Phillies legend Larry Bowa responds to Chris Christie blow with an invitation

Phillies legend Larry Bowa responds to Chris Christie blow with an invitation

Chris Christie went low on Phillies fans when he ripped into our city and our ball park the other night. In something of a disappointment, Phillies legend Larry Bowa mostly went high when he responded to Christie's comments on Friday down in Clearwater at the team's spring training complex.

"If Chris Christie wants to come down here and take some ground balls, I'll be glad to hit him some," Bowa told CSNPhilly's John Clark. "He needs a lot of work."

Bowa, now a Phillies bench coach, was known for never sugar coating things as a player and manager. So we're a little bummed he didn't swing back a little harder.

I guess we'll have to rely on the Phillies Twitter from now on when it comes to good digs.

Bowa also commented on the minor outrage over the Tug McGraw painting down at the Phillies Clearwater complex.

Larry Bowa impressed by improvements of Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis

Larry Bowa impressed by improvements of Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis

Some might have seen Cesar Hernandez's error in the eighth inning Sunday for exactly what it was — a pivotal mental mistake that ultimately led to the Phillies' absorbing a 5-4 loss to the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park.
 
Larry Bowa saw it as another teaching moment.
 
Bowa is finishing up his 51st season in pro ball as the Phillies' bench coach. His duties include infield instruction. Long before the stadium gates open to fans, Bowa is on the field daily working on skills such as footwork with third baseman Maikel Franco, short hops with first baseman Tommy Joseph and all things middle infield with Freddy Galvis and Hernandez.
 
Sunday offered a mixed bag of results for Galvis and Hernandez. They both made errors, with Galvis’ string of errorless starts at shortstop stopping at 50. But Galvis did have three of the Phillies’ eight hits, including his 20th homer, and knocked in two of their four runs, while Hernandez reached base three times in raising his on-base percentage to .361.
 
Bowa offered that the miscues made by Galvis and Hernandez on Sunday were evidence that neither player is a finished product. There is still work to do — always is — and it will be done.
 
But he was quick to point out the improvement that both players have made this season.
 
“I’m really happy with the way they’ve played,” Bowa said. “The work ethic and preparation they’ve shown have been outstanding.”
 
Bowa has had that view of Galvis all season. That’s not the case with Hernandez.
 
Rewind to June. Hernandez was hitting just .248, his on-base percentage had sagged to .293 and he was making mistakes in the field and on the bases, some that showed up in the box score, others that were more subtle but just as noticeable to Bowa’s discerning eyes.
 
Manager Pete Mackanin held Hernandez out of the starting lineup three times in four days and announced he was ready to play veteran Andres Blanco more. It was a crossroads moment for Hernandez. It was looking like he was slipping to utility-man status.
 
Before batting practice one day in Minnesota, as Hernandez was about to hit with the extra players, Bowa approached the 26-year-old second baseman and delivered some tough love.
 
“You know, Pete’s not just giving you a rest,” Bowa said. “You’ll be sitting next to me on the bench for the rest of the season if you don’t change. The manager wants you to hit line drives. You need to make some changes.”
 
The quick conversation resonated with Hernandez.
 
“I watched him in the batting cage,” Bowa said. “He was hitting down on everything — line drives.”
 
A freak occurrence got Hernandez back in the lineup the next day. Joseph woke up feeling under the weather so Mackanin shifted Blanco from second base to first base and used Hernandez at second.
 
Hernandez made the most of his chance. He had three singles, a triple, a walk and scored three runs in a 7-3 win over the Twins. That performance ignited a run of 75 games, through Sunday, in which Hernandez has hit .324 with a .411 on-base percentage and an .843 OPS. He scored just 19 runs in his first 68 games. He has scored 41 over the last 75.
 
“I think he’s grown up,” Bowa said. “He’s making fewer mental mistakes. His concentration is better in the field and on the bases.”
 
Sunday’s costly miscue — Hernandez failed to call off Joseph, causing a ball to drop and the eventual tie-breaking run to reach second — was the second baseman’s 11th error, second-most among NL second basemen.
 
Still, Bowa has seen defensive improvement.
 
“He finds me every day before the game and we go over the lineup, how we’re going to play (opposing) hitters,” Bowa said. “Before, I had to go find him.
 
“I give him reports to study. I’ll say what do you have? He’ll say, ‘Slight pull hitter. Straight away.’ When he started doing that, I knew he was maturing. He’s paying attention to detail a lot more, both offensively and defensively, and he’s been very patient at the plate.”
 
While maturity has come on the fly this season for Hernandez, it arrived last offseason for Galvis. He made 17 errors in 146 games in 2015, too many for a guy who had been defined by his glove since July 2, 2006, the day both he and Hernandez signed with the Phillies as 16-year-olds in Venezuela.
 
Last winter, Galvis went home to South America and worked on his defense with his first coach — his dad. He reported to Clearwater and told Bowa he wanted to reduce his errors. Bowa agreed — 17 was too many. The duo worked all spring on defense and the results have been positive. Sunday’s error was just Galvis’ seventh in 146 games this season. He ranks second among big-league shortstops with a .988 fielding percentage.
 
“If he doesn’t win a Gold Glove it will be an injustice,” said Bowa, who won two Gold Gloves in his time as a big-league shortstop. “He’s the best I’ve seen this year.”
 
