One on one: Amaro talks free agents and more

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One on one: Amaro talks free agents and more

Theres a lot brewing on the executive level of Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies appear to be on the verge of signing a closer Jonathan Papelbon? and they are trying to get a deal done with infielderoutfielder Michael Cuddyer.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. touched on these topics, as well Jimmy Rollins free-agency, Ryan Howards injury and Freddy Galvis development in an interview on Thursday.

Question: A month later, does the teams postseason elimination still sting?

Answer: A little bit. And I think that is what motivates us in the front office. We are still motivated and were motivated to get back to the World Series. Its almost like a drug. Once youre there, you want to get back. I know the players feel like that and I can absolutely tell you the front office does as well.

Q: Can you give an example of how youre motivated and how you are approaching this off-season?

A: Aggressively as usual. That will show you something about what our goals are. At the same time, we have to be intelligent about the moves that we make and as always you want to try and do whats best for the club in 2012, but, you know, you sometimes have to pull the reins back and make sure youre doing what is best for the club in the long term as well because thats what these fans deserve. They deserve for us to be contenders every year, not just in 2012, not just in 2013, but were going to try and perpetuate that.

Q: Theres a lot of talk that youre bearing down on a free-agent closer. You have two big openings, closer and shortstop. Have you prioritized closer ahead of shortstop?

A: I dont know if it is ahead of shortstop, but I think under the circumstances closer is a very vital part of our club. Im not sure if one is more important that the other. Jimmy Rollins obviously has been a very important part of our club for a long time. But if we dont stop games that were supposed to win with our staff, then its going to be troublesome and that is something that we need to shore up.

Q: Are you indeed close with a closer?

A: I think there are a couple of deals we could do right now. We are still working through those.

Q: You hear names like Ryan Madson, your incumbent, you hear names like Jonathan Papelbon. Are they the two focus guys? Is there a preference?

A: Theres a lot more. The beauty of this closer market is theres a variety of closers available and on a variety of levels of talent. Were going to try and do what is best for the club overall. Ultimately, we always try to get the best player. But we have to get the best player and fit all the rest of the pieces of the puzzle together. We have to deal with the shortstop We may be looking for a bat in the lineup to provide us with a little more punch ... And its not an unlimited situation. I think our payroll is going to be very similar to 175 million in 2011. At the same time, we have a lot of guys going north on their salaries. We dont have a ton of flexibility as it stands so we have to make sure we try and put the right pieces together in the right way.

Q: Obviously you think closers are important. Would you relax your standard of three-year max deals with pitchers to get a premier guy, a guy you want?

A: Possibly. But again, our preference is stay at three years and not go beyond that. I think its obvious that we have gone beyond that now with Cliff Lee. Were going to try our best to maintain that, but time and circumstance can change things.

Q: How about the reports that you were moving toward a deal with Ryan Madson and club president David Montgomery put the halt on it?

A: Well, the one thing I can tell you about that is, and we dont discuss these things publicly, is that those reports were erroneous. Thats all I will say about that.

Q: Were you close with Ryan?

A: That's all I'll say about it.

Q: Has David Montgomery ever nixed a baseball deal that you guys presented to him?

A: David is the most supportive owner anybody could ever have. We all have people that we have to answer to. But David Montgomery is I think about what Pat Gillick said to me when he kind of passed the baton and I took over. He said, You will never find a better place to work and you will not have a better boss. I know Im not going to get a better one than Dave.

Q: You mentioned possibly adding a bat. You entertained Michael Cuddyer. Is he a firm possibility in your mind after your visit with him?

A: He is just one of many. When we visit with players its more about them getting to know us and us getting to know them. Our minds are open as far as a bat is concerned. Again, were just trying to figure out whats the best way to allocate our dollars.

Q: Where do things stand with Jimmy Rollins?

A: Jimmy is a free agent and we continue to have discussions and well kind of see where things go. We dont characterize the negotiations. Wed like to bring Jimmy back. That would be our ultimate goal. Whether we can do that, whether we can get two to tango and make it happen, that remains to be seen.

Q: Is there any common ground with Jimmy so far?

A: I think its all been very positive. I think Jimmy, and he has earned this right to be out there looking at other possibilities, thats the nature of being a free agent, and thats great for him. If theres another situation out there for him that he thinks is better for him, more profitable, whatever the case may be, he may take that. Hopefully that doesnt happen.

