Phillies president Andy MacPhail talks pitching injuries, how they will impact future dealings

Phillies president Andy MacPhail talks pitching injuries, how they will impact future dealings

NEW YORK -- It wasn't difficult to understand the Phillies' strategy in trading for veteran pitchers Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton and Clay Buchholz over the last two seasons.

The Phillies gave up little in the form of talent to get the three pitchers. All they had to do was be willing to take on sizable one-year contracts because the three pitchers were salary dumps for their previous clubs. For their money, the Phillies added some veteran fortification to a young starting staff while rolling the dice that said veteran might perform well enough to bring back some value on the July trade market.

The strategy was sound.

But it has not worked.

"We're batting .333," club president Andy MacPhail said on Tuesday night.

Buchholz exited his second start with the club last week with a flexor-pronator injury near his right elbow and on Tuesday had surgery that with a recovery time of four to six months will end his season (see story).

Morton made four starts last season before blowing out his hamstring so severely that it ripped off the bone.

Hellickson pitched well for the club last season and continues to this season, but the Phillies' hope of getting value for him during last July's trade season never materialized, nor did the club's hope of turning him into a first-round draft pick this June. That scenario was scuttled when the pitcher accepted the team's qualifying offer of $17.2 million for this season.

For the $22.5 million that the Phillies sunk into Morton and Buchholz, they got six starts, 24 2/3 innings and a 6.56 ERA.

"I don't think anybody likes it," MacPhail said of the lack of return that the team got on Morton and Buchholz. "How could you like it? Nobody likes to see a $14 million investment go before you get [to the third start]."

Buchholz, 32, pitched just 7 1/3 innings in two starts and was tagged for 16 hits and 10 runs. He also pitched poorly in spring training but did not complain of an injury until he exited last Tuesday night's start.

MacPhail said Buchholz's fastball velocity in spring training was down "two or three miles per hour" from where the pitcher was at the end of last season with Boston.

Buchholz's drop in velocity and subsequent injury raises questions of whether he was healthy when the Phillies acquired him. The Red Sox apparently believed he was. They picked up his $13.5 million option for 2017 on Nov. 3, weeks before sending him to Philadelphia for minor-league infielder Josh Tobias on Dec. 20, and the Phillies performed customary pre-trade medical vetting.

Buchholz did miss the second half of the 2015 season with an elbow strain, but he finished 2016 by going 4-0 with a 2.63 ERA in seven starts from Aug. 18 until the end of the season.

The injuries to Buchholz and Morton, who also was 32 when the Phillies acquired him, illustrate the risks that teams take when they decide to acquire pitchers in their 30s.

"When these things happen, as an organization, we review everything that had us reach those decisions," MacPhail said. "It's just the nature of what you're dealing with. It goes to underscore the importance of having numbers [depth] and developing pitchers in your system.

"In Morton's case, he was injured trying to leg out a bunt. What you can do differently is not have to depend upon getting pitching from that area, really. I think there's a difference between reviewing your decision-making process and determining if there were any pieces of information that you should have considered that you didn't. I don't think that's the case. It's the nature of what you're dealing with. It's one of the reasons that you haven't seen us go beyond a year (in a contract). An organization can absorb an injury for a year. You just don't want one that's going to sink you."

MacPhail arrived in Philadelphia in the summer of 2015 and from the beginning made it clear that developing pitching would be an organizational priority. One of his mantras, dating to earlier stops in Baltimore and Chicago, is: "Grow the pitchers, buy the bats." Based on this ideology, it's difficult to envision the Phillies being big players in coming free-agent pitching markets. On the other hand, they could go big for a bat or two.

"I'm very confident that we're going to have the resources and the kind of ballpark where position players are going to be a lot easier to come by than pitching," MacPhail said. "Pitching is hard. I don't think that belief needed reinforcement. I have articulated that point. It's not a surprise, unfortunately.

"I think you have to stay open to any opportunity if it makes sense. But I have made it no secret, personally, that free-agent pitching is fragile and expensive by the time it gets to you. That said, I don't think you ever should rule anything out. We'll make decisions based on the information we have at the time."

Conflicting messages, real concern over usage restrictions for Pat Neshek

Conflicting messages, real concern over usage restrictions for Pat Neshek

Phillies reliever Pat Neshek is having a tremendous, All-Star season, but the restrictions on his usage have become a real concern.

Neshek, who has a 0.63 ERA and 30 scoreless appearances out of 31, induced an inning-ending double play Thursday to get the Phillies to the ninth with a two-run lead. He threw just five pitches in the 5-1 win (see Instant Replay).

