Veteran Cesar Ramos off to good start in Phillies' lefty reliever derby

Veteran Cesar Ramos off to good start in Phillies' lefty reliever derby

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Cesar Ramos did not sign with the Phillies until the first week of January.

But the ink-to-paper part was just a formality.

Deep down inside, the 32-year-old relief pitcher had known for a couple of months that he would take his shot with the Phillies in 2017.

"Once Philly reached out early in the offseason, I knew I wanted to come here," Ramos said. "We talked for a while and eventually got something done."

Ramos, a veteran of eight big-league seasons, had a strong season pitching in relief for the Los Angeles Angels in 2015. He recorded a 2.75 ERA in 65 games that season and his work was witnessed up close by Matt Klentak, the former Angels assistant general manager who became the Phillies head man in October 2015.

Klentak made a bid to sign Ramos before the 2016 season, but the left-hander went with the Texas Rangers because they offered a chance to work as a starting pitcher and he wanted to give the role a shot.

Ramos bounced in and out of the Rangers' rotation in 2016. He spent some time in the minors and was eventually released before finishing the season with Detroit's Triple A Toledo club.

After the season, Ramos realized that the bullpen was the place he needed to be. He crossed his fingers that the Phillies would call again -- and they did. He is in camp on a minor-league contract, one of four left-handed relievers vying for one or two spots in the bullpen. The others are Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez and Sean Burnett, who, like Ramos, is a veteran on a minor-league deal.

Ramos knew the Phillies were thin on lefty relievers.

"I did my homework a little bit," said the Los Angeles-area native, a former teammate and roommate of Evan Longoria and Troy Tulowitzki at Long Beach State University. "I’m trying to put myself where I have the best chance to have success coming in on a minor-league deal.

"I believe in myself. I've always had to fight for a spot so it’s nothing new for me. I have to come in and perform."

So far, so good.

Ramos has pitched five innings this spring and given up just two hits and a run. He pitched two scoreless innings against the Tigers in Lakeland on Tuesday.

Burnett checked in with two scoreless frames against the Braves on Wednesday afternoon, giving him four straight scoreless innings since giving up two runs in his first outing of the spring.

Morgan, who has been a starter most of his career, offers the Phillies length, the ability to pitch multiple innings, and that could help his chances of making the club.

Rodriguez showed power stuff in climbing from Class A ball to the majors last season. He has pitched 3 1/3 innings this spring and given up two hits, a run and a walk. He has registered three strikeouts.

With 23 days left in Florida, it's too early to predict which lefties will end up in the bullpen. Heck, the field of candidates could grow as the front office is surely keeping tabs on which lefty relievers become available in other camps.

"Out of the four that we have, I'd like to pick two, if possible," manager Pete Mackanin said. "But nothing is for sure on that side right now. I'm anxious to sort that out once we start having our meetings on the structure of the team. There's definitely a need. It's wide open."

Being in spring training with the Phillies has been a bit of a homecoming for Ramos. He pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays from 2011 to 2014 before being traded to the Angels when Klentak was in that front office.

"My best year as a reliever was in front of his eyes in Anaheim," Ramos said. "Hopefully I can still be that same guy.

"Hopefully I can be here in April."

Yankees 3, Phillies 2: Jeremy Hellickson shines; big roster meeting on deck

Yankees 3, Phillies 2: Jeremy Hellickson shines; big roster meeting on deck

BOX SCORE

TAMPA, Fla. -- With his second straight opening day start coming into focus, Jeremy Hellickson delivered his best outing of the spring on Friday.

The right-hander, two weeks shy of his 30th birthday, held the New York Yankees to five hits and a run over 6 1/3 innings. He walked one and struck out three.

Hellickson was remarkably economical with his pitches, throwing just 75.

"I'll take that any time," he said.

So would Pete Mackanin.

"He was great," the manager said.

Hellickson will have one more tune-up -- Wednesday -- before his opening day start April 3 in Cincinnati.

"I'm ready," he said.

And that about says it all.

The game
The Phillies lost, 3-2, when reliever Michael Mariot gave up three hits and two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Tommy Joseph had a pair of hits, including the Phils' only extra-base hit, a double.

Freddy Galvis made a couple of nice plays in the field.

"He just shines out there," Mackanin said.

Joseph, the Phillies' first baseman, was involved in a humorous play in the fifth inning. Hellickson made a pickoff attempt on Aaron Hicks at first base. Hicks dived back toward the base but seemed to get stuck in the infield dirt and came up about a foot short of the bag. Joseph, sensing Hicks would easily beat the throw, didn't immediately notice that Hicks was grounded short of the bag and by the time he did, Hicks was able to scurry to the bag.

