Phillies Notes: Howard, Brown looking to salvage season

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Phillies Notes: Howard, Brown looking to salvage season

As the Phillies look to the final two months of the season, manager Ryne Sandberg says he will attempt to get as much playing time for a bunch of his players.

In fact, Sandberg says there is still plenty of time for players -- namely Ryan Howard and Dom Brown -- to salvage their subpar seasons.

Howard, whose struggles in the middle of the Phillies’ lineup have been well-documented and are entering the realm of historical futility, will get a chance to turn it around. In fact, Howard will get the chance against lefty starters, too, including the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel.

“I’m trying to give him an opportunity to get at-bats and get hot and get going,” Sandberg said before Tuesday night’s series opener against Houston. “Sometimes the remedy is to face a left-handed pitcher where the left-handed hitter has to focus on staying up the middle and left-center field, so hopefully that goes a long way.”

Batting just .215 with a .664 OPS, Howard doesn’t have a hit since last Wednesday and has one hit in his last 25 at-bats. Though he recently sat out of three straight games in order to make some needed adjustments, Howard’s struggles persist.

“He continues to make adjustments and look for a comfort zone in the at the plate,” Sandberg said.

“The reason for the rest was for him to make adjustments, which he continues to search for and continues to do, so hopefully he gets it going.”

Still, Sandberg has been unable to work in Darin Ruf at first base and the slugger has just six starts since July 22. Nevertheless, with Brown still recovering from a case of tonsillitis, Ruf is getting a start in left field on Tuesday night.

“I want the best for best players and for Ryan Howard to get going and for Darin Ruf to get some at-bats,” Sandberg said.

Still time for Brown?
Like Howard, Brown has struggled to produce anything close to his All-Star-caliber numbers from a season ago. Batting just .231 with a .281 on-base percentage, Brown’s power appears to have waned, too. Since the 2013 All-Star Game, Brown has eight home runs.

Brown hit 12 homers in May of 2013 alone.

Perhaps Brown is looking for that one hot month to give his stats some shine.

At this point, it’s all he can cling to for the rest of 2014.

“I've always been in this spot, so it's not that big a deal to me,” Brown said. “Going out there, playing my game, playing hard, doing whatever I gotta do for the team. That's all I'm here for. I'm here to win, not for finances, that's just icing on the cake. I enjoy the game, I enjoy being here.

“I've been down this road for three or four years now, so it's not nothing new to me.”

Though he hasn’t been pounding the homers like last season, Brown takes solace in the fact he has 50 RBIs in 103 games. With a hot final two months of the season, perhaps he can pad those totals a bit.

“Oh yeah, for sure, I've got 50 RBIs. End up at 80 or 90, that'd sound great,” Brown said. “Like I said I'm trying to do my little part for the team, whatever that is. I don't know if I'm platooning or what, but whenever Ryno calls on my name I'll be ready to go.”

Lee all but finished?
Sandberg said lefty starter Cliff Lee will undergo an MRI to determine the extent of the injury on his left elbow sometime in the near future. An exam on Saturday did not reveal much, according to the manager.

However, since the injury is similar to the one Lee experienced in May, Sandberg sees the clock running out on 2014 for Lee.

“Since it’s a recurrence and the last one took two months, that’s the reality. That’s the reality here,” Sandberg said.

Phillies 10, Blue Jays 3: Jeremy Hellickson limbers up, offense continues to hit

Phillies 10, Blue Jays 3: Jeremy Hellickson limbers up, offense continues to hit

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Jeremy Hellickson did not shine in his spring debut Sunday, but he didn’t have to.

Hellickson projects to be the Phillies' opening day starter for the second straight year, but with five weeks to go before it all starts for real in Cincinnati, he has plenty of time to put a coat of polish on his game.

The right-hander knocked off some wintertime rust with two innings of work against the Toronto Blue Jays. He gave up four hits and two runs, walked one and did not strike out a batter.

