Hamels struggles in Phillies' opening-day defeat

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Hamels struggles in Phillies' opening-day defeat

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ATLANTA -- It’s now safe to say there’s something about the first start of a season that just doesn’t sit right with Cole Hamels.

The 29-year-old lefty made his first career opening-day start on Monday night and it was not a good one. After a brilliant spring training in which he allowed just two earned runs and did not give up a homer in 19 innings, he was pounded by the Atlanta Braves in a 7-5 loss at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

Hamels gave up seven hits and five runs in five innings. Five of the seven hits he allowed were for extra bases and three were homers -- booming homers -- accounting for four runs.

In his last five season debuts, Hamels has allowed 23 earned runs in 21 2/3 innings (9.55 ERA).

What gives?

“I don’t know,” he said. “You don’t want to (pitch poorly). You want to be able to pitch your best. It’s not like I go out there and try to lose.

“I try to win every game and get the team headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that.

“I have to bear down in my next start and execute pitch after pitch after pitch.”

Can Hamels do that?

Of course, he can. After losing his debut to Miami last season, he won 10 of his next 12 decisions, including eight in a row.

Pitch execution was Hamels’ downfall on this night. He made a number of mistakes over the heart of the plate and paid for them.

“He wasn’t as sharp as he usually is,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “He had trouble getting the ball out of the big part of the plate. At the same time, you have to give (the Braves) credit. They hit some balls hard.”

In the first inning, Hamels walked Jason Heyward with one out and then allowed a cannonading two-run homer to right to Freddie Freeman on a 2-1 fastball down the middle.

The home run brought the huge crowd of 51,456 to its feet. The crowd was loud and spirited all night and it definitely gave the Braves a lift.

In the second inning, Hamels grooved a 3-0 fastball to the first hitter, Dan Uggla, and he drove it out to left as the Braves took a 3-0 lead.

Hamels was surprised that Uggla had the green light.

“A little bit,” he said. “But if I make the right pitch then he rolls over on it and he looks bad. But unfortunately I guess I look bad in that case.”

Hamels gave up a double and an RBI single in the third and a solo homer to newcomer Justin Upton on a 1-2 cutter in the fifth.

Upton’s homer came after the Phils had made it a 4-3 game and chased Atlanta starter Tim Hudson in the fifth. Chase Utley’s two-run single was the big hit in the inning. The Phils had a chance to keep pouring it on after Hudson left, but lefty reliever Luis Avilan struck out Ryan Howard with two men in scoring position. Avilan then walked Michael Young intentionally before getting Domonic Brown on a ground ball to preserve the lead.

Atlanta cushioned its lead with two runs off Chad Durbin in the sixth. Durbin did not retire any of the three batters he faced.

“Every time we got close they pulled away and we couldn’t catch them,” Manuel said.

“We had opportunities to tie the game and we didn’t get the big hit,” Utley said. “The Braves are a good team. They have some power in their lineup and they showed it tonight.”

Playing for the first time on opening day since 2010, Utley was a bright spot in defeat. He had three hits, including his 200th career homer, and a triple, and drove in three runs.

“I’ve worked hard to get to this point,” said Utley, who constantly battles a degenerative knee condition to get on the field.

Another bright spot: Ben Revere’s magnificent 11-pitch at-bat, which helped wear down Hudson in the fifth. Revere batted leadoff (see story). He singled, walked and scored a run.

And so opening day is over. The Phillies are 0-1 with a day off Tuesday and Roy Halladay, coming off a shaky spring, on the mound Wednesday night.

“Obviously you want to win the first game,” Utley said. “But I think we have a few more to go. We’ll try to learn from this one and move on.”

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

READING, Pa. — Perhaps the most important issue facing the Phillies as they get set to open spring training is the health of pitcher Aaron Nola.

It won’t be possible to fully gauge the right-hander’s condition until he starts firing pitches against hitters in a competitive situation in February and March.

But less than a month before camp opens, Nola is optimistic that the elbow problems that forced him to miss the final two months of the 2016 season are resolved.

“I feel like the injury is past me,” he said during a Phillies winter caravan stop sponsored by the Double A Reading Fightin Phils on Tuesday night. “I feel back to normal.

“My arm is all good. One-hundred percent.”

