'Pen win shows Phils' need for starting pitching

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'Pen win shows Phils' need for starting pitching

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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.”

Relievers come and go as Phillies look to make final calls on 40-man roster

Relievers come and go as Phillies look to make final calls on 40-man roster

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies said good-bye to one lefty reliever on Sunday and hello to another.

Veteran Sean Burnett asked for and was granted his unconditional release from his minor-league contract.

Meanwhile, Hoby Milner returned to the organization after spending the spring in big-league camp with the Cleveland Indians. Milner was selected by the Indians in the Rule 5 draft in December but was unable to win a spot in that club's bullpen. Players selected in the Rule 5 draft must spend the entire season in the big leagues or be offered back to their original club for $50,000, half the selecting cost.

The Indians won the American League pennant last season and have a strong lefty presence in their bullpen with Andrew Miller and Boone Logan. So Milner was a long shot to make the club.

"It was my first big-league camp and it was a great experience," Milner said. "It's been a bit of a whirlwind. I feel like it’s almost a 50-50 shot at coming back when you’re a Rule 5 guy. They’re trying to get back to the World Series and they’re trying to go with a sure thing more so than a Rule 5 guy and I understand that. I knew I would have had to really impress if I wanted to be a third lefty and it just didn’t work out. It’s OK. It’s just how it is. It’s a business.

"But it was a great experience. Their bullpen is full of veterans. I got to pick those guys’ brains and see how they go about their business and that was good.”

Milner pitched seven innings for the Tribe in Cactus League play. He gave up nine hits and seven runs. He struck out nine and walked three.

Milner, 26, was selected by the Phillies in the seventh round of the 2012 draft out of the University of Texas. He had a breakthrough season in 2016 after switching to a sidearm delivery at the suggestion of Rafael Chaves, the Phillies minor-league pitching coordinator. Milner pitched in 49 games at Double A and Triple A and recorded a 2.49 ERA in 65 innings. He gave up 57 hits, struck out 76 and walked 15.

Milner is not on the Phillies' 40-man roster, but the team brought him to big-league camp for a quick look before opening day. He will start the season in the minors and try to build on the strides he made last year. He believes he tightened up his breaking ball during his brief time with the Indians and he also gained confidence.

"You feel valued when a team like that puts you on their 40-man," he said. "Now I’m here and it’s just like a new chapter.

"I feel like I’m more on the map now. I’m glad I was given the opportunity to come to big-league camp over here. I assumed when I was sent back to the Phillies that I would go straight back to minor-league camp, but I’m glad I got the opportunity to come out here and for the staff to get to see me pitch because I’m a little different pitcher than I was last year. You're constantly evolving and I feel like I got better when I was there with the Indians."

Burnett had an out in his contract this weekend that he could exercise if he wasn't going to make the 25-man roster. The Phillies appear to have two spots open in their bullpen with five relievers in the running -- Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez, Alec Asher, Luis Garcia and Cesar Ramos. Ramos is a long shot because he's not on the 40-man roster.

Team officials were expected to meet late Sunday as they begin the finalize the 25-man roster. Opening day is a week from Monday.

Ruben Amaro Jr. keeps tabs on prospects from the pivotal Hamels trade from afar

Ruben Amaro Jr. keeps tabs on prospects from the pivotal Hamels trade from afar

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Even though he's been gone for 18 months and now wears a Boston Red Sox uniform, Ruben Amaro Jr. still has skin in the Phillies' rebuild.

Amaro was the Phillies' general manager in July 2015 when the team sent Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman to the Texas Rangers for a package that included five prospects, some who have already contributed in the major leagues and others that are knocking on the door.

And though his professional concern these days is coaching first base for Red Sox, Amaro still sneaks an occasional peek at how those prospects are progressing.

"Absolutely," he said before the Phillies and Red Sox played Saturday afternoon (see story). "It's human nature.

"It seems like they're doing OK. I think eventually they will all be contributors in the big leagues. If you get five of those guys to contribute in the big leagues, I think that's a pretty good trade."

The Phillies got three right-handed pitchers, Jerad Eickhoff, Alec Asher and Jake Thompson, in that deal, as well as catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams.

