Phillies Notes: Asche improves, Franco impresses

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Phillies Notes: Asche improves, Franco impresses

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- A few notes before the Phillies play the Blue Jays on Tuesday night (6:35 p.m., TCN):
 
• Cody Asche dodged a bullet when he was hit on the right hand by a pitch in Sunday’s game. Asche left the ballpark that day bruised and swollen, but he has made a quick recovery and was able to take batting practice Tuesday. It’s possible that the 23-year-old third baseman could play in Wednesday’s game against Atlanta.
 
• Asche is the lead candidate to be the opening day third baseman, but he has and will continue to be pushed by top prospect Maikel Franco.
 
Franco, who got his second straight start at third Tuesday night, has impressed manager Ryne Sandberg with how hard he hits the baseball. But Sandberg also likes the defense that Franco has played at third base.
 
“He’s looked real good at third base,” Sandberg said. “He’s got a soft glove. He reacts to balls well. The tougher the play, the softer he gets, which for a 21-year-old guy is pretty amazing. And his arm is very good. He made a play the other day behind the bag on the chalk and got it over to first base effortlessly and still had plenty of arm left.”
 
Franco is expected top open the season at Double A or Triple A, but he looks like a guy who could make a quick ascension to the majors.
 
• Cole Hamels continues to look good in workouts. He is expected to face hitters on Thursday and could be pitching in Grapefruit League games next week. Hamels was slowed by an offseason bout of shoulder tendinitis. He won’t be ready for opening day, but could be a go the second week of April.
 
• Pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez will get a test when he pitches against the Detroit Tigers and their rugged lineup Thursday in Lakeland.
 
The Phillies could have used Gonzalez in a televised split-squad game against the Yankees back in Clearwater, but Sandberg said Detroit “will be a good challenge” for Gonzalez, who walked four in 1 2/3 innings in his debut Saturday against the Yankees.
 
David Buchanan is also scheduled to pitch in Lakeland on Thursday. Sandberg said he was not sure who would start, but it would be either Buchanan or Gonzalez. For the record, Buchanan is listed on the Phillies' schedule as the starter.
 
Sandberg wasn’t sure whether he would stay back in Clearwater or head over to Lakeland to see Gonzalez and Buchanan.
 
“Either way, we’ll have eyes on him,” Sandberg said.
 
Kyle Kendrick will start the home game against the Yankees on Thursday. Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka will make the trip to Clearwater and start for the Yankees.
 
The Phillies will face Justin Verlander in Lakeland.
 
• Jimmy Rollins was a late scratch from the starting lineup Tuesday night. He has been ill. Rollins was able to work out before the game and could return to the starting lineup on Wednesday.

Sources: Pete Mackanin fined Odubel Herrera for incident in Saturday's game

Sources: Pete Mackanin fined Odubel Herrera for incident in Saturday's game

PHOENIX -- Early Sunday morning, Odubel Herrera was summoned into manager Pete Mackanin's office for a chat.

It wasn't the first time it has happened this season.

But it was the first time this happened:

Mackanin, according to sources, fined Herrera an undisclosed amount of money stemming from an incident in the previous night's game.

The amount of the fine is not known, but it definitely wasn't one of the $1 fines that Mackanin hands out for trivial missteps in the team's kangaroo court. 

This was a disciplinary action.

In Saturday night's game against Arizona, Herrera was caught trying to steal second base for the third out in the top of the sixth inning with the Phillies trailing, 3-2, in what became a 9-2 loss. Herrera took off on pitcher Robbie Ray's first move and was caught in a play that was scored 1-3-4.

The problem wasn’t as much Herrera getting caught — though that hurt in a close game — it was that Mackanin had put the red light on Herrera after he'd reached first base on a two-out single. Herrera often has a green light, but in this case Mackanin killed it because he feared an open first base would have resulted in Arizona walking No. 8 hitter Cameron Rupp to get to the pitcher's spot.

Mackanin would not confirm or deny the fine when asked about it Monday. After a moment of silence, all he would say was, "Base running matters." He then walked away.

Herrera's play this season has been occasionally amazing and often frustrating. He is hitting .333 (33 for 99) with a majors-high 13 doubles in the month of June and leads the Phillies with 75 hits and 31 extra-base hits for the season. 

