Report: Phillies still a player for A.J. Burnett

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Report: Phillies still a player for A.J. Burnett

The Phillies are "very much still in the running" for A.J. Burnett, MLB.com's Todd Zolecki reported Monday night. This comes three days after GM Ruben Amaro Jr. cautioned against any more major moves coming.

Amaro said last Friday that it appeared the Phils would head into spring training with the rotation they had. 

“I don’t suspect we’ll be doing anything,” the Phillies' GM told CSNPhilly.com Phillies Insider Jim Salisbury. “I think we’ve got what we’ve got. I suspect we’ll go into the season with what we’ve got -- or at least spring training with what we’ve got. We’re always looking, always trolling. I know there are guys out there, but I don’t suspect us having anything major coming through.”

Burnett would certainly qualify as a "major" upgrade to a very thin Phillies staff. He led the NL with 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 2013 and has the second-best groundball rate in the majors since 2012.

The Burnett saga this offseason has had many stops and starts. At first, retirement seemed to be his choice. Then it appeared he wanted to pitch only for the Pirates, or perhaps the Orioles, since he's a resident of suburban Baltimore. But other teams have entered the mix since the retirement option went out the window, and East Coast teams seem to have the advantage.

Adding Burnett would give the Phillies a rotation that could contend. He'd slot in either in between or after Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. After the ace lefties, the Phillies have Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez destined for the rotation, with Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and Jonathan Pettibone the top candidates for the final spot.

If the Phillies did bring in Burnett, they'd have a rotation that could rival the NL's top staffs in Washington and Los Angeles. The Nationals' top-four of Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister is the deepest in the NL, but the Dodgers' top-three of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu might be the best in a short series.

The Cardinals (Adam Wainwright-Michael Wacha-Shelby Miller-Jaime Garcia-Lance Lynn) and Giants (Matt Cain-Madison Bumgarner-Tim Lincecum-Tim Hudson) also have formidable rotations, further showing how tough it will be for the Phillies to navigate through the NL, with or without Burnett.

The Orioles, Pirates and Blue Jays seem to be the Phillies' clear competition for Burnett, who could likely be had on a one-year deal worth upwards of the $16.5 million he made in 2013.

But Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com reported over the weekend that the O's are likely out on Burnett. "Feeling is he wants to pitch in NL," Kubatko tweeted.

The Blue Jays, meanwhile, are a reported suitor for Ervin Santana, which would take them out of the Burnett sweepstakes.

Signing Burnett hasn't been the Phillies' main goal this offseason, but a lot of their moves -- re-signing Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz, doing little to improve the bullpen, opting for all low-cost commitments -- make much more sense if they result in the ability to land Burnett. 

MLB Notes: Austin Jackson makes Indians' opening day roster

MLB Notes: Austin Jackson makes Indians' opening day roster

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Outfielder Austin Jackson took an opportunity with the Cleveland Indians and ran with it.

Jackson was informed on Sunday that he has made Cleveland's opening-day roster, giving the AL champions some outfield depth in case Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley aren't ready for the start of the season.

The 30-year-old Jackson signed a minor league deal with the Indians in January. He missed the early part of training camp as he recovered from left knee surgery, but Jackson has made up for lost time by batting .375 with one homer and five RBIs in Cactus League games.

Jackson played in only 54 games last year with the Chicago White Sox before undergoing knee surgery to repair torn meniscus. He's played in the postseason with Detroit and the Cubs.

Jackson had an out clause in his contract that had to be exercised by Sunday (see full story).

Rockies: Mark Reynolds' contract selected from Triple A
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Colorado Rockies have selected the contract of first baseman Mark Reynolds from Triple-A Albuquerque.

Reynolds figures to be the starter at first in the absence of Ian Desmond, who is out with a broken left hand.

The 33-year-old Reynolds hit a career-best .282 last season with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs. He was limited to 32 at-bats after Aug. 11. He broke a bone in his left hand while swinging a bat, had surgery on Aug. 15, was activated Aug. 31 and broke his left wrist when he was hit by a pitch on Sept. 18.

He re-signed with Colorado in February on a minor-league deal.

Also Sunday, Colorado placed right-hander Chad Bettis on the 60-day disabled list as he deals with testicular cancer. There is no timetable for Bettis' return.

Tigers: Lowe released; Jimenez to minor-league camp
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Detroit Tigers have released right-handed reliever Mark Lowe, one of several cuts before Sunday's spring training game against Toronto.

