Jimmy Rollins: 'It's getting out of control now'

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Jimmy Rollins: 'It's getting out of control now'

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WASHINGTON -- For the past week, Phillies front office executives have been able to divert their attention away from the slop they are currently selling as big-league baseball by focusing on the annual first-year player draft.

The first round came and went Thursday night and the Phillies pinned some of their future hopes on the right arm of LSU pitcher Aaron Nola, who they selected with the seventh overall pick (see story).

Now, Phillies officials must hold their noses and turn their attention back to the present.

It ain’t pretty.

In fact, it’s downright ugly.

The Phillies’ losing streak reached six games in a 4-2 loss to the Washington Nationals Thursday afternoon (see Instant Replay). The loss dropped the Phillies to 10 games under .500, a level of ineptitude that is likely to hasten management’s decision to sell off players and start a long-talked-about rebuilding effort.

“It’s getting out of control now,” Jimmy Rollins said. “We have a chance to go out and change that tomorrow. If not, that’s a decision management is going to have to make either way.”

Ten games under .500. There’s something symbolically futile about that number, isn’t there?

“I don’t look at it, honestly,” Rollins said. “I know we aren’t winning and we haven’t been winning. You’re going in the wrong direction if you aren’t winning.

“Everyone is just looking in the mirror, looking around, trying to find that spark.”

Only a quick and lengthy winning streak could persuade management to keep this club together. And what are the chances of that happening? The Phillies are an NL-worst 9-20 since May 5. They haven’t won more than three games in a row since last June. They have been above .500 just five days since last All-Star break. And no matter how mediocre the NL East is, the winner of the division will be well over .500.

Prospects for turning things around in Cincinnati Friday night are not good as the Phils face right-hander Johnny Cueto, who leads the National League with a 1.68 ERA.

Phillies starter Cole Hamels has dominated the Reds in his career, but he hasn't gotten much run support this season.

Being swept three games in Washington appeared to take its toll on manager Ryne Sandberg. He called a team meeting before the series opener then watched his team get outscored, 19-6, in the three games.

“Definitely frustrated,” Sandberg said. “Frustrated that we haven’t been able to put a game together with pitching and offense. In the meantime, our bullpen has been on a good roll for eight or nine days. We need the whole package to come together.”

After 58 games this season (eight have resulted in shutout losses) and a 73-89 record last year, it’s difficult to envision the whole package coming together. This is what the Phillies are. They are a bad team and the losing has gotten to them, turning them into a lifeless bunch that stirs no fear in opposing pitchers.

Washington starting pitchers went 22 innings in the series. They struck out 20 and walked just one. Translation: They went right at Phillies hitters and threw them strikes. Why not? This is not a team that can hurt you, at least consistently, with the bats. The Phils hit just two homers in the series and both came off the bat of reserve John Mayberry Jr.

Thursday’s series finale started promisingly enough with a double by Ben Revere, a bunt by Rollins and a single by Chase Utley to give the Phils their first and only lead of the series.

The lead was short-lived as Kyle Kendrick allowed a two-out run in the bottom of the inning. He prolonged the inning with one of his five walks.

Kendrick allowed three more runs in the fifth inning, two on a homer by Adam LaRoche.

Kendrick is now 1-6. The right-hander is one of the most affable people in the Phillies' clubhouse, but all this losing has taken a toll on him, as well. He was unusually snippy with reporters after the game. No foul there. There’s nothing to be happy about.

“I wasn’t good enough,” Kendrick said. “We lost, so I wasn’t good enough. Walked five guys, so that’s not good.”

Kendrick has been here for the good times and now the bad -- 10 games under .500, the Phillies' worst start in over a decade.

“It’s not good,” he said. “We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to find a way to start winning.”

The Phils had just four hits Thursday and are now hitting .239 as a team. Their run differential is minus-54, the second-worst in the majors.

What is wrong with the offense?

“That’s a good question,” Rollins said.

Any answers?

“That’s a good question,” he said.

Nola, bench, the kids and more: A half-dozen issues to watch as Phillies get set to play games

Nola, bench, the kids and more: A half-dozen issues to watch as Phillies get set to play games

CLEARWATER, Fla. — For the first time since Oct. 2 when Ryan Howard tipped his cap and Hector Neris retired Kevin Plawecki on a ground ball to third base to give them a 5-2 win over the New York Mets, the Phillies will play a game on Thursday afternoon.

They will host the University of Tampa for the third straight year in an exhibition game at Spectrum Field. The Spartans are 7-2 and ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division II.

Manager Pete Mackanin will take the opportunity to look at a number of minor-league prospects in his starting lineup on Thursday. Minor-league right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. will start for the Phillies.

The Phillies will play a number of their projected regular players in Friday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees in Tampa.

As the games get going, the evaluations and decision-making process ramps up for Mackanin, the coaching staff and the front office.

Let’s take a look at the six biggest storylines that will unfold over the course of the Grapefruit League season:

Aaron Nola
So far, so good for the right-hander who missed the last two months of the 2016 season with an elbow injury. He says he is completely healthy and his early-camp bullpen sessions have gone smoothly.

