Has run started? Hamels, Phils win third straight

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Has run started? Hamels, Phils win third straight

BOX SCORE

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.”

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.