But even if the Phillies didn't tack on two insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth, Neshek was not going back out for a save situation in the ninth, Mackanin said.

"I asked him to go back out," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He said he would rather not, he didn't feel like he had it. 

"I would have liked to have sent him back out, obviously, because he's been so effective. However, we've got a good thing going there and if he can only pitch one inning for us, I'll take it. 

"He's been that good and I don't want to disrupt that. That's one area that I don't have to worry about. So, I did ask if he could go back out, he just thought it was better that he didn't."

Moments later, Neshek said he was not asked to go back out for the ninth.

It's the second straight day there have been conflicting messages when it comes to Neshek's availability. Wednesday night, when the Phillies blew a five-run lead and allowed runs in both the eighth and ninth innings as Neshek stayed in the bullpen, Mackanin said that Neshek had told him earlier he was unavailable. But then Neshek said that he was the one told he'd have the day off.

Whichever order of operations has actually occurred the last two games, these restrictions on Neshek's usage are affecting the Phillies late in games and they're sure to have an impact on his trade value as well.

The trade value is the more important thing here long-term because the Phillies are 25 games under .500. Neshek and Howie Kendrick are their two best trade assets, but if you're a contending team, why give up anything of substance for a half-season of Neshek if you don't even know if you can send him out two games in a row?

"He gave me the off day when I showed up," Neshek said Thursday about the middle game of the series. "I don’t know. You guys (the media) are making a big deal out of it."

Did he feel better Thursday?

"Yeah," he said. "I went out there and got the double play.

"We’ve been used a lot this week. I was kind of hoping that I might get a day today. But I understand the state of the bullpen. You have to suck it up and go out there."

Neshek has been used five times in the last seven days, so he does have a point, he has been used a lot. That's the byproduct of being your team's most reliable reliever.

At this stage, Neshek is a safe bet to be the Phillies' All-Star representative, especially because he'd serve an actual purpose in the All-Star Game as a right-handed specialist capable of retiring the best of the best.

"It could happen," he said. "There’s a couple other guys. It’s going to come down to who Joe Maddon wants for his bench. Is it going to be an extra pitcher? Is it going to be an extra hitter? They usually don’t stick with middle relief guys. Yeah, I have the numbers. But the All-Star Game is kind of a hairy thing if you’re not the star guy, if you’re not the save guy. It’s going to come down to do we need a pitcher or do we need a hitter.

"It’s really tough to make it as a middle reliever. It’s hard to get excited about anything that hasn’t happened yet."

MLB Notes: Cubs send Kyle Schwarber to Triple A

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MLB Notes: Cubs send Kyle Schwarber to Triple A

MIAMI -- The Chicago Cubs have demoted struggling slugger Kyle Schwarber to Triple-A Iowa.

Schwarber, the fourth overall pick in the 2014 amateur draft, is batting just .171 with 12 homers and 28 RBIs in 64 games. There was no immediate announcement of a corresponding move.

Schwarber made his major league debut in 2015 and hit .246 with 16 homers and 43 RBIs in 69 games. He missed most of last season with a leg injury after a frightening outfield collision, then returned in October to help the Cubs win the World Series for the first time since 1908.

Chicago is 36-35 heading into Thursday night's game at Miami (see full story).

Angels: Street activated, Morin to Triple A
NEW YORK -- Reliever Huston Street has been activated by the Los Angeles Angels after recovering from a strained latissimus dorsi muscle in his back that had sidelined him since spring training.

The 33-year-old right-hander allowed one hit over 1 1/3 innings for Triple-A Salt Lake in a rehab outing on Monday.

Los Angeles opened a roster spot by optioning right-hander Mike Morin to the Bees on Thursday (see full story).

Athletics: Popular catcher Vogt designated for assignment
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Catcher Stephen Vogt has been designated for assignment by the Oakland Athletics, while rookie infielder Matt Chapman went on the 10-day disabled list with an infection in his left knee that kept him out of three straight games.

Vogt hit .217 with four home runs and 20 RBIs in 54 games this season with 36 starts at catcher and seven as the designated hitter.

A two-time AL All-Star, Vogt entered as a pinch-hitter Wednesday then played left field for the first time since July 2, 2014, at Detroit, and had several balls immediately hit his way. But Oakland lost a third straight game since a four-game sweep of the New York Yankees last weekend.

Also Thursday, the A's recalled catcher Bruce Maxwell and first baseman/outfielder Matt Olson from Triple-A Nashville (see full story).