Phillies-Marlins: What you need to know

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Phillies-Marlins: What you need to know

Phillies (36-42) at Miami Marlins (35-40)7:10 p.m. on PHL17

The Phillies follow a disappointing end to their 10-game homestand by traveling to brand new Marlins Park for the first time.

Miami is in its first year at its new home, which mercifully has a retractable roof to eliminate the many rain delays that used to take place at Sun Life Stadium.

The Phils moved ahead of the Marlins in the NL East standings earlier in the week but find themselves back in the basement after losing to the Pirates Wednesday and Thursday. The Phillies needed to use the 10-game homestand to make up ground in the NL East, but they went just 5-5 against Colorado, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh and are as many games out of first place (nine) as they were prior to it.

Now begins a nine-game divisional stretch leading up to the All-Star Game in Kansas City. The Phils have three this weekend in Miami, then an off day, then three with the Mets at Citi Field and a final three-gamer at home with the Braves.

Starting pitchers
Cliff Lee begins the Phillies important NL East stretch opposite Marlins righthander Josh Johnson.

Lee, 0-4 with a 3.72 ERA, is still looking for his first win. Per CSN producer Dan Roche, Lee has the second-longest streak since 1969 of winless starts (12) in which he has thrown at least six innings.

Lee is currently experiencing one of the worst runs in his Phillies career, having allowed 14 runs on 25 hits in his last 20 innings. His last quality start was four outings ago, on June 5 against the Dodgers.

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of Lees recent struggles has been his high fly ball total. Lee, who has generated a ground ball rate of about 47 percent since the start of 2011, has induced just 20 grounders and 41 fly balls in his last three starts. Playing in the air can be dangerous, as evidenced by the eight extra-base hits Lees allowed in that span.

Johnson, meanwhile, is moving in the opposite direction. His season numbers arent as stellar as usual hes 4-5 with a 3.96 ERA and a .284 opponents batting average but hes lowered his ERA by almost three full points in his last nine starts.

Johnson over that span has a 2.56 ERA and has averaged nearly seven innings per start. That is the Josh Johnson were used to seeing.

Johnsons repertoire
The Phillies have seen him plenty over the years 15 times in all and the recipe has always been the same. Johnson throws heavy sinker after heavy sinker. Its simply hard to drive a 93-95 mph pitch that dives as it crosses the plate. Johnsons thrown his main pitch about 64 percent of the time for his career, but hes gotten away from it a bit this year in favor of a curveball. He also throws a slider and a change.

Forgettable Junes
At 9-17, the Phillies are 27th in baseball in June. The Marlins were a major-league best 21-8 in May, but are a major-league worst 6-18 in June.

Offense has the problem for the Fish, who are last in either league with 79 runs this month. Miami is hitting .226 with a .290 on-base percentage in June... so essentially the entire team is performing like Pirates outfielder Jose Tabata.

Pitching has been the Phillies issue. They have a 4.77 ERA this month, sixth-worst in baseball.

Howard taking the field
Not for the Phillies, but for the Lakewood BlueClaws. Howard made his first minor-league rehab appearance Thursday at Single A Lakewood, going 2 for 4 with three RBI as DH (see story).

On Friday, Howard will play first base in a competitive game for the first time since last October.

Key matchup(s)
Any time you face Jose Reyes team, priority numero uno is to keep him off the basepaths. But that might not be as much a problem this weekend as it has been in past years. Reyes is hitting just .269 this year and hasnt attempted a steal in his last 22 games.

Last season at this time, Reyes was hitting .349.394.528.

The Marlin that Lee has struggled most with is catcher John Buck, who is 13 for 41 (.317) with three homers and three doubles.

As for current Phillies, theyre hitting a surprising .297 off Johnson, though with very little power. Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are a combined 22 for 69 (.319) off Johnson. Chase Utley has seven singles in 27 at-bats (.259) with just one RBI against the 6-foot-7 righty.

Sound off
Cliff Lee overunder: 7 wins

E-mail Corey Seidman at cseidman@comcastsportsnet.com

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

READING, Pa. — Perhaps the most important issue facing the Phillies as they get set to open spring training is the health of pitcher Aaron Nola.

It won’t be possible to fully gauge the right-hander’s condition until he starts firing pitches against hitters in a competitive situation in February and March.

But less than a month before camp opens, Nola is optimistic that the elbow problems that forced him to miss the final two months of the 2016 season are resolved.

