Nats don't expect rivalry with Phillies to wane

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Nats don't expect rivalry with Phillies to wane

Familiarity breeds contempt, as they say. That would seem to be the case for the Phillies and the Washington Nationals, the NL East clubs that have built one of the better rivalries in baseball.

Could the rivalry be on its last legs?

With some suggesting that the Phillies could sell off the core pieces of their team at the trade deadline at the end of July, the rivalry could finally tip the Nationals’ way. In fact, since the beginning of the 2011 season, the Phillies and Nats have split 44 games. This comes after the Phillies went 71-39 against Washington from 2005 to 2010.

So the tide is turning toward Washington…

Not so fast says Nats manager Davey Johnson.

“I don’t think they’re going to sell,” Johnson said.

Johnson might be right. Plus, with the Phillies and Nats scheduled to play 11 more times this season, expect the outcomes to be much like Tuesday night’s 4-2 victory for the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park (see game recap). For the second night in a row, a Phillies lefty cooled off a Nats team that had won four in a row and six of its last eight, averaging 9.2 runs per game in those victories.

Against the Phillies in the first two games of a four-game series, the Nats have scored just four runs. Meanwhile, the Nats’ defense played a big role in helping the Phillies push runs across on Tuesday night. A throwing error by Adam LaRoche in the sixth inning capped off a three-run frame in which the Phillies broke through after tying the game in the fourth.

The play -- a grounder to LaRoche at first hit by Chase Utley with Jimmy Rollins on first and Ben Revere on second and no outs -- appeared to be a rally-killing double play. Instead, the Nats were tipping their caps to Rollins’ baserunning savvy while sliding into second. LaRoche and Ian Desmond say Rollins was wise enough to slide where he thought the throw was going and instead of the shortstop making the turn cleanly, the ball was shielded and ended up rolling into the outfield.

“That’s unbelievable baserunning,” Desmond said. “That’s really good wherewithal [by Rollins]. There are probably things we could have done differently, but at the same time, he did a great job of baserunning. That was something you don’t see from very many other players.

“It was unbelievable instincts. [Rollins] knew that LaRoche stayed back on the ball and he might have seen how I went after the ball and he broke toward me. But all you can do there is tip your cap.”

Maybe what has developed between the Nats and Phillies isn’t the WWE-type rivalry, but something of a mutual admiration society. The Nats have borrowed from the Phillies’ blueprint from when former general managers Ed Wade and Pat Gillick built those great clubs, which just adds to the rivalry.

Sure, former Phillie Jayson Werth said he wants to destroy any plans of another parade down Broad Street and Nats general manager Mike Rizzo had some pointed comments about Cole Hamels after the Phillies lefty “welcomed” much-heralded rookie Bryce Harper to the big leagues with a fastball in his ribs.

But that’s just gamesmanship. No matter what happens at the end of the month with the Phillies’ roster, the rivalry will survive.

“Obviously, a lot of their core guys aren’t old, but they’re getting older,” said Nats All-Star Ryan Zimmerman, who has been with the team since it moved from Montreal in 2005. “When you play that many games and that many postseason games, it’s hard to keep a core group healthy for all of that time. I think that’s just kind of the way baseball is. It’s not easy to stay on top for a long time. Teams keep changing and young players get better, so it makes you appreciate what they did to win the division for four or five years.”

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff pitched two innings, allowed a hit, a run, walked one and struck out two in his spring debut on Monday.

Afterward, manager Pete Mackanin was asked what he believed Eickhoff's ceiling was.

"He's a pretty darn good pitcher right now," Mackanin said.

Indeed, he is.

In his first full season in the majors last year, the 26-year-old right-hander led the Phillies' starting staff in ERA (3.65), starts (33) and innings pitched (197 1/3).

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 three pretty good pitchers named Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. He walked just 1.92 batters per nine innings and that was fourth-best among NL starters.

"Eickhoff is the kind of guy you can count on," Mackanin said. "He throws strikes. He knows what he's doing."

Eickhoff is intent on building on last year's success in 2017. The guy has a Halladay-like work ethic. He arrived in Clearwater on Feb. 1 and got right to work. After his two innings of work on Monday, he put in a couple of hours in the weight room and on a back field running.

"I just have to continue working," he said. "I have a very high standard for myself as a lot of us in here do. We want to be the best players that we can be."

Eickhoff is working on improving his changeup this spring and his overall goal is to make every start -- as he did last season.

"That's the priority -- make every start," he said. "That's always a priority for me.

"I'd also like to incorporate the changeup a little more and use my slider and curveball and not get heavily reliant on one or the other, which happened several times last year and I think got me into trouble at times. So incorporating both for the duration of the season and just being more crisp with execution and location is my goal.

"I'm always looking to get better. I think the sky is the limit. I'm going to continue working, whether it's being Greg Maddux-esque with command or having a good breaking ball, or throwing a changeup like Maddux and guys like that did. There's always something I'm working on and trying to develop and sharpen up."

