Phillies-Marlins: 5 things you need to know

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Phillies-Marlins: 5 things you need to know

The Phillies’ 10-game homestand continues Friday night as they welcome the Miami Marlins to Citizens Bank Park for their first divisional series of the season.

The Phils (3-6) were swept and completely dominated by the Brewers from Tuesday to Thursday, losing three games by a combined score of 25-10.

It doesn’t get much easier this weekend. Miami (5-5) has gotten off to a hot start offensively and has its ace on the mound for the series opener, which airs at 7:05 p.m. on The Comcast Network.

Hey Jose
Jose Fernandez was an All-Star and the NL Rookie of the Year in 2013, and through two starts this season he looks like the frontrunner for the Cy Young award.

Fernandez is 2-0 with a 0.71 ERA. He’s allowed 10 baserunners in 12 2/3 innings while striking out 17.

In exactly 30 big-league starts, Fernandez is 14-6 with a 2.09 ERA. Since opening day 2013, Fernandez ranks second in the NL to Clayton Kershaw in ERA and WHIP (0.97). Fernandez also leads the NL in strikeouts per nine innings (9.91) and opponents’ batting average (.179).

The Phillies couldn’t touch Fernandez last season. They went 8 for 62 (.129) against him with one extra-base hit. Fernandez allowed one run (a solo homer to Delmon Young) to the Phils in 18 innings of work.

The Phils should be prepared to see a 95 mph fastball, one of the majors’ best curveballs, and a changeup. Fernandez’s opponents have hit .115 against the curve and .173 against the changeup in the majors.

Nasty.

Good A.J. or bad A.J.?
The Phillies have already seen both versions of A.J. Burnett in his two starts.

In the second game of the season in Texas, Burnett allowed one run over six solid innings. Then against the Cubs last Sunday, he walked six batters, put 12 men on base and allowed eight runs, four of which were earned.

That’s what the Phils should expect from Burnett -- a bunch of dominant starts in which he looks unhittable and misses bats all night, but a handful of starts in which he can’t locate anything.

This will be Burnett’s first-ever start at Citizens Bank Park as a Phillie, but he’s quite familiar with the stadium. In eight career appearances at CBP (seven starts), Burnett is 3-3 with a 4.71 ERA. He’s made just two starts here in the last five seasons.

It will be just his third-ever start against the Marlins, the team Burnett broke into the majors with and made 131 starts for over seven seasons.

Bumbling bats
The Phillies hit .233/.313/.340 in the Brewers series with eight extra-base hits.

The Brewers hit .322/.357/.568 with 17 extra-base hits.

Since scoring 14 runs in the season opener, the Phils have averaged 3.38 runs per game. They scored 21 runs combined in their series openers in Texas and Chicago, but have scored just 20 runs total in their other seven games.

Red-hot Stanton
Giancarlo Stanton has started almost as well as Fernandez. In 10 games, Stanton is hitting .293 with three doubles, two homers, a league-leading 13 RBIs, four walks and two steals. He’s finally healthy, which is good for the Marlins and frightening for every other National League team.

Stanton has never really hit in this ballpark, but that’s more so because he was facing Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in his first two seasons. In 110 plate appearances at Citizens Bank Park, Stanton has hit .230 with a .300 OBP and five homers.

He’s never faced Burnett.

Catch the ball
The Marlins are last in the National League with 11 errors and the Phillies are third-worst defensively with 10.

Burnett will need his infield defense to be on top of its game, as he’s one of the foremost groundballers in the major leagues. In recent days Cody Asche has committed two errors, and Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins have also missed balls that led to important runs.

Miami’s main culprit has been second baseman Derek Dietrich (three errors), who is filling in until veteran Rafael Furcal returns.

But for all of Miami’s defensive issues, the Phillies must be careful when taking an extra base on the Marlins’ outfield. Stanton and Marcell Ozuna have two of the strongest arms in the game. Ozuna had eight outfield assists last season in just 69 games.

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).

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."