Rupp, Martin show potential in blowout loss

slideshow-phillies-cameron-rupp-ap.jpg

Rupp, Martin show potential in blowout loss

BOX SCORE

Ryne Sandberg continues to look at all the players on the Phillies' roster and some in new roles.

Tuesday night’s game against San Diego saw catcher Cameron Rupp make his major-league debut and pitcher Ethan Martin make his maiden voyage as a reliever.

Though the Phillies were beaten badly in an 8-2 loss to the Padres (see Instant Replay), Rupp and Martin provided some interesting and entertaining storylines.

Rupp, a burly 24-year-old from Texas, received an interesting compliment for his work behind the plate, and he somewhat hilariously had his first big-league hit in the eighth inning.

Martin, a power arm who had trouble throwing strikes as a starter, made his big-league relief debut and dazzled. He got three outs on 10 pitches -- all strikes -- in the sixth inning.

Rupp and Martin are two of a number of youngsters who are being evaluated for future work as the Phillies wind down what will be their first losing season since 2002. Third baseman Cody Asche is another young player that management is taking a look at. He has impressed since arriving in late July. On Tuesday night, he belted his fifth home run in 112 at-bats. It came against hard-throwing Padres’ right-hander Andrew Cashner, who allowed just two runs over 7 2/3 innings.

The Phillies ended up with seven hits (to San Diego’s 13), but entered the eighth inning with just two against Cashner. In addition to the weak showing at the plate, the Phils did not get a good outing from starter Tyler Cloyd, who allowed nine hits and seven runs in four-plus innings.

“My pitches were up,” Cloyd said. “I made a lot of mistakes. I needed to throw more off-speed stuff. They were on my fastball and slider all night. I just didn’t execute. I got off the game plan. I didn’t throw enough off-speed stuff and stayed on the plate too much.”

Cloyd’s early exit allowed the Phils to get a look at Martin out of the bullpen. The hard-throwing right-hander has been used as a starter since joining the Phils’ organization in a trade with the Dodgers last summer, but his skill-set might play better out of the bullpen.

It certainly did in this game.

“He made a very good showing,” Sandberg said. “He kept the ball down in the zone well.”

Rupp was a third-round pick of the Phillies out of the University of Texas in 2010. He entered spring training ranked behind Tommy Joseph on the team’s list of catching prospects, but got a chance to play at Triple A when Joseph could not make it back from a concussion suffered in May. Rupp showed enough at the plate and behind it to earn a September promotion.

Though he struck out in his first two at-bats of the game, he earned a nice compliment from an unusual source. In the ninth inning, home plate umpire Mark Wegner wandered over to the Phillies’ dugout -- these things happen in a blowout -- and told Sandberg how impressed he was with Rupp’s work behind the plate.

“The umpire said that was the best visibility and framing of pitches he’d seen all season,” Sandberg said. “It was pretty cool. With (Rupp’s) posture, he gets a little rounded. I can see where the umpire would see the ball very well coming in. That was a pretty good compliment. Pretty impressive.”

Rupp said he’d never received a compliment like that from an umpire.

“That makes me feel good,” he said. “You want to give the umpire the best look and give him a chance to call a strike for the pitcher, so that’s something I pride myself in.”

Rupp’s parents, Kevin and Kathi, came in from Dallas for the weekend. Their son did not play. Kevin flew home after Sunday’s game -- Kathi stayed -- and returned to Philadelphia in time for Tuesday’s game when he heard his son would start. (Cameron had gotten a heads-up Sunday night.)

The Comcast SportsNet broadcast showed Rupp’s proud parents several times during the game, including after he beat out a slow roller to third for his first big-league hit. As Rupp reached the bag, he tripped and rolled to the ground. Up in the stands, his father laughed hysterically.

“Exactly the way I drew it up,” Rupp said of his less-than-majestic first big-league hit. “I’m sure I’m not going to hear the end of it for a while.

“But I couldn’t be more excited. It’s a dream come true to play in a major-league game.”

Rupp will have the last laugh on his father when his parents return to Texas on a 6:30 a.m. flight Wednesday.

He’s sleeping in.

“They can take a cab to the airport,” he said.

Nola, bench, the kids and more: A half-dozen issues to watch as Phillies get set to play games

Nola, bench, the kids and more: A half-dozen issues to watch as Phillies get set to play games

CLEARWATER, Fla. — For the first time since Oct. 2 when Ryan Howard tipped his cap and Hector Neris retired Kevin Plawecki on a ground ball to third base to give them a 5-2 win over the New York Mets, the Phillies will play a game on Thursday afternoon.

They will host the University of Tampa for the third straight year in an exhibition game at Spectrum Field. The Spartans are 7-2 and ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division II.

Manager Pete Mackanin will take the opportunity to look at a number of minor-league prospects in his starting lineup on Thursday. Minor-league right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. will start for the Phillies.

The Phillies will play a number of their projected regular players in Friday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees in Tampa.

As the games get going, the evaluations and decision-making process ramps up for Mackanin, the coaching staff and the front office.

Let’s take a look at the six biggest storylines that will unfold over the course of the Grapefruit League season:

Aaron Nola
So far, so good for the right-hander who missed the last two months of the 2016 season with an elbow injury. He says he is completely healthy and his early-camp bullpen sessions have gone smoothly.