As fate would have it, the next two batters hit tough ground balls to Joseph's right and he made close plays at second both times. He fired what looked like a 90 mph fastball at shortstop Galvis on the first one. Galvis even seemed shocked how quickly the ball got on him.

"We laughed about the pickoff play," Hellickson said. "But he made two really good plays after that. I told him he totally redeemed himself. That was funny, though."

Saunders OK
Michael Saunders was hit on the right hand by a pitch in the fifth inning. He left the game for precautionary reasons, but was fine. Just a bruise.

"Glancing blow," Mackanin said.

Roster ruminations
The Phillies leave Florida in a week. They have thinned their roster several times and did so again on Friday, optioning pitcher Jake Thompson and outfielder Tyler Goeddel to the minors and reassigning three others (see story).

An even clearer picture of the roster will begin to emerge Sunday as several non-roster players can opt out of their contracts if they are not added to the 40-man roster. That list includes catchers Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday, reliever Sean Burnett and outfielder Chris Coghlan.

Mackanin said the team would have a personnel meeting on Sunday.

"By Monday we should have some more news," he said.

Still unsettled are the bench and bullpen. Typically the team would have five men on the bench and seven in the bullpen, but Mackanin said the possibility of a four-man bench and an eight-man bullpen would be discussed.

"I don't want to do that, especially in the National League, but we're talking about it," he said.

The Phillies have a tight 40-man roster, and that could help Andrew Knapp's chances of making the club as a backup catcher/first baseman. He is already on the 40-man roster. Even if Knapp makes it, the Phils could bring along Hanigan or Holaday as a third catcher.

"That's a possibility," Mackanin said. "We discussed it at the last meeting. We're going to discuss it again on Sunday.

"We're trying to come up with the best plan for when we break, and a lot of it has to do with the non-roster players. If we make a move, someone has to come off (the 40-man roster) and that's an issue."

Up next
The Phillies travel to Fort Myers on Saturday to play the Red Sox. The game shapes up as another audition for a spot in the Phillies' bullpen as Alec Asher, Adam Morgan and Joely Rodriguez are the scheduled pitchers.

Phillies trim roster, send Tyler Goeddel, Jake Thompson to minors

Phillies trim roster, send Tyler Goeddel, Jake Thompson to minors

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- With a week to go before they leave Florida, the Phillies made several roster moves on Friday morning.

Outfielder Tyler Goeddel, who spent all of last season in the majors, was optioned to the minor leagues.

Pitcher Jake Thompson, who made 10 starts in the majors for the Phillies last season, was also optioned to the minors. He is expected to open the season in the starting rotation at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Goeddel, 24, joined the Phillies organization in December 2015 after being selected in the Rule 5 draft. He had originally been a first-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011.

Players selected in the Rule 5 draft must spend an entire season in the majors or be exposed to waivers and offered back to their original club. The Phillies kept Goeddel all of last season, fully securing his rights, but he received only 213 at-bats and hit just .192 with four homers and 16 RBIs.

The news on Goeddel was not completely surprising. The wintertime additions of outfielders Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders had made Goeddel a long shot to make the team.

"I knew going into camp I was going to have to earn my spot," he said. "There's a lot of guys in here that have been playing well. Whatever happened, happened."

Goeddel needs to recoup some at-bats in the minor leagues. The question is: where? The Phillies have three top outfield prospects -- Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Dylan Cozens -- who will require regular playing time at Triple-A. It's possible that Goeddel could open the season at Double-A.

Team officials discussed that possibility with him.

"They want me to get more at-bats," Goeddel said. "That's the main thing. Only getting 200 in your age-23 season is not enough.

"They said there's a chance I'm at Reading. I'm not too happy about that but you can't control it. That's where their most openings are and most consistent playing time.

"I want to play every day. It was tough last year playing sparingly. Getting at-bats is going to be great. Obviously, I wish it was up here. But at the end of the day, you can't control it."

Goeddel is still on the 40-man roster and as long as he stays on it can come back to the majors quite easily if a need arises.

"They said that," Goeddel said. "Last year (pitcher Alec) Asher started at Double-A and was called up. They said that in there. They just want me to get at-bats. That was their main thing."

Thompson could be one of the first to return to the majors if a need arises in the starting rotation.

The 23-year-old right-hander was one of five prospects that the Phillies acquired from Texas for Cole Hamels in July 2015. He went 11-5 with a 2.50 ERA in 21 starts at Triple-A last season and 3-6 with a 5.70 ERA with the big club.

The Phils also reassigned pitcher Dalier Hinojosa, catcher Logan Moore and infielder Hector Gomez to minor-league camp.