Orioles 6, Phillies 4: Nick Williams wows with glove, bat

Orioles 6, Phillies 4: Nick Williams wows with glove, bat

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Outfielder Nick Williams has been playing in the spring like he's on a mission to make the big leagues, according to manager Pete Mackanin.

Williams took one step closer Monday as he showed he can generate runs with his bat and take them away with his glove.

Brock Stassi and Williams hit solo home runs but starter Jeremy Hellickson gave up five runs in the Phillies' 6-4 loss to the Orioles.

Williams' catch, however, was the story of the game as he robbed Logan Schafer of a sure home run in the bottom of the eighth inning. Williams made a full extension and reached his glove over the wall to bring the ball back in.

"That play was, 'Wow,'" Mackanin gushed.

Williams said it was an adrenaline rush as he tried to track the ball to the right field wall and it felt better than any walk-off home run he's ever hit.

"I took off with my head down expecting it to be a close play at the wall," Williams said. "I saw where the wall was and jumped. It was going over. I felt it in my glove, I saw myself catch it. I came down and I think I looked like, 'All right, I did it.' It felt like a wide receiver going for a jump ball."

It was a tough offseason for Williams after he failed to get called up following a rough finish to his season in Triple A. His slash line in Lehigh Valley of .258/.287/.427 was disappointing, as were the 136 strikeouts and only 20 walks.

He admits he may have tried too hard last season (see story) and this year he's more focused on being consistent and showing up to the park ready to play.

"Last year, I tried to make the majors so bad and it didn't work out for me," Williams said. "This year, I just wanted to polish up on everything -- offense, defense and just be a consistent player."

Williams is hitting .364 (8 for 22) in the spring with a double and a home run. He's struck out five times but also has managed a couple of walks.

"I think he was probably disappointed in himself last year, having a bad month the last month," Mackanin said. "He's really been playing with energy and a positive attitude, so showing he's put [last year] behind him."

Hellickson starts strong, fades
Hellickson struck out six of the first eight batters he faced but ran into some trouble in the third inning when he gave up a solo shot to Caleb Joseph.

In the fourth inning, the Orioles tagged him for four runs, including a three-run homer from Joey Rickard.

Hellickson gave up four hits and five runs in four innings. He also walked two and threw 76 pitches in the outing.

"He was fine, he was cruising a bit," Mackanin said. "He just hung a changeup for the first one and on the three-run home run, he tried to throw a sinker in to a right-hander and left it out over the plate.

"[He] changed speeds well, located well, just made two mistakes that hurt him, especially the one with a couple of men on."

Hellickson is ahead of schedule at this point with four starts under his belt and three weeks of spring remaining. He said he'll probably take at least one extra day off between starts and finish his spring with a three-inning stint.

Phillies option 5 more
Right-handers Drew Anderson, Alberto Tirado and Victor Arano, left-hander Elniery Garcia and outfielder Dylan Cozens were all optioned to minor-league camp. The Phillies have 53 players remaining in major-league camp.

Up next
Right-hander Jerad Eickhoff will look to improve on his 7.88 ERA this spring against the Braves on Tuesday. Atlanta will start Aaron Blair. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. on TCN.

Phillies 7, Blue Jays 1: Vince Velasquez and Tommy Joseph show off their power

Phillies 7, Blue Jays 1: Vince Velasquez and Tommy Joseph show off their power

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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Phillies showed a little power in their 7-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday night.

Tommy Joseph provided some of it.

Vince Velasquez provided a lot of it.

Joseph crushed a two-run home run to left field and also lined a double off the center-field wall on his way to a four-hit game. The double came off his bat at 109 miles per hour. The homer was his third of the spring.

Meanwhile, Velasquez showed off his big fastball in striking out seven Blue Jays over five innings of work. Vinny Velo's final pitch of the night was a 97-mph dart past a swinging Jose Bautista.

"That pitch felt really good coming out of my hand," Velasquez said. "Sometimes my fastball slips a little bit and I yank it, but this one I got right behind and threw it right through the catcher."

