Strong outings from Hamels, Giles end Phils' skid

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Strong outings from Hamels, Giles end Phils' skid

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MILWAUKEE -- There will come a time in the coming weeks and months when the Phillies will reach an inevitable transition stage. Personnel changes will be made as the Phils try to reverse their losing ways and become a contender again.

No matter what changes are made, it seems likely that Cole Hamels will stick around. Sure, the Phils will listen to offers for the 30-year-old lefty -- and if they’re blown away, well, you never know -- but at this moment it seems more likely that Hamels will be the nucleus that they build around.

Reliever Ken Giles is one of the players the Phils will use to build around Hamels.

So, in some ways, Monday night offered a little glimpse of the future. Hamels pitched 6 2/3 strong innings and the power-armed Giles got four big outs in crunch time to preserve a one-run lead as the Phillies beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 3-2, at Miller Park (see Instant Replay)

Hamels’ goal is always to pitch a complete game, but he had no qualms handing the ball to the 23-year-old Giles with two outs in the seventh and two men on base.

“He’s very impressive,” Hamels said. “Any time you know he’s coming in the ballgame you can definitely sit back and watch and know that you’re in good hands because he’s got amazing stuff.

“You can kind of tell with his presence out there he really wants to get the job done and he’s confident with what he’s got. He doesn’t have that fear, that uncertainty. He’s good. He’s going to be somebody that’s going to be in the back of that bullpen for a really long time for the Phillies and he’s going to put up some good numbers.”

Giles already has put up good numbers in his month in the majors. In 11 2/3 innings, he has allowed four hits and one run. (That run came in his first inning.) He has registered 17 strikeouts and walked just three.

Monday night’s assignment was Giles’ toughest yet in the majors. Milwaukee’s lineup was stacked with right-handed bats, so manager Ryne Sandberg used Giles in the tight situation instead of lefty Jake Diekman.

The Brewers are an aggressive, fastball-hitting team, so Giles featured his slider early in the eighth inning. He had trouble throwing it for strikes early in the inning and paid for it by falling behind in the count and giving up a double to Ryan Braun to lead off the bottom of the eighth. Eventually, Giles got the handle on his slider and located his fastball well enough to get out of the inning. It also helped that Brewers pinch-runner Logan Schafer made a costly baserunning error in a one-run game.

“In a 3-2 game, it was probably his biggest moment yet, facing the heart of the order in that situation,” Sandberg said of Giles.

Giles remains unfazed by his early success. He does not appear to be a guy who thinks too much and sometimes that can be a good thing.

“That’s what I’ve been prepared to do the whole time I’ve been here,” he said. “All I’ve tried to do is get outs. I don’t try to do too much.

“I don’t think it’s easy. I just prepare for each game. I study the hitters and try to carry out what I’m trying to do.”

The Phillies had entered the game with one win in the previous six games on this trip. They were hitting .170 in those six games. That led an unhappy GM Ruben Amaro Jr. to threaten changes before Monday night’s game (see story).

Amaro’s words may have resonated -- at least for a while -- in the Phillies’ clubhouse because Chase Utley staked the Phillies to a 2-0 lead with a home run in the first inning and Ryan Howard made it a 3-0 lead with an RBI single in the third. It was the first time the Phils led by three runs since June 24, a span of 14 games.

It was just Utley’s second extra-base hit in the last 23 games.

For Howard, it was just his second RBI in the last 18 games.

The Phillies’ offense went into shutdown mode after the third inning, but the pitching was able to make the lead stand up for just the team’s second win in the last 11 games.

Hamels, long a victim of poor run support, was thrilled to get the early two-run homer from Utley.

“OK, I have something to work with,” he said. “But I still have to put up zeroes.

“My job is to go out there, pitch deep into the game, prevent runs and keep the lead. It was good to be able to do that.”

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies' roster

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies' roster

TAMPA, Fla. -- When Phillies camp opened earlier this month, Brock Stassi was considering mentioning his ability to play the outfield to manager Pete Mackanin.

Though he’s played mostly first base during his six seasons in the Phillies' system, Stassi has been used occasionally in left field. He’s also played the position in winter ball in Latin America. Even going back to high school, Stassi played center field.

As it turned out, Stassi didn’t need to have that conversation with Mackanin. The manager actually approached the player early in camp and told him he planned to get him some time in the outfield as well as at first base.

Mackanin and the Phillies' front office value versatility and they want to have it on their bench. Stassi has come to his second big-league camp as a serious candidate to win a job on the bench. His left-handed bat -- which he showed off with a solo homer in Friday’s 9-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees -- would be attractive to the Phils. So would his versatility.

And if the ability to play first base and outfield isn’t enough versatility, Stassi can actually offer something else.

He can pitch.

In fact, the Cleveland Indians drafted him as a pitcher after his junior year at the University of Nevada in 2010.

Stassi returned to school for his senior year in 2011 and was a two-way player. The Phillies selected him in the 33rd round of the draft that year as a hitter, even though on draft day there was some confusion.

“Initially, I was announced as a left-handed pitcher then they changed it to outfielder,” Stassi said. “Then I got to Williamsport (the Phillies’ New York-Penn League team) and had a first baseman’s mitt in my bag, and I was like, ‘All right, let’s go. You’re going to be playing first.’”

Stassi’s minor-league managers in the Phillies' system have always been aware of his pitching background. He has made nine pitching appearances during his time in pro ball, including four with Triple A Lehigh Valley last year. All were in relief in long extra-innings games.

“I got a win and a loss,” Stassi said.

He recalled the loss with a big laugh.

