Phils rookie Pettibone earning praise from teammates

051413_jonathanpettiboneap.jpg

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.

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."