Sandberg's goal: Create Phillies 'team concept'

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Sandberg's goal: Create Phillies 'team concept'

Oftentimes when a new manager takes over a ballclub in the middle of a season, it’s difficult to make too many changes. Generally, the interim manager tries to keep the ship afloat before stepping back to make an assessment.

Rarely does a manager come in and make a lot of big changes. That’s especially the case for a manager getting his first chance in the big leagues.

But Ryne Sandberg isn’t the typical mid-season replacement. A Hall-of-Fame player, Sandberg has a little more cachet than most first-time managers and has used his influence appropriately.

For instance, Sandberg has changed the report time for the players at the ballpark to 3 p.m. In the past the report time used to be a bit later, but Sandberg puts such a premium on pre-game workouts that he wants the players at the park to prepare.

Sandberg also wants all of the players standing in front of the dugout during the National Anthem. It’s a small thing, but it makes a difference in the aesthetics. The Phillies look like a team when all of the players are standing in the same area for the anthem. Previously, the rule wasn’t so hard and fast. With Charlie Manuel, some players were standing in front of the dugout for the anthem and others were in the outfield stretching or running strides to stretch out before the game.

Again, it’s a little change and it’s not significant in the ultimate scheme of things. But it is a show of team unity.

“For me as a manager, I stressed getting back to the basics,” Sandberg said before Wednesday’s game against the Rockies at Citizens Bank Park. “I’ve preached that and talked at it. It’s a work ethic pregame and working on things. It is chatter on the bench. It’s asking the guys to hustle at all times and have a little hop in their steps and talking about the game that is there to be played and won every single day.”

Pre-game workouts, hustle and chatter on the bench are three of the hallmarks behind Sandberg’s early tenure as manager. Yet another of Sandberg’s tenets is for the veteran players to mentor the youngsters coming up with the team. The veterans should be the leaders, according to Sandberg, and he hasn’t minced words when explaining to players like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, that he expects them to take strong leadership roles.

That’s the way it was when Sandberg was coming up with the Phillies and Cubs and Larry Bowa was mentoring him. Later, Sandberg helped show the way to players like Mark Grace and Shawon Dunston, among others.

In that regard, Sandberg hopes a pitcher like Lee, who may prefer to do things his own way and perhaps even apart from the team, takes a role as a leader.

“Cliff is a good pitcher and he’s a big part of the pitching rotation and he has good stuff,” Sandberg said. “But when you manage players you have individuals and one of my goals and concepts is to create a team atmosphere and a team concept. And to let Cliff go and do anything he wants to -- no chance.”

Sandberg says he told Lee of his expectations.

“I’ve had conversations with Cliff,” Sandberg said. “It goes back to trying to get the most out of Cliff and thinking about the team and thinking about his teammates and with the team concept.”

In the meantime, Sandberg says there really hasn’t been much of a change at all. There is just a different man in the manager’s seat. The message hasn’t changed all that much.

“We’ve been doing that all year -- the enthusiasm and the talking on the bench,” Sandberg said. “We did that as a coaching staff and we’ll continue to do that.”

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

READING, Pa. — Perhaps the most important issue facing the Phillies as they get set to open spring training is the health of pitcher Aaron Nola.

It won’t be possible to fully gauge the right-hander’s condition until he starts firing pitches against hitters in a competitive situation in February and March.

But less than a month before camp opens, Nola is optimistic that the elbow problems that forced him to miss the final two months of the 2016 season are resolved.

“I feel like the injury is past me,” he said during a Phillies winter caravan stop sponsored by the Double A Reading Fightin Phils on Tuesday night. “I feel back to normal.

“My arm is all good. One-hundred percent.”

Nola, 23, did not pitch after July 28 last season after being diagnosed with a pair of injuries near his elbow — a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor tendon.

