Sandberg: 'Lot of possibilities' for Phils' lineup

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Sandberg: 'Lot of possibilities' for Phils' lineup

The Phillies still haven't gotten any younger this offseason, a fact that manager Ryne Sandberg is reminded of often.

So how does the skipper plan to handle his aging lineup during the upcoming season?

"Well, I think that's all part of my job with an experienced group and that means quality bench guys,” Sandberg said during Tuesday's edition of Philly Sports Talk.

"Freddy Galvis, he's the type of player that I'd be comfortable having him out there two or three or four times a week giving guys blows. Whether it's Kevin Frandsen at second base for a game or two or Darin Ruf, whoever the case may be, I think that's where the bench players come into play with the regulars that we have.”

Sandberg understands that players like Galvis and Ruf are extremely important for an older team trying to stay healthy.

“Keeping the experienced players healthy is key,” Sandberg said. “I know that they're still going to have productive years and with Ryan Howard enjoying an offseason of getting his workouts in and trimming down and getting in baseball shape, he's a big guy right in the middle with some people around him. So I think that's key with the guys we have.”

The potential starting lineup for the Phillies that includes Carlos Ruiz, Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cody Asche, Dom Brown, Marlon Byrd and Ben Revere would have an average age of 31 years. However, the manager doesn’t think the Phillies are done adding to the lineup just yet and has higher expectations.

"That's where it stands right now,” Sandberg said. “Another thing we'd like to do is add some possible depth in the outfield defense, primarily a right-handed centerfielder. So we've got some time before the first day of spring training, but that's another possibility and another added guy, depth in the outfield, with improved defense and a right-handed bat. But when you look at that lineup top to bottom, there's a lot of possibilities and flexibility.”

Sandberg also stated that the Phillies have options within the organization.

“Cody Asche got some nice experience last year, he said. “I think he got tired at the end of the season just because it was the first long year for him. But he shows a good line-drive stroke, and really came a long way on the defensive side at third base for the last six, seven weeks that we saw him.

“I'm anxious to see [Maikel] Franco in spring training. I hear great things about him. The right-handed bat, good at third base, can play some first base. But he was in High-A last year. I'm anxious to see him. So he's another guy that will come into camp and see what he does. Maybe some other options there."

Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler played with Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez when the two were growing up in Cuba. They traveled together to Venezuela for a youth tournament.

Soler said Fernandez's ability was obvious, right from the start.

"Since he was a child, since we were kids, I knew he had something," Soler said through a translator. "He had a talent. It was very impressive."

Fernandez's death in a boating accident at the age of 24 cast a dark shadow over the major leagues on Sunday. Miami's home game against Atlanta was canceled, and several ballparks observed moments of silence. Wrigley Field's iconic hand-operated scoreboard displayed Fernandez's No. 16 in its pitching column next to Miami.

But the loss of Fernandez was felt most acutely in baseball's growing Cuban community.

"He was one of those guys that everybody loved," St. Louis Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena said. "He was one of those guys that everybody knew exactly what he meant to our community. For us, it's a big, big loss. It's one of those things where our thoughts and prayers are obviously with his family, the Marlins' organization and the fans. But it gets a little bit closer because he was part of our Cuban family."

There were 23 Cubans on opening-day major league rosters this year, an increase of five over last season and the most since the commissioner's office began releasing data in 1995. Many of the players share similar stories when it comes to their perilous journey from the communist country to the majors, and the difficulty of adjusting to life in the United States.

A native of Santa Clara, Cuba, Fernandez was unsuccessful in his first three attempts to defect, and spent several months in prison. At 15, Fernandez and his mother finally made it to Mexico, and were reunited in Florida with his father, who had escaped from Cuba two years earlier.

He was drafted by the Marlins in 2011, and quickly turned into one of the majors' top pitchers.

"How he was on the mound was a reflection of him," Oakland first baseman Yonder Alonso said. "A guy who had a lot of fun, was himself. A very talkative guy, he would come into the room and you'd know he was in the room. Never big-leagued anyone, very professional. No matter what, he would talk to you about hitting, because he thought he was the best hitter, and he (would) talk to you about pitching, because he thought he was the best pitcher."

Alonso said Fernandez's death was "a big-time shock." Yasiel Puig used torn pieces of white athletic tape to display Fernandez's jersey on the wall in the home dugout at Dodger Stadium. Cardinals rookie Aledmys Diaz, who had known Fernandez since they were little kids, declined an interview request through a team spokeswoman.

"We Cuban players know each other well and all of us have a great relationship," Pena said. "For us, it's devastating news when we woke up. We were sending text messages to each other and we were showing support. It's something that obviously nobody expects."

Fernandez, who became a U.S. citizen last year, also was beloved for his stature in the Cuban community in Miami.

"He was a great humanitarian," Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman said through a translator. "He gave a lot to the community and I think that's why he got a lot of respect from the community in terms of what a great person he was and always giving, in terms of always willing to help out in whatever way he can to try to better and progress within the community someone that perhaps wasn't as fortunate as he was."

The 28-year-old Chapman lives in the Miami-area in the offseason. He said he spent some time with Fernandez while he was home.

"He would come by my house. I would go by his," Chapman said. "We would have long conversations. We would talk a lot. We spent a lot of good amount of time together. It was very special for me."

Phillies' clubhouse reflects on life of Marlins' Jose Fernandez

Phillies' clubhouse reflects on life of Marlins' Jose Fernandez

NEW YORK — The clubhouse mood following the Phillies17-0 loss to the Mets Sunday was somber, in part because of the disastrous game that had just wrapped up, but also because of the tragic news of Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez’s death in a boating accident early Sunday morning.

“It was rough. People are devastated. I didn’t even know him and I was crushed,” Phillies starter Jake Thompson said. “I can only imagine how that clubhouse feels. That’s something that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, to deal with something of that magnitude.”

Both teams paused for a moment of silence before Sunday’s game and the Mets taped a jersey bearing Fernandez’s name and number onto their dugout wall.

“This morning, that was quite a surprise,” manager Pete Mackanin said of the atmosphere of the day. “I don’t think it affected the players once the game started. It was such bad news this morning that everybody was kind of melancholy.”

Fernandez had built a strong track record against the Phillies in his young career, amassing a 2.88 ERA in six starts.

“It’s kind of cliché to say but you look at the start of his career and he could have been a Hall of Famer,” Thompson said.

Asked how he would remember facing Fernandez, Mackanin was succinct.

“He was a helluva pitcher,” he said.

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