Phillies ride energy to walk-off win over Rockies

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Phillies ride energy to walk-off win over Rockies

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For the second time in the last four games, Michael Young was the man at the plate for a walk-off win. For Wednesday night’s 4-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies at Citizens Bank Park, Young actually recorded an RBI with his walk-off piece (see Instant Replay).

But where would Young (or the Phillies) be without some table setters? In the game-winning ninth inning of Wednesday’s victory, it was a pair of catchers doing the heavy lifting.

Erik Kratz and Carlos Ruiz both smacked doubles in the ninth to lead the Phillies’ comeback. Kratz, the starting catcher for the game, led off the inning with the team trailing by a run with a hard double down the left-field line. A groundout by John Mayberry Jr. pushed pinch-runner Casper Wells to third before Ruiz dug in as a pinch hitter.

Three pitches later, Ruiz hit a low liner just inside the third-base line and hustled in to second with the game-tying RBI. An intentional walk to Jimmy Rollins brought up Young, who ended it on the first pitch he saw from Rockies’ closer Rafael Betancourt.

Manager Ryne Sandberg couldn’t have designed a better ending to the game if he tried.

“The ninth inning was big. Kratz with the leadoff double. [Mayberry] got him over and Ruiz with the pinch-hit double,” Sandberg said. “Ruiz has had a good homestand. He’s swinging with more authority and showing more pop in his bat. [That was] a big hit right there.”

Along with three wins in Sandberg’s first six games as manager of the Phillies, perhaps the biggest development as of late has been Ruiz’s reemergence as an offensive threat. Seemingly reeling in a lost season, marred by the 25-game suspension for improperly using the prescription drug Adderall, followed by a long stint on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, Ruiz picked the worst time to struggle.

With a winter of free agency looming and his 35th birthday drawing closer, the likelihood of a return to the Phillies in 2014 seemed remote. Ruiz won’t try to insult anyone’s intelligence by saying his pending free agency wasn’t on his mind.

“If I said no, I’d be lying to you,” Ruiz said. “It’s something I was thinking maybe not every day but once in a while. But who knows, it’s not in my hands. All that’s in my hands is to play hard and see what happens.”

But as it goes so often in baseball, things started to click for Ruiz. He hit his first three homers of the season after the All-Star break and is batting .333 with six extra-base hits in 17 games during August.

For Ruiz, it all started with a 4-for-4 game on Sunday, following by a 2-for-4 showing with a double and homer on Monday. In the last four games, Ruiz is 7 for 12 with three extra-base hits.

“He’s finally just getting his stroke,” Sandberg said. “He’s using the whole field. He’s found a little bit of a hot streak. He had a four-hit game a few days ago. It's a confidence builder there. He's had a nice homestand.”

Still, Ruiz had to wonder if it was ever going to come together for him. That was especially the case when he was batting just .235 in July after having missed 52 games. But Ruiz stuck with it and didn’t let himself get too down over the suspension or the hamstring injury.

Ruiz said it was just a matter of putting in the work before he was off and running.

“With everything that happened, it was tough for me,” Ruiz said. “I came back from the suspension, then I got hurt. It’s not an excuse but it was hard to pick it up. There’s nothing I can do about that, it’s in the past, so I’m going to do my best right now and hopefully I’ll do well.”

And if Ruiz can keep hitting as well as continuing to play his high-caliber of defense, the Phillies might not have too many better options at catcher than Ruiz. It certainly hasn’t hurt Ruiz’s cause that minor-league catching prospect Tommy Joseph has struggled with post-concussion symptoms this season. With Joseph’s arrival in the big leagues seemingly delayed, Ruiz could be the only in-house option for the Phillies.

According to Sandberg, there’s a lot Ruiz can do in the final 36 games to help his cause.

“I think these games, he has a chance to be evaluated and have the decision made,” Sandberg said. “From what I see, he's a leader on the team.”

Said Ruiz: “I’ll keep working and hopefully finish strong. We’ll see what happens when the season is over.”

Meanwhile, the Phillies won a game started by Cliff Lee for the first time since July 5, though the left-hander didn’t figure in the decision. In seven innings, Lee scattered nine hits and allowed just a pair of runs. He handed a tie game over to the bullpen in the eighth. That’s where the Rockies pieced together a run off Justin De Fratus.

Red-hot reliever Jake Diekman kept the Rockies in check in the ninth, which set the stage for the dramatics at the end.

For some reason, the Phillies felt like the night was going to end well.

Call it a hunch.

“I see the guys on the bench,” Sandberg said. “I see them at the top rail in the ninth inning. There is a lot of energy in the dugout. There are a lot of guys pulling for each other. That's all good. When you pull out a game like this that pays dividends and goes a long way for the games ahead of us.”

The Phillies and Rockies finish the four-game series on Thursday night when Kyle Kendrick (10-9, 4.48) takes on rookie right-hander Chad Bettis (0-2, 5.30).

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff pitched two innings, allowed a hit, a run, walked one and struck out two in his spring debut on Monday.

Afterward, manager Pete Mackanin was asked what he believed Eickhoff's ceiling was.

"He's a pretty darn good pitcher right now," Mackanin said.

Indeed, he is.

In his first full season in the majors last year, the 26-year-old right-hander led the Phillies' starting staff in ERA (3.65), starts (33) and innings pitched (197 1/3).

He delivered 20 quality starts and became just the fourth Phillie in the last 20 years to make 33 starts and record a 3.65 ERA or better, joining three pretty good pitchers named Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. He walked just 1.92 batters per nine innings and that was fourth-best among NL starters.

"Eickhoff is the kind of guy you can count on," Mackanin said. "He throws strikes. He knows what he's doing."

