Countdown to Clearwater: Manuel's last ride?

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Countdown to Clearwater: Manuel's last ride?

The Phillies open spring training Wednesday in Clearwater, Fla. In advance of the first workout and the countdown to opening day, we take a daily look at the top storylines in camp.

Part 1: Health

Part 2: New faces

Today: Charlie Manuel’s future

Charlie Manuel will open his ninth spring training camp as Phillies manager next week.

It could be his last.

Manuel, who turned 69 last month, is entering the final year of his contract and there is no urgency -- on his side or the team’s -- to negotiate a contract extension.

Two springs ago, it was quite a different situation. Manuel had won four consecutive NL East titles and a World Series championship. He was 67 years old and eager for a new deal. In the middle of camp, he received a two-year extension taking him through 2013.

When he signed his new deal in March 2011, Manuel made it clear that he wanted to ride the extension to its conclusion then sit down with GM Ruben Amaro Jr. and club president David Montgomery and evaluate where he stood personally and professionally. He sounded like a man at peace with where he was headed.

Whenever the subject of his future has come up this offseason, Manuel has said that he wants to manage beyond this season. That comment catches people’s attention, but Manuel often qualifies the statement by saying he’s completely focused on winning in 2013 and he’ll deal with his future later. One of Manuel’s favorite sayings is “Know thyself.” Deep down inside, he knows he’s pushing 70 and knows he’s had a great run in Philadelphia. He knows he will be reaching a crossroads at the end of the season and one of those roads could take him to retirement, though he is loath to talk about that because he needs to maintain authority and vitality and does not want to create the impression he’s coasting to the finish line because he’s not. He badly wants to win in 2013.

Is it possible that Manuel gets deep into the season, decides he wants to stay on the job, and starts pushing for an extension? Sure it is. Will he get another extension? That’s a more complicated question. Manuel is the most successful Phillies manager ever and in May will pass Gene Mauch as the longest tenured skipper in franchise history. Team elders have great respect and appreciation for the job Manuel has done. He is on a fast track to the club’s Wall of Fame and will someday graduate to the revered status of Paul Owens and Dallas Green. But that doesn’t guarantee Manuel will get another contract to manage the Phillies. It’s likely that only another World Series title would give him the hammer to get another deal with the Phillies, and even then Manuel might opt to go the Tony La Russa route and go out on top.

Eras end in baseball and there are signs that the Phillies are ready to give Ryne Sandberg a shot as manager in 2014. Sandberg, the Phils’ Triple A manager the last two seasons, will be Manuel’s third base coach in 2013. His promotion has succession plan written all over it.

Manuel’s future will not be an overriding issue in this camp. He will likely be asked about it early in camp and then it will be time to move on to more pressing matters.

But this issue will become prominent if the team struggles during the regular season. If that happens, there could be a clamor to install Sandberg as manager. While it’s possible that a poor season could lead to an in-season change, it’s difficult to imagine Amaro and Montgomery firing a man who a little over four years ago raised the World Series trophy and announced, “Hey, this is for Philadelphia! This is for our fans!” A change after the season would be more likely. It is something that Manuel, the man who lives by the principal of know thyself, hinted at two years ago.

Regardless of what happens in the coming months, this could be Manuel’s last spring training as Phillies manager, and that’s pretty significant given all the success he’s had.

Instant Replay: Phillies 8, Diamondbacks 0

Instant Replay: Phillies 8, Diamondbacks 0

BOX SCORE

PHOENIX — For a rotation in flux, Vince Velasquez clearly gave the Phillies the kind of result he delivered earlier in the season on Monday night.

Coming off the disabled list and facing major-league competition for the first time since he went against the Cubs on June 8, Velasquez appeared in total control during the Phillies' 8-0 win over the Diamondbacks. 

Powered by two runs in the sixth and a six-spot in the seventh, the Phillies avenged the embarrassment of the recent Arizona sweep at Citizens Bank Park with the victory before 22,567 at Chase Field Monday night.

Starting pitching report
Pounding the strike zone constantly in the mid-90s, Velasquez easily fulfilled manager Pete Mackanin’s expectations.

The right-hander from Montclair, California, lasted five strong innings. He allowed five hits, walked none and fanned seven hitters. That’s the most Velasquez struck out since he fanned 10 Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on May 17.

For the game, Arizona managed seven hits against Velasquez and relievers Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Severino Gonzalez. The shutout was the ninth this season by the Phillies' pitching staff.

At the plate
Run-producing singles from Maikel Franco and Cameron Rupp in the sixth snapped a scoreless tie. Sending 11 hitters to the plate in the seventh, the Phillies added six in that inning. The key hits were a two-run double from Franco and Odubel Herrera singled in a run, each with no outs. Later in the frame, Cesar Hernandez slapped a single with the bases loaded for two more off reliever Josh Collmenter.