“I shook off Logan,” he said, referring to catcher Logan Moore, another candidate pushing for a spot on the Phillies’ bench. “I shook to the fastball against a lefty. It wasn’t the right move and Logan won’t let me forget that. The guy hit a triple. Then I got hit with a comeback one-hopper right on the butt. It was like a 14-inning game.”

Stassi throws a fastball, curveball and changeup.

“My fastball is like 84,” he said with a laugh.

Many position players in a big-league clubhouse were pitchers at some point in the baseball journey. Roman Quinn, who broke into pro ball as a shortstop and is now a centerfielder, was used as a closer in high school and hit 94 mph on the radar gun.

“I believe it,” Stassi said. “That guy’s got a cannon. I had to catch him when he was playing shortstop. He’d come charging in on a close play and he’d let one loose and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ And even from the outfield he’s got a cannon.”

Stassi’s arm doesn’t bounce back the way it used to when he pitched in college.

“Every time I have to pitch now I’m hanging for like two weeks,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t grab the baseball and gut out an inning if Mackanin ever needed it.

“Hey, if that’s what it takes,” he said.

Figuring out the Phillies’ bench at this point of camp is a little like solving a Rubik’s Cube. There are many possible combinations. Infielder Andres Blanco is a sure thing and outfielder Aaron Altherr seems like a good bet. So does outfielder Chris Coghlan.

Andrew Knapp, Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday and Moore are the candidates for backup catcher. Knapp can also play first base. And it’s not out of the question that the Phils would carry three catchers.

They could fill the perceived final spot on the bench with an infielder such as Pedro Florimon or another outfielder such as Daniel Nava, Andrew Pullin or Cameron Perkins. Or it could be Stassi, whose versatility is a plus.

“There’s a lot I like about Stassi,” Mackanin said.

Stassi comes from a baseball family. His brother, Max, is a catcher with the Houston Astros. They played for their dad, Jim, at Yuba City High School near Sacramento, California. Jim was a catcher who reached Triple A during his playing days in the Giants system.

“My dad always talked about the value of versatility in high school,” Brock said. “He preached it to the whole team. You might have two second basemen and they’re pretty equal, but you want both bats in the lineup so you might have to play outfield. It’s good to be able to do it. Don’t take it as a knock that you’re not at your normal position -- you’re in the lineup.”

In addition to wearing several different gloves, Stassi can swing the bat. He was Eastern League MVP in 2015 when he hit .300 with 15 homers, 90 RBIs and a .863 OPS for Double A Reading. He hit .267 with 12 homers, 58 RBIs and a .806 OPS at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season.

Stassi has been described as “a grinder” by members of the Phillies’ player-development staff, and that’s a compliment. More than one thousand players were selected ahead of him in the 2011 draft. His signing bonus was just $1,000. He’s never appeared on one of those Top 10 prospect lists and never been on a 40-man roster, never mind appeared in a big-league game. But he’s continually moved up the ladder and now, at age 27, is under serious consideration to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench.

And maybe -- if needed in a pinch -- in the bullpen, too.

“Oh, man, it would be a dream come true,” Stassi said. “Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of playing in the big leagues. Just the path that I’ve taken -- I've had to earn everything, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It would be really awesome to make this team.”

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

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TAMPA, Fla. -- The Phillies’ bats were slow getting started in the Grapefruit League opener Friday afternoon. The Phils did not have a baserunner through the first six innings in a 9-4 loss to the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.

“First game, I’m just happy we got at-bats because the pitching is always ahead of the hitting this early,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said afterward.

Outfielder Cameron Perkins had the Phillies’ first hit, a single up the middle in the seventh inning. He added a solo homer in the ninth inning.

Perkins, 26, was the Phillies’ sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft out of Purdue University. He graduated from Southport High School in Indianapolis, the same school that produced Phillies great and Hall of Famer Chuck Klein.

A right-hander hitter who eschews batting gloves, Perkins hit .292 with eight homers and 47 RBIs at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season. He is not on the 40-man roster but was invited to camp for a look-see. He is considered a longshot to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench, but will certainly improve his chances if he keeps swinging it like he did Friday.

“I don’t think about it,” Perkins said of his bid to make the club. “All I can do is what I did today -- get my opportunity and make the most of it.”

Brock Stassi, another candidate for a job on the Phillies’ bench, also homered.

On the pitching side
Right-hander Alec Asher, who projects to open in the Triple A rotation, started for the Phils. He pitched two innings, allowed a home run to Didi Gregorius and struck out two.

Asher made big strides with his sinker last season. He’s added a cutter now.

Right-hander Nick Pivetta debuted with two scoreless innings. He gave up a hit, walked one and struck out three. The Phillies acquired Pivetta from Washington from Jonathan Papelbon in July 2015. He projects to open in the Triple A rotation, but first will pitch for Team Canada in the WBC in March.

“It’s a lifelong dream for me, right up there with whenever it is that I get my first start with the Phillies,” Pivetta said.

The bullpen
Mackanin has said he’d like to have two left-handed relievers in his bullpen. The Phillies have just one -- Joely Rodriguez -- on their 40-man roster, although it’s possible that Adam Morgan could be shifted from starter to reliever later in camp.

The Phils have brought two veteran lefties -- Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos -- into camp on minor-league deals to compete for a job. Burnett made his debut Friday and gave up a triple, a sacrifice fly and a home run in his inning of work.

Luis Garcia was tagged for four hits and three runs in his spring debut.

Up next
The Phillies host the Yankees in Clearwater on Saturday afternoon. Morgan will start for the Phils against right-hander Adam Warren.