Tony Gwynn Jr. gets ovation as Phillies snap skid

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Tony Gwynn Jr. gets ovation as Phillies snap skid

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On a night when the Phillies snapped a three-game losing streak, their rookie pitcher won his third straight start and Cody Asche and Marlon Byrd had big hits, it was a pinch-hit groundout by a .155 hitter that made this such a special night.

Tony Gwynn Jr. returned to the Phillies Tuesday, eight days after his father, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, died of cancer.

Gwynn Jr. spent the last week on the bereavement list, but he was called on to pinch-hit in the eighth inning of the Phillies’ 7-4 win over the Marlins (see Instant Replay), and when the fans at Citizens Bank Park saw No. 19 striding slowly toward the plate, a loud, prolonged ovation began rising from the stands.

Realizing what was happening, Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia walked to the pitcher’s mound to give Gwynn Jr. some time to take in the moment.

The ovation just got louder and louder. It was an unforgettable moment during what so far has been a middling season.

“Needless to say, it was pretty awesome,” Gwynn Jr. said. “Made the at-bat a little more difficult, had to fight the emotion and the tears and stuff like that.

“But that’s why guys who play here like to play here. When things are going well or regardless of whether they’re going bad or good, I think the fans stay behind us. Much appreciated by the Gwynn family.”

Gwynn Jr.’s dad hit .338 with 3,141 hits in a 20-year career, all with the Padres. He retired after the 2001 season.

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007, his first year of eligibility, receiving 532 of 545 ballots.

Gwynn Jr. is a .239 career hitter in eight seasons with the Brewers, Padres, Dodgers and Phillies. But none of that mattered Tuesday night.

Gwynn Jr.’s first at-bat since June 13 was the hardest of his life.

“It was really hard,” he said. “Really hard. I was fortunate enough to get two balls to regroup a little bit, but I’ve never been through anything like that before.

“Under these circumstances, it was even tougher, but like I said it was much appreciated.”

Saltalamacchia is an eight-year veteran, and he knew immediately what to do when Gwynn Jr. was announced.

Give him as much time as he needed. Saltalamacchia said after the game that’s why he went out to the mound.

“Yes, I did,” he said. “I don’t know what it must be like to lose a father, especially a guy who brought so much to this game.”

Phils manager Ryne Sandberg was a contemporary of Gwynn’s, and the two were teammates on nine National League All-Star teams.

He said he spoke to Gwynn Jr. before the game to make sure he was ready to play, but he was clearly moved by the emotion everybody felt in the bottom of the eighth.

“That was a special moment,” Sandberg said. “I thought it was outstanding by the fans, and Saltalamacchia went out there to the mound, that was classy.”

Gwynn Jr. broke down crying at his locker talking to writers after the game. He said he couldn’t even describe what all the support has meant to him -- from the fans at Citizens Bank Park and back home in San Diego.

“I don’t even know if I could come up with a word to describe it,” he said. “Obviously, at home, in San Diego. My teammates … I don’t think there was a guy I didn’t get a text from.”

At this point, he put his head down and wept, then finished by adding: “Needless to say, it’s been nice.”

Then there was the game.

David Buchanan pitched in and out of trouble all night, allowing 10 baserunners in five innings, but he gave up just two runs and earned his third straight win. He’s only the seventh Phillie rookie to go at least five innings in each of his first seven starts.

“One of those nights where the ball just wasn’t going where I wanted it to,” he said. “I probably fell behind 95 percent of the guys tonight. But you continue to battle.

“My job is try to give the team a chance to win and it wasn’t pretty, but I tried to do the best I could tonight. Obviously didn’t throw the ball where I wanted to or go as deep as I wanted to go, but it’s just one of those days.”

Byrd’s two-run homer in the first and Asche’s two-run double in the sixth were the big hits for the Phils.

Asche is 7 for 18 (.389) with three doubles and five RBIs in five games since returning from a month-long layoff with a hamstring injury.

“Just coming up in spots with teammates on base,” he said. “I think those guys are really doing it. It’s easy to hit when you’ve got guys on base, more times than not.”

Sandberg gave Asche a little more credit than Asche gave himself.

“He’s really on the ball,” he said. “He’s got a real good stroke in the zone and stinging the ball consistently. He’s an added bat, and it’s good to have. Since he came back, he’s using the whole field and showing some good pop.”

Blue Jays 10, Phillies 4: Aaron Nola hit hard in final Grapefruit start

Blue Jays 10, Phillies 4: Aaron Nola hit hard in final Grapefruit start

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies got the good health they were looking for from Aaron Nola this spring.

But the overall results weren't so good.

Nola struggled in his sixth and final Grapefruit League start Tuesday night. He was roughed up for seven hits, including two home runs, and five runs and did not make it out of the second inning in the Phillies' 10-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Nola finished the Grapefruit League portion of his spring with an ERA of 8.38 after giving up 18 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He gave up 28 hits, walked seven and struck out 23.

"People say it's spring training but nobody wants to go out there and give up runs," Nola said.

While he wasn't happy with the numbers he put up in camp, Nola was pleased with his health. He missed the final two months of last season with an elbow strain. He said that is completely behind him.

"I feel good," he said. "The ball is coming out of my hand really good.

"Tonight was the best I've felt all spring. I just left some balls up and they took some good swings. It was a tough night."

Manager Pete Mackanin weighed in on Nola's spring.

