Vet Jason Marquis could fit into Phillies' plans

jason-marquis-ap.jpg

Vet Jason Marquis could fit into Phillies' plans

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- It’s almost a given that the Phillies will make a few roster moves in the next two weeks. Already 10 games out and in dead last place in a weak NL East, a shakeup is both inevitable and overdue.

For teams in the playoff hunt, pitching is always a commodity this time of year. Back when the Phillies were making a push for the postseason, they bolstered the roster with the acquisitions of guys like Jamie Moyer, Kyle Lohse, Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt.

These days, it’s the Phillies that could be the team that gives up an arm like Lee, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, A.J. Burnett or Jason Marquis.

Wait a second … Jason Marquis?

With an eye to the future, Marquis could figure in prominently with the Phillies’ plans for this season. Signed to a minor-league deal on June 3, just 10 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Marquis has climbed all the way to Triple A Lehigh Valley where he has been nearly unhittable.

Working his way back
In three starts for the IronPigs, Marquis has been charged with one run -- it was an inherited run the bullpen couldn’t hold for him -- in 18 innings with 10 hits and three walks. He also has 18 strikeouts in his 18 innings, which is a new development to Marquis’ repertoire. In 14 big-league seasons, the righty averaged 5.3 strikeouts per nine innings. That climbed to 7.8 whiffs per nine in 27 career games in Triple A, of which he’s pitched just five times since 2003.

He very well could be 3-0 for the IronPigs, considering he left all three of his games without allowing a run.

“I feel like I’m better than I was the last two years,” the veteran big-league pitcher said before Thursday night’s game against Syracuse at Coca-Cola Park.

He should know since there isn’t much he hasn’t experienced in his baseball career. Marquis pitched in the World Series with the Cardinals in 2004 and 2006 and came up through the Braves' system as a highly-touted, first-round draft pick. Marquis was an All-Star in 2009 with the Rockies and has pitched more than 190 innings five times.

Marquis is also a rarity in that he’s pitched in the Major League World Series and the Little League World Series.

“I’m ready. I was ready three weeks ago,” Marquis said. “Maybe when I was a little younger I’d get a little more pissed off [about not getting called up], but I’m down here doing my thing and as you get older you realize that does nothing, so you focus on what you’re trying to accomplish.”

This is a guy coming back from Tommy John surgery?

“I felt like I was past the rehab stage at the end of June,” Marquis said. “I tried to push myself to the limits throughout this whole process and I tried to push myself to where I was a pitcher and not a rehab pitcher. I felt that way mentally and physically since the end of June.”

‘I’m either in the big leagues by the time we say or I go’
A month shy of his 36th birthday, Marquis knows how to pitch. He’s also healthy for the first time in four years. Before undergoing surgery on July 31, 2013, Marquis said he pitched for four years with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. Now that his arm is back together, Marquis not only has his health, but also his velocity has returned.

Marquis rarely cracked 90 mph with his fastball during the last four seasons and figured out ways to be effective for the Nationals, Twins, Diamondbacks and Padres, winning nine games before the All-Star Game twice during that time.

But as soon as Marquis was cleared to start throwing again, he says it didn’t take long to return to his old form from his days with the Braves and Cardinals. Pitching for the IronPigs, Marquis routinely throws his fastball in the 90s. He also pointed out that he has good control of his breaking pitches, which is something that often takes a long time to recover for pitchers coming back from Tommy John.

“I started throwing my breaking ball during this process probably two months earlier than what the throwing program said,” Marquis said. “I talked to the doctor about it and he said, ‘No! Hold up!’ But I threw a bullpen for him during spring training just to show him where I was and how I was feeling. My location on my fastball and slider were all there at an early stage.

“To me it becomes a state of mind more than anything and a trust factor. When it got to the point when the doctor said, ‘Alright, it’s OK to throw a baseball,’ I knew I was healthy.”

For most of his career, Marquis has relied on a sinker and slider during his 18 years in pro ball. Of course the success of those pitches come from his fastball command and he finally has some zip on it.

