'Pen win shows Phils' need for starting pitching

slideshow-phillies-zach-miner-uspresswire.jpg

'Pen win shows Phils' need for starting pitching

BOX SCORE

MIAMI -- The Phillies’ need for starting pitching is on full display this week.

On Monday night, Roy Halladay lasted just 16 pitches before shutting it down for the season. Who knows if he’ll be back in 201 (see story)?

On Thursday night, Tyler Cloyd will pitch in Atlanta. He has allowed 25 hits and 17 runs in 13 innings over three starts this month. Ouch.

On Tuesday night, Zach Miner started for the Phillies. He did a nice job, allowing just one run in four innings in a 2-1 victory over the Miami Marlins (see Instant Replay). But Miner is viewed primarily as a long reliever. He got his second spot start in place of Kyle Kendrick, who has been shut down for the remainder of the season with shoulder soreness.

The Phillies have a good place to start their rotation with Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee in 2014.

Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez should also hold down one of the five spots. He’d better after signing a three-year, $12 million contract.

After that, it’s wide open.

Jonathan Pettibone figures to be in the mix. Kendrick will be if the Phillies retain him. Halladay could be, as well, if he’s re-signed.

But the Phillies will need more than that. They could look to make a free-agent signing or pick up another starter in a trade. Either way, new skipper Ryne Sandberg believes the club needs to improve its starting pitching. The numbers support his belief. Phillies starting pitchers rank 25th in the majors this season with a 4.36 ERA. Since the All-Star break, they rank last in the majors at 5.24.

“Starting pitching is very much a priority,” Sandberg said. “We also need depth in starting pitching. You have the fifth starter and the backup of a sixth and a seventh starter whether at Triple A or built up in the bullpen. That’s what’s necessary these days to get through the season.

“So we need to address the depth of starting pitching and the rotation.”

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. concurred with his skipper. He emphasized the need for depth.

Miner’s start Tuesday night illustrated the need for depth. He is the 10th different pitcher to start for the Phillies this season. On Saturday, the Phils could make it 11 different starters as they need to plug Halladay’s spot in the rotation one last time.

Sandberg was pleased with Miner’s effort.

“He did a nice job with his four innings,” Sandberg said. “It was a good lift for us on a bullpen day.”

“I wish I could be more pitch-efficient with these two outings and eat some more innings up,” said Miner, who went three innings in place of Kendrick in his first start. “I’m just trying to get guys out. Overall, I’ve been happy. We won today.”

The Phils snapped a five-game losing streak. They are 19-18 under Sandberg.

Offense has not been plentiful for the Phillies in the first two games of the series. They were shut out on four hits Monday night. They had just five hits Tuesday night and scored both of their runs in the first inning on a double by Jimmy Rollins and three straight walks by Miami starter Henderson Alvarez.

Rollins and leftfielder Domonic Brown combined on a nice relay to cut down a runner at third in the second inning, a big play in a tight game, and the relief corps of Mike Stutes, J.C. Ramirez, Jake Diekman and Jonathan Papelbon combined on five scoreless innings to close it out.

Stutes, in his first game back since going on the disabled list with shoulder soreness June 22, got the win.

“He was only 89 mph, but he painted the knee caps, had really good location,” Sandberg said.

Diekman has allowed just one run in his last 16 1/3 innings. He retired dangerous Giancarlo Stanton with a runner on base to end the eighth inning.

“Diekman has been tested against all parts of the order,” Sandberg said. “He’s done a good job throwing strike one and commanding the zone. We saw a 98 and 99 (mph) tonight. When he’s rested, that’s what shows up.”

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."