Phillies hope rain stops, slumbering bats awaken

slideshow-041613-phillies-team-ap.jpg

Phillies hope rain stops, slumbering bats awaken

CINCINNATI -- The start of Tuesday night’s game between the Phillies and Reds was delayed by rain.

So Charlie Manuel will have to wait a little longer to see when his team will start hitting on this trip.

“Anytime we want we can start hitting the ball and scoring runs,” Manuel lamented before batting practice. “I’m not panicking, but I’d like to see us put our game together and have our pitching, hitting and defense all come together at once. It’s got to flow together. That’s what we’re not getting.”

In the first four games of the trip, the Phils scored just eight runs. Three of them came on late-game, pinch-hit home runs. Missing is sustained offense throughout the game. The Phils are just 7 for 34 (.206) with runners in scoring position in the four games.

Against left-handed pitching? It’s ugly. For the season, the Phils are hitting just .136 (11 for 81) as a team against lefty pitching and their on-base percentage against lefties is .186. Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley are a combined 4 for 39 (.103) with 18 strikeouts against lefties.

“That’s been a concern for the last few years,” Manuel said. “Our right-handed hitters haven’t knocked them out either.”

Leadoff man Ben Revere is hitless in his last six at-bats, falling to .222 with a .276 on-base percentage. Revere might end up in the No. 8 hole when Carlos Ruiz and Delmon Young are ready to play. The addition ofthose two right-handed bats will give Manuel the flexibility to use Michael Young in the No. 2 hole and lengthen the lineup with Revere at No. 8.

Catcher Erik Kratz has is 1 for 12 on the trip and is hitting .171 (7 for 41) on the season. He was not in the starting lineup Tuesday night as Manuel went with Humberto Quintero for the second time in three games.

“I just decided to go that way,” Manuel said. “We’ve said Quintero was going to catch a couple times a week. Most likely Kratz will be in there (Wednesday).”

Quintero could also be in there on Friday when Roy Halladay makes his next start. He has caught Halladay’s last two starts, including the veteran right-hander’s 200th career win on Sunday.

Ruiz will be eligible to return on April 28 in New York. At that time, the Phillies will have to decide who stays as the backup catcher -- Kratz or Quintero. Kratz has minor-league options; Quintero would have to clear waivers to be sent down.

Manuel indicated that he’s evaluating the situation.

“Sooner or later when people come back we’ll have to make some changes on our roster,” he said.

The Phils will also have to drop an outfielder when Young returns around May 1. Reserve Ezequiel Carrera seems like the obvious choice.

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).

Saunders, who will wear No. 5, can also play first base, which could allow the Phillies to sit Tommy Joseph against a tough right-hander and fill in the outfield.

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."