Has run started? Hamels, Phils win third straight

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Has run started? Hamels, Phils win third straight

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Cole Hamels was kickin’ you-know-what and taking names. The crowd was electric. And the home team won for the third straight day.
 
Yes, it felt a little like old times at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night. With the ballpark in a full roar, Hamels stared down a big threat from the Washington Nationals in the eighth inning and pitched the Phillies to an important 4-2 win (see Instant Replay).
 
“That was the most exciting eighth inning I’ve had in a long time,” Hamels said. “The energy and the intensity were great. It felt like there were 60,000 fans here even though it wasn’t a sellout. That’s what playing in Philly is all about.”
 
The crowd was just 33,502 -- more than 10,000 shy of what the Phillies were drawing during their 257-game sellout streak that ended last August. If they keep playing the brand of ball that they have this month, the crowds will swell again. And, of course, if the Phils keep playing this brand of ball, management will hang on to the veteran players that it has threatened to trade if this team doesn’t make a quick move toward serious contention.
 
The Phils have won six of eight games this month, all against clubs with superior records. They are a game shy of .500 as they send Cliff Lee to the mound on Wednesday night. In the standings, the Phils are 7½ behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East and just 1½ behind second-place Washington.
 
Are the Phillies buyers?
 
Are they sellers?
 
Right now, they are stand-patters. Though GM Ruben Amaro placed huge importance on this 10-game homestand -- the Phils are 4-1 at the halfway point -- there are still three weeks to go before the trade deadline. There’s plenty of time to keep monitoring this team and gauging what it really is, plenty of time to turn this mini-surge into a legitimate run, plenty of time for this mini-surge to prove to be fool’s gold.
 
Michael Young doesn’t want to hear any talk about what lies three weeks ahead.
 
For him, it’s all about the now.
 
“There was so much talk about going on a hot streak and I think that put too much on our plate,” Young said. “We were thinking about games that were a week down the road and that can be counterproductive. We’re doing a much better job bearing down on that night’s game now.”
 
Where did that change in approach come from? A team meeting?
 
“No,” Young said. “No one had to say anything. That just comes from having a veteran team. The vibe we have now is execute that night rather than the big picture.”
 
Young had a big two-run double in support of Hamels in the sixth inning. He was also on the mound with the rest of the infielders when manager Charlie Manuel walked to the mound to speak with Hamels after the Nats loaded the bases with one out in the eighth inning. The Phils were up, 4-1, at the time and the game was in the balance.
 
“We knew he wasn’t going to take Cole out,” Young said. “He was just giving him a breather. Cole was the story tonight. It was his game to win for us. He stepped up and did a great job.”
 
With the bases loaded, Hamels struck out Ryan Zimmerman on three pitches, then won a head-to-head battle with Jayson Werth, getting the former Phillie on a full-count fly ball to center.
 
“He threw a heck of a game,” Manuel said. “Absolutely outstanding. I liked everything about it.”
 
Hamels has rebounded from his little mental health break with two straight gems. The pitcher still doesn’t believe the respite was necessary -- he jokingly called Manuel’s trip to the mound in the eighth “a mental breather” -- but pitching coach Rich Dubee’s brainchild may have worked. Hamels has delivered two straight gems and posted back-to-back wins for the first time since last September. He has allowed just three runs over 15 innings in those two starts, walked one and struck out 12.
 
“I have to be accountable,” Hamels said. “I didn’t get the job done early. I need to take it up a notch from here on out. That’s what I’m trying to do, push myself to the highest level I can.”
 
Hamels doesn’t believe management has reached the point where it’s ready to sell, but he’s taking no chances as July 31 approaches.
 
“We have to give it all we can and we’ll rest at the all-star break,” he said. “We know the caliber of team we have. We’ve been underachieving.
 
“I still think we’re one click away from rolling. We’ve got a couple of weeks to really get going.”

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff pitched two innings, allowed a hit, a run, walked one and struck out two in his spring debut on Monday.

Afterward, manager Pete Mackanin was asked what he believed Eickhoff's ceiling was.

"He's a pretty darn good pitcher right now," Mackanin said.

Indeed, he is.

In his first full season in the majors last year, the 26-year-old right-hander led the Phillies' starting staff in ERA (3.65), starts (33) and innings pitched (197 1/3).

He delivered 20 quality starts and became just the fourth Phillie in the last 20 years to make 33 starts and record a 3.65 ERA or better, joining three pretty good pitchers named Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. He walked just 1.92 batters per nine innings and that was fourth-best among NL starters.

"Eickhoff is the kind of guy you can count on," Mackanin said. "He throws strikes. He knows what he's doing."

Eickhoff is intent on building on last year's success in 2017. The guy has a Halladay-like work ethic. He arrived in Clearwater on Feb. 1 and got right to work. After his two innings of work on Monday, he put in a couple of hours in the weight room and on a back field running.

"I just have to continue working," he said. "I have a very high standard for myself as a lot of us in here do. We want to be the best players that we can be."

Eickhoff is working on improving his changeup this spring and his overall goal is to make every start -- as he did last season.

"That's the priority -- make every start," he said. "That's always a priority for me.