But there have been times when Herrera has lacked focus, such as last week when he ran through a stop sign at third base in a close game and was picked off third base in another. In Monday's series finale in Phoenix, a 6-1 loss, he struck out three times. He made no effort to run to first base on a dropped third strike in the first inning.

Herrera signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract with the Phillies over the winter. Manager fines are generally just a few hundred dollars and are donated to charity so the one levied by Mackanin won't break Herrera. Nonetheless, it’s noteworthy that Mackanin was moved to such an action.

Bleep it, says Frustrated Freddy Galvis, Phillies just need to play better

Bleep it, says Frustrated Freddy Galvis, Phillies just need to play better

BOX SCORE

PHOENIX -- When your starting pitcher doesn't make it out of the third inning and your offense generates just five singles and one run, well, it's not going to be a good day, and it wasn't for the Phillies on Monday. They suffered a 6-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks to fall to 24-51, the worst mark in the majors (see Instant Replay).

The Phils are on pace for 110 losses, one shy of the club record set in 1941.

No one expected this team to contend, but no one expected things to be this bad, either.

"In spring training, if you told me we were going to have this record, I wouldn’t believe it," shortstop Freddy Galvis, the team's elder statesman, said after the last loss. "I believed we had a good team. But we just can’t put anything together. We play well for five or six games and then we go to another six- or seven-game losing streak.

"It’s hard. It’s hard to see. It’s hard to believe it. [Bleep] it. We have to [bleeping] play harder every single day. We need to try to do better."

The Phillies were out of this one early as rookie right-hander Nick Pivetta had trouble throwing strikes and was racked for six runs in 2 2/3 innings. He allowed 12 base runners on seven hits and five walks.

It's tough to start climbing out of a hole on a day when your starting pitcher doesn’t give you much of a chance, but Galvis would like to see a little more fight, nonetheless.

"The effort has to be more than we have right now if we want to win," he said. "I think we have to do a little bit more — if we want to win."

Sometimes it almost seems as if losing is becoming habit to this team. 

"We’re losing, we’re losing, we’re losing and I don’t see any change so far," Galvis said. "If you get used to it, we’re [bleeped]. We have to have a different mentality every time we come here. We have to try to win. We have to try to fight for nine innings and 27 outs."

Entering the season, some hopeful hearts thought the Phillies could make a run at .500, a 10-game improvement on last season's 71-win season. But 75 games into this season, the Phils are on pace for just 52 wins.

Phillies management was always reluctant to put a number on how many wins it thought this team could deliver. That's standard operating procedure because rebuilds are unpredictable. But management has never been shy in pointing out that the Phillies are a club building for a better day and expectations were never high for this club. Could it be that the players are simply playing down to expectations?

"If you get that into your mind you’re [bleeped],” Galvis said. "We’re players. We have to play hard, 24-7. And that’s it. Yeah, they say we’re a rebuilding team, but we still have good players here.

"Sometimes you have to relax a little, just breathe and let it go. When we’re in a winning streak everybody just relaxes and plays baseball. But right now it’s not that way. We want to do it so badly and in the end we don’t do it because we try too hard. Let our abilities speak for us and go from there."

Manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged that the "losing is hard to deal with. It’s not easy." But he said he had no qualms with the team's effort. The Phillies won the first game of the series against Arizona then lost the next three.

"We scored six runs the first game and four the next three," Mackanin said. "You know the old saying that pitching and defense wins games, well, if you can’t hit you can’t win a lot of games and we haven’t been hitting."

The Phillies had just five hits in this game, all singles, on a day when Zack Greinke was off his game and lasted just five innings and threw 102 pitches. They had some chances to get in the game, but left two men on base in the first and sixth innings and the bases loaded in the fifth. They were just 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position.

Pivetta struggled with his control in his first six starts (16 walks), improved it in his next two (just three) and struggled with it again on Monday in his ninth big-league start.

Part of the learning experience?

“Yeah, but that’s not an excuse I want to use," he said. "I’ve got to make an adjustment during a game and do better. 

"I beat myself today and let my team down."