Eickhoff is intent on building on last year's success in 2017. The guy has a Halladay-like work ethic. He arrived in Clearwater on Feb. 1 and got right to work. After his two innings of work on Monday, he put in a couple of hours in the weight room and on a back field running.

"I just have to continue working," he said. "I have a very high standard for myself as a lot of us in here do. We want to be the best players that we can be."

Eickhoff is working on improving his changeup this spring and his overall goal is to make every start -- as he did last season.

"That's the priority -- make every start," he said. "That's always a priority for me.

"I'd also like to incorporate the changeup a little more and use my slider and curveball and not get heavily reliant on one or the other, which happened several times last year and I think got me into trouble at times. So incorporating both for the duration of the season and just being more crisp with execution and location is my goal.

"I'm always looking to get better. I think the sky is the limit. I'm going to continue working, whether it's being Greg Maddux-esque with command or having a good breaking ball, or throwing a changeup like Maddux and guys like that did. There's always something I'm working on and trying to develop and sharpen up."

Eickhoff lines up to start the second game of the regular season behind projected opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson.

The game
The Phillies lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-2. The Phils are 2-2 on the spring.

Maikel Franco had two hits, including his third homer of the spring. It was a long drive to left field on a 1-2 fastball. He also had a single to right field.

"The thing I like early in the spring from him is he's going deeper into counts," Mackanin said. "I think he's working toward a good year this year."

Stassi impresses
Non-roster player Brock Stassi, a candidate to win a job as a reserve first baseman and outfielder (see story), did not play in the game. He, however, has a single, double and homer in the first three games.

Mackanin gushed about Stassi’s defense when asked about it Monday.

"He's one of the best first basemen I've seen in a real long time," Mackanin said. "He has no need to improve on his defense and I like the way he swings the bat. He's a real solid baseball player so he's a guy I really want to get a good look at."

Pitching matters
Starting pitchers Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin are both projected to pitch at Triple A. Both have been slowed early in camp because of health reasons, but are progressing well. Thompson has a sore right wrist and Eflin is recovering from a pair of surgeries to address tendinitis in both knees.

Both pitchers will continue to throw in the bullpen this week and ramp up to live batting practice next week. There is plenty of time for both pitchers to get their arms ready to open the season. However, the Phillies may decide to take a cautious approach with Eflin and let him build some more strength in his knees before they turn him loose. He could stay in Florida for a couple of extra weeks before joining the Triple A club.

Up next
The Phillies host the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. Clay Buchholz will make his first start of the spring. Here is the Phillies' posted starting lineup for the game:

1. Freddy Galvis, SS
2. Howie Kendrick, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, DH
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Chris Coghlan, RF
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Scott Kingery, 2B

MLB Notes: Josh Hamilton undergoes knee surgery

MLB Notes: Josh Hamilton undergoes knee surgery

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Josh Hamilton has had another surgery on his balky left knee, ending any chance of the 2010 AL MVP making the Texas Rangers' opening day roster.

The arthroscopic procedure Monday was to repair some damaged meniscus cartilage in his left knee. There were no issues with the surgically repaired ACL in that knee.

Hamilton had left spring training in Arizona and returned to Houston for the second time in less than a week to be examined by Dr. Walt Lowe, who also performed Hamilton's season-ending surgery last June.

The latest knee procedure is the 11th in Hamilton's career, and the third since the 35-year-old slugger last played in the majors in 2015.

Hamilton, in camp on a minor league contract, faces six weeks of rehabilitation before he will be able to start running again.

Orioles: Bourn broke finger during football drill
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Baltimore outfielder Michael Bourn hasn't played football since his sophomore year in high school. But it's a pigskin injury that's preventing him from playing this spring for the Orioles.

On Friday, the speedy 34-year-old broke his right ring finger catching a football at a workout. Bourn, who signed a minor league contract on Feb. 20, will be out for four weeks, making it difficult for him to be ready for Baltimore's April 3 opener. He'll make $2 million if he's put on the 40-man roster.

Bourn has difficult competition. Another veteran major league outfielder, Craig Gentry, signed two days before, plus the Orioles want to take long looks at Rule 5 outfielders Anthony Santander and Aneury Tavarez. Joey Rickard, a Rule 5 pick who played with the team last season, is also a serious contender.

Because he signed late, Bourn hadn't played.

"I was ready to go and pretty much ready to get into games the next couple days and now I've got to wait a about four weeks to heal. I want it to heal correctly but I want to push it, too. There's really nothing I can do about it," he said. (see full story)

Indians: Kipnis sidelined by shoulder injury
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has a rotator cuff strain and will stop throwing for a couple days.

Kipnis got a cortisone shot on Saturday, and manager Terry Francona didn't sound very worried about the situation.

"If it was during the season we wouldn't do anything," Francona said before Sunday's spring game against the Chicago Cubs in Mesa. "There's so much time to get ready that to kind of put a Band-Aid on it now didn't seem to make sense."

The 29-year-old Kipnis hit .275 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs last season, helping Cleveland to the AL Central title. He added four more homers and eight RBIs in the playoffs as the Indians made it all the way to the World Series before losing to the Cubs in seven games.

Kipnis had been on a shoulder program.

"I would say probably eight out of 10 guys, as they get their arms loose, you feel something," Francona said. "You throw through stuff and you get through the aches and pains of getting back, but then when there is some history there, you just try to use good judgment.

"He can do all his cardio and everything and all that stuff, but throwing is shut down for four to five days. I don't think he's going to hit today."

The Indians also announced left-hander Tim Cooney will be sidelined for 10 to 12 weeks because of a muscle strain in his arm. Cooney went 1-0 with a 3.16 ERA in six starts with St. Louis last season and was claimed off waivers from the Cardinals in November.

"Originally, they thought it was forearm," Francona said. "It's lower than that. By all accounts, it is an extremely unique area."