Phillies banking on long-time nucleus to produce

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Phillies banking on long-time nucleus to produce

With the re-signing of Carlos Ruiz, the Phillies appear to have their starting lineup in place for 2014.

Barring any major moves between now and during the baseball winter meetings from Dec. 9-12, the Phillies are clearly banking on their long-time nucleus to be very productive.

A risky proposition for general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., but this was the direction the Phillies decided on years ago. Here’s how I see the everyday starting lineup:

1. Ben Revere, CF
2 Jimmy Rollins, SS
3. Chase Utley, 2B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Marlon Byrd, RF
6. Dom Brown, LF
7. Carlos Ruiz, C
8. Cody Asche, 3B

Five players in my projected lineup will be 35 years old or older when the season begins. History tells us that major league baseball players peak between the ages of 26 and 32, so that does not bold well for the Phillies.

From 2006-2011, Howard was one of the best run producers in baseball. But since signing his five-year, $125 million contract extension, Howard has been a mere shell of his former self because of injuries. Howard turned 35 this week and I fully expect him to be in great shape at spring training, but turning around his fortunes in 2014 is a big if.

Howard’s productivity is the key. It always has been the key to the Phillies' offensive success. Earlier this month, David Ortiz turned 38 years old. The Red Sox staple continues to defy the age argument after he led Boston to another World Series title and earned MVP honors in the process. Can Howard be Philadelphia’s version of Big Papi?

After enjoying the most successful era in Phillies history, culminating with the World Series Championship in 2008, it is tough to watch a group of players that have done so much for the city all decline at the same time. I would love to be proven wrong and see one last grasp out of Rollins, Utley, Howard and Ruiz, but unfortunately I don’t see that happening.

Amaro could be in a the same position a year from now, trying to add pieces to an aging roster with no real answer in sight. The Eagles have shocked all of us by leading the NFC East after 11 weeks. No one expected a 6-5 record, but the Eagles were willing to rebuild their roster and so far so good.

The Phillies have built an impressive franchise with solid TV ratings and excellent fan support but after two disappointing seasons, change is needed.

Amaro seems reluctant to blow up the team. I appreciate his loyalty to his veteran players, but the clock has been ticking for a couple years now and it looks like Father Time continues to knock on the door. At some point, it will be evident to everyone that the Phillies need to get younger sooner rather than later.

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- A.J. Ellis’ first game as a Phillie certainly went a lot better than Carlos Ruiz’s first game as a Dodger.

Ellis’ first hit with his new club helped the Phils salvage one game of a weekend series with the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon. The Phillies won it, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), behind a solid start from Vince Velasquez, excellent bullpen work and Ellis’ big hit, a tie-breaking, two-run double in the top of the seventh.

The Phillies had lost the first two games of the series by a combined score of 21-5. Their pitchers gave up eight homers in the first two games.

On Sunday, Velasquez and a quartet of relievers held the Mets to seven hits, all singles.

Ellis joined the Phillies just 24 hours earlier after being traded from the Dodgers on Thursday. He had been with that club his whole career.

Ruiz, of course, had been with the Phillies his whole career.

Ruiz’s first game with the Dodgers did not go nearly as smooth. The veteran catcher had trouble handling the pitches of closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning Friday night and that contributed to the Dodgers blowing a one-run lead and losing to the Chicago Cubs in 10 innings.

Leaving the Dodgers was difficult and emotional for Ellis. He was able to bury himself in the game Sunday and came away feeling pretty good.

“It’s just great to be playing baseball again,” he said, standing in front of his locker, a blue Dodgers equipment bag (that will soon be swapped out for a Phillies bag) at his feet. “You kind of lose yourself in the competition and then just play again.

“Regardless of what’s happened in the last four days, it feels good to drive in runs, feels good to help put your team ahead and help contribute to a team win.”

During his 24 or so hours with the Phillies, Ellis has immersed himself in learning a new staff of pitchers. He caught starters Jerad Eickhoff and Jake Thompson in the bullpen before Saturday’s game and warmed up several relievers during that game.

On Sunday morning, he arrived at Citi Field, saw his name in the lineup and immediately began prepping to catch Velasquez, the hardest-thrower on the Phillies’ starting staff.

Velasquez bounced back from three poor outings in which he gave up 19 runs in 17 1/3 innings and held a hot Mets lineup to a run over five innings. The only negative was that Velasquez could not pitch deeper into the game because his command was poor and needed 103 pitches to complete the five innings.

Nonetheless, Ellis, who was the personal catcher for Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles, liked what he saw of Velasquez.

“His pitch count got elevated the first two innings and he was able to grind through the last three,” Ellis said. “The stuff is electric. He has so many weapons, so many options. When he keeps growing and keeps polishing that gift up, it’s going to be really, really special.

“So I’m excited to be able to continue to work with him, excited to work with him and (pitching coach) Bob McClure and (No. 1 catcher) Cameron Rupp, kind of talk to them about things, things he sees, things we see, and together we can build a plan for him going forward in his career.”

Two things are going to help the 24-year-old Velasquez reach his potential.

First is good health. He’s had arm problems in the past and there remain concerns about his long-term durability. That’s why the Phillies are closely monitoring his workload as this season winds down.

Second is command, control, economy of pitches – whatever you want to call it. Velasquez needs to be more efficient. Too many times he’s left games in the middle innings because of a high pitch count.