"One thing I like is that his velocity is way up," Mackanin said. "I think his arm is healthy and that's good to see more than anything.

"He hasn't shown the command that makes him a good pitcher, but I think that will get there."

Nola gave up home runs to Troy Tulowitzki and Melvin Upton Jr.

Nola lines up to pitch the fifth game of the regular season a week from Saturday in Philadelphia.

He only threw 51 pitches Tuesday night so he has room for a good bullpen session and another start before that outing. The start will come at the minor-league complex on Sunday. He will then join the team in Cincinnati for Monday's season opener.

Murray injured
Reliever Colton Murray ran his scoreless string to 10 1/3 innings before allowing a two-run homer in his third inning of work. Murray left the game with what looked like a lower back injury. He fell to the ground in pain after throwing a pitch. Earlier in the day, Murray was told that he would open the season in Triple A.

Minor matters 
Infielder Cole Stobbe, 19, the Phillies' third-round pick in last year's draft, and 18-year-old righty Sixto Sanchez were named winners of the Bill Giles and Larry Rojas awards for their standout work in minor-league camp. Both are among the organization's most highly touted young prospects.

Up next
The Phillies will split the squad and play two games on Wednesday. One team will go to Lakeland to play the Tigers. The other will go to Bradenton to face the Pirates.

The battle for one of the final spots in the bullpen will take center stage as Luis Garcia starts in Lakeland and Joely Rodriguez in Bradenton.

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Busy, busy day of roster moves in Phillies camp.

Let's try to put it all in perspective.

First, the facts:

Veteran infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan was released from his minor-league contract.

Right-handed pitcher Alec Asher was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for a player to be named later or cash.

Infielder Pedro Florimon and relief pitchers Cesar Ramos, Hoby Milner, Pat Venditte and Colton Murray were all informed that they will not make the opening-day roster, but they remain in big-league camp as non-roster invitees.

OK, what does it all mean?

Let's start on the position-player side. The starting eight is set, but there are still openings to fill on the bench before the team's charter flight lifts off from Tampa International Airport early Friday evening.

Barring something unforeseen, infielder Andres Blanco, outfielder Aaron Altherr and catcher Andrew Knapp will all make the 25-man roster. That leaves two openings on the bench.

Coghlan, a former National League Rookie of the Year and member of last year's World Series-winning Chicago Cubs team, asked for his release after the club raised the possibility of him signing an advance consent form. Advanced consent gives a team more control of a player and also allows a team to release a player with no further financial commitment up to 45 days into the season. Coghlan decided to move on, as was his contractual right, and is expected to land with another club.

Coghlan's departure reduced the field of candidates for the two bench jobs to three -- Brock Stassi, Daniel Nava and Jesmuel Valentin.

All signs point to lefty-hitting first baseman/outfielder Brock Stassi being rewarded for his excellent spring with a spot on the roster. The 27-year-old from the Sacramento area, the team's 33rd-round draft pick in 2011, has never played in the majors.

With Stassi looking good, the final spot on the bench is down to Nava and Valentin. They are two very different players. Nava is 34 and has five years of big-league service time. He is in camp on a minor-league deal, essentially looking to keep his career alive. Valentin, on the other hand, is 22 and very much a prospect. The team must decide if it wants to go with the veteran outfielder or the young second baseman for the final spot on the bench.

"With the way Stassi, Nava and Valentin are playing right now, one way or another we're going to be making tough decisions on the bench," general manager Matt Klentak said.

With Asher off the 40-man roster, the Phillies have the space to add Stassi.

They would need to create one more spot, probably by waiving a player, if they want to keep Nava.

Valentin is already on the 40-man roster so the team would not have to lose a player to keep him, but doing that would cost the young player the development opportunity that would come with regular at-bats in Triple A.

"I'm not opposed to starting that way if he wins the job and that's how we open," Klentak said of Valentin. "If we concluded after a few weeks that playing time just isn't there and we need to send him back down and get somebody else up, we can do that. That's the beauty of roster flexibility and having players on the big-league club with options. We can make those decisions in real time throughout the year."

So let's move on to the bullpen.

Five spots are set with Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos, Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek.

It's likely that the team will go with seven relievers. That means there are two open spots with three candidates -- Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez and Luis Garica -- still standing. All three are on the 40-man roster, so that makes the personnel mechanics a little easier. 

The team probably needs a long reliever and Morgan profiles as that guy.

Rodriguez and Garcia are both scheduled to pitch in separate games on Wednesday, so their performances will be worth watching, though Klentak said not all roster decisions are based on spring performance. 

Garcia has had a number of chances in the majors the last four seasons. He has recently added a splitter and team officials are intrigued by that, so he has remained in the mix.

There is a slim chance the team could carry all three of these relievers and go with an eight-man bullpen and a short bench, but that would be tough to do in the National League. When the decisions are made, look for a five-man bench and a seven-man bullpen.

But, remember, things can change quickly on a 25-man roster once the season begins. Ender Inciarte was on the Phillies' opening-day roster in 2013 and gone a day later. Cedric Hunter was there last year and gone two weeks later.

"We have to make sure we're disciplined to the notion that the end of spring training is not a finish line," Klentak said. "The end of spring training is the starting line for a long major-league season. Whatever we can do to preserve as many assets and players and different possibilities as we can, we need to factor that in as we're making out our opening-day roster."