'It's time for us to turn it on,' Lee says after Phillies' win

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'It's time for us to turn it on,' Lee says after Phillies' win

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SAN FRANCISCO -- This is what it looks like when it all comes together for the Phillies, the pitching, the hitting, the defense. They can walk into a beehive environment and take a game from a quality club that had won six games in a row.

That’s what the Phillies did Monday night in a 6-2 win over the San Francisco Giants at always-electric AT&T Park (see Instant Replay).

“We played a really well-rounded game,” said Cliff Lee, who pitched eight walk-free innings for the win. “That’s more of what we are right there. No doubt.”

The victory came after the Phils were tuned-up by a combined score of 16-2 in a pair losses to the lowly Miami Marlins on Saturday and Sunday.

Thirty-three games into the season, the Phils are 15-18.

Lee stepped out and challenged his teammates to show more pride last week in Cleveland. He continued to speak his mind after this game and it sounded a little like leadership, something this team could use especially after one of its most respected people, Roy Halladay, went on the disabled list Monday.

“We definitely haven’t been playing up to our potential,” Lee said. “We’ve been far short of that, to be honest with you. I think tonight is more of a real depiction of what we are. I expect us to pick it up a little bit. We’ve kind of under-performed this first month. It’s time for us to turn it on, and I think tonight was a good start in that direction.”

Lee used the word “pride” last week. He was asked whether he believed that was something that has been lacking.

“I think pride is a big part of executing and just grinding and sticking in there no matter if you’re down,” he said. “The Cleveland series was just a bad series. But basically, if you’re going to get beat, go down fighting, you know. They got us early both games and it seemed like we just laid down and let them take it from us. That’s what I was hinting at -- more pride and fight-till-the-end type stuff.

“We were better at home against the Marlins (the Phils won the first two games of the series), but we still could do even better and tonight was more of what I expect from this team every night as far as the energy and applying the pressure on the other team rather than having the pressure on us the whole time.”

Lee backed up his words all night Monday. He allowed just five hits. Three of them were by former teammate Hunter Pence, who homered, doubled and singled.

“Take him out of the lineup and it would have been a really good day,” Lee said. “He was tough for me. He’s got it figured out.”

Pence’s homer in the bottom of the second came on a full-count changeup one pitch after the Phillies’ bench thought Pence should have been rung-up on strikes.

The Phils already had three runs on the board when Pence homered. Michael Young keyed a three-run rally in the top of the second with a two-out, two-run double.

“That definitely makes it easier when you have a three-run lead,” said Lee, mildly famous for not getting a lot of run support.

Lee was also supported by his defense, which turned three double plays.

Lee is 4-0 with a 0.84 (four earned runs in 43 innings) ERA in five regular-season starts at AT&T Park, arguably baseball’s best venue.

“It’s a great environment to play in,” he said. “There’s a lot of energy, a lot of noise. You’ve got to step up to the occasion here. It reminds me of Philly when Philly is going good. It’s the same type of environment.”

Things aren’t going good in Philly right now. This team is just too inconsistent to get fans excited like they used to be. Weekends like the one just passed are demoralizing.

“This place might have been perfect for us because it’s a great place to play, a great environment,” Young said. “We had a tough weekend at home. It’s nice to go out and compete and have fun. It was good for us get back on the field, no days off, go play.”

Kyle Kendrick gets the ball Tuesday night as the Phils look to follow Lee’s commandment and “turn it on.”

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."