Phils rookie Pettibone earning praise from teammates

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Phils rookie Pettibone earning praise from teammates

When Roy Halladay went on the DL for seven weeks last season, the Phillies fell apart. They went 15-27, largely because the starting pitchers failed to step up in his absence. Cliff Lee had a 4.99 ERA while Halladay was out. Joe Blanton was at 5.02. Kyle Kendrick, 5.72.

This time, the Phils appear to be better prepared for life without Doc.

Jonathan Pettibone, who joined the rotation when John Lannan got hurt and is occupying a larger role with Halladay out, has pitched remarkably well as a rookie. He allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings Tuesday to improve to 3-0 with a 3.41 ERA in five starts (see Instant Replay). He’s the first Phillie since Randy Wolf in 1999 to begin his career 3-0 while pitching exclusively as a starter.

Pettibone has kept the Phillies in each game he’s pitched, not allowing more than three runs in any start. The Phils have won four of his five outings and, even if things looked bleak early on Tuesday, he minimized damage long enough for the bats to come around.

“I'd say for this being the first time he's in the major leagues, I think he's doing a tremendous job,” manager Charlie Manuel said of his 22-year-old rookie.

“Pettibone pitched brilliantly,” added Kevin Frandsen, who homered and got on base three times filling in for Chase Utley at second base. “What he did -- he never gave in, just kept us in there. He could've let it go when we were down 2-1, but he kept fighting, fighting, fighting, and made great pitches. More than anything, the hitting will come around, but that's a stud right there. He didn't back down as a rookie. That's awesome.”

After a 1-2-3 first inning, Pettibone put runners on second and third with nobody out. He had excelled out of the stretch in his first four starts, stranding 87 percent of the men he put on base, but this time Michael Brantley got to him, singling in both runners to give the Indians a one-run lead. Two strikeouts later, the inning was over.

In the third, Pettibone again got into trouble, walking Jason Kipnis and then hitting Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana to load the bases. (The last Phillies pitcher to hit back-to-back batters was Chad Durbin on May 6, 2010.) But again, Pettibone made his pitches and got Mark Reynolds to pop out to end the threat.

After that, smooth sailing. Pettibone kept the Indians at bay long enough for John Mayberry and Domonic Brown to stake the Phillies to a two-run lead that eventually grew to four.

“Escaping with no runs, especially after that second inning, giving up two, you don't want to dig too big a hole that early in the game,” Pettibone said of escaping trouble in the third. “Getting out of that inning, I was able to build off that for the rest of the game.”

“Those mistakes by a young guy, they can just snowball,” Frandsen said. “But it just made him better. And that’s one of those cool situations as a teammate. I would never call myself old, but being around this game for a long time, that was awesome.”

Manuel yanked Pettibone with two outs in the seventh inning, ending the longest start of his young career. The righty wanted to keep going – he had thrown just 92 pitches – but a pair of lefties were coming up and Manuel opted for Antonio Bastardo.

Going deep into games is something Pettibone prides himself on. He always has. He didn’t want to come out.

“Last outing, I think I was at 110-plus [pitches] and I felt fine,” Pettibone said. “So anywhere around that kind of pitch count, you're good. Especially with adrenaline late in the game, the close ball game, you don't feel any fatigue, or anything, really. You're ready to go.”

That mentality is what impressed Frandsen about Pettibone from the time Pettibone was a 19-year-old in Single A.

“I saw him -- I guess it was an unfortunate situation where I was suspended and went down to Clearwater and I was rehabbing there two years ago -- and the first thing I said when I came back to Lehigh was, 'That kid is the best of the three,’” Frandsen recalled, referring back to Pettibone, Jarred Cosart and Trevor May. (Cosart was dealt to Houston for Hunter Pence, and May to Minnesota for Ben Revere.)

“They talked about the big three, but [Pettibone] pitched with some stones. I feel like as a young, 19-20-year-old at that time … that's different. Especially in A-ball, you can go for the strikeout every time, but he was worried about going deep into games. That takes precedence over anything.”

It certainly did on Tuesday in a close game. The Phillies were without Mike Adams (back spasms), but Pettibone got them deep enough and a beleaguered bullpen finally stranded its inherited runners (see story).

It was one of the most complete games the Phillies have played all year, and it was exactly the way they wanted to open a five-game homestand against two Ohio teams that embarrassed them on the road last month.

Cole Hamels takes the hill Wednesday, looking to pick up where the 22-year-old rookie with “stones” left off.

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."