Phillies Notes: Tough call with Tony Gwynn Jr.

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Phillies Notes: Tough call with Tony Gwynn Jr.

There was a lot of activity around Citizens Bank Park before Monday’s game against the San Francisco Giants to kick off a seven-game homestand.

The media areas were teeming with scouts on hand to get a closer look at some players that may be available before the July 31 trade deadline, though the Phillies put a few on the open market before the game.

Before the game the team announced that Tony Gwynn Jr. had been designated for assignment and catcher Koyie Hill was outrighted off the 40-man roster. Additionally, infielder Cesar Hernandez was optioned to Triple A Lehigh Valley.

The moves were made so that Cliff Lee, catcher Wil Nieves and infielder Reid Brignac were activated from the disabled list.

With catcher Carlos Ruiz due back from a concussion shortly, the Phillies will likely option Cameron Rupp.

Nevertheless, Gwynn’s ouster was particularly difficult for the Phillies considering the recent events that occurred in the outfielder’s life. Gwynn’s father, Tony Sr., died last month and the outfielder went on bereavement leave for a week. With a lack of regular playing time, Gwynn was elbowed out of the mix when the Phillies acquired outfielder Grady Sizemore.

Gwynn batted .163 in 67 games, including 2 for 28 as a pinch hitter. He started just four games since June 21 and was relegated to duty as a late-game defensive replacement.

“It was tough with Tony with everything he's gone through,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “He's a very professional guy, a terrific teammate, so it's tough. We'll see what he decides. We did give him the option to remain with the organization, and we'll see. He had limited playing time as of late, but overall a terrific guy and teammate.”

Meanwhile, Sizemore has started all seven games since joining the Phillies. He went into Monday’s game 10 for 24 (.417) with a pair of doubles. Coming back from a couple of knee surgeries, Sizemore has been quite durable this season. Sandberg doesn’t see this changing.

“I'm just kind of keeping tabs on him and with the break that we had, he got some rest,” Sandberg said. “He's voiced his opinion to get as many reps as he can and games played. But I'm also going to pick my spots with him.”

Back to the farm
Batting just .225 in 52 games and without any action in a week, Hernandez will go back to Triple A where he can expect regular playing time.

More than anything, at-bats are what Hernandez, 24, needs at this stage of his development.

“He needs to go play and get at-bats, freshen up a little bit at second base. Get some reps there where he's very good but also get time at short and third, continue with that on the defensive side of things and get some innings and reps on that side of the diamond,” Sandberg said. “On the offensive side of things, leads and jumps, with his speed the leads and jumps at first base with his potential base stealing, and also with his at-bats. He swings a good bat and he's on the fastball. He's a very good fastball hitter. Just battling with two strikes, battling the breaking pitches will go a long way to helping his at-bats.”

More K.K.?
End-of-the-rotation starter Kyle Kendrick’s struggles have been well documented this year. In fact, the right-hander has been on a steady decline since the second half of last season.

However, when Kendrick’s spot in the rotation comes around again Friday, will he be out there?

“As of right now he is, yes,” Sandberg said.

But as with anything this time of year, everything is subject to change.

Blue Jays 10, Phillies 4: Aaron Nola hit hard in final Grapefruit start

Blue Jays 10, Phillies 4: Aaron Nola hit hard in final Grapefruit start

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies got the good health they were looking for from Aaron Nola this spring.

But the overall results weren't so good.

Nola struggled in his sixth and final Grapefruit League start Tuesday night. He was roughed up for seven hits, including two home runs, and five runs and did not make it out of the second inning in the Phillies' 10-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Nola finished the Grapefruit League portion of his spring with an ERA of 8.38 after giving up 18 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He gave up 28 hits, walked seven and struck out 23.

"People say it's spring training but nobody wants to go out there and give up runs," Nola said.

While he wasn't happy with the numbers he put up in camp, Nola was pleased with his health. He missed the final two months of last season with an elbow strain. He said that is completely behind him.

"I feel good," he said. "The ball is coming out of my hand really good.

"Tonight was the best I've felt all spring. I just left some balls up and they took some good swings. It was a tough night."

Manager Pete Mackanin weighed in on Nola's spring.

"One thing I like is that his velocity is way up," Mackanin said. "I think his arm is healthy and that's good to see more than anything.

"He hasn't shown the command that makes him a good pitcher, but I think that will get there."

Nola gave up home runs to Troy Tulowitzki and Melvin Upton Jr.

Nola lines up to pitch the fifth game of the regular season a week from Saturday in Philadelphia.

He only threw 51 pitches Tuesday night so he has room for a good bullpen session and another start before that outing. The start will come at the minor-league complex on Sunday. He will then join the team in Cincinnati for Monday's season opener.

