Phillies look to turn weekend sweep into sustained run

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Phillies look to turn weekend sweep into sustained run

After a stretch of 17 games in 17 days, the Phillies had an off day Monday.

All things considered, Charlie Manuel would rather have kept on playing.

“When you’re playing good, or starting to play good, or have a streak going, I like to keep playing,” the Phillies' manager said. “If I had my way we’d play.”

A month into the season, the Phillies finally have a reason to feel good about themselves. They are coming off their best three-game stretch of the season, a sweep of the New York Mets in which they received good pitching and even better hitting. Their offense, which had sputtered in the early weeks of the season, produced 18 runs in three games against the Mets and collected nine hits in 25 at-bats with a runner in scoring position. To put that in perspective, the Phils lost three in a row to Pittsburgh before heading to New York. They were 4 for 29 with runners in scoring position in those three games against the Pirates.

Yes, the Phillies’ weekend sweep came against the Mets, a team that is expected to finish near the bottom in the NL East, and Matt Harvey, the Mets’ best arm, did not pitch in the series. But you can only beat the team in front of you that day. The Phils weren’t about to throw back the sweep and the momentum they hope they gained with it.

“We knew we were kind of due for a series like this,” said Laynce Nix, whose two-out, pinch-hit in the seventh inning helped key Sunday’s win. “Now we have to try to keep it going.”

The schedule remains kind to the Phillies as they visit the Cleveland Indians for a two-game series starting Tuesday night. The Indians entered play on Monday in last place in the AL Central. After the quick two-game series against the Terry Francona-led Tribe, the Phils return home for four games against the lowly Miami Marlins.

The Mets. The Indians. The Marlins.

These are teams the Phillies (12-14) must clean up on if they are to make a run at a playoff spot.

So far, so good, by the way: The Phils are 7-2 against the Mets and Marlins. Tougher tests will come and maybe the Phils are becoming better equipped to handle those challenges.

First, Roy Halladay, who starts Tuesday night, seems to be finding himself after opening the season with two poor starts. He has given up just eight hits, five walks and four runs while striking out 16 in 21 innings over his last three starts. If he can continue to perform at or close to that level, the Phils’ rotation should be formidable with Cole Hamels (he’s due to go on a big run), Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick (see story).

Second, Ryan Howard is finding his groove after a slow start. He has two doubles, two homers and 10 RBIs in his last five games. He hit everything hard in New York. Howard’s production in the cleanup hole has always been crucial to this team and so is Jimmy Rollins’ work in the leadoff hole. Rollins had a strong series in New York with four hits -- including an important two-out single to cap a nine-pitch at-bat in the seventh inning Sunday -- two walks and four runs.

The third reason to believe the Phils could be ready to put something together is this: Their lineup is about to get deeper and better. It got a little better and deeper with the return of Carlos Ruiz on Sunday – “He just makes our lineup feel more complete,” Hamels said -- and will benefit from the addition of Delmon Young in the coming days. May 1 has been the loose target date for adding Young to the roster. He is currently rehabbing from ankle surgery with Triple A Lehigh Valley. Ruiz and Young are two solid right-handed bats that should make the Phils less susceptible to left-handed pitching and more productive overall.

First-year hitting coach Steve Henderson liked what he saw in New York and thinks the lineup is poised to continue to produce.

“Every hitter in Major League Baseball will have little bumps in the road,” Henderson said. “It just so happens we had ours early in the year. These guys are proven hitters here. All of them. When it does click, you’ll see an example like you saw this weekend.

“Having Delmon and Carlos is going to make a lot of difference. It takes a little pressure off everybody so they can just do their job. Early in the year, we weren’t scoring runs like we should, but everybody was putting pressure on themselves, trying to make something happen. Now you have a full team together and that will be a more relaxed team.”

Said Manuel: “When you start playing more relaxed, good things happen.”

Good things happened for the Phillies in New York, but it was just three games, a drop of water in the Olympic-sized swimming pool that is a major-league baseball season. The Phils need to use the weekend as a springboard into a successful month of May.

“We were able to come through in some crunch situations [in New York],” Hamels said, “but we still have a lot to build on. I know we can get a lot more hits, we can put up a lot more runs, throw a lot more strikes. This is just a small step to where we want to go.”

Hits King Pete Rose on Phillies' Wall of Fame ballot

Hits King Pete Rose on Phillies' Wall of Fame ballot

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies have released their Wall of Fame ballot for 2017 and Pete Rose is on it for the first time.

Baseball’s all-time hits king joins Steve Bedrosian, Larry Christensen, Jim Fregosi, Gene Garber, Placido Polanco, Ron Reed, Scott Rolen, Manny Trillo and Rick Wise on the ballot.

