Phillies likely to add a hitter before spring training

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Phillies likely to add a hitter before spring training

The calendar has flipped to 2017 and if you cup your ear you can hear the distant sound of mitts a-popping as spring training inches near.
 
Over the last three months, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has taken a stab at improving his bullpen with the addition of veterans Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit. He rolled the dice and traded for starting pitcher Clay Buchholz in hopes that the veteran right-hander can get outs and provide innings in the present on his way to becoming a July trade chip that might ultimately aid the team’s future.
 
The Phillies’ offense in 2016 was one of the worst in baseball, scoring a majors-low 610 runs and finishing next-to-last in batting average (.240), on-base percentage (.301) and slugging (.385). These numbers contributed to this sad statistic: At home in 2016, the Phillies recorded a team batting average of .230 and a team on-base percentage of .291. Those marks were the club’s worst in more than a century of official record keeping.
 
At the moment, the Phillies are looking to the experience gained by a young group of hitters in 2016 and the addition of veteran Howie Kendrick as reasons their offense can improve in 2017.
 
More help will probably come before the Phillies arrive in Clearwater next month.
 
For months, Klentak has been weighing the merit of adding another veteran outfield bat against giving an opportunity to youngster Roman Quinn. When the dust settles on this offseason, Klentak likely will have opted to add another bat to help in the outfield. He almost has to because while the 23-year-old year old Quinn is an exciting talent and while the rebuild gives the Phillies the chance to turn him loose and see what they have, there’s no hiding the fact that Quinn’s professional career has been defined as much by injury as it has by his electricity on the field. Klentak probably has to add some insurance behind Quinn and Aaron Altherr, another unproven outfielder who has had injury issues.
 
Every move that Klentak has made this winter has been done against the backdrop of the team’s rebuild. To wit: All of the players that have been brought in are on short-term contracts that won’t be roadblocks to young prospects as they get ready to rise to majors.
 
There are still plenty of available bats that would fit this model as Klentak looks for offense in his outfield. Jose Bautista remains on the free-agent market and could take a one-year deal. But a union between the Phillies and the 36-year-old slugger is extremely unlikely. The Phillies are committed to building through the draft and it’s difficult to see them giving up a second-round draft pick to sign Bautista. They’d also be reluctant to give up top young talent for someone like Jay Bruce, though he could still be a name to watch if the Mets look to dump his salary (like Boston did with Buchholz) for little return.
 
Hanging on to young players is a major goal for this front office. That’s why the Phillies’ late-winter infusion of offense will likely come from the remainder of the secondary free-agent market.
 
Primary names to watch:
 
Brandon Moss.
 
Michael Saunders.
 
Rajai Davis. (Update: Davis reportedly agreed to a deal with the A's Tuesday night.)
 
There are others out there, including Colby Rasmus, but at the moment, Moss, Saunders and Davis are the names that seem to fit best.
 
Moss would add some left-handed pop and could help at first base as well as at a corner outfield spot.
 
Saunders would also add left-handed pop as he tries to regain the stroke that made him an all-star with Toronto in 2016 then vanished in the second half of the season. Saunders is a Canadian and is close with new Phillies hitting coach Matt Stairs. Gambling on that chemistry might make some sense.
 
Though the Phils would prefer to add a left-handed bat, right-handed-hitting Davis would make some sense because of his versatility and speed. He might be a nice complement to the outfield mix that would allow Quinn a break-in period.
 
It’s not clear when the Phils will add another outfield bat. The market remains crowded and that could allow the team time to sit back and sign a player on its terms.
 
But as the New Year begins and the new season inches toward us one this seems clear: The Phillies aren’t done adding yet.

Vince Velasquez done for season with blood flow issue — and other Philies pitching matters

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Vince Velasquez done for season with blood flow issue — and other Philies pitching matters

A busy day for the Phillies on Tuesday — a doubleheader against the Marlins, preceded by a series of pitching moves

Roll call:

Right-hander Vince Velasquez was placed on the 60-day disabled list after tests revealed a blood flow issue in his pitching arm that has caused numbness and bruising in his right middle finger. He will have a surgical procedure this week and is expected to make a full recovery in time for spring training.

Right-hander Zach Eflin was placed on the 10-day disabled list with shoulder soreness.

Right-hander Nick Pivetta was added from Triple A as the 26th man for the doubleheader. He will start the nightcap (see game notes).

Right-handed reliever Yacksel Rios was brought up from Triple A to help in the bullpen.

Right-hander Mark Leiter Jr., who has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen, is back in the rotation and will start on Wednesday.

And finally, right-hander Jake Thompson is expected to come up from Triple A to pitch on Thursday, allowing Jerad Eickhoff, whose fastball velocity has been down a tick, an extra day between starts.

The big news here is Velasquez and his condition. The hard-throwing pitcher came to the Phillies in general manager Matt Klentak's first significant trade and was pegged as a staff building block. However, his two seasons with the Phillies have been plagued by inconsistency and injury. He missed time last year with a biceps strain and again this season with an elbow strain before exiting his start on Aug. 10 with numbness in his right middle finger.

According to Klentak, the discomfort is caused by an issue in the area of Velasquez' armpit, and the pitcher will have a "small procedure that will alleviate the issue," and allow "the blood flow to be normal again to his fingers."

Velasquez, 25, does not have thoracic outlet syndrome, a problem that has affected some pitchers.

The recuperation time for Velasquez will be six to eight weeks and he will continue to work as a starting pitcher in spring training.

"We do still think that Vince possesses all the ingredients to be a top-notch major league starter," Klentak said. "We have to see how the rest of the organization aligns around him. We’ll see what the offseason brings us as far as additional acquisitions are concerned but the hope would be that Vince would still be a starter.

"Every time he pitches we see that big fastball that generates swings and misses at an elite rate particularly when it’s up in the zone. As long as we keep seeing that, we know this guy can be an impact major league pitcher. He’s had his fair share of setbacks throughout the year and throughout his professional career, but we still believe really strongly in his future."

Eflin exited his last start with discomfort behind his right shoulder. It is his second trip to the DL this season. He missed time earlier with an elbow issue. As ominous as two trips to the DL with arm problems sounds, the Phils don't sound overly concerned.

"He’s feeling better every day," Klentak said. "We’re hoping that this will be a minimal DL stint."

Klentak emphasized that Eickhoff is healthy, despite the drop in velocity.

"Definitely healthy and he’s learning to mix pitches and change speeds," Klentak said. "Eickhoff, even throwing a few miles an hour less, when he’s locating and changing speeds is still very effective. So that’s what he’s learning right now."

Klentak said Eickhoff's extra day between starts had nothing to do with health or workload.

"It had a lot to do with coming out of a doubleheader and where we would slot Thompson in," he said. "Thompson’s day is actually (Wednesday) and rather than pushing him back two, or pushing him to Friday, we want to push him back one and push Eick back one. It was kind of cleaner that way."