Howard takes 'full responsiblity' for Phils' loss

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Howard takes 'full responsiblity' for Phils' loss

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES – Ryan Howard lingered in the clubhouse after most of his teammates had already showered and headed for the team bus. He wore a look of despair on his face as he sat in front of his locker and recounted his role in the Phillies’ 6-4 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday night (see Instant Replay).

“I take full responsibility,” he said. “I’ve got to be better than that.”

Howard was involved in two ugly plays -- one at the plate, one in the field -- that pointed the Phillies toward the loss.

First, he killed a rally in the fifth inning when he swung at a 3-0 sinker off the plate from Zack Greinke and bounced into a 1-6-3 double play with two men on base.

Later, Howard failed to make a play on a routine bunt in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Dodgers’ turned that miscue into the go-ahead run as they scored twice in the inning against rookie Justin De Fratus to turn a one-run deficit into a one-run lead.

“Those are two plays, two key moments that changed the flow of the game,” Howard said. “It sucks. I’m upset I didn’t make that play. I slipped and I cost my team the game.

“And on the 3-0 pitch -- I have to make a better swing. Those are two things I had control over in the game and I didn’t get it done. (Jonathan) Pettibone threw well and Chase (Utley) swung the bat well. I have to do a better job.”

The look on Howard’s face after the game showed just how much the loss hurt.

The Phillies are struggling to remain on the periphery of the race in the NL East. They battled back from an early 3-0 deficit to take the lead on a home run by Utley in the seventh. The comeback came against one of the best pitchers in the game in Greinke. This is a game the Phils have to win.

Instead, they are 38-42, 7½ games back in the NL East and 2-2 on this road trip. They have blown late leads in both losses.

Pitching 40 miles from his hometown of Yorba Linda, with several dozen family and friends in the stands, the 22-year-old Pettibone fought some nerves early. He allowed three hits and three runs in the first inning, but just one hit and no runs over the next five innings to keep his team in the game until Utley’s go-ahead homer in the seventh.

The Phils had tied the game on RBI singles by Utley and Jimmy Rollins in the fifth and had a chance to do more damage when Howard showed zero plate discipline in swinging at a 3-0 sinker off the plate and bouncing into a rally-killing double play.

Howard is in an 0-for-16 skid. He was 0 for 14 when he came to the plate with runners on first and second and one out in that inning.

Manager Charlie Manuel loves to give his hitters the green light on 3-0.

“He’s kind of automatic,” Manuel said of Howard. “He’s been hitting 3-0 since he was in Double A. At the same time, he knows we want him to get a good ball to hit.

“He’s earned the right over the years to hit 3-0. He’s got to do a better job at it, though.”

Utley’s homer in the seventh put Pettibone in line for a win. Manuel went to Justin De Fratus to protect the lead in the bottom of the inning. He allowed a killer leadoff walk to A.J. Ellis. The Dodgers then put a second man on base when Howard muffed Uribe’s bunt. The runners moved up on a bunt and De Fratus walked Hanley Ramirez intentionally. De Fratus then struck out Skip Schumaker for the second out.

That brought up the most dangerous hitter on the planet -- Dodgers’ rookie masher Yasiel Puig.

De Fratus got ahead of Puig with two sliders, then went back to the pitch at 0-2. The pitch was off the plate, but not far enough. Puig hooked it to left for a two-run single. On 0-2, De Fratus can’t give Puig a pitch to hit. He did and it cost the Phillies.

“I didn’t think it was a bad pitch,” De Fratus said. “But I wanted to bounce it and get it in the dirt and I didn’t.”

Manuel thought the pitch was too good.

“I thought he could have expanded the zone even more,” he said.

These are the growing pains that a young bullpen must endure. They are the growing pains that may ultimately derail the Phils’ chances of getting into contention.

A player like Howard, however, should be long past growing pains. He said this was his loss and there was no arguing that.

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.

Phillies Phodder: Jerad Eickhoff, a new bat, Montgomery and other matters

Phillies Phodder: Jerad Eickhoff, a new bat, Montgomery and other matters

A few Phillies thoughts between NFL playoff games:
 
Jerad Eickhoff was in town the other day putting smiles on the faces of some special kids at CSN Philly’s annual Shining Star Awards dinner, which benefits the March of Dimes.
 
Before the event, Eickhoff was a guest on Philly Sports Talk and he was asked about the possibility of being the Phillies' opening day starter April 3 in Cincinnati. The right-hander said all the right things, noting that there were several worthy candidates and that the decision ultimately would be made by manager Pete Mackanin, and he was right on all counts.
 
In the big picture, it doesn’t matter a whole lot who gets the ball on opening day. The goal of every starter is to stay healthy for a full season and if he does that he’ll end up with 33 starts and ample opportunity to pitch himself to the top of the rotation.
 