Detroit also optioned catcher John Hicks to Triple-A Toledo, and the Tigers reassigned right-handers Joe Jimenez, Ruben Alaniz, Logan Kensing, Arcenio Leon and Edward Mujica, infielder Dominic Ficociello and outfielders Anthony Gose and Juan Perez to minor league camp.

The Tigers signed Lowe to an $11 million, two-year contract before last season, but he was ineffective in 2016, going 1-3 with a 7.11 ERA in 54 appearances. He had a 5.19 ERA in nine appearances this spring.

In 2015, Lowe went 1-3 with a 1.96 ERA in 57 games with Seattle and Toronto.

Phillies 6, Pirates 3: Andrew Knapp's big day comes at the right time

Phillies 6, Pirates 3: Andrew Knapp's big day comes at the right time

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ever since Andrew Knapp earned his way onto the Phillies' 40-man roster back in November, it seemed to be a fait accompli that he would end up as the team's backup catcher on opening day.

But that's not to say he didn't have to shine just a little bit in spring training to validate his standing.

Knapp got off to a slow start in Grapefruit League play -- one hit in his first 22 at-bats -- but he began the final week of camp with his best game on Sunday. He went 2 for 4 with a two-run home run and threw out two runners on the bases.

"It's been nice to get some games back-to-back," Knapp said. "I struggled a little bit early just taking a lot of time off in between at-bats and behind the plate. But this past week, I've been able to get in there a lot and start to get in the flow of the game a little bit. I think I was trying to do too much early on."

The increased playing time is likely a sign that Knapp will end up on the 25-man roster. The Phils have two non-roster veteran catchers -- Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan -- in camp. Both can opt out of their minor-league contracts in the coming days if they aren't going to make the club.

Phillies officials are looking to make as few subtractions from the 40-man roster as they can in constructing their bench and bullpen (see story). That's why things are looking good for Knapp.

But he's taking nothing for granted. Though Phillies officials were scheduled to meet Sunday evening "to try to get as close to the finalization as we can," in manager Pete Mackanin's words, opening day rosters don't have to be officially submitted until next Sunday, a day before the season opener.

"I'm just trying to keep my head down and not think about it that much," Knapp said. "The playing helps a lot. When you're just sitting on the bench, you're thinking about a million things. But when you're in the game, you get away from that a little bit. Just go out there, play, and enjoy the game. It's helped a lot."

The rest of the bench
Andres Blanco and Aaron Altherr are both set on the bench. Knapp looks good. That leaves two open spots, presuming the Phillies go with a five-man bench.

Chris Coghlan and Daniel Nava, both non-roster veterans, have played extensively in recent days. That suggests they could be the lead candidates. If that's the case, Brock Stassi, who has not played the last two days, could be on the outside. Infielder Jesmuel Valentin is also still in camp and he has played well. He's also on the 40-man roster and that would play in his favor. However, at 22, he might be better served to get regular playing time in Triple A.

Neither Coghlan nor Nava is on the 40-man roster so the Phils would have to clear spots to carry them.

Coghlan made an excellent running catch against the wall in left field Sunday.

The game
The Phillies had 15 hits and six of them were for extra bases, including homers by Knapp and Maikel Franco, in their 6-3 win over the Pirates.

Clay Buchholz, who had not pitched in 10 days after traveling home for the birth of his son, was rusty. He gave up five hits and three runs in 3 1/3 innings. He walked four and struck out four.

"Four walks is definitely subpar, but, you know, it's still spring training," Buchholz said.

The right-hander has allowed 11 runs over his last 14 2/3 innings.

"You can't honestly say he's had a good spring, but he was up close to 90 pitches today so pitch-count-wise he's doing fine," Mackanin said. "He hadn't pitched in 10 days so I can understand his lack of command. Once he's into a rhythm I think he'll be fine."

Venditte shines
Ambidextrous reliever Pat Venditte pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings.

"It's fun to watch Venditte pitch," Mackanin said. "If I'm up in the stands and I see him throw four pitches from the right side and I reach over to get my Coke or beer and I look back up and he's throwing from the left side I will start wondering how many beers I had. He's fun to watch."

Up next
The Phillies play the Blue Jays in Dunedin on Monday night. Vince Velasquez will start against Toronto's Aaron Sanchez.

The Phils could have several roster moves during the day as the 25-man roster continues to come into focus.