“My first game back I was sitting 89, 90,” Marquis said. “And I hit 91 five times. That’s the hardest average I’ve thrown in four years.”

Marquis is next scheduled to pitch for Lehigh Valley on Sunday. Since Allentown’s Coca-Cola Park is midway from his home in Staten Island and Philadelphia, friends and family have been able to show up in force for his games.

But will they be able to make the trip down to Philly by the end of the month? Marquis has an out clause in his contract that allows him to leave the organization if the Phillies don’t bring him up to the majors.

“When I signed the contract Ruben (Amaro, Jr.) was clear that I wasn’t here to be a Triple A pitcher or for depth,” Marquis said. “I’m either in the big leagues by the time we say or I go. I don’t want to come off sounding like I’m arrogant, but I’m going to be 36 in August and I’m not sitting around just to pitch in Triple A.”

Chances are he will be pitching in the big leagues very soon.

“I had a goal in my head that I wanted to be back in the big leagues by 11 months. I felt like I could compete in the big leagues in 11 months, but that decision is out of my hands,” Marquis said. “But I know with the heart of all hearts with the way I’ve been pitching over the last three weeks, that gets big-league hitters out.”

Whether he’s getting outs for the Phillies or another big-league team remains to be seen.

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff pitched two innings, allowed a hit, a run, walked one and struck out two in his spring debut on Monday.

Afterward, manager Pete Mackanin was asked what he believed Eickhoff's ceiling was.

"He's a pretty darn good pitcher right now," Mackanin said.

Indeed, he is.

In his first full season in the majors last year, the 26-year-old right-hander led the Phillies' starting staff in ERA (3.65), starts (33) and innings pitched (197 1/3).

He delivered 20 quality starts and became just the fourth Phillie in the last 20 years to make 33 starts and record a 3.65 ERA or better, joining three pretty good pitchers named Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. He walked just 1.92 batters per nine innings and that was fourth-best among NL starters.

"Eickhoff is the kind of guy you can count on," Mackanin said. "He throws strikes. He knows what he's doing."

Eickhoff is intent on building on last year's success in 2017. The guy has a Halladay-like work ethic. He arrived in Clearwater on Feb. 1 and got right to work. After his two innings of work on Monday, he put in a couple of hours in the weight room and on a back field running.

"I just have to continue working," he said. "I have a very high standard for myself as a lot of us in here do. We want to be the best players that we can be."

Eickhoff is working on improving his changeup this spring and his overall goal is to make every start -- as he did last season.

"That's the priority -- make every start," he said. "That's always a priority for me.

"I'd also like to incorporate the changeup a little more and use my slider and curveball and not get heavily reliant on one or the other, which happened several times last year and I think got me into trouble at times. So incorporating both for the duration of the season and just being more crisp with execution and location is my goal.

"I'm always looking to get better. I think the sky is the limit. I'm going to continue working, whether it's being Greg Maddux-esque with command or having a good breaking ball, or throwing a changeup like Maddux and guys like that did. There's always something I'm working on and trying to develop and sharpen up."

Eickhoff lines up to start the second game of the regular season behind projected opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson.

The game
The Phillies lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-2. The Phils are 2-2 on the spring.

Maikel Franco had two hits, including his third homer of the spring. It was a long drive to left field on a 1-2 fastball. He also had a single to right field.

"The thing I like early in the spring from him is he's going deeper into counts," Mackanin said. "I think he's working toward a good year this year."

Stassi impresses
Non-roster player Brock Stassi, a candidate to win a job as a reserve first baseman and outfielder (see story), did not play in the game. He, however, has a single, double and homer in the first three games.

Mackanin gushed about Stassi’s defense when asked about it Monday.

"He's one of the best first basemen I've seen in a real long time," Mackanin said. "He has no need to improve on his defense and I like the way he swings the bat. He's a real solid baseball player so he's a guy I really want to get a good look at."