Still, starting on opening day is a big honor, even if a lot of folks won’t remember who got the ball for the opener much beyond Memorial Day.
 
The 2017 Phillies have two legitimate candidates for opening day starter: Jeremy Hellickson and Eickhoff. 

Hellickson got the nod last year and did nothing to suggest he does not deserve the honor again this year. The veteran right-hander pitched 189 innings over 32 starts and was a pro’s pro from the moment he stepped foot in the clubhouse.
 
But with all due respect to Hellickson, this early vote for the opening day assignment goes to Eickhoff for a number of reasons.
 
First of all, he’s earned it with his performance. He led the starting staff in starts (33), innings (197 1/3) and ERA (3.65) in 2017. 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 Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure constantly stress to the staff the importance of throwing strikes. Eickhoff responded in 2016. His ratio of 1.92 walks per nine innings was the fourth-best mark among National League starters in 2016.

In addition, he's earned it with his conduct and example. The guy approaches his craft with a maturity, dedication, work ethic and seriousness that is reminiscent of Roy Halladay.

All of this leads us to another reason that Eickhoff should get the opening day nod: The Phillies are a building team and Eickhoff, 26 years old and under team control for five more seasons, is going to be around for a while. Hellickson will likely depart for free agency after this season. Ditto Clay Buchholz. Awarding Eickhoff the opening day start would be a show of faith in the pitcher, a message that management believes he can be a rock and a leader in the rotation now and in the future. 
 
And as for the notion that holding Eickhoff back until the second or third game of the season would help keep him away from opposing teams’ top pitchers and get him better matchups and possibly more run support. Well, Eickhoff already knows what it’s like to face top rivals and keep his team in the game. Last year, he matched up against Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and twice against both Kyle Hendricks and Zack Greinke. Late in the season, he faced NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer twice and lefty stud Chris Sale once. He pitched 19 innings in those three starts and allowed six runs. Pretty solid.
 
It’s certainly not the most important decision that Mackanin & Co. will face between now and April, but when it comes to opening day starter, well, we like Eick.
 
• Spring training is less than a month away, but the Phillies’ offseason roster construction remains in progress. You can pretty much bank on the club adding a bat, likely a left-handed-hitting outfielder, in the coming days.
 
Brandon Moss and Michael Saunders, both free-agent outfielders, remain the most likely targets, with Moss probably the best fit because of his ability to help out at first base.
 
The Phillies have had longstanding interest in Jay Bruce, who is on the Mets’ trading block, but sources say the price for him is two prospects. The rebuilding Phillies are committed to hanging on to their prospects. Moss or Saunders would cost just money, making them better fits on a short-term deal.

• The Phillies will officially open their new developmental academy in the Dominican Republic on Tuesday. The club has leased four different facilities since ramping up efforts in the DR in 1994. The new facility, built on 45 acres in Boca Chica, is co-owned by the Phillies and Minnesota Twins. The two teams have separate baseball facilities and dormitories for up to 78 players. The clubs share kitchen, dining and field maintenance costs.
 
Read more about the new facility here.
  
• Agreeing at the midpoint and avoiding a hearing is always the goal when a player and his team exchange salary figures during the arbitration process. Cesar Hernandez submitted a figure of $2.8 million and the Phillies came in at $2 million. Shake hands at $2.4 million and move on.
 
• We mentioned this recently, but it’s worth repeating because it’s so remarkable. At home in 2016, the Phillies recorded a team batting average of .230 and a team on-base percentage of .291. Those marks were the club’s worst in more than a century of official record keeping.
 
• Phillies prospect Carlos Tocci is a strong candidate for the rookie of the year award in the Venezuelan winter league. The 21-year-old outfielder hit .323 with a .403 on-base percentage in 59 games for the Aragua ballclub.
 
Odubel Herrera was rookie of the year and batting champion in the Venezuelan league two years ago.
 
• And finally, Phillies chairman David Montgomery was among the honorees at the 14th annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation In the Spirit of the Game awards dinner Saturday night in Beverly Hills, California.
 
Montgomery received the Allan H. “Bud” Selig Executive Leadership Award. Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson, Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, Bo Jackson, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and a host of legendary scouts were among the other honorees at the event.
 
It was nice to see an organization dedicated to scouting recognize Montgomery, who served as Phillies president from 1997 to 2014. As leader of the Phillies, Montgomery always realized the importance of scouts in building a successful organization, and in his typical style built personal relationships with every member of his club’s scouting staff, right down to the area guys who drive around baseball’s backstreets in search of young talent. Winning the 2008 World Series was the highlight of Montgomery’s time as club president and that team was built on the back of good scouting.
 
So congratulations to one of the classiest and most respected men in the game on a most fitting honor.