situation for your teammates or for you and your body.

“It definitely wears on you. I think a lot of us, it definitely wears on. You just have to try to battle through. It just hasn’t shown in the last year and a half. And you don’t know when it will show. Everyone just has to take care of business the best they know how and try to be accountable.”

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Phillies have completed the signing of veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit to a one-year, $7.5 million contract (see story). The deal could be announced Tuesday and will require the club removing a player from the already-full 40-man roster.

Benoit is one of three additions that the Phils have made to their bullpen this offseason — the club traded for veteran right-hander Pat Neshek and picked up lefty David Rollins on waivers — and more will likely come, probably on minor-league contracts, before the team reports to spring training.

Now that the bullpen has been addressed, let’s take a look at what could be next for the Phillies this winter.

• The addition of Benoit could create enough back-end bullpen depth that GM Matt Klentak could look to trade either Jeanmar Gomez or Hector Neris. Gomez saved 37 games in 2016, but struggled down the stretch. Neris showed great promise in recording a 2.58 ERA and striking out 11.4 batters per nine innings in 79 games in 2016. The hard-throwing righty is young (27), talented and inexpensive so the Phils would have to be overwhelmed by an offer to move him. Last year, Klentak moved a young closer in Ken Giles for a significant return from Houston, so he has history in making these types of moves.

• In addition to more potential comings and goings in the bullpen, the Phils will look to add a backup infielder and maybe a backup catcher in the coming weeks. Andres Blanco could return as that extra infielder. A.J. Ellis could return as the catcher. But nothing is firm. In fact, Klentak hinted Monday that he’d be comfortable bringing Andrew Knapp up from Triple A to be the backup catcher next season.

“I don’t think we need a veteran backup catcher,” Klentak said. “If it works out, we’re open-minded to that. But Andrew Knapp just finished his age 25 season in Triple A. He has a full year of at-bats in Triple A. At some point for both he and (Jorge) Alfaro, we’re going to have to find out what those guys can do at the big-league level. During the 2017 season, we’ll have to find out — not just about those two guys — but others.”

• One of the biggest remaining issues facing Phillies management this winter centers around the outfield and the offense. Basically, Klentak and his advisers are weighing the merits of adding another veteran hitter — the club already traded for Howie Kendrick — to improve the offense or giving a significant playing opportunity to a promising youngster and potential future core piece such as Roman Quinn in what currently projects to be one opening in the outfield.

“That topic is the one that we have spent the most time discussing, not just here but this offseason, about striking the right balance between adding a veteran bat or veteran free agent to this team to make our team better, but again, not taking playing time away from players that need the playing time.

“That’s part of the dynamic that we have to consider there. Roman Quinn came up at the end of the year and, at times, looked like a legitimate major-league contributor. But we also have to be mindful of the fact that he hasn’t logged a single at-bat at Triple A yet.

“This doesn’t have an obvious answer. We are continuing to talk about trade acquisitions and talk to agents for free agents to see if the right opportunity exists to blend all those factors together. But what we do not want to do is bring in so many veterans that we are denying opportunities to our young players.”

This brings us to a situation that could potentially satisfy the team’s desire to improve the offense without taking away a playing opportunity from Quinn.

J.D. Martinez of the Detroit Tigers is an outfield bat that the Phillies like. They like his production and the fact that he’s signed for just 2017. In other words, he wouldn’t block a young prospect’s pathway to the majors, at least for long.

Martinez, owed $11.75 million, which is very affordable for the Phillies, is a serious trade candidate for the cost-cutting Tigers and the Phillies have spoken to Tigers officials, dating to the early part of the offseason.

According to sources, the Phillies and Tigers could be a trade fit if the Tigers were to deal second baseman Ian Kinsler. If the Tigers move Kinsler, they could look to move Martinez to the Phillies for second baseman Cesar Hernandez. Phillies officials have said they are in no hurry to deal Hernandez, but the team does have depth at second with a pair of prospects (Scott Kingery and Jesmuel Valentin) on the way and a ready-made stopgap in Kendrick at the position. 

So keep an eye on Kinsler. If he moves, the Phillies could pursue the veteran bat that would make their offense better. And it would not cost Quinn an opportunity as he could play left field with Kendrick moving to second.

Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens honored with Joe Bauman Award

Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens honored with Joe Bauman Award

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens stopped by the winter meetings on Monday and left with a little something extra in his wallet.

Cozens was honored with the Joe Bauman Award, given annually to minor league baseball’s home run king. The award came with an $8,000 check — $200 for each homer he hit in 2016.

“That will make shopping this holiday season a lot easier,” Cozens joked.

Cozens, a left-handed-hitting rightfielder, hit .276 with 40 home runs and 125 RBIs for the Double A Reading Fightin Phils. He was named Eastern League MVP. During his acceptance speech at Monday’s awards luncheon, Cozens thanked his Reading teammate, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, for pushing him to his power heights. Hoskins also had a huge season with the bat. He hit 38 homers and had 116 RBIs on his way to becoming the Eastern League’s Rookie of the Year. Night after night in Reading, Cozens and Hoskins staged a friendly power competition. At the end of the season, they shared the Paul Owens Award, given annually to the Phillies’ minor-league player of the year.

Cozens, 22, recently finished a 25-game hitch in the Dominican winter league. Despite hitting just .165 for the Aguilas club, he had four home runs — all against lefty pitching, which has been a nemesis.

Cozens, a 6-6, 250-pound behemoth, made some off-the-field news in the DR when he was involved in a pregame fight with teammate Boog Powell, a Seattle Mariners prospect. Cozens downplayed the incident.

“Just a little boys-being-boys type thing,” he said. “I feel like it was blown out of proportion like almost everything is these days. But, after it happened we became good friends. It was more the level of respect there and I’d say we’re still friends, so it’s good.”

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said the incident was in the past and would have no long-range ramifications for Cozens.

“There is no concern,” Klentak said. “Dylan is an intense kid and he plays the game really hard. That is a good thing. If you’ve watched that, you can see that in his at-bats and when he runs the bases and is running around in the outfield. That’s just his style of play. That aggressive nature at times can boil over. You hope that it doesn’t boil over into altercations with teammates. But we have no long-term concerns with that at all.”

Cozens was recently added to the 40-man roster and will be in big-league spring training camp. Though he projects to open the 2017 season at Triple A, he’s conceding nothing.

“I’m just going to go out there and try to get better, turn some heads and make people notice and hopefully get called up as soon as possible,” he said. 

Plate discipline and strike-zone management are the areas in which Cozens needs the most improvement. He struck out 186 times and walked 61 times in 134 games in 2016. Phillies officials would like to see the strikeouts come down.
 
“I’m learning how to take my walks more often, having better strike-zone judgment, maybe not chase after as many pitches,” Cozens said. “I want to be aggressive, but if they don’t want to pitch to me, just take a walk. I feel like I did not do a good job of that and it’s something I can improve on next year.”