Nola and the team opted for a conservative treatment plan that included rest, rehab and a PRP injection. The pitcher spent much of the fall on a rehab program in Clearwater that included his throwing from a bullpen mound. He took a couple of months off and recently began throwing again near his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“All through the rehab, I had no pain,” Nola said. “Probably in the middle of the rehab, I started feeling really good. Towards the end, I started upping the intensity a little bit. I knew after I took two months off I was going to be good. I started back up, throwing after Christmas and it felt really good when I cranked up. I’ve been throwing for a few weeks now. No pain, no hesitation. Not any of it.”

The Phillies selected Nola with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft with the hopes that he would be a foundation piece in the rotation for many years. Nola ascended to the majors in the summer of 2015 and recorded a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 big-league starts before hitting severe turbulence last summer. He had a 9.82 ERA in his final eight starts of 2016 before injuring his elbow during his final start.

Nola said he would report to Clearwater on Feb. 1. He does not expect to have any limitations in camp.

Manager Pete Mackanin is eager to see what Nola looks like in Clearwater.

“There's a part of me that’s concerned,” Mackanin said. “When guys don't have surgery and they mend with just rest, that makes me a little nervous. I don't want that to crop up again because then you lose a couple years instead of one year. But I defer to the medical people and believe in what they say and how he feels.”

Mackanin said he expected Nola to be in the five-man rotation along with Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz and Vince Velasquez to open the season. Mackanin also mentioned Zach Eflin and others as being in the mix. The Phillies have some starting pitching depth and that’s a plus because pitchers' arms are fragile. Nola was the latest example of that last season. He said he’s healthy now, but he'll still be a center of attention in spring training.

More seasoning for Quinn
Mackanin acknowledged that the addition of veteran outfielder Michael Saunders probably means that Roman Quinn will open the season in Triple A.

“I don’t think it’s in our best interest or [Quinn’s] to be a part-time player at the big-league level, so I would think if things stay the way they are and if Saunders is on the team, I think it would behoove Quinn to play a full year of Triple A,” Mackanin said. “We have to find out if he can play 120 or 140 games, which he hasn’t done up to this point. We hope he can because, to me, he’s a potential game changer.”

Morgan to the bullpen?
Mackanin suggested that lefty Adam Morgan could be used as a reliever in camp. The Phillies have just one lefty reliever (Joely Rodriguez) on their 40-man roster. If Morgan pitches well out of the bullpen, he could be a candidate to make the club. Non-roster lefties Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos could also be in the mix.

Another chance for Gomez
Jeanmar Gomez saved 37 games in 2016 before struggling down the stretch and losing the closer’s job. Hector Neris finished up in the role.

So how will competition for the job shake out in Clearwater?

“I wouldn’t say it’s wide open,” Mackanin said. “I’m going to give Gomez every opportunity to show that he’s the guy that pitched the first five months and not the guy that pitched in September.”

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

The Phillies are putting the finishing touches on a deal with outfielder Michael Saunders, according to a source.

Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported the deal was close early Monday afternoon.

When the medical reviews and other loose ends are complete, Saunders will end up with a one-year contract for 2017. It is believed that there will be an option for 2018.

According to FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it up to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, will give the Phils the left-handed bat they’ve been looking for in the outfield. Saunders is likely to play right field and his addition will likely push Roman Quinn back to Triple A, where he will get more seasoning.

Saunders is a veteran of eight seasons in the majors. He played in a career-high 140 games with Toronto in 2016 and made the American League All-Star team on the strength of a first half in which he hit .298 with 16 homers, 42 RBIs and a .923 OPS. He fell off in the second half and hit just .178 with 8 homers, 15 RBIs and a .638 OPS. Saunders finished the season at .253 with 24 HR, 57 RBIs and an .815 OPS.

With less than a month to go before spring training, the Phillies are likely done with their significant offseason moves. The offseason began with trades for reliever Pat Neshek and outfielder Howie Kendrick. Later in the winter, the club traded for starting pitcher Clay Buchholz and signed reliever Joaquin Benoit. Now Saunders is on his way.