Nola, 23, did not pitch after July 28 last season after being diagnosed with a pair of injuries near his elbow — a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor tendon.

Nola and the team opted for a conservative treatment plan that included rest, rehab and a PRP injection. The pitcher spent much of the fall on a rehab program in Clearwater that included his throwing from a bullpen mound. He took a couple of months off and recently began throwing again near his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“All through the rehab, I had no pain,” Nola said. “Probably in the middle of the rehab, I started feeling really good. Towards the end, I started upping the intensity a little bit. I knew after I took two months off I was going to be good. I started back up, throwing after Christmas and it felt really good when I cranked up. I’ve been throwing for a few weeks now. No pain, no hesitation. Not any of it.”

The Phillies selected Nola with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft with the hopes that he would be a foundation piece in the rotation for many years. Nola ascended to the majors in the summer of 2015 and recorded a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 big-league starts before hitting severe turbulence last summer. He had a 9.82 ERA in his final eight starts of 2016 before injuring his elbow during his final start.

Nola said he would report to Clearwater on Feb. 1. He does not expect to have any limitations in camp.

Manager Pete Mackanin is eager to see what Nola looks like in Clearwater.

“There's a part of me that’s concerned,” Mackanin said. “When guys don't have surgery and they mend with just rest, that makes me a little nervous. I don't want that to crop up again because then you lose a couple years instead of one year. But I defer to the medical people and believe in what they say and how he feels.”

Mackanin said he expected Nola to be in the five-man rotation along with Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz and Vince Velasquez to open the season. Mackanin also mentioned Zach Eflin and others as being in the mix. The Phillies have some starting pitching depth and that’s a plus because pitchers' arms are fragile. Nola was the latest example of that last season. He said he’s healthy now, but he'll still be a center of attention in spring training.

More seasoning for Quinn
Mackanin acknowledged that the addition of veteran outfielder Michael Saunders probably means that Roman Quinn will open the season in Triple A.

“I don’t think it’s in our best interest or [Quinn’s] to be a part-time player at the big-league level, so I would think if things stay the way they are and if Saunders is on the team, I think it would behoove Quinn to play a full year of Triple A,” Mackanin said. “We have to find out if he can play 120 or 140 games, which he hasn’t done up to this point. We hope he can because, to me, he’s a potential game changer.”

Morgan to the bullpen?
Mackanin suggested that lefty Adam Morgan could be used as a reliever in camp. The Phillies have just one lefty reliever (Joely Rodriguez) on their 40-man roster. If Morgan pitches well out of the bullpen, he could be a candidate to make the club. Non-roster lefties Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos could also be in the mix.

Another chance for Gomez
Jeanmar Gomez saved 37 games in 2016 before struggling down the stretch and losing the closer’s job. Hector Neris finished up in the role.

So how will competition for the job shake out in Clearwater?

“I wouldn’t say it’s wide open,” Mackanin said. “I’m going to give Gomez every opportunity to show that he’s the guy that pitched the first five months and not the guy that pitched in September.”

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

The Phillies are putting the finishing touches on a deal with outfielder Michael Saunders, according to a source.

Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported the deal was close early Monday afternoon.

When the medical reviews and other loose ends are complete, Saunders will end up with a one-year contract for 2017. It is believed that there will be an option for 2018.

According to FoxSports.com's 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 up to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, will give the Phils the left-handed bat they’ve been looking for in the outfield. Saunders is likely to play right field and his addition will likely push Roman Quinn back to Triple A, where he will get more seasoning.

Saunders is a veteran of eight seasons in the majors. He played in a career-high 140 games with Toronto in 2016 and made the American League All-Star team on the strength of a first half in which he hit .298 with 16 homers, 42 RBIs and a .923 OPS. He fell off in the second half and hit just .178 with 8 homers, 15 RBIs and a .638 OPS. Saunders finished the season at .253 with 24 HR, 57 RBIs and an .815 OPS.

With less than a month to go before spring training, the Phillies are likely done with their significant offseason moves. The offseason began with trades for reliever Pat Neshek and outfielder Howie Kendrick. Later in the winter, the club traded for starting pitcher Clay Buchholz and signed reliever Joaquin Benoit. Now Saunders is on his way.