The Phillies had to receive permission from commissioner Rob Manfred to include Rose on the ballot. Rose was placed on baseball’s permanently ineligible list in 1989 after he admitted to wagering on baseball during his time as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. The ban precludes him from appearing on the ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Rose is still on the ineligible list, but Manfred has shown some leniency in recent years and Rose has been able to participate in some ceremonies. He was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds' Hall of Fame last summer. 

Rose was one of the stars on the Reds’ Big Red Machine, a club that won back-to-back World Series in 1975 and 1976. He came to the Phillies as a free agent before the 1979 season. He spent five years with the Phils and his leadership was considered key in getting a talented team over the top on its way to winning the 1980 World Series. 

The Phillies’ Wall of Fame ceremony will take place Aug. 12 at Citizens Bank Park. 

Fans have a voice in the voting, which is has begun on the team’s website -- www.Phillies.com. Fans can select their top three choices and the five finalists will serve as the official ballot for a special Wall of Fame selection committee.

Phillies 6, University of Tampa 0: Prospects put on a show

Phillies 6, University of Tampa 0: Prospects put on a show

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies offered up a sneak peek of their Triple A roster on Thursday and, frankly, it was kind of exciting.

Now, we won't go overboard here. That’s never a wise thing to do when a bunch of solid major-league prospects beat up on a college team in a spring training game. Lessons have been learned over the years. Remember that time Domonic Brown electrified camp when he turned around a 96-mph fastball from Justin Verlander and hammered it like a missile over the right-field wall?

Enough said.

But if things like home run power and bat speed and rocket throwing arms and good infield work light up your radar gun then this was a fun day and an entertaining peek at what's going to be playing 60 miles north of Philadelphia at Lehigh Valley in a few weeks.

Manager Pete Mackanin used a lineup filled with prospects for the team’s annual good-will exhibition game against the University of Tampa.

The Phillies won the game, 6-0. They out-hit UT, 12-2, in the seven-inning game.

“This gave us home-field advantage for next year when we play these guys,” Mackanin quipped afterward.

The skipper was in a good mood and justifiably so.

The kids put on a good show.

“I know it’s a college team, but we looked good all around,” Mackanin said. “We swung the bats well. We played well defensively.”

The Phillies' farm system has improved over the last couple of seasons. There are players at the upper levels -- and even more at the lower levels -- with game-breaking tools. Those tools were displayed in this game.

• Centerfielder Roman Quinn singled and scorched a line-drive home run over the right-field wall. Quinn is working on shortening his swing this spring. The home run came on a quick swing and jumped off his bat.

• Scott Kingery, the 22-year-old second baseman picked by the Phillies in the second round of the 2015 draft, made three nice plays in the field, one to his right, one to his left and one on a double-play ball. He actually projects to open at Double A, but could be a quick mover. Jesmuel Valentin projects to play at Triple A. He's been bothered by a sore shoulder.

• Outfielder Nick Williams was hitless but drove the ball well.

• Dylan Cozens, the lefty-hitting behemoth who swatted 40 homers, the most in all of minor-league ball, for Double A Reading last season clubbed a long home run over the batter’s eye in center field.

“Ryan Howard is the only guy I’ve ever seen do that,” one longtime security guard at Spectrum Field said.

“The ball makes a different sound coming off his bat,” Mackanin observed.

• Top prospect J.P. Crawford booted a ball in the first inning, but that happens. He came across the second base bag like a blur when he teamed with Kingery in turning a double play.

• Andrew Pullin showed his sweet lefty stroke with a scorching base hit to right field. It was one of those line drives that nose-dived into the ground because it had so much hard top-spin on it. Pullin has a short, Jim Eisenreich type of swing, and it will carry him to the big leagues someday, maybe even this year as he would be an intriguing bat to have coming off the bench.

• And then there was catcher Jorge Alfaro. Power -- with his throwing arm and his bat -- is his big tool. He showed it gunning down a would-be base stealer with a laser-beam throw to second and later by lining a pitch off the top of the wall in right-center. Alfaro seemed to simply flick his wrists and drive the ball through a stiff wind. With no wind, it was a homer.

Again, all of this came against a college team. All of these prospects still have miles to go in their development and the rigors of the unforgiving baseball schedule, not to mention pitching that improves with every step, has a way of thinning the field.

But these prospects -- and their tools -- impressed the field boss.

“If they go to Triple A and pound the ball like they did today -- that’s what we’re hoping for,” Mackanin said. “It was a good day to give those guys some confidence. We want to see what they can do and what they can’t do. It was against a college team, but you can get a good glimpse of the future, see what they’re capable of doing. I’m going to try to see the young guys as much as I can early in the spring.

“It’s really encouraging to see these guys. Every one of them has very good potential, more than I’ve seen since I’ve been here.

“I was talking to Charlie Manuel (who sees the entire system in his front office role) before the game and he said up and down the system we have a lot of good players. Perhaps not necessarily blue-chip prospects but enough where you know some of them are going to make their way to the top and this is a good start with what we’re looking at right now.”