Phillies-Mets: What you need to know

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Phillies-Mets: What you need to know

New York Mets (15-13) at Phillies (14-15)7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies finished a six-game divisional road trip through second-place Atlanta and first-place Washington 3-3. They lost a game in the standings to each team in the process.

Now, the Phils return to Citizens Bank Park for an eight-game homestand against beatable teams in the Mets, Padres and Astros. The Phillies play 14 of their next 16 games at home, where to this point they have played just 10 of 29 contests.

Starting Pitchers
Roy Halladay (3-2, 3.40) begins the homestand by opposing Mets lefty Jonathon Niese (2-1, 4.08).

Halladay has made 71 starts as a Phillie and this is the first one hell enter with an ERA over 3.00. That, of course, is because of his eight-run outing last Wednesday at Turner Field. In that game, Halladay blew a six-run lead for the second time in his career and saw his ERA skyrocket from 1.95 to its current 3.40.

Halladay has pitched at a high level in five of six starts in 2012, and he looked sharp through the first four innings last time out. But his strikeout and walk numbers are not what they were through this point in 2010 or 2011.

Through 37 innings this season, he has 10 walks and 24 strikeouts. Last season he had six walks and 39 strikeouts through 37 innings. In 2010 he had three walks and 28 strikeouts.

Niese has three quality starts in five tries this season with his best performance coming against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on April 14. Niese held the Phils to five hits over 6 23 shutout innings that day and allowed just two runners to reach scoring position.

Niese has handled the Phillies in the past with a 90-92 mile per hour fastball, a mid-70s curveball, a high-80s cutter and, on very rare occasions, a low-80s changeup.

Niese has relatively even lefty-righty splits over the last three seasons but same-handed batters are just 3 for 22 off him in 2012.

Previous games
The Phillies made a bit of news on Sunday night. Cole Hamels pitched a gem, but the start will be remembered for his first inning plunking of 19-year-old Nationals phenom Bryce Harper that resulted in a five-game suspension.

Harper proceeded to showcase his speed and baseball IQ by taking third on a single to left and stealing home when Hamels attempted a pickoff at first base.

After the game Hamels admitted that he hit Harper intentionally, leading to Nationals GM Mike Rizzo calling Hamels "gutless" and "fake-tough" (see story).

From an actual baseball, non-daytime drama standpoint, the Phillies lost two of three in Washington.

The Mets come to CBP winners of two straight after a four-game losing streak.

Head-to-head
The Phillies are 52-41 (.559) against the Mets since 2007, though theyve won just two of the last seven meetings.

Halladay is 9-2 in 11 starts vs. the Mets with a 2.88 ERA. Current Mets are 26 for 135 (.208) off Doc with four walks and 35 strikeouts. David Wright is 3 for 21 (.143) with 11 Ks.

Josh Thole, however, has hurt Halladay with seven hits in 16 at-bats. Those are the types of hitters that seem to do the most damage off Halladay slap-hitting bat-speed types like Thole and Jose Reyes.

Niese has frustrated the Phillies seven of the nine times hes faced them. In those seven outings, Niese has a 1.52 ERA in averaging just under seven innings. In two separate, disastrous starts in 2011, Niese allowed 14 runs in 10 innings. So there are at least signs that the Phillies can get to Niese when he doesnt have his best stuff.

Whos hot
Hunter Pence hit two bombs Sunday night to up his season totals to six home runs and 20 RBI.

Juan Pierre had two more hits Sunday, and despite the flaws many like to point out, is still hitting .333 after 78 at-bats.

Placido Polanco used a 3-for-5 night to raise his batting average to a season-high .268.

Storylines
- The Phillies need to make a dent in the standings over the next eight games. The Mets, Padres and Astros all come to Citizens Bank Park as majorly flawed teams, and thus far the Phillies havent taken advantage of weak foes.

- Halladay, too, needs to get on track after one of the strangest starts of his career. Shutting the Mets down for seven or eight innings to start a homestand would be an instant remedy.

- John Mayberry gets a rare start in the two-hole Monday night against Niese, whom Mayberry has homered off twice in 14 at-bats. Batting Mayberry so high in the order is an interesting tactic by Charlie Manuel. It figures to let him see Niese at least three times, and maybe that helps Mayberry run into a multi-hit game. He only has one this season April 23 in Arizona.

- If the Phillies go on a streak over the next week, Hamels beaning of Harper will likely be referred to as a spark. But really, it would have more to do with facing weak pitching and weaker offenses.

Sound off
1) What is your predicted Phillies record for the eight-game homestand against the Mets, Padres and Astros.

2) Was Hamels five-game suspension fair?

E-mail Corey Seidman at cseidman@comcastsportsnet.com

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin: Adam Morgan is a definite bullpen candidate

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin: Adam Morgan is a definite bullpen candidate

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Just pitch.
 
Don’t worry about the role.
 
Just pitch.
 
That’s Adam Morgan’s mindset this spring.
 
“I’m just trying to show whoever needs to see it that I can be an asset to this team,” the left-hander said after his spring debut against the New York Yankees on Saturday (see story). “I’m just keeping it simple that way. I’m not trying to go out for that fifth (starting) spot. If the fifth spot opens up, I’d be more than willing to do that. If they want to put me in the bullpen, I’d be more than willing to do that. If they want me to be the backup catcher, I’ll be the backup catcher.”
 
The Phillies have plenty of candidates for backup catcher.
 
And the top five spots in their starting rotation, barring an unforeseen development, are accounted for.
 
But there is a way for Morgan to make this team.
 
