On the Pharm: Gillies looking to regroup after demotion

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On the Pharm: Gillies looking to regroup after demotion

READING, Pa. -- Sometimes a guy needs to take a step back in order to move forward. Other times, a man needs to have something taken away from him in order to have his eyes opened.

By now one would assume that Phillies outfield prospect Tyson Gillies would have figured all of that out. After a brush with the law, a spate of injuries and a suspension, it would seem that Gillies would understand not to take anything for granted.

But sometimes a guy gets into a slump.

At least that’s what happened to Gillies during the first month of the 2013 season. Following a well-publicized stint with Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, in which Gillies started alongside major league All-Stars Joey Votto of Cincinnati and Justin Morneau of Minnesota, the 24-year-old opened the season with his first stop at Triple A.

It didn’t last long.

“It hit me and it surprised me to be back here so soon,” Gillies said. “But I’m going to make the best of it. It’s not like there’s easy pitching down here, either. I’ve seen a lot of great arms down here and I can still get better as a baseball player.”

Gillies batted just .148 with 13 strikeouts in 18 games for Triple-A Lehigh Valley. This came after he went 0 for 14 for Team Canada in the WBC and played a prominent role in a brawl with Mexico. Or, as Gillies called it, “some Canadian bonding experience.”

Still, the brawl didn’t project a great image for Gillies, who has been arrested for cocaine possession -- the charges were dropped for lack of evidence -- and was suspended after an altercation with the team bus driver. Gillies also is legally deaf, though his handicap is unnoticeable to those not in the know.

However, in the sixth inning of Wednesday night’s game against Altoona at FirstEnergy Stadium, Gillies was doubled off first base on an infield pop up. Running on the pitch to Edgar Duran, Gillies never heard the crack of the bat. By the time he realized that the ball was in play, Gillies was sliding into second with what he thought was a stolen base.

But it’s hitting and not base running that Gillies has focused on this season. A strong finish to the 2012 season following a promotion to Reading paved the course to Triple A.

Now he’s back at Reading looking to find his stroke.

“I’m trying some things hitting-wise,” Gillies said. “I'm trying to generate more power and hit to the left side of the field. But this has been the slowest start of my career.”

His manager at Reading, Dusty Wathan, says Gillies has to focus on his hitting mechanics.

“He’s done a pretty good job. The one thing he has to stay away from is getting that front side open,” Wathan said. “That’s when he has a tendency to roll over balls to the first-base side.  When he keeps that front shoulder in he can drive the ball.”

Though he says he is notorious for his slow starts, Gillies was demoted to Double A Reading. At first he was upset about not being able to stick with Lehigh Valley, but quickly saw the demotion as an opportunity.

“I’m really slow, but not this slow,” Gillies explained. “I usually take a while to adjust to pitching and getting my eye and seeing the ball well.”

Gillies went 1 for 4, reaching on an error and a single Wednesday night to lift his average to .246 since joining Reading. In the last 11 games, Gillies is 10 for 33 (.313), hitting mostly from the leadoff spot. Hitting at the top of the order may have re-energized Gillies a bit, but there are still many parts of his game that need work.

Though he has lots of speed, Gillies is 5 for 8 on steal attempts and just 1 for 3 at Reading. He also misplayed a fly ball at the warning track into a two-out RBI triple. For Gillies, acquired in the deal that sent Cliff Lee to Seattle, there is plenty of raw talent.

The trick is going to be for the 24-year-old to hone it before he’s no longer considered a prospect.

“He has all the tools and it’s all there,” Wathan said. “He just has to trust himself.”

MLB Notes: Austin Jackson makes Indians' opening day roster

MLB Notes: Austin Jackson makes Indians' opening day roster

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Outfielder Austin Jackson took an opportunity with the Cleveland Indians and ran with it.

Jackson was informed on Sunday that he has made Cleveland's opening-day roster, giving the AL champions some outfield depth in case Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley aren't ready for the start of the season.

The 30-year-old Jackson signed a minor league deal with the Indians in January. He missed the early part of training camp as he recovered from left knee surgery, but Jackson has made up for lost time by batting .375 with one homer and five RBIs in Cactus League games.

Jackson played in only 54 games last year with the Chicago White Sox before undergoing knee surgery to repair torn meniscus. He's played in the postseason with Detroit and the Cubs.

Jackson had an out clause in his contract that had to be exercised by Sunday (see full story).

Rockies: Mark Reynolds' contract selected from Triple A
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Colorado Rockies have selected the contract of first baseman Mark Reynolds from Triple-A Albuquerque.

Reynolds figures to be the starter at first in the absence of Ian Desmond, who is out with a broken left hand.

The 33-year-old Reynolds hit a career-best .282 last season with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs. He was limited to 32 at-bats after Aug. 11. He broke a bone in his left hand while swinging a bat, had surgery on Aug. 15, was activated Aug. 31 and broke his left wrist when he was hit by a pitch on Sept. 18.

