DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Phillies have just eight days remaining in Florida before they head home to run the engines in a couple of exhibition games. Then it’s off to Texas for opening day.
This is the time of camp when hitters begin locking in and pitchers gain those final few ticks on their fastballs and that last bit of precision on their control.
Some hitters appear locked in. Others still have work to do. Ditto for the pitchers. Cliff Lee seems ready to pitch an opening-day two-hitter. But No. 4 starter Roberto Hernandez doesn’t look as sharp.
At least he wasn’t Wednesday.
Hernandez failed to build on five shutout innings in his previous start and was whacked for 11 hits and seven runs by the Toronto Blue Jays, who beat the Phillies 11-6. One of the 11 hits was a long two-run homer by Jose Bautista.
After five spring starts, one thing has become clear about Hernandez. When his sinker is working -- as it was in his previous start -- he’s pretty good. When it’s not, cover your head.
“He didn’t quite have his sinker,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. Pitching coach Bob McClure said, "He didn’t have a real good warm-up as far as getting ready.”
The conditions were breezy, with the wind blowing out. It’s not always easy to pitch on days like that, but Hernandez better be ready for it. He projects to pitch the fourth game of the season two weeks from Friday in Chicago.
It might be windy that day.
As for the hitters, Sandberg is happy with the progression of some of them. Marlon Byrd has looked good all spring. Ben Revere has come on. Carlos Ruiz has hit the ball hard in recent days. Ryan Howard had two of the Phillies’ 10 hits Wednesday, Revere split the left-center gap with a three-run triple and Cody Asche homered to center.
The Phillies are 5-13-2 on the spring. They are still hitting a woeful .215 as a team, but at least they’ve cracked the Mendoza line in the past week.
“I see guys coming along with their at-bats,” Sandberg said. “Howie is coming along. Asche hit a ball well today and had some better at-bats. I see some guys coming around. That’s what we’re going to need in these last games, for each guy to come around and find their stroke.”
Two important regulars are still not hitting their weight. Jimmy Rollins is hitting .115 (3 for 26) on the spring. He did have a hit Wednesday and hit the ball well to center field his first time up.
Chase Utley went 0 for 4 and is hitting .167 (6 for 36) on the spring. Utley is without an extra-base hit.
“We need to get more guys swinging the bats so that they could get a little bit contagious for the offense,” Sandberg said. “We need some of our main guys to do that.”
Though the Phillies had one of the worst offenses in the National League last season -- their 3.77 runs per game ranked third from the bottom -- Sandberg sees potential in this offense.
“I look at it as veteran guys that know what they have to do to get ready,” he said. “It’s a veteran lineup for the most part, with some young guys sprinkled in there. I just trust that they’ll come around and get their stroke when they need to. They know what they have to do.
“In the meantime, we'll continue to stretch them out a little bit in games, allow them to get more at-bats and see the ball more and hopefully that will turn into some guys starting to click.
“I just look at the potential on paper, what it looks like, right-handed bats, left-handed bats, some speed in there. I can see the potential of a lineup where it doesn’t have to be one guy, it can be different guys each day.
“We haven’t clicked together as a group, but I still look at the potential that’s there and I lean on that. I feel good about that.”
Check back in a month. If the Phillies are still hitting .215 as a team, Sandberg might not feel so good.