Q: Hows Ryan Howard torn Achilles tendon healing, and do you still think April is still a possibility?

A: I do think April is a possibility. He seems to be doing fine. He had a little trouble with a wound, with the opening of the wound after he had the operation, but were addressing that now. Were hopeful we can get him back by April, but well have to see how it goes. Well know more as he gets into January and February whether its realistic to think hell be back by the April date.

Q: Are you talking to Roy Oswalt? Is it possible he could return?

A: We had some discussions right after the season with Roys agent and we havent had as many recently. But again, we fit all the pieces of the puzzle together here. Whether he comes back or not remains to be seen.

Q: Would his back issue give you pause on a multi-year deal?

A: I cant discuss any of his medical stuff.

Q: Hows shortstop prospect Freddy Galvis doing in winter ball?

A: Defensively, hes playing great. Hes starting to swing the bat much better. The Venezuelan winter league is a good league for him. Its a good test. We know this guy can play defense. He has great energy, baseball IQ, instincts. The question with Freddy is: Offensively can he hold his own? There are many in our organization who think he can because he does some of the little things that are important. We talked to Triple A manager Ryne Sandberg about him recently. And the thing that Ryne said was he was kind of the guy they wanted up in a key situation. They knew hed drive the run in with two outs, man on third. Hed be able to move the runner when he had to move the runner, or bunt or pull in the ball and hes done those little things.

It was interesting to have Ryne talk about how the other veteran players, and we had many of them there, how they were kind of in awe how he handled himself, how he adjusted to that level so quickly and how he handled certain situations well. It was great to have him play playoff baseball in Triple A. I got a chance to watch him play. Several of us got a chance to watch him play playoff baseball where theres intensity there. Not nearly the intensity they have on a daily basis here in Philadelphia. But he handled those situations well and made one of the best plays I have ever seen a kid make up the middle at one point. Hes not afraid. Hes a young kid who likes to play, and Im looking forward to watching him continue to develop.

Q: Did that conversation with Sandberg leave you to believing that if you dont retain Jimmy, maybe Freddy could do it?

A: Oh, I think there are a lot of people that think he can do it. Is it risky? Absolutely -- for a team like this that is expected to be in the playoffs and expected to go to the World Series. No question, its a huge risk. But thats OK. Were not afraid to take risks. Weve done it before. Right now it is just a matter of how things develop with Jimmy and how things may develop if Jimmy is not part of our club, how they may develop with some other free agents who we have had discussions with, and weighing that with whether or not we want to take the risk of having a young kid come in and be our everyday shortstop.

Q: The general managers meetings start on Monday. You traded for Brad Lidge at the GM meetings one year. How do you see them kind of shaping up this year?

A: Weve laid some groundwork already. Weve had discussions about several different possibilities now. We dont have the same level of prospect to be moving in trades, and, frankly, I dont want to move any of our prospects. I want to try and keep them all. I think that most of our acquisitions may be coming through free agency more than anything else. There may be some things we can tweak and we can try and work on to improve our club and well look to see if there are opportunities to do that.

E-mail Jim Salisbury at jsalisbury@comcastsportsnet.com

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

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Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg (9-0) won his 12th consecutive decision dating to last season, pitching six innings of one-run ball as Washington salvaged a four-game split.

Strasburg improved to 12-0 in 15 starts since losing to the Mets on Sept. 9, and the Nationals have won all 15 of those games. The 12 consecutive winning decisions is a franchise record for a starter, breaking a mark shared by Livan Hernandez (2005) and Dennis Martinez (1989).

Jayson Werth connected for a pinch-hit grand slam. Wilson Ramos had three hits, including a two-run homer, and drove in four runs. Bryce Harper hit an RBI single during a three-run fourth off Michael Wacha (2-6), who lost his sixth straight decision (see full recap).

Dodgers score twice in 9th to top Mets
NEW YORK -- Adrian Gonzalez snapped a ninth-inning tie with a two-run single off suddenly struggling closer Jeurys Familia, and Los Angeles beat New York.

Curtis Granderson hit a tying triple for the Mets immediately after Clayton Kershaw was lifted with two outs in the eighth. But the Dodgers quickly regrouped for their sixth victory in seven games since losing four straight.

Kershaw struck out 10, walked none and capped a magnificent May with another sublime performance.