Eickhoff lines up to start the second game of the regular season behind projected opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson.

The game
The Phillies lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-2. The Phils are 2-2 on the spring.

Maikel Franco had two hits, including his third homer of the spring. It was a long drive to left field on a 1-2 fastball. He also had a single to right field.

"The thing I like early in the spring from him is he's going deeper into counts," Mackanin said. "I think he's working toward a good year this year."

Stassi impresses
Non-roster player Brock Stassi, a candidate to win a job as a reserve first baseman and outfielder (see story), did not play in the game. He, however, has a single, double and homer in the first three games.

Mackanin gushed about Stassi’s defense when asked about it Monday.

"He's one of the best first basemen I've seen in a real long time," Mackanin said. "He has no need to improve on his defense and I like the way he swings the bat. He's a real solid baseball player so he's a guy I really want to get a good look at."

Pitching matters
Starting pitchers Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin are both projected to pitch at Triple A. Both have been slowed early in camp because of health reasons, but are progressing well. Thompson has a sore right wrist and Eflin is recovering from a pair of surgeries to address tendinitis in both knees.

Both pitchers will continue to throw in the bullpen this week and ramp up to live batting practice next week. There is plenty of time for both pitchers to get their arms ready to open the season. However, the Phillies may decide to take a cautious approach with Eflin and let him build some more strength in his knees before they turn him loose. He could stay in Florida for a couple of extra weeks before joining the Triple A club.

Up next
The Phillies host the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. Clay Buchholz will make his first start of the spring. Here is the Phillies' posted starting lineup for the game:

1. Freddy Galvis, SS
2. Howie Kendrick, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, DH
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Chris Coghlan, RF
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Scott Kingery, 2B

MLB Notes: Josh Hamilton undergoes knee surgery

MLB Notes: Josh Hamilton undergoes knee surgery

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Josh Hamilton has had another surgery on his balky left knee, ending any chance of the 2010 AL MVP making the Texas Rangers' opening day roster.

The arthroscopic procedure Monday was to repair some damaged meniscus cartilage in his left knee. There were no issues with the surgically repaired ACL in that knee.

Hamilton had left spring training in Arizona and returned to Houston for the second time in less than a week to be examined by Dr. Walt Lowe, who also performed Hamilton's season-ending surgery last June.

The latest knee procedure is the 11th in Hamilton's career, and the third since the 35-year-old slugger last played in the majors in 2015.

Hamilton, in camp on a minor league contract, faces six weeks of rehabilitation before he will be able to start running again.

Orioles: Bourn broke finger during football drill
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Baltimore outfielder Michael Bourn hasn't played football since his sophomore year in high school. But it's a pigskin injury that's preventing him from playing this spring for the Orioles.

On Friday, the speedy 34-year-old broke his right ring finger catching a football at a workout. Bourn, who signed a minor league contract on Feb. 20, will be out for four weeks, making it difficult for him to be ready for Baltimore's April 3 opener. He'll make $2 million if he's put on the 40-man roster.

Bourn has difficult competition. Another veteran major league outfielder, Craig Gentry, signed two days before, plus the Orioles want to take long looks at Rule 5 outfielders Anthony Santander and Aneury Tavarez. Joey Rickard, a Rule 5 pick who played with the team last season, is also a serious contender.

Because he signed late, Bourn hadn't played.

"I was ready to go and pretty much ready to get into games the next couple days and now I've got to wait a about four weeks to heal. I want it to heal correctly but I want to push it, too. There's really nothing I can do about it," he said. (see full story)

Indians: Kipnis sidelined by shoulder injury
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has a rotator cuff strain and will stop throwing for a couple days.

Kipnis got a cortisone shot on Saturday, and manager Terry Francona didn't sound very worried about the situation.

"If it was during the season we wouldn't do anything," Francona said before Sunday's spring game against the Chicago Cubs in Mesa. "There's so much time to get ready that to kind of put a Band-Aid on it now didn't seem to make sense."

The 29-year-old Kipnis hit .275 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs last season, helping Cleveland to the AL Central title. He added four more homers and eight RBIs in the playoffs as the Indians made it all the way to the World Series before losing to the Cubs in seven games.

Kipnis had been on a shoulder program.

"I would say probably eight out of 10 guys, as they get their arms loose, you feel something," Francona said. "You throw through stuff and you get through the aches and pains of getting back, but then when there is some history there, you just try to use good judgment.

"He can do all his cardio and everything and all that stuff, but throwing is shut down for four to five days. I don't think he's going to hit today."

The Indians also announced left-hander Tim Cooney will be sidelined for 10 to 12 weeks because of a muscle strain in his arm. Cooney went 1-0 with a 3.16 ERA in six starts with St. Louis last season and was claimed off waivers from the Cardinals in November.

"Originally, they thought it was forearm," Francona said. "It's lower than that. By all accounts, it is an extremely unique area."