Ryno wants Howard, team in shape, prepared

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Ryno wants Howard, team in shape, prepared

MIAMI -- Listen to Ryne Sandberg talk often enough and you’ll learn what’s important to him.

Play the game the right way.

Prepare.

Be in shape.

The new Phillies manager intends to touch on all of these topics in a team meeting sometime before the season ends Sunday in Atlanta.

“I envision having a full team talk with the guys, preparing them for the offseason, expectations and letting them know how important spring training will be,” Sandberg said Monday, the day after the Phillies removed his interim label and gave him a three-year contract.

“Be in shape and ready to go right away.”

Sandberg would like to see Ryan Howard come to camp in better shape next spring. Howard has had a difficult time getting into tip-top condition the last two seasons because of injuries to his left leg. Howard dealt with lingering effects of a torn Achilles tendon in 2012 and a cartilage tear in his knee this season. Both required surgery.

Howard is currently working out in the Florida instructional league and team officials say he has gotten into better shape. Sandberg plans to touch base with Howard soon.

“You talk about a player that has his injuries behind him and will be healthy next year,” Sandberg said. “Maybe, in some ways, he'll be disappointed in this season. It all adds up to a year where he'll be ready to go. It all starts right now with the games in Florida along with his workout program the whole winter.

“Him being healthy will allow him to get into baseball shape. I look for him to come back and be a big guy right in the middle of the lineup.

“I know I'll have a conversation with him about continuing to have a good work ethic and get the training he needs this winter.

“He has a knack of driving in runs. Cutting down on strikeouts would be a priority. All of that could come with a better in-shape player, a better frame of mind, and a healthy player.”

Sandberg wants Howard to utilize all team resources, such as hitting coaches and video of opposing pitchers.

“From what I’ve gathered, I think he can be better prepared to face somebody to start a baseball game,” Sandberg said.

In addition to physical shape, Sandberg wants his players in fundamental shape. He will stress fundamentals in spring training and carry that into the season with 15-minute review sessions before batting practice at home. The Phillies, at Sandberg’s behest, began doing this in April when Charlie Manuel was still manager. One day, the middle infielders might get extra work, the next day outfielders might work on cutoffs, the next day pitchers might do fielding drills. There will also be baserunning drills.

“I think it’s all for the players’ benefit to get better, and I think ultimately that’s what you see,” Sandberg said. “It’s a team strategy and this is how we’re going to do it. You can have a nice session in 12 to 15 minutes and then they go stretch. It’s not a big time thing. And I think, I’ve noticed this year, they come out and they have fun with it. I hear them talking. Whether it’s with the infield, the pitchers … I think they like it.

“I’m just trying to help them get better, help the team get better. I think it’s hand-in-hand.”

Phillies getting good reports on catching prospect Jorge Alfaro

Phillies getting good reports on catching prospect Jorge Alfaro

Jorge Alfaro, one of the Phillies' most highly regarded prospects, is off to a big start at Triple A Lehigh Valley.
 
He entered Wednesday night's game hitting .377 (23 for 61) with a 1.003 OPS in his first 15 games. He had a double, two triples, three homers and 10 RBIs. Team officials would surely like to see the strikeouts (17) come down and the walks (1) go up, but no one is complaining about the production.
 
"I just looked at his numbers," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's doing very well — knocking the cover off the ball."
 
Alfaro, 23, is widely considered the Phillies' catcher of the future. He's an athletic talent with huge upside. Many scouts believe he could be an All-Star if he puts it all together.
 
Defense is the area where Alfaro needs the most work. Yes, he's got a "howitzer" for an arm, as Mackanin called it, so that doesn't need much work. But there's a lot more to catching than throwing. There's game-calling, receiving and blocking.
 
Alfaro made a cameo with the big club last September and did not impress club officials with his receiving or blocking. Instructors focused on improving those areas in spring training, and Mackanin reports that Alfaro has shown progress in the early season.
 
"We get a complete game report on what everyone does offensively and defensively," Mackanin said. "Apparently he looks very good defensively.
 
"He had some issues defensively. He wasn't getting down enough and he worked on that all spring. He's a big guy and it's a little more difficult for a big guy to get low.
 
"And we wanted him to just be a little more quiet behind the plate, less movement. He had a tendency to be moving while the pitcher was getting ready to pitch. We just want a guy sitting back there nice and quiet with a good target. That might seem pretty elementary, but if you're not concentrating on doing that you might not realize the importance of it.
 
"He's doing well blocking balls. He's doing everything well right now and hitting on top of it, so that's a nice sign."

Clay Buchholz optimistic he can still pitch in 2017 after surgery

Clay Buchholz optimistic he can still pitch in 2017 after surgery

Pitcher Clay Buchholz made his first appearance in the Phillies' clubhouse Wednesday since having surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right forearm last week.  

Many initially believed Buchholz would be out for the remainder of the season -- and he still might be -- but he expressed optimism and believes he can return to the mound in September.

"My goal right now is to let this heal," Buchholz said. "Get it well and if this team keeps playing like they're playing right now, we'll be playing in September, October, so that's my goal."

Buchholz said he wasn't feeling 100 percent leading up to the April 11 game against the New York Mets when manager Pete Mackanin pulled him in the third inning. 

"I told [general manager Matt Klentak] that I was sorry, and the guys in here," Buchholz said. "I was brought here for a reason. I wanted to pitch, I wanted to be good. I guess it's a good thing we have a good farm system here because they've been able to step up and fill in."

Buchholz had a similar issue with the Boston Red Sox in July 2015 and missed the rest of the season. 

In his two starts with the Phillies, Buchholz allowed 10 runs and 19 baserunners over just 7 1/3 innings. 
 
Buchholz, 32, will become a free agent at the end of the season. Given his age and the possibility that he won't return this season, the injury could significantly affect his value heading into the offseason. He's the second-highest paid player on the Phillies' roster at $13.5 million

But Buchholz wants to build the strength in his forearm and continue to pitch in MLB following this season.

"There's a lot of guys that come back," Buchholz said. "I have a lot of buddies that played this game that have come back from major surgeries and played for eight or nine more years. It's all about once I do get healthy, being prepared and building a strong foundation around my muscles."