Velasquez actually struck out the side in that fifth inning against three pretty good hitters in Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Bautista.

"That last inning, he really let it go," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Pitch economy remains an area that Velasquez needs to improve on. He threw 87 pitches. But he was pleased with the way he attacked hitters in that final inning of work.

"I didn't attack in one inning," he said. "But in that last inning, I stopped fiddling around and trusted my stuff. I need to do that the whole time."

Velasquez gave up just one run, a homer to Martin. He allowed five hits and walked two.

Velasquez had a busy night. He drove home a run with a ground out against Aaron Sanchez. He also walked against Sanchez and scored a run on a dash home from third base after Freddy Galvis got hung up between first and second. Galvis waved Velasquez home. After crossing home plate, Velasquez, rather humorously, almost ran into the netted backstop.

"I just had momentum. I got excited," he said. "As soon as I saw Tulo (shortstop Troy Tulowitzki) make eye contact with Freddy, I booked it. He's going to think, 'Pitchers can't run,' so I showed off my athleticism."

After the outing, Velasquez pronounced himself ready for the regular season.

"I'm good to go," he said.

He made five Grapefruit League starts and gave up eight runs in 19 2/3 innings. He walked nine and struck out 25.

"It's been a strong, healthy, successful spring training," he said.

Velasquez will likely start the home opener on April 7. He will need to get some work in this weekend. The Phillies leave Florida on Friday. He could stay behind for a day and pitch at the minor-league complex if needed.

Offense clicks
The Phillies had 12 hits. They had 15 in Sunday's 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Up next
The Phillies play the Blue Jays again on Tuesday night. That game will be in Clearwater. Aaron Nola will start against Marco Estrada.

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The pathway for Andrew Knapp to make the Phillies' opening day roster as the backup catcher was cleared way back in November when he was added to the 40-man roster.

The job all but became Knapp's on Monday when the team released two veteran catchers who were not on the 40-man roster. When Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday were let go, Knapp became one of just two catchers in camp, the other being starter Cameron Rupp (see story).

So it's pretty obvious that the 25-year-old Knapp will open the season with the big club -- even though nothing will become official until rosters are filed with the commissioner's office this weekend.

"Obviously there are four or five days left," Knapp said. "I'm just going to keep trying to make good impressions and try to win a job. I'm keeping my head down, trying not to think about it too much."

Knapp was the Phillies' second-round draft pick of Cal-Berkeley in 2013. He has never played in the majors.

"It would be a dream come true," he said. "Everyone hopes to get called up at some point but to make a team on opening day would be pretty special and it would be the best moment in my career so far."

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged that Knapp would probably make the club.

Mackanin would like to have the rest of his roster in order over the next day or two.

"As soon as possible," he said. "Because the last four or five games I'd like to play almost as if it were a season -- using the bullpen that way, using the bench in a certain way, seeing what it looks like, our bench guys, all our hitters. We just don't want to make a bad decision so we're just going to string it out as long as we can."

Roster questions must still be answered on the bench and in the bullpen.

How does the bench shape up? Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr and Knapp are set. The Phils are expected to go with a five-man bench so that leaves two openings. There are four players vying for those spots: Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi and Jesmuel Valentin. Valentin has impressed, but at 22 years old, he would benefit from playing every day at Triple A.

Mackanin praised Stassi's work on Monday. If Stassi makes the club, the final spot would come down to Coghlan and Nava.

"Stassi has obviously made a great impression, mainly because, not necessarily because of his results, but the fact that he had a lot of quality at-bats," Mackanin said. "It looks like he can handle making adjustments to the different pitchers and different situations. He seemed to handle left-handers well. He made a good impression, as has Coughlan. Nava has also been consistent throughout the spring."

Stassi, Coghlan and Nava are all non-roster players so the Phils would have to clear 40-man roster space to add any of them.

Two spots remain open in the bullpen. Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez, Luis Garcia, Alec Asher and Cesar Ramos are the candidates. All but Ramos is on the 40-man roster.

How will this all shake out?

More answers are probably coming Tuesday.