“Definitely,” he responded when asked if lowering his pitch counts and working deeper into games was the key to his improvement. “It’s going to help the longevity, it saves the bullpen, it helps out everybody. Not just on my end, but the whole team in general.

“And,” he joked, “then I can also work on my swing by getting some more at-bats.”

Despite the high pitch count, Velasquez walked just one. He struck out seven. He is up to 129 innings for the season. That includes five innings in a rehab game at Double A Reading. The Phillies will look to keep him at about 150 innings for the season. That could be three, four or five more starts, depending on how long the right-hander lasts. He’s averaged just over five innings in his starts this season.

“I think that would be the right move,” Velasquez said of the 150-inning target.

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, Mets 1

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, Mets 1

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK – The Phillies salvaged one win on an otherwise lost weekend in Queens when they beat the New York Mets, 5-1, on Sunday afternoon.
 
A.J. Ellis, acquired from the Dodgers on Thursday in the Carlos Ruiz deal, had the game’s big-hit, a two-run double to break a 1-1 tie in the seventh. It was his first hit with the club.
 
The Phillies lost the first two games of the series by a combined score of 21-5.
 
The win left the Phils at 60-70 for the season. They are three wins shy of last year’s majors-low total of 63.
 
Starting pitching report
Vince Velasquez gave up just one run, but only lasted five innings because he threw 103 pitches. Despite the high pitch count, Velasquez walked just one. He struck out seven. All in all, it was an improvement from his previous three starts when he allowed 19 runs in 17⅓ innings.
 
Mets right-hander Robert Gsellman gave up four runs in six-plus innings in his first big-league start. He allowed just one run through his first six innings but failed to get an out in being charged with three runs in the seventh.
 
Bullpen report
The Phillies' bullpen was excellent.
 
David Hernandez pitched a scoreless sixth inning. Edubray Ramos followed with a scoreless seventh. Hector Neris notched a scoreless eighth and Jeanmar Gomez closed it out.
 
For the Mets, Hansel Robles was brought on to face Ellis with the bases loaded in the seventh and promptly gave up a game-changing double.
 
At the plate
Tommy Joseph, Aaron Altherr and Jimmy Paredes all singled to load the bases for Ellis in the seventh. Parades doubled home the Phillies’ first run in fourth.
 
Health check
Double A Reading outfielder Roman Quinn is back on the disabled list after suffering a concussion Saturday night. Quinn recently returned from a stint on the DL with an oblique injury. His status for the Eastern League playoffs and a possible September call up is unclear.
 
Mets shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera left the game in the first inning with a sore left knee. He appeared to injure himself avoiding a tag at first base. Cabrera had three homers in the first two games of the series.
 
ICYMI
Pitcher Jeremy Hellickson will remain with the Phillies for the rest of the season (see story).
 
Up next
The Phillies return home Monday night to open a three-game series against the Washington Nationals. Here are the pitching matchups:
 
Monday night – RHP Jake Thompson (1-3, 9.78) vs. RHP Tanner Roark (13-7, 2.99)
 
Tuesday night – RHP Jerad Eickhoff (9-12, 3.87) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (14-7, 2.92)
 
Wednesday night – LHP Adam Morgan (1-8, 6.50) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (9-9, 4.25)

MLB Notes: Yoenis Cespedes sits vs. Phillies because of quad injury

MLB Notes: Yoenis Cespedes sits vs. Phillies because of quad injury

NEW YORK -- Mets slugger Yoenis Cespedes again has soreness in his right quadriceps and was held out of the lineup for Sunday afternoon's game against Philadelphia.

Cespedes originally suffered the injury on July 8 after chasing Daniel Murphy's RBI double to deep center field in the Mets' 3-1 loss to Washington. He went 1 for 2 with a mammoth home run in the Mets' 12-1 rout of Philadelphia on Saturday. He walked and scored in the seventh inning but was pinch-hit for in his second at-bat in the inning, as New York sent 11 men to the plate. He leads the team with a .295 average and is among the National League leaders in home runs (26).

Second baseman Neil Walker is also out of the lineup with a stiff back. Walker returned to the lineup on Friday after being away from the team for three days following the birth of his daughter, Nora, on Aug. 23.

Orioles: Tommy Hunter signed; McFarland, Borbon cut
NEW YORK-- The Baltimore Orioles have signed right-hander Tommy Hunter, bringing him back for a sixth straight season.

The Orioles announced the move before Sunday's game against the New York Yankees. They also recalled righty Oliver Drake from Triple-A Norfolk and designated lefty T.J. McFarland and outfielder Julio Borbon for assignment.

Hunter was 2-2 with a 3.74 ERA in 21 games for Cleveland this season. He was in the minors rehabbing a recent back injury when the Indians cut him on Thursday.

The 30-year-old Hunter played for Baltimore from 2011-15, going 21-20 with a 4.22 ERA. He said he was thrilled to rejoin the Orioles, adding there were "a lot of smiles, a lot of hugs" when he walked into the clubhouse.

Manager Buck Showalter said Hunter brought a lot of experience, having spent so much time in the AL East.

"Felt fortunate to add him at this time of year," Showalter said.

Drake has pitched four games for Baltimore this year, giving up six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings.

McFarland was 2-2 with a 6.93 ERA in 16 games. Borbon went 4 for 13 in six games.