Phillies 7, Braves 4: Prospects fuel a big inning

Phillies 7, Braves 4: Prospects fuel a big inning

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies had their biggest inning of the spring Saturday afternoon. They scored six runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to rally past the Atlanta Braves, 7-4.
 
The Phillies had six hits and two walks in the inning. Four of the hits were doubles by Jorge Alfaro, Roman Quinn, Andrew Knapp and Chris Coghlan. Aaron Altherr and Dylan Cozens both had singles in the inning and Jesmuel Valentin and Hector Gomez helped fuel the rally with a pair of walks.
 
For the day, the Phils went 6 for 12 with runners in scoring position.
 
Alfaro, Quinn, Cozens and Valentin are all prospects that are expected to open the season at Triple A Lehigh Valley. Knapp is another prospect but it's not yet clear whether he will open the season with the IronPigs or make the big-league roster as a backup catcher/first baseman. Gomez is a minor-league veteran who will likely play third base at Lehigh Valley. Third base is the only position on that team that will not be filled by a prospect.
 
Manager Pete Mackanin has given the youngsters a good look early in the Grapefruit League season and, for the most part, they have responded.
 
"The IronPigs are really carrying this team," Mackanin quipped. "We're sitting back and getting a look at these guys and I like every one of them for different reasons.
 
"We had a lot of big hits today, a lot of doubles. Alfaro hit two laser beams that could have gone through the wall. We had five walks and three of them scored so that's a good sign. We only struck out four times."
 
The Phillies ranked 29th in the majors last season with just 424 walks. They also ranked 29th in on-base percentage at .301 on their way to finishing last in runs scored with 610.
 
Selectivity and plate discipline remain big themes in this camp and there were glimpses of improvement Saturday.
 
Extra bases
Jerad Eickhoff gave up three hits, including a homer, and three runs over three innings of work. He lines up to start the second game of the regular season.
 
Prospect Drew Anderson allowed a solo home run in three innings of work and struck out three. Anderson lines up to start in Double A (see story). Mackanin likes what he has seen of the right-hander.
 
"He's a young guys who is poised and throws three good pitches," Mackanin said. "It looks like he's got a chance to be real good."
 
The Phillies play two games Sunday. Prospect Nick Pivetta will pitch against the Orioles in Sarasota before departing to join Team Canada for the WBC. Clay Buchholz will pitch against the Tigers in Clearwater.
 
Alumni Day
Sunday is Alumni Day in Clearwater and more than a dozen former Phillies greats including Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Dick Allen, John Kruk and Ron Clark will on hand for a pre-game honor.

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

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

BOX SCORE

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.