Phillies-Padres: 5 things you need to know

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Phillies-Padres: 5 things you need to know

Phillies vs. Padres
1:05 p.m. on CSN

Fresh off a walk-off win over the Padres, the Phillies look to gain a rare three-game sweep over a team they rightfully outplayed in back-to-back games.

The Phils have just one sweep this season, April 11-13 over the Marlins at home.

Here are five things you need to know about Thursday's daytime series finale between the Phils and Padres:

An unlikely hero
Reid Brignac, who was about the 30th man on the Phillies' totem pole coming out of spring training, walked the Phils off with a three-run homer Wednesday night.

It was his first home run as a Phillie and his second walk-off knock in two weeks. Brignac also produced the game-winner in the 14th inning on May 31 against the Mets.

It was nice to see some clutch production out of a Phillies third baseman late in a game. Cody Asche is on the DL, and his three replacements -- Cesar Hernandez, Brignac and Freddy Galvis -- had eight hits in 64 (.125) at-bats from the seventh inning on.

Hamels on fire
Cole Hamels wasn't credited with a win Wednesday night, but he certainly earned one. He pitched eight shutout innings with 11 strikeouts to lower his ERA to 3.07.

Over his last seven outings, Hamels has struck out 56 in 50 2/3 innings while posting a 1.78 ERA. He's finished seven innings in each of those starts -- the third-longest streak of his career and the longest active streak in the majors.

The issue with Hamels has been run support. In his two wins, both against Cincinnati, the Phillies scored 15 runs for him. In his other eight starts, they scored a combined 17 runs.

Steady Kendrick on the hill
With a sweep in sight, this would be a good time for Kyle Kendrick to regain his command and make that two-seamer move.

Kendrick is who he's been this season -- a 4.30-ERA, 1.38-WHIP, No. 4/5-starter. Gives you as many quality starts as clunkers, pitches a lot of innings.

That has value. He's given the Phillies an average of 6 1/3 innings per start over 12 starts. He's on pace for 196 1/3 innings. Nearly 200 innings with that ERA could land Kendrick $7 to 9 million per year in a multi-year, free-agent deal this winter.

Kendrick hasn't seen these Padres much. Left-handed hitting Seth Smith is 8 for 14 with three doubles and a triple, so Kendrick could stay away from him. Chase Headley and Cameron Maybin are 1 for 7 and 1 for 9, each with homers against KK.

Stults replaces Cashner
The exciting Andrew Cashner was reportedly scratched from Thursday's start. The hard-throwing righty with the 2.13 ERA was activated from the DL last Saturday and pitched six shutout innings against the Nationals. An elbow strain originally sent him to the DL on May 14.

The Phillies will face lefty Eric Stults instead. Much different matchup.

Stults has been terrible this season -- 5.67 ERA, .321 opponents' batting average -- and these Phillies have hit .344 off him.

Marlon Byrd is 3 for 8 against Stults with two doubles. Jimmy Rollins is 3 for 8 with a HR, Carlos Ruiz is 3 for 6.

Lefties hit .176 with nine home runs against Stults from 2011-13, but Ryan Howard is 2 for 2 with two homers against him and Chase Utley is 2 for 5 with a double.

Success vs. San Diego
Since 2002, the Phillies are 54-27 against the Padres and have outscored them by 83 runs.

The Phils have won nine of the last 12 meetings with San Diego at Citizens Bank Park, outscoring the Friars 55-36 over that span.

The Padres have been a terrible offensive team this season, and especially in June. San Diego has hit .135 this month and scored 14 runs in nine games.

It's been so bad that the Padres are 10 for 61 in this series but have stll boosted their batting average for the month by eight points.

Nola, bench, the kids and more: A half-dozen issues to watch as Phillies get set to play games

Nola, bench, the kids and more: A half-dozen issues to watch as Phillies get set to play games

CLEARWATER, Fla. — For the first time since Oct. 2 when Ryan Howard tipped his cap and Hector Neris retired Kevin Plawecki on a ground ball to third base to give them a 5-2 win over the New York Mets, the Phillies will play a game on Thursday afternoon.

They will host the University of Tampa for the third straight year in an exhibition game at Spectrum Field. The Spartans are 7-2 and ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division II.

Manager Pete Mackanin will take the opportunity to look at a number of minor-league prospects in his starting lineup on Thursday. Minor-league right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. will start for the Phillies.

The Phillies will play a number of their projected regular players in Friday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees in Tampa.

As the games get going, the evaluations and decision-making process ramps up for Mackanin, the coaching staff and the front office.

Let’s take a look at the six biggest storylines that will unfold over the course of the Grapefruit League season:

Aaron Nola
So far, so good for the right-hander who missed the last two months of the 2016 season with an elbow injury. He says he is completely healthy and his early-camp bullpen sessions have gone smoothly.

But game action will bring a rise in intensity and a truer gauge of Nola’s health. He is expected to make his first start sometime next week.

