Prized prospects Franco, Gonzalez eye big leagues

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Prized prospects Franco, Gonzalez eye big leagues

When looking for inspiration, Severino Gonzalez has a couple of pretty good role models.

One is Mariano Rivera, which is a pretty good choice for a pitcher, regardless of nationality. Given that both are from Panama, Rivera’s status in the game takes on a greater impact for Gonzalez.

Then there is Carlos Ruiz. Well known to all Panamanians, Gonzalez has latched onto Ruiz because they are from nearby towns. But given that Gonzalez is a pitcher in the Phillies organization with pinpoint control and a repertoire of pitches that the Phillies’ brass says is reminiscent of Rivera, perhaps there is a chance the team could have an all-Panama battery.

“In spring training was the first time I met him,” Gonzalez said. “The relationship grew from that.”

Gonzalez said Ruiz took him out for dinner and gave him advice when he could. For a kid who watched the 2008 World Series and felt like he was out there celebrating with his countryman when the Phillies won, it was pretty heady stuff for Gonzalez.

But whatever Ruiz passed on must have been pretty good because the right-handed pitcher put together a phenomenal season. Starting in extended spring training, the 6-foot-1, 150-pounder who still wears braces on his teeth, moved to low-A ball in Lakewood before moving to high-A Clearwater as a roster filler.

As it turned out, Gonzalez was a little more than just a guy on the bench. In 20 outings at Clearwater, including nine starts, the righty posted a 2.02 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 75 innings. By the end of the year, he was at Double A Reading for a start and on Monday and Tuesday he was in Philadelphia with Reading teammate Maikel Franco to pick up his hardware for winning the Paul Owens Award.

Given to the top pitcher and hitter in the Phillies system, Gonzalez won the Paul Owens Award, though he escaped much of the notice that Franco received. Gonzalez’s record wasn’t spectacular at 7-5, but he posted a 2.00 ERA between three teams with 119 strikeouts in 103 2/3 innings with just 22 walks. Gonzalez had 19 walks in 20 games and 75 2/3 innings for Clearwater.

Just 20 years old, Gonzalez understands that good things happen when a pitcher throws strikes.

“I just didn’t want to walk anyone,” Gonzalez said. “I just kept throwing strikes and that was what I was after.”

Like Rivera, Gonzalez throws a cutter that he moves in and out on hitters. He says he needs to work on his changeup, but he has been able to get away without one so far. In the meantime, Gonzalez likely will start the 2014 season at Double A where he can work on his repertoire.

Franco will probably be at Triple A to start the 2014 season, though an invitation to big-league camp in the spring isn’t far-fetched. Franco belted 31 homers with 103 RBIs and a .320 batting average in 134 games with Clearwater and Reading. His 70 extra-base hits led the minors and got some notice from Phils’ interim manager Ryne Sandberg.

If Franco were to get an invite to big-league camp, Sandberg -- if he is still the manager -- would be excited to see what he can do.

“A guy like him, if he’s in spring training next year, it’ll be the first time for a lot of people to get a look at him and see what he looks like on a field with major leaguers and get him a taste of that,” Sandberg said. “I think (Cody) Asche experienced that last year coming to big-league camp. Sometimes they can gauge what they need to work on, and also gauge where they stand compared to big leaguers.”

Of course there is the issue of a position for Franco, who has played third base for all but eight games last year. He dabbled a bit at first base for Reading and said he felt comfortable with it. However, Asche looks to have an inside track on the third base job next spring and Ryan Howard has first base locked up for a couple more seasons.

Where does that leave Franco if he continues to tear up minor-league pitching?

“Whatever position they want me to play, I’ll play,” Franco said. “Everybody wants to play in the big leagues. That’s my point. I want to play in the big leagues. I don’t care what position I play, I want to play in the big leagues.”

Franco is getting closer. In the meantime, he’ll spend the winter playing for San Francisco de Macorís in the Dominican Winter League. But while Franco was hanging around Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday, Sandberg wondered if there was an extra uniform he could use.

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Zach Eflin, Phillies aim for first series win since April

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Zach Eflin, Phillies aim for first series win since April

Phillies (17-30) vs. Reds (23-25)
1:35 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App.

Tommy Joseph came through as the Phillies' hero on Saturday with his second walk-off single in three days. It was just the Phillies' sixth win in their last 27 games, but the victory allows the Phillies an opportunity to take the series with the Reds.

Zach Eflin will take the hill for Sunday afternoon's start and will oppose Scott Feldman, the 'ace' for the Reds this season.

Here are five things to know for Sunday's game:

1. What a relief
It may have crept up on you, but the Phillies' bullpen is hot right now -- to the tune of 19 2/3 straight scoreless innings hot.

The Phils' relief corps came through with 3 2/3 more scoreless on Saturday to back up starter Jerad Eickhoff and give the bats a chance to walk off. After Joaquin Benoit expressed public frustration with the lack of roles in the 'pen, the team has slowly but surely found a pecking order for its back-end. With Hector Neris entrenched as closer, Benoit now serves as the primary setup man while Pat Neshek and Edubray Ramos have also been in line for high-leverage innings.