"I felt great," Hellickson said. "I wasn't really commanding the fastball like I wanted, but my arm and my body felt good."

Hellickson went 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts for the Phillies last season and could have opted for free agency in the offseason. However, he surveyed the marketplace and determined he'd be better off taking the Phillies' qualifying offer of $17.2 million for 2017 and trying his luck on the free-agent market next season.

So he's betting on himself.

"That's kind of how I'm looking at it," he said. "It was easy to do that just with the way I felt last year. I think I can definitely repeat or exceed what I did last year."

The Phillies can't give Hellickson another qualifying offer after this season so it's quite possible they will look to deal him in July. But that won't necessarily be easy. The Phils had talks with a number of teams about Hellickson last July and were unable to consummate a deal. It will be tougher this July as Hellickson’s salary has jumped by $10 million. The Phillies may have to eat some of that salary to get a deal they like.

Hellickson was asked if he was ready for another summer of trade rumors.

"No," he said with a wry smile. "But I know it's coming."

He's holding out hope that the Phillies will play their way into contention and the front office keeps the rotation together. He believes it's possible.

"I think we have a really good team here," he said. "Hopefully we're the ones trading for guys at the deadline.

"I've been reading some stuff saying (Aaron) Nola is a No. 5 guy. If Nola's your No. 5 guy, you have a pretty good rotation. I definitely think one through five we can give six, seven, eight strong innings every time out. Then with the guys, we signed for the back of our bullpen, it'll make our jobs that much easier. The days we don't have it, I feel like we can hand it off to those guys after five or six. We're in pretty good shape."

The game
The Phillies beat the Jays, 10-3, on the strength of 13 hits and three Toronto errors. The Phils had eight hits in Saturday’s win over the Yankees.

Cam Perkins, Pedro Florimon and Daniel Nava all had two hits. Rhys Hoskins and Ryan Hanigan both walked twice. Andres Blanco homered. Brock Stassi doubled. Nick Williams had a hit, two RBIs and a walk. Power-hitting rightfielder Dylan Cozens stole two bases.

Cozens is a legitimate stolen-base threat. In addition to belting 40 homers at Double A Reading last season, he swiped 21 bags and was only caught once.

"You've got to like his tools," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's really an athletic guy. He's got good hands at the plate. I think he's going to hit because he doesn't have a lot of excess body movement. He hits a lot with his hands and I think in time he'll cut down on the strikeouts and he'll be an even better player. He looks like a solid defender, good hitting ability, a lot of power and some speed."

On the mound
Ben Lively and Alberto Tirado both pitched two scoreless innings and Pat Neshek and Michael Mariot had one each.

Up next
Jerad Eikchoff makes his spring debut when the Phillies host the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday afternoon.

Clay Buchholz will get the start Tuesday against Baltimore.

Phillies prospect Nick Pivetta has long-awaited meeting with Roy Halladay

Phillies prospect Nick Pivetta has long-awaited meeting with Roy Halladay

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies pitching prospect Nick Pivetta had one of those pinch-me moments Saturday.

He met his boyhood idol, Roy Halladay, at a charity event.

Someone had filled in Halladay that Pivetta had grown up in Canada and had regularly watched Toronto Blue Jays games on television. Pivetta loved watching Halladay pitch, as he talked about a few weeks ago here.

"I got to briefly shake his hand," Pivetta said Sunday morning. "He knew I was like a stalker. He said, 'Oh, right, you're the guy from British Columbia.'"

Halladay, who pitched for the Phils from 2010 to 2013, lives in the Clearwater area. Pivetta said he expected to speak more with Halladay in the coming days.

Halladay was honored at the 44th annual Clearwater For Youth banquet and Pivetta attended with a number of his teammates and Phillies officials. Phillies chairman David Montgomery and his wife Lyn were also honored for their charitable works.

Pivetta will pitch for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March.