But game action will bring a rise in intensity and a truer gauge of Nola’s health. He is expected to make his first start sometime next week.

“I'm real anxious to see Nola pitch,” manager Pete Mackanin said Wednesday. “We all know what he's capable of doing when he's healthy. Right now, he appears to be and says he is 100 percent. My only concern for him is as we go along into the season, if it's going to come back to haunt him. Right now, I'm real pleased at the way he's throwing and the way he looks. He feels very confident.”

Nola has no limits, but ...

“We will have to keep a close eye on him,” Mackanin said. “All the pitchers, actually. Especially him. I know how good he can be. I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch. Hopefully, every outing he has, he won't show any signs of it. That's the only thing I'm concerned about, that thing coming back.”

The bullpen
Mackanin opened camp by saying that Jeanmar Gomez was his closer — “at this point.”

Like all pitchers, Gomez will need some time and innings to get into a spring rhythm. Serious evaluation of him probably won’t happen until later in the spring. If he pitches well, he will most likely seize the closer job that he lost last September. If he struggles, he could end up forfeiting the closer gig to Hector Neris or Joaquin Benoit and move into a setup role, where he had success in 2015 and could be an asset because of his ability to pitch multiple innings. For the record, Gomez says he will be happy in whatever role Mackanin asks him to fill.

Other roles are open in the bullpen. In particular, Mackanin is looking for at least one lefty and ideally two. Joely Rodriguez probably has the inside track for one lefty spot because he’s on the 40-man roster. Adam Morgan will get starter’s innings in camp, but he could end up in the bullpen. Veterans Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett, both in camp on minor-league contracts, will each get a serious look to make the club.

Hitting approach
The Phillies were last in the majors in runs (610) and second-to-last in batting average (.240) and on-base percentage (.301) in 2016.

New hitting coach Matt Stairs is trying to improve the team’s on-base skills by stressing a gap-to-gap approach and not giving away at-bats. In other words, have a plan before the at-bat, key on a particular zone early in the count and don’t expand until there are two strikes.

Turning these hitters into a group that works counts, grinds out at-bats and gets on base won’t happen overnight, but Mackanin would like to see some progress in exhibition play.

“It takes a while for all of it to settle in,” Mackanin said. “When you hit a certain way your whole life or your thought process is a certain way your whole life, it's hard to make changes because you're out of your comfort zone. The important thing is for the players to buy into what Matt Stairs is selling. If they do that, I think we're going to improve.”

The bench
Barring injury, the starting eight position jobs are settled, but there is intrigue on the bench. Outfielder Aaron Altherr and infielder Andres Blanco appear to be locks and it’s difficult to imagine infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan not making the club. There are others in the mix, including veteran Daniel Nava.

The most intriguing bench question is who will be the backup catcher? Prospect Andrew Knapp will get a long look both behind the plate and at first base as he bids to win a reserve role at both positions. Big-league veterans Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan are also vying for the role of backup catcher.

A roster sleeper?
Last year, little known outfielder Cedric Hunter hit his way onto the opening day roster.

Will there be a repeat this spring?

Keep an eye on Brock Stassi and Andrew Pullin. Both are in camp as non-roster players. Both swing from the left side, have strong minor-league hitting resumes and could be very much in play if the Phils want to add a bat off the bench.

Pullin is a corner outfielder with a short, quick stroke that will remind you of Jim Eisenreich. Stassi has a good bat and could bring some versatility with his ability to play first base and outfield.

The kids
It’s always fun to look at the next wave of potential Phillies early in the Grapefruit League season. Outfielder Roman Quinn was one of the most exciting players in camp last year and he’s primed for another good showing before heading off to Triple A finishing school.

Top prospect J.P. Crawford will get a lot of looks at shortstop before heading to minor-league camp, and it will be fun to watch the power bats of Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens; they combined for 78 homers at Double A last season.

Catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams, both heading into important seasons at Triple A, will get playing time, commencing with starting assignments on Thursday.

Phillies prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

Phillies prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies received some good and bad news on pitcher Victor Arano.

He was diagnosed with a sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

Surgery was not prescribed, which is good news.

The bad news, he’s been shut down for at least a month.

Arano’s injury was treated with a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection.

The 22-year-old from Mexico said he first started feeling some tenderness in the elbow during a stint in the Arizona Fall League. He experienced some swelling in the elbow after reporting to camp earlier this month.

Arano is an intriguing prospect. He was acquired from the Dodgers as part of the package for starter Roberto Hernandez in August 2014. He impressed team officials in spring training 2015 and really took a big step forward after moving to the bullpen last season. He pitched 79⅔ innings in 46 games at Single A Clearwater and Double A Reading and recorded a 2.26 ERA while striking out 95 and walking just 19.

Arano’s stuff has been compared to that of Edubray Ramos, who jumped from Double A to Triple A to the majors last season.

The injury means Arano will have to start the season on the disabled list.

In other health news, pitcher Jake Thompson graduated to a bullpen mound on Wednesday. He had been slowed by a sore wrist but is fine now. Thompson proved that by winning the longest drive at Tuesday’s annual team golf outing.

Thompson lines up to open the season at Triple A.