Tim Tebow falls flat in spring training debut with Mets

Tim Tebow falls flat in spring training debut with Mets

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Tim Tebow made his first rookie mistake even before stepping into the batter's box.

The New York Mets newcomer walked behind home plate and took his practice swings near Boston's on-deck circle.

"I didn't know who that was back there. I thought it was the ball boy," AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello said.

Tebow's debut as a big leaguer didn't go much better Wednesday.

The former NFL quarterback went 0 for 3, twice looking at strike three and also grounding into a double play with the bases loaded in a spring training exhibition against the Red Sox.

Tebow did safely reach when he was hit by a pitch in the right shoulder. But his stay on base was brief -- he got doubled off first on a line drive.

"It was a first day for me getting to compete. I'll learn a lot from it. It's kind of what I expected from a competition level," he said.

The 29-year-old Tebow batted eighth as the designated hitter. Signed last fall, he's in camp on a minor league contract, hoping to make it as an outfielder. He's next scheduled to play for the Mets in a split-squad game Friday against Houston, and manager Terry Collins said Tebow would be in the field.

Tebow's day started out with a fun-filled morning stretch. He was loudly welcomed by slugger Yoenis Cespedes and kidded by Pittsburgh native Neil Walker -- the second baseman barbed Tebow for once leading the Denver Broncos over the Steelers in the playoffs. Tebow warmed up by swatting a few home runs in batting practice.

To say Tebow's first game was a success, however, would be a stretch. He did, at least, get to slap high-fives on the field after an 8-7 win in front of 6,538 fans.

"With almost anything I do, I get a little nervous because I care about it, the outcome and my teammates," Tebow said. "But I'd also get nervous if I was going to talk to a high school football team before a game."

Tebow was set to lead off the third inning for his first at-bat. The lefty hitter emerged from the Mets' dugout on the third base side and crossed over to the Boston side, drifting toward the Red Sox on-deck circle and inching his way into Porcello's view.

"I thought you walked around because you're a left-hander. I found out you don't do that," he said.

The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner then faced Porcello, prompting some to figure out another matchup between Heisman and Cy Young winners -- Bo Jackson vs. Frank Viola, for example.

Tebow drew a nice cheer when he stepped in wearing a No. 97 jersey with no name on the back. He swung late on a fastball to fall behind and was caught looking at a 92 mph heater on a 1-2 count. He had a friendly word and smile for plate umpire Ryan Additon after being called out.

Tebow came up next with the bases loaded and bounced into a double play against Noe Ramirez. A run scored on the grounder, but Tebow didn't get credit for an RBI.

The third time up, Tebow was plunked in the right shoulder by a pitch by fellow University of Florida alum Brian Johnson.

"Come on, where's the love?" Tebow kidded. "No, it's fine."

"I've been good at taking hits most of my career. That might come easier than anything else," he said.

L.J. Mazzilli followed with a line drive to second baseman Deven Marrero, whose throw to first beat Tebow. Righty reliever Brandon Workman fanned Tebow on three pitches in the eighth, getting him looking with a curveball.

Before the game, Boston manager John Farrell watched from the top step of the visitors' dugout as Tebow hit some long drives, the majority the opposite way at First Data Field.

Farrell said Tebow's attempt to make it in baseball, which he last played as a junior in high school before joining the Mets last August, is a bold ambition but reveals plenty about his character.

"It says he's not afraid of failure, and that's great for any athlete," Farrell said. "Athletes are all going to become vulnerable in their performance at some point, and for who's been such a high profile in another sport come in and say, `Hey, I'm willing to take a run at this,' I think it's a pretty cool thing."

"When you look at the raw power in BP, it's pretty evident. It says you've got some pretty good hand-eye coordination. (Baseball's) hard for a guy who plays every year," he said. "When you have that kind of gap, I think it's a window into the mindset that anything is possible. Why not take a run with it?"

Phillies 7, Blue Jays 1: Vince Velasquez and Tommy Joseph show off their power

Phillies 7, Blue Jays 1: Vince Velasquez and Tommy Joseph show off their power

BOX SCORE

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Phillies showed a little power in their 7-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday night.

Tommy Joseph provided some of it.

Vince Velasquez provided a lot of it.

Joseph crushed a two-run home run to left field and also lined a double off the center-field wall on his way to a four-hit game. The double came off his bat at 109 miles per hour. The homer was his third of the spring.