"I'd also like to incorporate the changeup a little more and use my slider and curveball and not get heavily reliant on one or the other, which happened several times last year and I think got me into trouble at times. So incorporating both for the duration of the season and just being more crisp with execution and location is my goal.

"I'm always looking to get better. I think the sky is the limit. I'm going to continue working, whether it's being Greg Maddux-esque with command or having a good breaking ball, or throwing a changeup like Maddux and guys like that did. There's always something I'm working on and trying to develop and sharpen up."

Eickhoff lines up to start the second game of the regular season behind projected opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson.

The game
The Phillies lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-2. The Phils are 2-2 on the spring.

Maikel Franco had two hits, including his third homer of the spring. It was a long drive to left field on a 1-2 fastball. He also had a single to right field.

"The thing I like early in the spring from him is he's going deeper into counts," Mackanin said. "I think he's working toward a good year this year."

Stassi impresses
Non-roster player Brock Stassi, a candidate to win a job as a reserve first baseman and outfielder (see story), did not play in the game. He, however, has a single, double and homer in the first three games.

Mackanin gushed about Stassi’s defense when asked about it Monday.

"He's one of the best first basemen I've seen in a real long time," Mackanin said. "He has no need to improve on his defense and I like the way he swings the bat. He's a real solid baseball player so he's a guy I really want to get a good look at."

Pitching matters
Starting pitchers Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin are both projected to pitch at Triple A. Both have been slowed early in camp because of health reasons, but are progressing well. Thompson has a sore right wrist and Eflin is recovering from a pair of surgeries to address tendinitis in both knees.

Both pitchers will continue to throw in the bullpen this week and ramp up to live batting practice next week. There is plenty of time for both pitchers to get their arms ready to open the season. However, the Phillies may decide to take a cautious approach with Eflin and let him build some more strength in his knees before they turn him loose. He could stay in Florida for a couple of extra weeks before joining the Triple A club.

Up next
The Phillies host the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. Clay Buchholz will make his first start of the spring. Here is the Phillies' posted starting lineup for the game:

1. Freddy Galvis, SS
2. Howie Kendrick, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, DH
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Chris Coghlan, RF
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Scott Kingery, 2B

MLB Notes: Josh Hamilton undergoes knee surgery

MLB Notes: Josh Hamilton undergoes knee surgery

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Josh Hamilton has had another surgery on his balky left knee, ending any chance of the 2010 AL MVP making the Texas Rangers' opening day roster.

The arthroscopic procedure Monday was to repair some damaged meniscus cartilage in his left knee. There were no issues with the surgically repaired ACL in that knee.

Hamilton had left spring training in Arizona and returned to Houston for the second time in less than a week to be examined by Dr. Walt Lowe, who also performed Hamilton's season-ending surgery last June.

The latest knee procedure is the 11th in Hamilton's career, and the third since the 35-year-old slugger last played in the majors in 2015.

Hamilton, in camp on a minor league contract, faces six weeks of rehabilitation before he will be able to start running again.

Orioles: Bourn broke finger during football drill
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Baltimore outfielder Michael Bourn hasn't played football since his sophomore year in high school. But it's a pigskin injury that's preventing him from playing this spring for the Orioles.

On Friday, the speedy 34-year-old broke his right ring finger catching a football at a workout. Bourn, who signed a minor league contract on Feb. 20, will be out for four weeks, making it difficult for him to be ready for Baltimore's April 3 opener. He'll make $2 million if he's put on the 40-man roster.

Bourn has difficult competition. Another veteran major league outfielder, Craig Gentry, signed two days before, plus the Orioles want to take long looks at Rule 5 outfielders Anthony Santander and Aneury Tavarez. Joey Rickard, a Rule 5 pick who played with the team last season, is also a serious contender.

Because he signed late, Bourn hadn't played.

"I was ready to go and pretty much ready to get into games the next couple days and now I've got to wait a about four weeks to heal. I want it to heal correctly but I want to push it, too. There's really nothing I can do about it," he said. (see full story)

Indians: Kipnis sidelined by shoulder injury
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has a rotator cuff strain and will stop throwing for a couple days.

Kipnis got a cortisone shot on Saturday, and manager Terry Francona didn't sound very worried about the situation.

"If it was during the season we wouldn't do anything," Francona said before Sunday's spring game against the Chicago Cubs in Mesa. "There's so much time to get ready that to kind of put a Band-Aid on it now didn't seem to make sense."

The 29-year-old Kipnis hit .275 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs last season, helping Cleveland to the AL Central title. He added four more homers and eight RBIs in the playoffs as the Indians made it all the way to the World Series before losing to the Cubs in seven games.

Kipnis had been on a shoulder program.

"I would say probably eight out of 10 guys, as they get their arms loose, you feel something," Francona said. "You throw through stuff and you get through the aches and pains of getting back, but then when there is some history there, you just try to use good judgment.

"He can do all his cardio and everything and all that stuff, but throwing is shut down for four to five days. I don't think he's going to hit today."

The Indians also announced left-hander Tim Cooney will be sidelined for 10 to 12 weeks because of a muscle strain in his arm. Cooney went 1-0 with a 3.16 ERA in six starts with St. Louis last season and was claimed off waivers from the Cardinals in November.

"Originally, they thought it was forearm," Francona said. "It's lower than that. By all accounts, it is an extremely unique area."