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.

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."