Pitching matters
Starting pitchers Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin are both projected to pitch at Triple A. Both have been slowed early in camp because of health reasons, but are progressing well. Thompson has a sore right wrist and Eflin is recovering from a pair of surgeries to address tendinitis in both knees.

Both pitchers will continue to throw in the bullpen this week and ramp up to live batting practice next week. There is plenty of time for both pitchers to get their arms ready to open the season. However, the Phillies may decide to take a cautious approach with Eflin and let him build some more strength in his knees before they turn him loose. He could stay in Florida for a couple of extra weeks before joining the Triple A club.

Up next
The Phillies host the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. Clay Buchholz will make his first start of the spring. Here is the Phillies' posted starting lineup for the game:

1. Freddy Galvis, SS
2. Howie Kendrick, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, DH
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Chris Coghlan, RF
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Scott Kingery, 2B

MLB Notes: Josh Hamilton undergoes knee surgery

MLB Notes: Josh Hamilton undergoes knee surgery

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Josh Hamilton has had another surgery on his balky left knee, ending any chance of the 2010 AL MVP making the Texas Rangers' opening day roster.

The arthroscopic procedure Monday was to repair some damaged meniscus cartilage in his left knee. There were no issues with the surgically repaired ACL in that knee.

Hamilton had left spring training in Arizona and returned to Houston for the second time in less than a week to be examined by Dr. Walt Lowe, who also performed Hamilton's season-ending surgery last June.

The latest knee procedure is the 11th in Hamilton's career, and the third since the 35-year-old slugger last played in the majors in 2015.

Hamilton, in camp on a minor league contract, faces six weeks of rehabilitation before he will be able to start running again.

Orioles: Bourn broke finger during football drill
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Baltimore outfielder Michael Bourn hasn't played football since his sophomore year in high school. But it's a pigskin injury that's preventing him from playing this spring for the Orioles.

On Friday, the speedy 34-year-old broke his right ring finger catching a football at a workout. Bourn, who signed a minor league contract on Feb. 20, will be out for four weeks, making it difficult for him to be ready for Baltimore's April 3 opener. He'll make $2 million if he's put on the 40-man roster.

Bourn has difficult competition. Another veteran major league outfielder, Craig Gentry, signed two days before, plus the Orioles want to take long looks at Rule 5 outfielders Anthony Santander and Aneury Tavarez. Joey Rickard, a Rule 5 pick who played with the team last season, is also a serious contender.

Because he signed late, Bourn hadn't played.

"I was ready to go and pretty much ready to get into games the next couple days and now I've got to wait a about four weeks to heal. I want it to heal correctly but I want to push it, too. There's really nothing I can do about it," he said. (see full story)

Indians: Kipnis sidelined by shoulder injury
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has a rotator cuff strain and will stop throwing for a couple days.

Kipnis got a cortisone shot on Saturday, and manager Terry Francona didn't sound very worried about the situation.

"If it was during the season we wouldn't do anything," Francona said before Sunday's spring game against the Chicago Cubs in Mesa. "There's so much time to get ready that to kind of put a Band-Aid on it now didn't seem to make sense."

The 29-year-old Kipnis hit .275 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs last season, helping Cleveland to the AL Central title. He added four more homers and eight RBIs in the playoffs as the Indians made it all the way to the World Series before losing to the Cubs in seven games.

Kipnis had been on a shoulder program.

"I would say probably eight out of 10 guys, as they get their arms loose, you feel something," Francona said. "You throw through stuff and you get through the aches and pains of getting back, but then when there is some history there, you just try to use good judgment.

"He can do all his cardio and everything and all that stuff, but throwing is shut down for four to five days. I don't think he's going to hit today."

The Indians also announced left-hander Tim Cooney will be sidelined for 10 to 12 weeks because of a muscle strain in his arm. Cooney went 1-0 with a 3.16 ERA in six starts with St. Louis last season and was claimed off waivers from the Cardinals in November.

"Originally, they thought it was forearm," Francona said. "It's lower than that. By all accounts, it is an extremely unique area."