Lee dazzles, Ruiz rewards Sandberg in Phils' win

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Lee dazzles, Ruiz rewards Sandberg in Phils' win

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LOS ANGELES -- Ryne Sandberg has displayed a little managerial wizardry, a little Ryno Magic, the last couple of days.

On Sunday, he used John Mayberry Jr. as a late-game defensive replacement for hard-handed first baseman Ryan Howard. The move proved auspicious when Mayberry dug a ball out of the dirt to preserve a one-run victory in Denver.

Monday night, Sandberg mixed up a lineup potion that had Carlos Ruiz in the cleanup hole even though the Phillies' catcher did not have a home run or an RBI in 49 at-bats this season.

Presto!

Ruiz drove in four runs, two on a first-inning double and two more on a ninth-inning home run, to help propel the Phillies to a 7-0 win over the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium (see Instant Replay).

Of course, Ruiz was only part of an ensemble effort in the Phillies' winning cause.

Howard homered for the second straight game, giving him five in 19 games. His long, two-run shot to right-center against lefty Paul Maholm gave the Phils a 4-0 lead in fifth. Howard added an opposite-field single in the seventh as the Phils finished with 11 hits. They had 15 on Sunday.

The star of the game had just one single and struck out twice.

We’re talking, of course, about Cliff Lee. As good as Ruiz and Howard were -- and as good as Chase Utley’s defensive gem in the first inning was -- Lee was the star. He allowed just four hits over eight shutout innings, did not walk a batter and struck out 10.

Since being roughed up for eight runs in five innings on opening day in Texas, Lee has made four starts and allowed just four runs over 30 innings. His strikeouts-to-walks ratio in those four starts is an eye-popping 37-to-1.

Lee was coming off a start in which he struck out 13 Atlanta Braves but took a 1-0 loss because the Phillies, as they are wont to do, didn’t hit.

This time, they hit.

Lee was so good that Ruiz's two-run double in the first was enough for him.

“That was huge,” Lee said of Ruiz's opposite-field double. “An early lead is definitely good for the pitchers. We did that and we extended the lead; Howard hit that two-run homer to give us a four-run lead. That definitely makes it easier on the pitchers to go out there, be aggressive, and throw strikes.”

And Lee did plenty of that.

“Cliff was outstanding,” Sandberg said. “He’s pitched well all year.

“He just dominated the strike zone. He pitched well inside and out, and as he went along mixed in breaking pitches. But he was in total control out there.

“He’s just a quality pitcher. He gets after it. He’s a gamer. He’s a battler. His command was pinpoint. He worked well with Chooch all night.”

Lee is 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA in five starts at Dodger Stadium.

Sandberg gave Marlon Byrd his first night off of the season and batted Howard fifth, as he will do against left-handed pitchers. In need of a cleanup man, Sandberg went to Ruiz, who has hit second, third, sixth and seventh this season.

Now he can add cleanup to the list.

“He’s a versatile hitter,” Sandberg said of Ruiz. “Facing a lefty -- sometimes that will give a guy like him a boost. Obviously he came through in a big way. He swung the bat well in the four spot.”

Ruiz was aware that he did not have a home run or an RBI.

“It can happen,” he said. “When you don’t swing the bat real good, it’s hard to get some RBIs. For me, I've been working the count and going from there. If I was thinking about not having an RBI, I'd be putting pressure on myself. So I had to stay strong and continue to work hard.”

Ruiz's two-run double in the first was important because it gave the Phillies an early lead. The Dodgers had been 11-2 when they scored first. Lee registered a shutdown inning in the bottom of the first thanks to Utley’s defensive gem. He halted Adrian Gonzalez's base hit in shallow center field, wheeled and threw home to prevent hard-rushing Yasiel Puig from scoring from second.

Lee was appreciative.

“It was definitely advanced,” Lee said of Utley's play, which resembled the famous one he made in the 2008 World Series. “That just shows he's one step ahead of the game. Maybe he could get the guy at first, but he had a pretty good idea of how Puig would be running the bases and he was dead on. He was aggressively rounding third and going home. Chase anticipated that and got him out. That's advanced. That just shows how he's one step ahead and is a prime example of the kind of player he is.”

Phillies’ top draft pick Mickey Moniak already benefitting from added strength

Phillies’ top draft pick Mickey Moniak already benefitting from added strength

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Mickey Moniak loves to hit and he does a lot of it.

The evidence is on his right hand.

It’s a large callus just under his palm, where the knob of the bat sits when he swings.

Phillies minor-league spring training camp does not officially begin until Sunday, but Moniak has been on site for more than a week going through daily workouts with other early birds on the fields and in the batting cages at Carpenter Complex.

And before arriving in Clearwater, Moniak spent the winter working out with his old high school team and coaches in southern California. When Moniak wasn't hitting with them, he was hitting with fellow Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford, who lives about 90 minutes north. 

“I’ve been doing my thing in the offseason, hitting, throwing,” Moniak said before his workout Wednesday morning. “I’m excited to get going.”

