Pirates 13, Phillies 8: Jeremy Hellickson roughed up; Jeanmar Gomez stretches it out

Pirates 13, Phillies 8: Jeremy Hellickson roughed up; Jeanmar Gomez stretches it out

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- It was one of those days for Jeremy Hellickson.

"He didn't have anything go right," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Hellickson, the Phillies' projected opening day starter, gave up nine hits and eight runs in five innings of work in a 13-8 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday afternoon. Three of the runs were unearned after third baseman Maikel Franco committed a couple of errors (see full story).

"Things like that are going to happen," Hellickson said. "I have to figure out a way to limit the damage.

"Everything felt good. I was just leaving too many balls up."

Hellickson was able to stay on the mound and run his pitch count to 87. He should approach 100 in his next start as he zeroes in on opening day. Mackanin has not announced his opening day starter yet, but Hellickson lines up to get the nod for the second straight season.

"I'm ready to get out of here," he said.

The regular season begins two weeks from Monday in Cincinnati.

Gomez gets extra work
Mackanin began spring training by announcing that Jeanmar Gomez deserved the chance to be the closer after saving 37 games last season. But Mackanin did leave himself a little wiggle room to change his mind.

So, it was notable that Gomez pitched two innings Saturday. Was that a sign that Mackanin was leaning toward changing his mind and using Gomez in a multi-inning relief role?

The manager said no.

Pitching coach Bob "McClure wanted to get him stretched out, not for any particular reason, but just down here -- last year he did the same thing with all the relief pitchers. It's not going to hurt him," Mackanin said.

So Gomez is still the ninth-inning guy?

"Yeah, right now," Mackanin said.

Gomez struggled as closer last September and actually lost the job.

But this spring, he's been very good. He pitched scoreless ball for his two innings Saturday. He gave up a hit and struck out two. For the spring, he's allowed just a run in 7 2/3 innings. He has given up four hits, walked one and struck out four.

Hustling Hanigan
Veteran Ryan Hanigan, who is trying to stick with the team as a backup catcher, had a hit and is batting .429 (6 for 14). He has drawn six walks, tying him for the team high.

Hanigan also made a nice, hustling catch in foul territory. He had to negotiate a protective screen near the dugout and then juggled the ball while falling. But he hung on.

Hanigan is battling another veteran, Bryan Holaday, and rookie Andrew Knapp for the backup catcher's job.

Joseph mending
Tommy Joseph's sore left hand is getting better. He took batting practice and reported no problems. However, he will not play Sunday and Monday is an off day. If he returns to action Tuesday, he will have had a full week off after being hit by a pitch on the hand.

Up next
The Phils play the Rays in Port Charlotte on Sunday. Jerad Eickhoff starts for the Phils against lefty Blake Snell.

Phillies 7, Blue Jays 1: Vince Velasquez and Tommy Joseph show off their power

Phillies 7, Blue Jays 1: Vince Velasquez and Tommy Joseph show off their power

BOX SCORE

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Phillies showed a little power in their 7-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday night.

Tommy Joseph provided some of it.

Vince Velasquez provided a lot of it.

Joseph crushed a two-run home run to left field and also lined a double off the center-field wall on his way to a four-hit game. The double came off his bat at 109 miles per hour. The homer was his third of the spring.

Meanwhile, Velasquez showed off his big fastball in striking out seven Blue Jays over five innings of work. Vinny Velo's final pitch of the night was a 97-mph dart past a swinging Jose Bautista.

"That pitch felt really good coming out of my hand," Velasquez said. "Sometimes my fastball slips a little bit and I yank it, but this one I got right behind and threw it right through the catcher."

Velasquez actually struck out the side in that fifth inning against three pretty good hitters in Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Bautista.

"That last inning, he really let it go," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Pitch economy remains an area that Velasquez needs to improve on. He threw 87 pitches. But he was pleased with the way he attacked hitters in that final inning of work.

"I didn't attack in one inning," he said. "But in that last inning, I stopped fiddling around and trusted my stuff. I need to do that the whole time."

Velasquez gave up just one run, a homer to Martin. He allowed five hits and walked two.

Velasquez had a busy night. He drove home a run with a ground out against Aaron Sanchez. He also walked against Sanchez and scored a run on a dash home from third base after Freddy Galvis got hung up between first and second. Galvis waved Velasquez home. After crossing home plate, Velasquez, rather humorously, almost ran into the netted backstop.

"I just had momentum. I got excited," he said. "As soon as I saw Tulo (shortstop Troy Tulowitzki) make eye contact with Freddy, I booked it. He's going to think, 'Pitchers can't run,' so I showed off my athleticism."

After the outing, Velasquez pronounced himself ready for the regular season.

"I'm good to go," he said.

He made five Grapefruit League starts and gave up eight runs in 19 2/3 innings. He walked nine and struck out 25.

"It's been a strong, healthy, successful spring training," he said.

Velasquez will likely start the home opener on April 7. He will need to get some work in this weekend. The Phillies leave Florida on Friday. He could stay behind for a day and pitch at the minor-league complex if needed.

Offense clicks
The Phillies had 12 hits. They had 15 in Sunday's 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Up next
The Phillies play the Blue Jays again on Tuesday night. That game will be in Clearwater. Aaron Nola will start against Marco Estrada.

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The pathway for Andrew Knapp to make the Phillies' opening day roster as the backup catcher was cleared way back in November when he was added to the 40-man roster.

The job all but became Knapp's on Monday when the team released two veteran catchers who were not on the 40-man roster. When Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday were let go, Knapp became one of just two catchers in camp, the other being starter Cameron Rupp (see story).

So it's pretty obvious that the 25-year-old Knapp will open the season with the big club -- even though nothing will become official until rosters are filed with the commissioner's office this weekend.

"Obviously there are four or five days left," Knapp said. "I'm just going to keep trying to make good impressions and try to win a job. I'm keeping my head down, trying not to think about it too much."

Knapp was the Phillies' second-round draft pick of Cal-Berkeley in 2013. He has never played in the majors.

"It would be a dream come true," he said. "Everyone hopes to get called up at some point but to make a team on opening day would be pretty special and it would be the best moment in my career so far."

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged that Knapp would probably make the club.

Mackanin would like to have the rest of his roster in order over the next day or two.

"As soon as possible," he said. "Because the last four or five games I'd like to play almost as if it were a season -- using the bullpen that way, using the bench in a certain way, seeing what it looks like, our bench guys, all our hitters. We just don't want to make a bad decision so we're just going to string it out as long as we can."

Roster questions must still be answered on the bench and in the bullpen.

How does the bench shape up? Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr and Knapp are set. The Phils are expected to go with a five-man bench so that leaves two openings. There are four players vying for those spots: Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi and Jesmuel Valentin. Valentin has impressed, but at 22 years old, he would benefit from playing every day at Triple A.

Mackanin praised Stassi's work on Monday. If Stassi makes the club, the final spot would come down to Coghlan and Nava.

"Stassi has obviously made a great impression, mainly because, not necessarily because of his results, but the fact that he had a lot of quality at-bats," Mackanin said. "It looks like he can handle making adjustments to the different pitchers and different situations. He seemed to handle left-handers well. He made a good impression, as has Coughlan. Nava has also been consistent throughout the spring."

Stassi, Coghlan and Nava are all non-roster players so the Phils would have to clear 40-man roster space to add any of them.

Two spots remain open in the bullpen. Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez, Luis Garcia, Alec Asher and Cesar Ramos are the candidates. All but Ramos is on the 40-man roster.

How will this all shake out?

More answers are probably coming Tuesday.