“He’s definitely a bullpen candidate,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
 
Mackanin is on record as saying he’d like to have two lefties in what likely will be a seven-man bullpen. It might not work out that way, but that would be Mackanin’s preference.
 
Morgan is one of what appears to be four candidates along with Joely Rodriguez, Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett. Ramos and Burnett are experienced major-league veterans in camp on minor-league contracts. Rodriguez is the only pure lefty reliever on the 40-man roster. Morgan, of course, is on the 40-man roster, but he’s mainly been a starter in his career.

There’s a long way to go in spring training and it would not be surprising to see general manager Matt Klentak add to the list of lefty relief candidates with some type of pickup before the end of camp.
 
But for now, it’s just these four.
 
Morgan, who turns 27 on Monday, started and pitched two scoreless innings against the Yankees on Saturday and will likely continue to have his innings stretched out throughout the Grapefruit League season, just in case he’s needed as a starter.

Ramos and Rodriguez both pitched an inning Saturday. Ramos allowed a hit and a run. Rodriguez had a clean inning. Burnett was tagged for two hits and two runs on Friday.
 
Morgan made 21 starts for the Phillies last season. He also made two relief appearances and finished the season with a 6.04 ERA. He was sent to Triple A in July and returned in mid-August. He made nine starts after returning and pitched at least six innings and gave up two or fewer earned runs in four of them.
 
During his time in Triple A, Morgan started throwing a two-seam fastball or sinker. He’s continued to throw it this spring and believes it will help him.
 
“I learned to trust the two-seamer last year and that’s what I hope to keep moving forward with,” he said.
 
Will it take him to the Phillies’ bullpen?
 
He hopes so. He got a taste of relieving last season and liked it.
 
“Oh, yeah, I loved it,” he said. “Every time the phone rang down there, I was on high alert. It was awesome. It’s a rush.
 
“But wherever I land, I land. I’d be willing to play anywhere on this team.”

Phillies 6, Yankees 5: Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, Brock Stassi shine with bats

Phillies 6, Yankees 5: Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, Brock Stassi shine with bats

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Pete Mackanin assembled what will probably end up being his opening day lineup for Saturday’s spring home opener against the Yankees.

He liked what he saw.

Especially from cleanup man Maikel Franco.

Franco’s big challenge in becoming a more complete player is to improve his selectivity at the plate. The 24-year-old third baseman looked pretty good in that area in three at-bats.

Franco fell behind 0-2 in his first at-bat then battled back to a full count before popping out in the second inning.

He smacked a homer to left on a 2-2 slider in the fourth and then in the sixth, he stroked a first-pitch gapper to left-center that went for an inside-the-park homer. The ball got stuck under the padding on the outfield wall and the umpire did not rule it a ground-rule double.

“Hey, you see my speed?” the not-so-fleet-footed Franco said with a laugh after coming out of the game. “It’s like Cesar’s (Hernandez) speed.”

Mackanin liked the totality of Franco’s at-bats, not just the results.

“He had two long, deep-count at-bats,” Mackanin said. “He worked the count deep and that was good to see.”

There are many miles to go before opening day, and Franco still has many miles to cover before he’s the complete player he wants to be and the selective hitter the front office wants to build around.

Franco vowed to keep working on it under new hitting coach Matt Stairs.

“He told me my focus should be when I stay to the middle of the field, I'll have a lot of success,” Franco said. “I am trying to work on it and put focus on it. I talked to (Howie) Kendrick about hitting and he's helped me. I'm going to stay on it every single day. I'm trying to do my job, trying to do the best I can.

“When I stay in the middle, when I try to hit the ball up the middle, something is going to happen. That's what I want to do, what I want to keep doing.”

Franco hit .255 with 25 homers and 88 RBIs last season, but his on-base percentage was just .306.

He was asked whether he had any personal goals for the season.

“The first thing is to try to be healthy,” he said. “I just want to play in 162 games. Other than that, I'll just do everything I can do.

“Every single day I want to do my best and not try to force the situation. I think I can do better than last year. This year should be very good and much better than last year.”

The game 
The Phillies won it, 6-5, on a walk-off RBI single by Brock Stassi in the bottom of the ninth inning. The hit scored Rhys Hoskins, who had doubled. Hoskins drove a homer to deep center earlier in the game.

Hoskins, who turns 24 in March, has 55 homers and 206 RBIs the last two seasons. He will move to Triple A this season and play first base.

Stassi is a candidate to win a job on the bench (see story). He hasn’t hurt himself in the first two games. He homered Friday and had the game-winning hit Saturday.

“I’m feeling pretty good early on,” he said. “Gotta keep it going.”

Pitching in
Adam Morgan pitched two scoreless innings. Prospect Ricardo Pinto pitched a scoreless inning. It’s not out of the question that he transitions to the bullpen at some point this season.

Mark Appel showed his big stuff with three strikeouts in two innings of work, but his control problems also surfaced as he threw a wild pitch that resulted in two runs.

Up next
Probable opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson makes his spring debut Sunday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin.

Here is the Phillies’ posted lineup for that game:

1. Cameron Perkins CF
2. J.P. Crawford SS
3. Daniel Nava LF
4. Cameron Rupp DH 
5. Andres Blanco 2B
6. Dylan Cozens RF
7. Ryan Hanigan C
8. Brock Stassi 1B
9. Taylor Featherston 3B

Right-hander Joe Biagini will start for Toronto.

Jerad Eickhoff will start for the Phillies against Tampa Bay on Monday. Clay Buchholz will start against Baltimore on Tuesday. Both of those games are in Clearwater.