“I feel like the injury is past me,” he said during a Phillies winter caravan stop sponsored by the Double A Reading Fightin Phils on Tuesday night. “I feel back to normal.

“My arm is all good. One-hundred percent.”

Nola, 23, did not pitch after July 28 last season after being diagnosed with a pair of injuries near his elbow — a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor tendon.

Nola and the team opted for a conservative treatment plan that included rest, rehab and a PRP injection. The pitcher spent much of the fall on a rehab program in Clearwater that included his throwing from a bullpen mound. He took a couple of months off and recently began throwing again near his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“All through the rehab, I had no pain,” Nola said. “Probably in the middle of the rehab, I started feeling really good. Towards the end, I started upping the intensity a little bit. I knew after I took two months off I was going to be good. I started back up, throwing after Christmas and it felt really good when I cranked up. I’ve been throwing for a few weeks now. No pain, no hesitation. Not any of it.”

The Phillies selected Nola with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft with the hopes that he would be a foundation piece in the rotation for many years. Nola ascended to the majors in the summer of 2015 and recorded a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 big-league starts before hitting severe turbulence last summer. He had a 9.82 ERA in his final eight starts of 2016 before injuring his elbow during his final start.

Nola said he would report to Clearwater on Feb. 1. He does not expect to have any limitations in camp.

Manager Pete Mackanin is eager to see what Nola looks like in Clearwater.

“There's a part of me that’s concerned,” Mackanin said. “When guys don't have surgery and they mend with just rest, that makes me a little nervous. I don't want that to crop up again because then you lose a couple years instead of one year. But I defer to the medical people and believe in what they say and how he feels.”

Mackanin said he expected Nola to be in the five-man rotation along with Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz and Vince Velasquez to open the season. Mackanin also mentioned Zach Eflin and others as being in the mix. The Phillies have some starting pitching depth and that’s a plus because pitchers' arms are fragile. Nola was the latest example of that last season. He said he’s healthy now, but he'll still be a center of attention in spring training.

More seasoning for Quinn
Mackanin acknowledged that the addition of veteran outfielder Michael Saunders probably means that Roman Quinn will open the season in Triple A.

“I don’t think it’s in our best interest or [Quinn’s] to be a part-time player at the big-league level, so I would think if things stay the way they are and if Saunders is on the team, I think it would behoove Quinn to play a full year of Triple A,” Mackanin said. “We have to find out if he can play 120 or 140 games, which he hasn’t done up to this point. We hope he can because, to me, he’s a potential game changer.”

Morgan to the bullpen?
Mackanin suggested that lefty Adam Morgan could be used as a reliever in camp. The Phillies have just one lefty reliever (Joely Rodriguez) on their 40-man roster. If Morgan pitches well out of the bullpen, he could be a candidate to make the club. Non-roster lefties Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos could also be in the mix.

Another chance for Gomez
Jeanmar Gomez saved 37 games in 2016 before struggling down the stretch and losing the closer’s job. Hector Neris finished up in the role.

So how will competition for the job shake out in Clearwater?

“I wouldn’t say it’s wide open,” Mackanin said. “I’m going to give Gomez every opportunity to show that he’s the guy that pitched the first five months and not the guy that pitched in September.”

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

The Phillies are putting the finishing touches on a deal with outfielder Michael Saunders, according to a source.

Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported the deal was close early Monday afternoon.

When the medical reviews and other loose ends are complete, Saunders will end up with a one-year contract for 2017. It is believed that there will be an option for 2018.

According to FoxSports.com's 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 up to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, will give the Phils the left-handed bat they’ve been looking for in the outfield. Saunders is likely to play right field and his addition will likely push Roman Quinn back to Triple A, where he will get more seasoning.

Saunders is a veteran of eight seasons in the majors. He played in a career-high 140 games with Toronto in 2016 and made the American League All-Star team on the strength of a first half in which he hit .298 with 16 homers, 42 RBIs and a .923 OPS. He fell off in the second half and hit just .178 with 8 homers, 15 RBIs and a .638 OPS. Saunders finished the season at .253 with 24 HR, 57 RBIs and an .815 OPS.

With less than a month to go before spring training, the Phillies are likely done with their significant offseason moves. The offseason began with trades for reliever Pat Neshek and outfielder Howie Kendrick. Later in the winter, the club traded for starting pitcher Clay Buchholz and signed reliever Joaquin Benoit. Now Saunders is on his way.