But game action will bring a rise in intensity and a truer gauge of Nola’s health. He is expected to make his first start sometime next week.

“I'm real anxious to see Nola pitch,” manager Pete Mackanin said Wednesday. “We all know what he's capable of doing when he's healthy. Right now, he appears to be and says he is 100 percent. My only concern for him is as we go along into the season, if it's going to come back to haunt him. Right now, I'm real pleased at the way he's throwing and the way he looks. He feels very confident.”

Nola has no limits, but ...

“We will have to keep a close eye on him,” Mackanin said. “All the pitchers, actually. Especially him. I know how good he can be. I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch. Hopefully, every outing he has, he won't show any signs of it. That's the only thing I'm concerned about, that thing coming back.”

The bullpen
Mackanin opened camp by saying that Jeanmar Gomez was his closer — “at this point.”

Like all pitchers, Gomez will need some time and innings to get into a spring rhythm. Serious evaluation of him probably won’t happen until later in the spring. If he pitches well, he will most likely seize the closer job that he lost last September. If he struggles, he could end up forfeiting the closer gig to Hector Neris or Joaquin Benoit and move into a setup role, where he had success in 2015 and could be an asset because of his ability to pitch multiple innings. For the record, Gomez says he will be happy in whatever role Mackanin asks him to fill.

Other roles are open in the bullpen. In particular, Mackanin is looking for at least one lefty and ideally two. Joely Rodriguez probably has the inside track for one lefty spot because he’s on the 40-man roster. Adam Morgan will get starter’s innings in camp, but he could end up in the bullpen. Veterans Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett, both in camp on minor-league contracts, will each get a serious look to make the club.

Hitting approach
The Phillies were last in the majors in runs (610) and second-to-last in batting average (.240) and on-base percentage (.301) in 2016.

New hitting coach Matt Stairs is trying to improve the team’s on-base skills by stressing a gap-to-gap approach and not giving away at-bats. In other words, have a plan before the at-bat, key on a particular zone early in the count and don’t expand until there are two strikes.

Turning these hitters into a group that works counts, grinds out at-bats and gets on base won’t happen overnight, but Mackanin would like to see some progress in exhibition play.

“It takes a while for all of it to settle in,” Mackanin said. “When you hit a certain way your whole life or your thought process is a certain way your whole life, it's hard to make changes because you're out of your comfort zone. The important thing is for the players to buy into what Matt Stairs is selling. If they do that, I think we're going to improve.”

The bench
Barring injury, the starting eight position jobs are settled, but there is intrigue on the bench. Outfielder Aaron Altherr and infielder Andres Blanco appear to be locks and it’s difficult to imagine infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan not making the club. There are others in the mix, including veteran Daniel Nava.

The most intriguing bench question is who will be the backup catcher? Prospect Andrew Knapp will get a long look both behind the plate and at first base as he bids to win a reserve role at both positions. Big-league veterans Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan are also vying for the role of backup catcher.

A roster sleeper?
Last year, little known outfielder Cedric Hunter hit his way onto the opening day roster.

Will there be a repeat this spring?

Keep an eye on Brock Stassi and Andrew Pullin. Both are in camp as non-roster players. Both swing from the left side, have strong minor-league hitting resumes and could be very much in play if the Phils want to add a bat off the bench.

Pullin is a corner outfielder with a short, quick stroke that will remind you of Jim Eisenreich. Stassi has a good bat and could bring some versatility with his ability to play first base and outfield.

The kids
It’s always fun to look at the next wave of potential Phillies early in the Grapefruit League season. Outfielder Roman Quinn was one of the most exciting players in camp last year and he’s primed for another good showing before heading off to Triple A finishing school.

Top prospect J.P. Crawford will get a lot of looks at shortstop before heading to minor-league camp, and it will be fun to watch the power bats of Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens; they combined for 78 homers at Double A last season.

Catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams, both heading into important seasons at Triple A, will get playing time, commencing with starting assignments on Thursday.

Phillies prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

Phillies prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies received some good and bad news on pitcher Victor Arano.

He was diagnosed with a sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

Surgery was not prescribed, which is good news.

The bad news, he’s been shut down for at least a month.

Arano’s injury was treated with a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection.

The 22-year-old from Mexico said he first started feeling some tenderness in the elbow during a stint in the Arizona Fall League. He experienced some swelling in the elbow after reporting to camp earlier this month.

Arano is an intriguing prospect. He was acquired from the Dodgers as part of the package for starter Roberto Hernandez in August 2014. He impressed team officials in spring training 2015 and really took a big step forward after moving to the bullpen last season. He pitched 79⅔ innings in 46 games at Single A Clearwater and Double A Reading and recorded a 2.26 ERA while striking out 95 and walking just 19.

Arano’s stuff has been compared to that of Edubray Ramos, who jumped from Double A to Triple A to the majors last season.

The injury means Arano will have to start the season on the disabled list.

In other health news, pitcher Jake Thompson graduated to a bullpen mound on Wednesday. He had been slowed by a sore wrist but is fine now. Thompson proved that by winning the longest drive at Tuesday’s annual team golf outing.

Thompson lines up to open the season at Triple A.