Hamels, Phillies continue spiral with 11th shutout

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Hamels, Phillies continue spiral with 11th shutout

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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.”

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."