He re-signed with Colorado in February on a minor-league deal.

Also Sunday, Colorado placed right-hander Chad Bettis on the 60-day disabled list as he deals with testicular cancer. There is no timetable for Bettis' return.

Tigers: Lowe released; Jimenez to minor-league camp
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Detroit Tigers have released right-handed reliever Mark Lowe, one of several cuts before Sunday's spring training game against Toronto.

Detroit also optioned catcher John Hicks to Triple-A Toledo, and the Tigers reassigned right-handers Joe Jimenez, Ruben Alaniz, Logan Kensing, Arcenio Leon and Edward Mujica, infielder Dominic Ficociello and outfielders Anthony Gose and Juan Perez to minor league camp.

The Tigers signed Lowe to an $11 million, two-year contract before last season, but he was ineffective in 2016, going 1-3 with a 7.11 ERA in 54 appearances. He had a 5.19 ERA in nine appearances this spring.

In 2015, Lowe went 1-3 with a 1.96 ERA in 57 games with Seattle and Toronto.

Phillies 6, Pirates 3: Andrew Knapp's big day comes at the right time

Phillies 6, Pirates 3: Andrew Knapp's big day comes at the right time

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ever since Andrew Knapp earned his way onto the Phillies' 40-man roster back in November, it seemed to be a fait accompli that he would end up as the team's backup catcher on opening day.

But that's not to say he didn't have to shine just a little bit in spring training to validate his standing.

Knapp got off to a slow start in Grapefruit League play -- one hit in his first 22 at-bats -- but he began the final week of camp with his best game on Sunday. He went 2 for 4 with a two-run home run and threw out two runners on the bases.

"It's been nice to get some games back-to-back," Knapp said. "I struggled a little bit early just taking a lot of time off in between at-bats and behind the plate. But this past week, I've been able to get in there a lot and start to get in the flow of the game a little bit. I think I was trying to do too much early on."

The increased playing time is likely a sign that Knapp will end up on the 25-man roster. The Phils have two non-roster veteran catchers -- Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan -- in camp. Both can opt out of their minor-league contracts in the coming days if they aren't going to make the club.

Phillies officials are looking to make as few subtractions from the 40-man roster as they can in constructing their bench and bullpen (see story). That's why things are looking good for Knapp.

But he's taking nothing for granted. Though Phillies officials were scheduled to meet Sunday evening "to try to get as close to the finalization as we can," in manager Pete Mackanin's words, opening day rosters don't have to be officially submitted until next Sunday, a day before the season opener.

"I'm just trying to keep my head down and not think about it that much," Knapp said. "The playing helps a lot. When you're just sitting on the bench, you're thinking about a million things. But when you're in the game, you get away from that a little bit. Just go out there, play, and enjoy the game. It's helped a lot."

The rest of the bench
Andres Blanco and Aaron Altherr are both set on the bench. Knapp looks good. That leaves two open spots, presuming the Phillies go with a five-man bench.

Chris Coghlan and Daniel Nava, both non-roster veterans, have played extensively in recent days. That suggests they could be the lead candidates. If that's the case, Brock Stassi, who has not played the last two days, could be on the outside. Infielder Jesmuel Valentin is also still in camp and he has played well. He's also on the 40-man roster and that would play in his favor. However, at 22, he might be better served to get regular playing time in Triple A.

Neither Coghlan nor Nava is on the 40-man roster so the Phils would have to clear spots to carry them.

Coghlan made an excellent running catch against the wall in left field Sunday.

The game
The Phillies had 15 hits and six of them were for extra bases, including homers by Knapp and Maikel Franco, in their 6-3 win over the Pirates.

Clay Buchholz, who had not pitched in 10 days after traveling home for the birth of his son, was rusty. He gave up five hits and three runs in 3 1/3 innings. He walked four and struck out four.

"Four walks is definitely subpar, but, you know, it's still spring training," Buchholz said.

The right-hander has allowed 11 runs over his last 14 2/3 innings.

"You can't honestly say he's had a good spring, but he was up close to 90 pitches today so pitch-count-wise he's doing fine," Mackanin said. "He hadn't pitched in 10 days so I can understand his lack of command. Once he's into a rhythm I think he'll be fine."

Venditte shines
Ambidextrous reliever Pat Venditte pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings.

"It's fun to watch Venditte pitch," Mackanin said. "If I'm up in the stands and I see him throw four pitches from the right side and I reach over to get my Coke or beer and I look back up and he's throwing from the left side I will start wondering how many beers I had. He's fun to watch."

Up next
The Phillies play the Blue Jays in Dunedin on Monday night. Vince Velasquez will start against Toronto's Aaron Sanchez.

The Phils could have several roster moves during the day as the 25-man roster continues to come into focus.