Meanwhile, Velasquez showed off his big fastball in striking out seven Blue Jays over five innings of work. Vinny Velo's final pitch of the night was a 97-mph dart past a swinging Jose Bautista.

"That pitch felt really good coming out of my hand," Velasquez said. "Sometimes my fastball slips a little bit and I yank it, but this one I got right behind and threw it right through the catcher."

Velasquez actually struck out the side in that fifth inning against three pretty good hitters in Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Bautista.

"That last inning, he really let it go," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Pitch economy remains an area that Velasquez needs to improve on. He threw 87 pitches. But he was pleased with the way he attacked hitters in that final inning of work.

"I didn't attack in one inning," he said. "But in that last inning, I stopped fiddling around and trusted my stuff. I need to do that the whole time."

Velasquez gave up just one run, a homer to Martin. He allowed five hits and walked two.

Velasquez had a busy night. He drove home a run with a ground out against Aaron Sanchez. He also walked against Sanchez and scored a run on a dash home from third base after Freddy Galvis got hung up between first and second. Galvis waved Velasquez home. After crossing home plate, Velasquez, rather humorously, almost ran into the netted backstop.

"I just had momentum. I got excited," he said. "As soon as I saw Tulo (shortstop Troy Tulowitzki) make eye contact with Freddy, I booked it. He's going to think, 'Pitchers can't run,' so I showed off my athleticism."

After the outing, Velasquez pronounced himself ready for the regular season.

"I'm good to go," he said.

He made five Grapefruit League starts and gave up eight runs in 19 2/3 innings. He walked nine and struck out 25.

"It's been a strong, healthy, successful spring training," he said.

Velasquez will likely start the home opener on April 7. He will need to get some work in this weekend. The Phillies leave Florida on Friday. He could stay behind for a day and pitch at the minor-league complex if needed.

Offense clicks
The Phillies had 12 hits. They had 15 in Sunday's 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Up next
The Phillies play the Blue Jays again on Tuesday night. That game will be in Clearwater. Aaron Nola will start against Marco Estrada.

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The pathway for Andrew Knapp to make the Phillies' opening day roster as the backup catcher was cleared way back in November when he was added to the 40-man roster.

The job all but became Knapp's on Monday when the team released two veteran catchers who were not on the 40-man roster. When Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday were let go, Knapp became one of just two catchers in camp, the other being starter Cameron Rupp (see story).

So it's pretty obvious that the 25-year-old Knapp will open the season with the big club -- even though nothing will become official until rosters are filed with the commissioner's office this weekend.

"Obviously there are four or five days left," Knapp said. "I'm just going to keep trying to make good impressions and try to win a job. I'm keeping my head down, trying not to think about it too much."

Knapp was the Phillies' second-round draft pick of Cal-Berkeley in 2013. He has never played in the majors.

"It would be a dream come true," he said. "Everyone hopes to get called up at some point but to make a team on opening day would be pretty special and it would be the best moment in my career so far."

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged that Knapp would probably make the club.

Mackanin would like to have the rest of his roster in order over the next day or two.

"As soon as possible," he said. "Because the last four or five games I'd like to play almost as if it were a season -- using the bullpen that way, using the bench in a certain way, seeing what it looks like, our bench guys, all our hitters. We just don't want to make a bad decision so we're just going to string it out as long as we can."

Roster questions must still be answered on the bench and in the bullpen.

How does the bench shape up? Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr and Knapp are set. The Phils are expected to go with a five-man bench so that leaves two openings. There are four players vying for those spots: Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi and Jesmuel Valentin. Valentin has impressed, but at 22 years old, he would benefit from playing every day at Triple A.

Mackanin praised Stassi's work on Monday. If Stassi makes the club, the final spot would come down to Coghlan and Nava.

"Stassi has obviously made a great impression, mainly because, not necessarily because of his results, but the fact that he had a lot of quality at-bats," Mackanin said. "It looks like he can handle making adjustments to the different pitchers and different situations. He seemed to handle left-handers well. He made a good impression, as has Coughlan. Nava has also been consistent throughout the spring."

Stassi, Coghlan and Nava are all non-roster players so the Phils would have to clear 40-man roster space to add any of them.

Two spots remain open in the bullpen. Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez, Luis Garcia, Alec Asher and Cesar Ramos are the candidates. All but Ramos is on the 40-man roster.

How will this all shake out?

More answers are probably coming Tuesday.