Adam Liberatore (1-0) got the win. Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save.

Familia (2-1) allowed two runs on two hits and two walks (see full recap).

Castro's homer Yanks' only hit in victory
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Starlin Castro's two-run, seventh-inning homer off Jake Odorizzi was the Yankees' only hit of the game, enough to give New York a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

According to Baseball Reference data going back to 1913, the Yankees' only other one-hit win was when Charlie Mullen had an RBI single to beat Cleveland in six innings in a doubleheader nightcap on July 10, 1914.

Nathan Eovaldi (6-2) gave up one run and six hits in six innings to win his career-best fifth consecutive start and beat Odorizzi (2-3).

Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman each pitched a perfect inning and combined for seven strikeouts. Chapman got his seventh save (see full recap).

Deitrich hurt on odd play in Marlins' win over Braves
ATLANTA -- Derek Dietrich hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer and drove in four runs before getting hurt on a foul ball hit into Miami's dugout.

Dietrich's homer landed deep in the lower section of the right-field seats in the sixth, giving Miami a 3-1 lead. A former Georgia Tech star, Dietrich added a two-run double off Eric O'Flaherty in the seventh inning, then was hit by a foul ball off the bat of Christian Yelich in the ninth.

The team said X-rays were negative and Dietrich was to remain in Atlanta on Sunday night for further evaluations.

Tom Koehler (3-5) allowed three runs -- two earned -- three hits and five walks in seven-plus innings. Julio Teheran (1-5) gave up three runs, five hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings (see full recap).

Correa's home run lifts Astros over Angels in 13
ANAHEIM, Calif.  -- Pinch-hitter Carlos Correa had a three-run homer off Mike Morin (1-1) in the 13th inning.

Correa got a run-scoring hit in the 13th inning for the second time in six games, following up his game-ending single against Baltimore on Tuesday.

Albert Pujols had three hits for the Angels, who blew an eighth-inning lead and stranded 14 runners while losing for the fourth time in five games.

Michael Feliz (3-1) pitched the 12th for Houston (see full recap).

Simmering issue: Pete Mackanin says he will continue to trim Ryan Howard's playing time

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Simmering issue: Pete Mackanin says he will continue to trim Ryan Howard's playing time

CHICAGO – The Ryan Howard drama continues to simmer.
 
Howard’s dwindling production has led to dwindling playing time. He did not start against a right-handed pitcher for the second time in eight days on Sunday (see game recap).
 
After the game, manager Pete Mackanin addressed the uncomfortable situation and said he would continue to trim Howard’s playing time against right-handers because he wants to look at Tommy Joseph, who has 10 hits, including three homers and a double, in his first 35 big-league at-bats.
 
“We brought Joseph up here for a reason, to get a look at him,” Mackanin said. “I can’t let him stagnate on the bench like (Darin) Ruf ended up doing, so he’s going to face some right-handed pitchers to keep his timing. I don’t know when the next time we’re going to face a left-handed pitcher is, but I’m going to use (Joseph) a little bit more often than I did Ruf.”
 
Since the end of last July, Howard has gone from being a full-time player to a platoon guy, facing just righties. Now, he’s migrating toward more of a reserve role.
 
Taking away playing time from a club icon – Howard is a former NL MVP and World Series champion -- is not easy, but Mackanin has little choice. Howard is hitting .154 with eight homers and 18 RBIs in 136 at-bats over 44 games. He has struck out in 33 percent of his plate appearances. Howard’s average for the month of May is .097 (6 for 62) and he has 25 strikeouts. He recently used the word “brutal” to describe how the month of May has been going.
 
Mackanin was asked about Howard’s mindset in relation to losing playing time.
 
“I don’t know how he feels,” Mackanin said. “I’m sure we’ll talk to him and we’ll go from there. The important thing is that we brought Joseph up here to get a look at him, and as I said, if he sits on the bench for a week or 10 days and we don’t get a look at him, what’s the point of bringing him up?”
 
Howard started Saturday against Cubs’ righty Kyle Hendricks and went hitless.
 
After Sunday's game, Howard was asked if he was surprised to see he was not in the lineup.
 
“I guess, yeah,” he said. “But I don’t make the lineup. The manager makes the lineup. I just show up. If I’m in there, I’m in there, if I’m not, I’m not."
 
