DUNEDIN, Fla. — It didn’t take long to figure out if the small-craft wind advisory would have an effect on Saturday afternoon’s game at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. In fact, it took only a few pitches from Blue Jays’ starter R.A. Dickey to notice which way the wind was blowing.
The Phillies’ first four hitters got three extra-base hits, including a line drive home run from Ryan Howard, to jump out to a quick, 3-0 lead.
But much to Cliff Lee’s chagrin, the stiff, 20-mph winds didn’t shift directions when he took the mound in the Phillies’ 11-6 loss.
The Blue Jays pounded out eight extra-base hits, including homers from Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio, to snap the Phils’ modest, two-game spring winning streak.
Lee allowed three extra-base hits to the Jays’ hitters, including the wind-blown homer to Bonifacio. Maybe on a different day the seemingly routine fly balls would have been outs, but then again, that’s why it’s best to take spring stats with a grain of salt. And though he was tagged for three runs and five hits in three innings in his second outing of the spring, Lee reported that he felt pretty good about the Saturday outing.
“I missed up in the zone a few times,” Lee explained. “Obviously, with the wind blowing the way it was, you have to keep the ball down. I didn’t and paid for it with the doubles and a home run. Other than that I felt fine.”
Fortunately for Lee, the wind didn’t compromise the work he hoped to accomplish on Saturday.
“It’s something you have to deal with,” Lee said about the windy afternoon. “I felt fine.”
Feeling fine, as Lee described it, is going to be the key to the season. Lee says the Phillies are in a great position headed into the season simply based on those feelings. Howard, playing in his seventh straight spring game, bashed his second homer of the spring even though his 1-for-3 performance sent his batting average down to .429 (9 for 21 with seven RBIs).
Chase Utley has seen action in four spring games as well.
Neither player appeared in any last year.
“If everyone is healthy that’s the key to everything,” Lee said. “Having Chase and Ryan is big for us, and having those guys healthy this early in the spring and getting their reps in is going to be huge for us. Health is the key.”
After the way the start of last season unfolded, how can anyone disagree? With Howard and Utley out for the first half of the season, the Phillies were 14 games out by the All-Star break with a 37-50 record.
If the Phillies are healthy when the season begins, manager Charlie Manuel doesn’t believe there will be another slow start.
“So far we have everyone healthy and that’s good,” Manuel said. “I like everything about our workouts.”
Maybe some baseball pundits forgot about all the injuries the Phillies suffered last year? If that’s the case and folks around baseball are selling the Phillies a bit short this season, Lee is fine with it.
“I don’t really care to be honest with you,” Lee said. “I think if we’re all healthy and out there just playing the way we can, we can beat anyone. I’m just focused on doing what I have to do and doing what I can to prepare. I’m focused on us.”
Saturday, Lee was focused on building up his arm strength. In his three innings the lefty threw 45 pitches and did not stray too far from the plate with 32 strikes. Lee faced 14 hitters and threw 10 first-pitch strikes; he picked up three strikeouts.
“That’s what I want,” Lee said. “The sooner they swing they sooner they can get themselves out. It can be a good and bad thing sometimes, but I definitely want them to swing.”
Despite the wind, Lee threw a few fat pitches. He gave up three doubles in the first inning and said he left the pitches up in the strike zone. Although the homer Lee allowed to Bonifacio may have been a fly out on a day with calm winds, the pitch was still up.
“I feel like I’m locating and I missed a few up. It’s just a matter of getting some repetitions and getting comfortable with your delivery,” Lee said. “I feel like I’m right where I need to be.”
“He’s all right, but he had the ball up a little bit,” Manuel concurred.
Wind or not, Manuel says he expects the pitching to be much sharper as the spring progresses.
“Our pitching right now, we’re still trying to get there,” Manuel said. “When you go out there and you’re not sharp, that’s to be expected sometimes. You’ll see some guys have a good performance and some guys don’t, but it should pick up halfway through the camp.”
The Phillies got four hits for three runs from their first five hitters on Saturday against the Jays. After that, the Phillies got one hit from the 26 hitters that followed.
The one hit was a home run for Carlos Ruiz. Catcher Erik Kratz also homered in the ninth to cap off the Phillies’ scoring.
The Blue Jays cashed in on a homer from Jose Reyes off Tyler Cloyd in the fourth inning as well as doubles from Melky Cabrera, Rajai Davis, Josh Thole, Moises Sierra, Reyes and Bonifacio.
Cloyd had a rough one on the mound. In two innings the righty was tattooed for six runs on seven hits and a walk. Relievers Mike Stutes and Justin Friend also allowed a run on their lone innings of work.
Chad Durbin finished up for the Phils with two strikeouts in a perfect eighth inning.
For the Jays, Dickey allowed three runs on four hits in three innings. Josh Johnson followed and retired six of the seven hitters he faced.
The Phillies have two games on Sunday with one half of the team headed to Sarasota to face the Orioles and the other staying in Clearwater for a rematch with the Blue Jays.
In Sarasota, Kyle Kendrick, Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman and B.J. Rosenberg are scheduled to pitch, while Aaron Cook, Zach Miner, Jeremy Horst and Antonio Bastardo are expected to pitch in Clearwater.
Look for Darin Ruf and Ryan Howard to be in the lineup on Sunday against the Blue Jays.