Moniak, who turns 19 in May, wasn’t just the Phillies’ top pick in last year’s draft. He was the top pick in the entire draft, the Phillies’ “reward” for finishing with the worst record in the majors in 2015. He was the consensus top high school hitter in the draft last year and the Phillies paid him a $6.1 million signing bonus. He made a nice pro debut last summer, hitting .284 with a .340 on-base percentage, 11 doubles, four triples, a homer and 28 RBIs in 46 games for the Phillies’ Gulf Coast League team. He was shut down late in the season with some hip tightness. He saw doctors in Philadelphia and it turned out to be a simple growing pain. Hey, the kid is young.

That first pro season is always a learning experience for a player and Moniak learned he needed to get stronger.

He spent the fall and winter adding 20 pounds of muscle to his 6-2 frame. He was 170 pounds on draft day. Now he weighs 190.

His old coaches at La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, California noticed the added strength during his workouts this winter. The ball jumped off his bat with even more life than it did in the past. And Moniak hit .476 with seven homers, 12 triples and four doubles as a senior last year.

“I take BP at my high school in the offseason and they noticed,” Moniak said. “And back here, the coaches are definitely noticing. And I pick it up, too.  The ball just flies a little different. So I’m really excited to see how that translates into games.”

A lefty-hitting centerfielder, Moniak projects to open the season at Single A Lakewood in the South Atlantic League. Several other members of the Phils’ prospect-rich GCL team that went 41-17 last summer could also be on that club.

“The first goal is to stay healthy all year,” Moniak said. “I’m a big winning guy. I don’t really like to put personal stats on things. I just like to win. If I go 3 for 3 and lose or 0 for 3 and win, I’m fine with the 0 for 3 and win.

“Winning comes first. But usually, when the winning happens, all the personal stuff comes with it.”

Moniak is fully aware of his significance in the Philadelphia sporting culture. He said he follows Carson Wentz and Ben Simmons, top draft picks of the Eagles and Sixers, respectively, on social media.

“We kind of came to Philadelphia at the same time and hopefully we’re going to be the ones to grow old in Philadelphia and hopefully bring championships to Philadelphia, a winning tradition,” he said. “I follow both of them just to see how they’re doing and what they’re doing.”

Moniak’s journey to the top level of his game won’t happen as quickly as it does in others -- that's just the way baseball is -- but he projects to be a good one.

And he’s clearly willing to put in the work.

The evidence is on his right palm.

Phillies 7, Orioles 5: Brock Stassi continues to make a difference

Phillies 7, Orioles 5: Brock Stassi continues to make a difference

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Baltimore Orioles led the majors with 253 home runs last season.

The Phillies ranked 24th with 161.

On Tuesday, however, the Phillies out-homered the O's en route to a 7-5 victory. The Phils hit four homers, the Orioles one.

Reality check: The Orioles brought a watered-down lineup to Clearwater. No Mark Trumbo (a majors-leading 47 homers last season), no Chris Davis (38), no Manny Machado (37).

Nonetheless, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin was pleased with the power his team showed. Tommy Joseph bombed a homer off the tiki bar beyond the left field wall. Aaron Altherr crushed one out to left. And non-roster players Scott Kingery (more here) and Brock Stassi both homered.

Of course, Stassi homered.

All he has done in the first week of games is get big hits. He's played in four games and has two homers and a double. His three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning came with the Phillies down two runs and gave them the lead. The home run came on a 2-0 pitch from Cody Sedlock. The 21-year-old righty was the Orioles' first-round pick (No. 27 overall) out of the University of Illinois last year. He looked a little overwhelmed as he allowed five hits, including two homers, and four runs in losing the lead.

Stassi was the Phillies' 33rd-round draft pick in 2011. He is 27 years old and bidding to win a spot on the roster as a backup first baseman/outfielder.

"He's caught my eye," said Mackanin, who seems to say something good about Stassi every day.

After Tuesday's game, Stassi recalled how he lost 30 percent of his signing bonus the same day he received the check in 2011.

"But my signing bonus was just $1,000," he said, laughing.

All these years later, he's putting himself in a position to hit the dream-come-true jackpot that would come with making the Phillies' opening day roster.

"Today was a good day," he said. "Put it behind me and come back tomorrow."

On the mound
Clay Buchholz made his spring debut with two scoreless innings. He gave up two hits and a walk.

With five weeks to go before his first start of the regular season, Buchholz tried to pace himself. There's plenty of time to let it loose.

"You hear the slogan saving bullets and I think that's a big thing," said Buchholz, 32. "If you go out max effort before your body is ready to do that, that's when injuries happen."

Herrera excused
Obudel Herrera missed Tuesday game's because he needed to travel to New Orleans to complete some paperwork for the upcoming World Baseball Classic. He will return Wednesday.

Herrera will play left field for Team Venezuela. Mackanin said he may get Herrera some work at the position before the player departs for the WBC next week.

The Phillies play the Rays in Port Charlotte on Wednesday. Vince Velasquez will make his first start of the spring. Here is the Phillies' posted starting lineup:

Cesar Hernandez, 2B
Chris Coghlan, LF
Andres Blanco, 3B
Tommy Joseph, 1B
Daniel Nava, DH
Andrew Knapp, C
J.P. Crawford, SS
Roman Quinn, CF
Aaron Altherr, RF