In total, the Phillies collected a season-high 16 hits.

Remember me?
Acquired from Houston in the Ken Giles deal last Dec, 12, Velasquez saw the Diamondbacks with the Astros in the last series of the 2015 season at Chase Field. Despite the starter pitching just one inning and allowing a run out of the bullpen at that time, Velasquez did leave a calling card.

“[Velasquez] is a dominant pitcher," Arizona manager Chip Hale said prior to Monday's series opener. “His fastball is particularly effective coming into left-handed hitters. We’ll see how he does coming off the DL.”

Velasquez did just fine, as he improved his record to 6-2 on the season with the win.

Moving to the bullpen
Mackanin's assessment of moving left-hander Adam Morgan to the bullpen was that it serves two purposes.

First, the club had to make room in the starting rotation for Velasquez, who was coming off the disabled list. Plus, Brett Oberholtzer, the remaining lefty in the bullpen, was not putting up electrifying numbers. In 18 appearances this season, Oberholtzer, coming into Monday’s game with the Diamondbacks, was 2-1 with a 5.35 ERA and had allowed 23 runs in 38 2/3 innings.

All of which puts a premium on Morgan to produce quality appearances and fill important roles. Going forward, Mackanin envisions Morgan pitching in certain situations and against certain hitters, while, at the same time, giving the club length in subsequent days.

Prior to his demotion to the bullpen after Sunday’s game in San Francisco, Morgan was 1-6 in 11 starts with a 6.55 ERA. Now, Morgan’s move gives Mackanin a certain degree of flexibility with a reliever he now believes is capable of getting hitters out.

“[Morgan] is the kind of guy who can give you three innings,” Mackanin said. “He has a really good slider and, physically, that carries success.”

Mackanin explained that he would give Velasquez a long leash in the game, but also that he wouldn't hesitate to go to the 'pen early, perhaps in favor of Morgan. Instead, Mackanin went to Ramos as the first one out of the bullpen Monday night.

A different team
When the Diamondbacks swept the Phillies earlier this month at Citizens Bank Park, the numbers were alarming.

That four-game defeat represented the Phillies’ first home series loss to Arizona since 2007. In those four games, the Phillies were outscored by 17 runs (22-5), and the Diamondbacks smashed 10 home runs to only one by the Phillies. That was a solo shot by Herrera off of Zack Greinke during the first inning of the series' second game.

Then, the Phillies dropped road series to the Twins and Giants, and now have lost 12 straight series dating back to May 20. That’s when they took two of three from the Marlins at home.

From the Diamondbacks' perspective, Hale said he expected a much different Phillies team for the three now in the desert.

“It was a tough series for them back in Philly,” Hale said. “Everything they tried to do did not work. Now, they have a different club, and we’ll have to play good baseball. We will not beat them by just showing up.”

Is it hot or what?
When the Phillies completed their three-game set against the Giants in San Francisco over the past weekend, the weather was ideal.

For the finale Sunday afternoon, skies were crystal blue, bright sunshine enveloped the Bay Area and temperatures reached into the mid-70s. Now, the Phillies appear stuck in the searing heat of the desert, and the game-time temperature Monday night was 108 degrees. From May through September, the roof to Chase Field is closed, and the temperature inside remains constant around 80 degrees.

“Once it gets over 103, it’s just mad,” Mackanin said before Monday’s game. “People like to stay inside and listen to their air-conditioner.”

When the Diamondbacks were in Philly last weekend, temps in the greater Phoenix area hit the upper-110s. 

Forecast for the remaining two games of the current series, Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon, are predicted to reach 110.

Elsewhere ...
Mackanin said Carlos Ruiz will catch right-hander Jerad Eickhoff Tuesday night. In his last start, Eickhoff defeated the Twins, but in that recent series in Philly against Arizona, he lost, 4-1, on June 18 to Greinke.

With the selection of Ruiz behind the plate, Mackanin indicated there could be additional work for the veteran back-stopper, and said, “I’d like give [Ruiz] more playing time than I have.”

Up next
The series with Arizona continues Tuesday at 9:40 p.m. That’s when the Diamondbacks' Greinke (10-3, 3.61 ERA), who is 7-0 and has a 2.18 ERA in his last eight starts, faces Eickhoff (5-9, 3.36 ERA). For the Wednesday matinee at 3:40 p.m., look for the Diamondbacks' Archie Bradley (3-3, 4.50) taking on right Zach Elfin (0-2, 6.28).

After a day off Thursday, the Phillies return home for a six-game homestand that features three with the Kansas City Royals and three with the Atlanta Braves.