Neris has allowed just one run over 10 2/3 this month after closing last month with that back-to-back-to-back home run implosion in Los Angeles. He's back to his bread and butter -- setting up hitters with his fastball before unleashing his nasty splitter, which he used to retire Joey Votto in Saturday's ninth inning.

Benoit has seven consecutive scoreless one-inning performances. He's looking more and more like the reliever the Phillies thought they were getting when they signed him in the offseason. Neshek has five straight scoreless appearances since giving up his first runs of the season two weeks ago during the doubleheader with the Nationals. Both setup men are in line for possible trades this season and could get the Phillies something in return.

And if the rotation continues to stumble (averaging 5.38 innings per start with an ERA above 6.00 in May), the bullpen could be a backbone to keep the team respectable.

2. Needing a better effort from Eflin
One starter who is certainly struggling is Eflin, who needs to rebound after a couple poor starts.

His last two starts have been nothing short of disasters. In 10 innings, he's allowed 15 runs on 21 hits while surrendering three home runs. The appearances -- losses to the Rangers and Rockies -- account for the worst two-start stretch of his career.

Through seven starts, Eflin has an ERA of 5.36. He was coming off a string of four consecutive quality starts before this late-May swoon and had an ERA of 2.81 while averaging 6.4 innings per start.

The 6-foot-5 righty relies heavily on his sinker, so he's going to have a lot of balls put in play. However, he simply can't survive with home runs. He needs to keep the ball on the ground, especially against the slugging Reds, who have four batters with at least 10 home runs.

There's no doubt that Eflin could pitch his way out of the rotation if he can't turn things around. He's only 23 and has made just 18 MLB starts. However, pitching through his struggles in the majors is the right way to go. This is a pitcher who had a 2.81 ERA just two weeks ago and two bad starts aren't worth an overreaction.

None of his 18 career starts came against the Reds and he has not faced anyone currently on Cincy's roster.

3. The Reds' ace?
Believe or not, the Phillies don't have the worst rotation ERA in baseball. That belongs to the Reds, whose starters sport a combined 5.74 heading into Sunday's rubber match in South Philly.

In 48 games, they've allowed 53 home runs and 154 earned runs. They've walked 109 batters and have the third fewest strikeouts (185) of any staff.

So with an only OK ERA of 3.99, Scott Feldman is actually the staff ace. At 34 years old, he's played for six different teams and had middling results at each stop. For his career, he is 74-81 with a 4.38 ERA.

This season, he has a career-worst walk rate, but has limited hits and home runs to keep teams off the board. On May 7, he threw a four-hit shutout against the Giants and is coming off a six-inning, one-run start against the Indians. He struck out a season-high nine in that game.

The Phillies are more than familiar with the righty as they faced him on opening day in Cincinnati. Feldman lasted just 4 2/3 innings and gave up three runs, including home runs to both Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis. It was his only ever start against the Phillies as he's spent the majority of his career in the American League.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Joseph has been the Phillies' saving grace recently. In both games he finished with walk-off singles, he also hit a home run and he's looking more and more like the hitter that took the Phils' lineup by storm last summer.

Reds: Votto is undoubtedly one of the best hitters in baseball. The 33-year-old Canadian is 0 for 7 with a walk in this series but has a .413 OBP this season with more walks (36) than strikeouts (26).

5. This and that
• Howie Kendrick made his fourth rehab appearance on Saturday with Triple A Lehigh Valley. He went 1 for 5 and played the full game at third base.

• The Phillies have not won consecutive games since their six-game win streak concluded on April 27.

• The Phils lost their last eight series, beginning in Los Angeles against the Dodgers on April 28-30.

• The Phillies are 9-11 in one-run games. They were 28-23 in those contests last year.

Howie Kendrick makes 4th rehab appearance in Lehigh Valley

Howie Kendrick makes 4th rehab appearance in Lehigh Valley

Howie Kendrick on Saturday night made his fourth rehab appearance in Triple A during Lehigh Valley's 13-1 rout of the Louisville Bats in Allentown.

Kendrick went 1 for 5 with a run scored and three strikeouts. He also grounded into a double play and left two runners in scoring position.

It was his second rehab game playing third base. He played third during his appearance in the IronPigs' 8-4 loss Thursday to the Indianapolis Indians. He was 0 for 1 in three plate appearances with a run scored and was hit by a pitch twice (see story).

The Phillies' plan for Kendrick was to have him play a minimum four games at Lehigh Valley. He played left field in two games and third base twice. Pete Mackanin said Wednesday that Kendrick would also get a game at first base but he hasn't gotten a game at first yet.

There is a chance Kendrick could be recalled Sunday before the Phillies’ series finale against the Cincinnati Reds depending on how he feels.

Kendrick has been sidelined since April 15 with an oblique strain. In 10 games before the injury, Kendrick went 13 for 39 (.333) with five extra-base hits and four walks while exclusively playing left field.