Howard said he was unaware of Mackanin’s intention to sit him more against righties.
 
“I haven’t heard anything about sitting more against righties,” he said. “I haven’t been called into the office and talked to about it, so you guys apparently have breaking news before I do.”
 
Howard's status in the lineup and with the team has been an issue for almost two years. Before the 2015 season, former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. admitted it would be best if Howard moved on. The Phillies tried to trade him last year, but there was no interest. 

Howard is in the final year of a five-year, $125 million contract that did not kick in until after he suffered a devastating Achilles tendon rupture on his final swing of the 2011 season.
 
He is still owed more that $26 million in salary for 2016 and an option year buyout for 2017.

Howard isn't walking away from that kind of money.

Would the team release him to solve this uncomfortable situation? Or will it ride out the final four months of the season and the contract with Howard as a part-time player?

Time will tell.

Phillies swept out of Chicago with another loss to MLB-best Cubs

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Phillies swept out of Chicago with another loss to MLB-best Cubs

CHICAGO – The Phillies are rebuilding.

The Chicago Cubs are focused on winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

And they have a team that can do it.

So the events of the last three days at Wrigley Field were not that surprising.

The Phillies suffered a three-game sweep, capped off by Sunday afternoon’s 7-2 loss.

When the Phillies departed Citizens Bank Park last week, they had a 25-19 record and were one of the surprise teams in the majors.

But the trip to Detroit and Chicago figured to be a stiff test. The Tigers pound the baseball. The Cubs do everything.

In the end, the Phillies won just one of the six games on the trip. They limp home at 26-24 for a matchup Monday night with the Washington Nationals.

Is the Phillies’ unexpected, early-season magic fading?

“That’s up for debate, I guess,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “Every team goes through a hot streak and a cold streak. How you come out those streaks, especially now with a cold streak, determines how good of a team you are. I choose to believe we’re at the bottom of the roller coaster and on our way up.”

The Phils were outscored 17-5 by the Cubs in this weekend’s series. The Cubs’ starting pitchers – Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey – combined to allow just three earned runs in 22⅓ innings. And Jake Arrieta, arguably the best pitcher in baseball, did not appear in the series.

After Sunday’s game, Mackanin was asked what he learned about his club on the trip.

“I didn’t learn anything about my team,” he said. “I learned first-hand that the Cubs have a lot going for them. They’re a good team, probably the best team in baseball right now and they beat us fair and square.”

They do have the best record in the majors at 34-14.

It was not surprising to hear that Mackanin didn’t learn anything about his club during the trip. He knows the Phillies are rebuilding and have glaring holes. He knows the pitching has kept them in games and allowed them to win a bunch by one run. He also knows it’s difficult to sustain that with a team that averages just 3.22 runs per game, second-lowest in the majors. Sunday marked the 19th time the Phillies have scored two or fewer runs.

Looking for more offense, Mackanin sent Ryan Howard to the bench Sunday against a right-handed pitcher and used Tommy Joseph. Joseph hit a homer in the ninth inning. After the game, Mackanin said he would continue to get Joseph playing time against right-handers.

Power-armed right-hander Vince Velasquez had a difficult trip. Against two of the toughest lineups in baseball, he pitched 8⅔ innings over two starts. He gave up 18 hits, five of which were homers, and 10 earned runs. The Cubs got him for nine hits and seven runs in 4⅔ innings. He gave up two homers, a solo shot in the second and a three-run blow in the third.

The three-run homer, by Ben Zobrist, gave the Cubs a 5-0 lead and ignited the daily Happy Hour in the stands.

Two batters before Zobrist homered, Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis failed to make a play on a hard-hit one-hopper by Kris Bryant. Galvis backed up and gloved the hot smash, but threw quickly, off-balance and wildly to first. It was ruled a hit. Had Galvis made the play, it would have ended the inning. Instead, Velasquez issued a two-out walk to extend the inning further and Zobrist hit the two-out homer.

“I don’t know why Freddy got rid of the ball so quick,” Mackanin said. “I thought he could have planted and thrown it over there. But I’m not going to be critical of Freddy Galvis. He’s been unbelievable, just outstanding.”

Zobrist’s homer was one of six the Cubs hit in the three games. Two of them were three-run shots. The Phillies had just two homers in the series. Both came Sunday after the club was down 7-0.

“We didn’t string hits together,” Mackanin said.