Best of MLB: Kris Bryant hits 3 homers in Cubs' win over Reds

Best of MLB: Kris Bryant hits 3 homers in Cubs' win over Reds

CINCINNATI -- Kris Bryant became the first major leaguer to hit three homers and two doubles in a game, and Jake Arrieta added a solo shot in the ballpark where he threw a no-hitter in April, leading the Chicago Cubs to an 11-8 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night.

The Cubs pulled out of their 1-6 slide behind a tandem that's had some historic moments in Cincinnati.

Arrieta (12-2) threw his second career no-hitter on April 21 during a 16-0 win over the Reds. Bryant led the way with a pair of homers in that game, including a grand slam that gave him a career-high six RBIs.

Arrieta struggled in his return to Cincinnati, giving up a season-high five runs in five innings, but Bryant drove in six runs again to help the right-hander pull through. Bryant's 16 total bases were a Cubs record, and his five hits marked a career high (see full recap).

Nationals, Mets rally past Syndergaard
WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals dealt Noah Syndergaard his first loss in more than a month, an 11-4 victory over the New York Mets on Monday night in the opener of a three-game series between the division rivals.

Washington starter Joe Ross (7-4) gave up four early runs then retired 11 of the last 12 batters he faced.

The Nationals increased their lead over idle Miami to 3 1/2 games in the NL East, while the Mets are four games back. The Nationals stole six bases, matching their most since the franchise moved to Washington in 2005.

Five steals came against Syndergaard (8-3), who had won six consecutive decisions and had not lost since May 6. He lasted only three innings, surrendering season-highs in runs (5) and walks (3) (see full recap).

Indians top Braves for 10th straight win
ATLANTA -- Lonnie Chisenhall hit a three-run homer, Trevor Bauer gave up two runs in six innings and the Cleveland Indians beat the Atlanta Braves 8-3 on Monday night for their 10th straight win.

Jason Kipnis added a homer in the ninth.

The AL Central-leading Indians extended the majors' longest winning streak of the season. It is Cleveland's longest streak since closing the 2013 regular season with 10 straight wins.

The Indians have outscored opponents 68-21 and have hit 21 homers, including 10 in their last three games, during the streak.

The Indians had 14 hits as they scored at least six runs for the seventh straight game. Mike Napoli drove in a run with three hits (see full recap).

MLB Notes: Nationals set to recall top prospect Lucas Giolito

MLB Notes: Nationals set to recall top prospect Lucas Giolito

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals planned to recall top prospect Lucas Giolito to make his major league debut Tuesday against the New York Mets.

The No. 16 pick in the 2012 amateur draft, Giolito is 5-3 with a 3.17 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 71 innings at Double-A Harrisburg this season. The 21-year-old right-hander is ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Nationals' organization by Baseball America.

"He's ready for the task," manager Dusty Baker said Monday.

A spot opened in Washington's rotation when right-hander Stephen Strasburg was placed on the disabled list Sunday because of an upper back strain. Strasburg was scratched from his last two starts and underwent an MRI exam Monday.

Baker wasn't sure Giolito would remain with the Nationals for as long as Strasburg is sidelined (see full story).

Blue Jays: Tulowitzki returns to Colorado
DENVER -- Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki returned to Coors Field saying he is "in a good place" 11 months after being traded by the Colorado Rockies.

Tulowitzki was in Denver on Monday for a three-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays, the team that acquired him from the Rockies last July 27. He greeted his old Colorado teammates during batting practice and had a warm embrace with Rockies' rookie shortstop Trevor Story, who has succeeded him in the field and with the fans.

Tulowitzki said he is not bitter despite being unhappy about how the trade transpired last summer.

Tulowitzki played 10 years with the Rockies and helped lead them to the 2007 World Series as a rookie. He hit .299 with 188 home runs in Colorado but his time with the organization was marked by injury. He spent significant time on the disabled list in 2012 and 2014 (see full story)

Yankees: Rodriguez 'surprised' to be out of lineup again
NEW YORK -- Yankees star Alex Rodriguez says he is "surprised" he is out of the lineup for the second day in a row.

Rodriguez was on the bench Monday night when New York played Texas. Yankees manager Joe Girardi says "this was not an overnight decision."

Rodriguez, who turns 41 next month, is batting .223 with eight homers and 26 RBIs in 44 games as a designated hitter.

"Not good, not great," Rodriguez admitted (see full story).

Braves: Gant leaves game with oblique strain
ATLANTA --  Braves rookie right-hander John Gant left Monday night's game against the Cleveland Indians with a left oblique strain.

After giving up a single to Chris Gimenez in the third inning, Gant grabbed his left side near his ribs after throwing a pitch to Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer. Assistant trainer Jim Lovell and interim manager Brian Snitker joined Gant on the mound. Gant left with Lovell after throwing a warm-up pitch.

Rookie Tyrell Jenkins replaced Gant with the Indians leading 1-0.

The Braves said Gant's status will be reassessed Tuesday.