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

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

BOX SCORE

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 prospect J.P. Crawford learning to fight through failure

Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford learning to fight through failure

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Plastered on a wall outside the press box in Coca-Cola Park is a sign — "Pigs to the Bigs" — surrounded by dozens of stars.

Each has upon it the name of a player who has made the leap from the Triple A Lehigh Valley IronPigs to the parent Phillies since Lehigh Valley began operations in 2008 — everyone from outfielder Chris Snelling (April 30, 2008) to pitcher Nick Pivetta (April 29, 2017), the latter of whom has since returned to the IronPigs.

It is a study in the star-crossed, of guys who bounced up and down (Pete Orr, July 8, 2011), guys who flamed out (Domonic Brown, July 28, 2010), guys whose fate is yet to be determined (Maikel Franco, Sept. 3, 2014).

The point being that the path to major-league stardom seldom follows a straight line.

That has been demonstrated once again by the Phillies' top prospect, shortstop J.P. Crawford, who spent weeks in bounce-back mode earlier this season.

And now finds himself there again.

His 0-for-4 night in Thursday's 8-4 loss to Indianapolis left him hitless in his last 16 at-bats, his slash line for the season at .175/.291/.221.

Recall that Crawford, the 16th overall pick in the 2013 draft, had exactly four hits in 48 at-bats over his first 14 games of the season, an average of .083.

Never before had the 22-year-old experienced anything like it, and he took a methodical approach to remedying the problem. He did some video work. He tinkered with his stance. He consulted with hitting coach Sal Rende and roving minor-league hitting instructor Andy Tracy. And slowly but surely, he began coming around.

The thinking at that point was that his slump might serve as a valuable lesson, a blessing in disguise.

As Crawford put it hours before Thursday's first pitch, "I'd rather struggle here than if I ever make it to the big leagues, God willing. I'd much rather have it [happen] down here than up there."

Though it will happen there, too. Baseball, everyone always says, is a game of failure. It's just a matter of how each player deals with it, works through it, minimizes it.

Lehigh Valley manager Dusty Wathan has said repeatedly that he was impressed by Crawford's approach to his scuffling start, that he thought the youngster treated it as "a growing opportunity" that can only help him down the line.

It was all Wathan could have hoped for, for Crawford or anybody else.

"I think it's a good thing to be able to have some experience to look back on, later on," he said. "Now, when they're going through it they probably don't think of it that way, but those of us who have been around baseball and been in situations like that personally, too, know that it's going to get better."

Wathan, seated at his office desk in a T-shirt and shorts before Thursday's game, has been around the block. He previously managed Crawford at Double A Reading, and believes those 14 games in April represent a blip.

"We know that J.P.'s a great player," Wathan said. "I think [such struggles] can actually end up being a good thing for these guys."

If Crawford, a native Californian, had few previous failures to draw upon — "He hasn't really had any," Wathan said — he at least had a ready roster of big-time athletes in his family with whom he could commiserate. His dad, Larry, was a CFL defensive back from 1981-89. His cousin, Carl, was a major-league outfielder for 15 years, ending last season. His older sister, Eliza, played softball at Cal State-Fullerton.

Certainly it appears they have kept him grounded, because he is singularly unimpressed by his draft status or ranking with various scouting services.

"I [couldn't] care less about that," he said. "All that doesn't really matter. Once you get on the field, everyone's the same. Everyone's the same player."

Though he was somewhat less than that early on. He was admittedly frustrated, but far from defeated.

"You've got to stay on the positive [side] on everything," he said. "You can't get too down on yourself, or else you're just going to do worse."

Had it been a major-league situation instead of a player-development situation, it is entirely possible that Wathan would have held him out of the lineup a day or two, just to let him clear his head.

"Or maybe not, because he contributes every night, somehow," the manager said.

And as Crawford said, "You're not going to get better sitting. You've got to go out there and play."

He admitted earlier this month that while he had once been reluctant about video study, he found great benefit in it when he was looking for answers in late April.

He decided to raise his hands while at the plate, and the hits began to come. He batted at a .253 clip over 24 games, including a six-game hitting streak, bringing his average to a season-best .196 on May 20.

Now it's back to the drawing board. It is, after all, a game of failure. It's just a matter of dealing with it, working through it, minimizing it.

He has become well-acquainted with the concept.

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick experienced a painful rehab start on Thursday night.

Rehabbing with Triple A Lehigh Valley, Kendrick was hit by a pitch twice before being removed after the sixth inning of the IronPigs' 8-4 loss to Indianapolis at Coca-Cola Park.

Both times Kendrick was plunked in the upper left arm, according to Tom Housenick of the Morning Call.

There was no update on if Kendrick was injured or taken out for precautionary reasons. Thursday marked Kendrick's second rehab start as he recovers from an oblique strain that has sidelined him since April 15.

The Phillies' leftfielder started at third base Thursday. At the beginning of his rehab assignment, Kendrick was expected to play four games and see time at third and first base, as well as in left field.

Kendrick made a throwing error at third on Thursday and finished 0 for 1 with a run scored. In his two games, he's 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.

Kendrick hit .333 with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs in 10 games with the Phillies prior to landing on the DL.

When he returns, he could see time at third base instead of left field if Maikel Franco continues to struggle (see story).