Murray injured
Reliever Colton Murray ran his scoreless string to 10 1/3 innings before allowing a two-run homer in his third inning of work. Murray left the game with what looked like a lower back injury. He fell to the ground in pain after throwing a pitch. Earlier in the day, Murray was told that he would open the season in Triple A.

Minor matters 
Infielder Cole Stobbe, 19, the Phillies' third-round pick in last year's draft, and 18-year-old righty Sixto Sanchez were named winners of the Bill Giles and Larry Rojas awards for their standout work in minor-league camp. Both are among the organization's most highly touted young prospects.

Up next
The Phillies will split the squad and play two games on Wednesday. One team will go to Lakeland to play the Tigers. The other will go to Bradenton to face the Pirates.

The battle for one of the final spots in the bullpen will take center stage as Luis Garcia starts in Lakeland and Joely Rodriguez in Bradenton.

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Busy, busy day of roster moves in Phillies camp.

Let's try to put it all in perspective.

First, the facts:

Veteran infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan was released from his minor-league contract.

Right-handed pitcher Alec Asher was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for a player to be named later or cash.

Infielder Pedro Florimon and relief pitchers Cesar Ramos, Hoby Milner, Pat Venditte and Colton Murray were all informed that they will not make the opening-day roster, but they remain in big-league camp as non-roster invitees.

OK, what does it all mean?

Let's start on the position-player side. The starting eight is set, but there are still openings to fill on the bench before the team's charter flight lifts off from Tampa International Airport early Friday evening.

Barring something unforeseen, infielder Andres Blanco, outfielder Aaron Altherr and catcher Andrew Knapp will all make the 25-man roster. That leaves two openings on the bench.

Coghlan, a former National League Rookie of the Year and member of last year's World Series-winning Chicago Cubs team, asked for his release after the club raised the possibility of him signing an advance consent form. Advanced consent gives a team more control of a player and also allows a team to release a player with no further financial commitment up to 45 days into the season. Coghlan decided to move on, as was his contractual right, and is expected to land with another club.

Coghlan's departure reduced the field of candidates for the two bench jobs to three -- Brock Stassi, Daniel Nava and Jesmuel Valentin.

All signs point to lefty-hitting first baseman/outfielder Brock Stassi being rewarded for his excellent spring with a spot on the roster. The 27-year-old from the Sacramento area, the team's 33rd-round draft pick in 2011, has never played in the majors.

With Stassi looking good, the final spot on the bench is down to Nava and Valentin. They are two very different players. Nava is 34 and has five years of big-league service time. He is in camp on a minor-league deal, essentially looking to keep his career alive. Valentin, on the other hand, is 22 and very much a prospect. The team must decide if it wants to go with the veteran outfielder or the young second baseman for the final spot on the bench.

"With the way Stassi, Nava and Valentin are playing right now, one way or another we're going to be making tough decisions on the bench," general manager Matt Klentak said.

With Asher off the 40-man roster, the Phillies have the space to add Stassi.

They would need to create one more spot, probably by waiving a player, if they want to keep Nava.

Valentin is already on the 40-man roster so the team would not have to lose a player to keep him, but doing that would cost the young player the development opportunity that would come with regular at-bats in Triple A.

"I'm not opposed to starting that way if he wins the job and that's how we open," Klentak said of Valentin. "If we concluded after a few weeks that playing time just isn't there and we need to send him back down and get somebody else up, we can do that. That's the beauty of roster flexibility and having players on the big-league club with options. We can make those decisions in real time throughout the year."

So let's move on to the bullpen.

Five spots are set with Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos, Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek.

It's likely that the team will go with seven relievers. That means there are two open spots with three candidates -- Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez and Luis Garica -- still standing. All three are on the 40-man roster, so that makes the personnel mechanics a little easier. 

The team probably needs a long reliever and Morgan profiles as that guy.

Rodriguez and Garcia are both scheduled to pitch in separate games on Wednesday, so their performances will be worth watching, though Klentak said not all roster decisions are based on spring performance. 

Garcia has had a number of chances in the majors the last four seasons. He has recently added a splitter and team officials are intrigued by that, so he has remained in the mix.

There is a slim chance the team could carry all three of these relievers and go with an eight-man bullpen and a short bench, but that would be tough to do in the National League. When the decisions are made, look for a five-man bench and a seven-man bullpen.

But, remember, things can change quickly on a 25-man roster once the season begins. Ender Inciarte was on the Phillies' opening-day roster in 2013 and gone a day later. Cedric Hunter was there last year and gone two weeks later.

"We have to make sure we're disciplined to the notion that the end of spring training is not a finish line," Klentak said. "The end of spring training is the starting line for a long major-league season. Whatever we can do to preserve as many assets and players and different possibilities as we can, we need to factor that in as we're making out our opening-day roster."