“I'm real anxious to see Nola pitch,” manager Pete Mackanin said Wednesday. “We all know what he's capable of doing when he's healthy. Right now, he appears to be and says he is 100 percent. My only concern for him is as we go along into the season, if it's going to come back to haunt him. Right now, I'm real pleased at the way he's throwing and the way he looks. He feels very confident.”

Nola has no limits, but ...

“We will have to keep a close eye on him,” Mackanin said. “All the pitchers, actually. Especially him. I know how good he can be. I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch. Hopefully, every outing he has, he won't show any signs of it. That's the only thing I'm concerned about, that thing coming back.”

The bullpen
Mackanin opened camp by saying that Jeanmar Gomez was his closer — “at this point.”

Like all pitchers, Gomez will need some time and innings to get into a spring rhythm. Serious evaluation of him probably won’t happen until later in the spring. If he pitches well, he will most likely seize the closer job that he lost last September. If he struggles, he could end up forfeiting the closer gig to Hector Neris or Joaquin Benoit and move into a setup role, where he had success in 2015 and could be an asset because of his ability to pitch multiple innings. For the record, Gomez says he will be happy in whatever role Mackanin asks him to fill.

Other roles are open in the bullpen. In particular, Mackanin is looking for at least one lefty and ideally two. Joely Rodriguez probably has the inside track for one lefty spot because he’s on the 40-man roster. Adam Morgan will get starter’s innings in camp, but he could end up in the bullpen. Veterans Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett, both in camp on minor-league contracts, will each get a serious look to make the club.

Hitting approach
The Phillies were last in the majors in runs (610) and second-to-last in batting average (.240) and on-base percentage (.301) in 2016.

New hitting coach Matt Stairs is trying to improve the team’s on-base skills by stressing a gap-to-gap approach and not giving away at-bats. In other words, have a plan before the at-bat, key on a particular zone early in the count and don’t expand until there are two strikes.

Turning these hitters into a group that works counts, grinds out at-bats and gets on base won’t happen overnight, but Mackanin would like to see some progress in exhibition play.

“It takes a while for all of it to settle in,” Mackanin said. “When you hit a certain way your whole life or your thought process is a certain way your whole life, it's hard to make changes because you're out of your comfort zone. The important thing is for the players to buy into what Matt Stairs is selling. If they do that, I think we're going to improve.”

The bench
Barring injury, the starting eight position jobs are settled, but there is intrigue on the bench. Outfielder Aaron Altherr and infielder Andres Blanco appear to be locks and it’s difficult to imagine infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan not making the club. There are others in the mix, including veteran Daniel Nava.

The most intriguing bench question is who will be the backup catcher? Prospect Andrew Knapp will get a long look both behind the plate and at first base as he bids to win a reserve role at both positions. Big-league veterans Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan are also vying for the role of backup catcher.

A roster sleeper?
Last year, little known outfielder Cedric Hunter hit his way onto the opening day roster.

Will there be a repeat this spring?

Keep an eye on Brock Stassi and Andrew Pullin. Both are in camp as non-roster players. Both swing from the left side, have strong minor-league hitting resumes and could be very much in play if the Phils want to add a bat off the bench.

Pullin is a corner outfielder with a short, quick stroke that will remind you of Jim Eisenreich. Stassi has a good bat and could bring some versatility with his ability to play first base and outfield.

The kids
It’s always fun to look at the next wave of potential Phillies early in the Grapefruit League season. Outfielder Roman Quinn was one of the most exciting players in camp last year and he’s primed for another good showing before heading off to Triple A finishing school.

Top prospect J.P. Crawford will get a lot of looks at shortstop before heading to minor-league camp, and it will be fun to watch the power bats of Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens; they combined for 78 homers at Double A last season.

Catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams, both heading into important seasons at Triple A, will get playing time, commencing with starting assignments on Thursday.

Phillies prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

Phillies prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies received some good and bad news on pitcher Victor Arano.

He was diagnosed with a sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

Surgery was not prescribed, which is good news.

The bad news, he’s been shut down for at least a month.

Arano’s injury was treated with a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection.

The 22-year-old from Mexico said he first started feeling some tenderness in the elbow during a stint in the Arizona Fall League. He experienced some swelling in the elbow after reporting to camp earlier this month.

Arano is an intriguing prospect. He was acquired from the Dodgers as part of the package for starter Roberto Hernandez in August 2014. He impressed team officials in spring training 2015 and really took a big step forward after moving to the bullpen last season. He pitched 79⅔ innings in 46 games at Single A Clearwater and Double A Reading and recorded a 2.26 ERA while striking out 95 and walking just 19.

Arano’s stuff has been compared to that of Edubray Ramos, who jumped from Double A to Triple A to the majors last season.

The injury means Arano will have to start the season on the disabled list.

In other health news, pitcher Jake Thompson graduated to a bullpen mound on Wednesday. He had been slowed by a sore wrist but is fine now. Thompson proved that by winning the longest drive at Tuesday’s annual team golf outing.

Thompson lines up to open the season at Triple A.