Thompson, Alfaro and Williams will be part of a prospect-studded Triple A Lehigh Valley team this season, and all three could be regulars in the majors in a year. Asher is still a candidate to make this year's big-league club in the bullpen.

Eickhoff, of course, is already a stalwart on the club. The 26-year-old right-hander led the starting staff in starts (33), innings (197 1/3) and ERA (3.65) last season. His mark of 1.92 walks per nine innings was fourth-best among National League starting pitchers last season.

Earlier this week, manager Pete Mackanin named Jeremy Hellickson his opening day starter. Hellickson called it "a great honor," then admitted that he thought Eickhoff deserved it more.

Eickhoff has been called a throw-in in the Hamels trade.

In fact, the pitcher himself used that phrase recently.

Amaro set the record straight.

"He wasn't a throw-in," the former GM said.

In terms of upside, Eickhoff might have ranked fourth in the deal behind Alfaro, Williams and Thompson, but he was a guy the Phillies invested many scouting hours in, a guy they wanted.

"He was an important part of it because he was one of the closest to getting to the big leagues as a starter and we needed guys from the upper levels because we didn't have a lot of them in starting pitching," Amaro said.

Amaro and Rangers GM Jon Daniels worked on the Hamels deal for months before pulling the trigger at July 2015 trade deadline.

Eickhoff had popped on the Phillies' radar when scout Charley Kerfeld watched him throw on a back field at the Rangers' minor-league complex. Scouts Dewey Colbert and Bart Braun also saw him.

"All of our guys saw him," Amaro said. "Charley saw him a lot. Dewey and Bart saw him. We had multiple looks on him and everybody else in that deal. We had quality recommendations.

"He wasn't one of (Texas') top 10 guys. But that's what good scouting is all about.

"After we made the trade, I talked to Jon Daniels about it and he said Eickhoff was the guy he was most pissed off about moving because he loved his character and the way he went about his business. He told me, 'I wish you would have substituted somebody else for Eickhoff.'"

Eickhoff actually came to the majors when Amaro was still the Phillies' GM. Amaro was let go between the time Eickhoff made his fourth and fifth starts.

Amaro peeked at the box scores after Eickhoff's starts last season.

Was he surprised by Eickhoff's performance?

"With the amount of innings he had, absolutely," he said. "But that's a great credit to him.

"Eickhoff has something that's different from other guys. He's got that thing that you need as a major league pitcher to be successful. He's got that internal drive and he's got (guts). That's big. You can't measure that with a protractor.

"Other things can be measured with a protractor. That one can't.

"From my brief time with him and from talking to other people, I know he wants to be good. You can tell he's got something in there."

With all of this going for him, why was Eickhoff rated fourth in the deal?

"Ceiling," Amaro said. "When you talk about ceiling, overall stuff, Thompson was one of those guys who had a higher ceiling. But ceilings, obviously, can change when a guy gets to the big leagues.

"We had a lot of internal debates about how guys lined up in this trade."

In the months leading up to the deal, the Phillies sought Alfaro and power-hitting outfielder Nomar Mazara, who hit 20 homers as a 21-year-old rookie for the Rangers last season.

"Mazara was about as untouchable as you can get," Amaro said. "Real high-ceiling guy who we liked the most probably along with Alfaro.

"We talked for a long time. It got to the point where we would not do the deal without Alfaro. We had to get 'a guy' and everyday catcher is such a crucial position. As far as the position guys, he was the most crucial."

The Phillies wanted an outfield bat in the deal, as well. With Mazara not in play, they focused on Williams and Lewis Brinson, a prospect who the Rangers sent to Milwaukee in last summer's deal for catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

"There was a lot of discussion about Williams and Brinson," Amaro said. "We liked them both. We thought that Williams was closer at the time and we really wanted guys that were close and we liked the way (Williams) swung the bat."

The final verdict on Amaro's watershed trade with the Rangers is still years away. Hamels has helped Texas get to the postseason the last two seasons and helps fuel that club's big dreams this season.

The Phillies' haul in the deal is still percolating and the team hopes it one day comes together as a fine brew.

And if it does, Ruben Amaro Jr. can feel some satisfaction. He's no longer a Phillie, but he has some skin in the team's rebuild.