Defense hasn’t been Galvis’ only plus. Those 20 homers and 67 RBIs are pretty attractive. On the downside, he is hitting just .239, has racked up 125 strikeouts, and his .274 on-base percentage is the worst among qualifying players in the majors.
 
The Phillies’ front office puts a huge emphasis on defense. But it also values players who get on base. Galvis may need to improve that part of his game to hold off top prospect J.P. Crawford down the road.
 
“He would like to increase his on-base percentage,” Bowa said. “He and Pete have talked about it.
 
“But let’s not overlook the fact that if we had a better offense, everybody would look at Freddy, the numbers he has right now, and say, ‘Wow.’ The way he’s playing shortstop with 20 homers — they’d take that any day of the week. But because this offense has been stagnant for most of the year, Freddy is under the microscope. He gets too aggressive at times, his two-strike approach needs to be better, but he’s trying and he’s worked his butt off.”
 
The effort to improve that two-strike approach showed in the first inning Sunday when Galvis stroked a 1-2 pitch from Andrew Cashner up the middle for an RBI single. Nice, easy, controlled swing. RBI.
 
With more improvement in selectivity and approach, Bowa believes Galvis could hit .280 with 12 homers and an on-base percentage over .325. Mix in Galvis’ defense at a premium position and that’s a helluva player.
 
The future of the Phillies’ middle infield is still unclear. Team officials are high on second base prospects Jesmuel Valentin and Scott Kingery. And at 21, Crawford is still viewed by many as the long-term guy at shortstop, a factor that could make Galvis an intriguing trade chip if the front office decides to cash him in for value.
 
But Galvis and Hernandez aren’t about to hand over their jobs without a fight.
 
“Cesar is really getting it on both sides of the ball,” Bowa said. “And for me, Freddy is the best shortstop in our organization right now. To unseat Freddy, you better be real good because he’s played his butt off.”

Tim Tebow's baseball bid 'kind of a slap in the face,' says Phillies reliever

Tim Tebow's baseball bid 'kind of a slap in the face,' says Phillies reliever

CHICAGO — David Hernandez has great respect for what Tim Tebow did on the football field.

But as for Tebow's bid to become a Major League Baseball player at age 29 after not having played the game since he was a junior in high school — well, Hernandez has some strong opinions.

The Phillies' relief pitcher first voiced them on Twitter when Tebow announced his intentions two weeks ago and echoed them when it was announced Tuesday that the former Heisman trophy-winning quarterback had scheduled a private showcase for major-league scouts to be held next week in Los Angeles. As a matter of curiosity and due diligence, the Phillies will have a scout peek in on Tebow's workout. As many as 20 other teams are expected to be on hand as well.

"I think it's ridiculous," Hernandez said of Tebow's bid to reach the majors. "Hats off to him for getting an opportunity, but I just don't think it's very plausible that he'll get anywhere.

"Nothing against him, but just from the standpoint that getting to the major leagues is a long grind. It's not easy. There's a lot of work that goes into it. 

"It's kind of a slap in the face for him to say, 'I think I'll grab my things and go play pro baseball.' It's not that easy."

Hernandez, 31, pitched in high school and college then spent more than four seasons in the minors before getting to the majors with Baltimore in 2009. Before signing with the Phillies last winter, he pitched for Arizona and survived Tommy John surgery. 

In other words, he's put in the time. He knows how difficult it is to make the climb to the majors.

So does catcher Cameron Rupp. He was recruited to play linebacker at Iowa, but baseball was his first love and playing in the majors his goal. He played three years for his home state Texas Longhorns before being selected by the Phillies in the third round of the 2010 draft. 

Rupp laughed when he first heard of Tebow's intention. 

He remained skeptical when he heard Tebow had lined up a showcase.

"If that's what he wants to do — good luck," Rupp said. "Guys play a long time trying to get where we are. And those that are here are trying to stay here. Staying here is the tough part.

"High school is one thing. A lot of guys play high school and were good and get to pro ball and are overmatched. He's an athlete, no question. But you can't go 10 years without seeing live pitching and all of the sudden some guy is throwing 95 (mph). That will be a challenge. 

"I don't know if he thinks baseball is easy. It's not. It'll be interesting."

Bench coach Larry Bowa is a huge sports fan, loves football and loves what Tebow did on the field at the University of Florida. 

But Bowa has been in pro ball for 50 years. He played in the majors for 16 years and has managed and coached in the majors. Like Hernandez and Rupp, Bowa is skeptical about Tebow's chances and he wonders about the former quarterback's overall understanding of the challenge he faces.

"Whosever idea it is, they don't respect the game of baseball," Bowa said. "It's a hard game. You don't come in at age 28 or 29. I'm not saying he's not a good athlete, but this is a hard game and there are a lot of good athletes in pro ball that never get to the big leagues. 

"I don't think it can happen. There are guys 28 or 29 that are getting released everyday. How can you take 10 years off and all of the sudden be facing guys throwing 95, guys throwing sliders?"

Tebow did show some baseball tools as an outfielder/pitcher in high school. He hit .494 with four homers and 30 RBIs as a junior at Nease HS in Ponte Vedra, Florida, before giving up baseball to focus on football. He played three seasons in the NFL with the Broncos and Jets but failed to stick. 

Clearly, he still has the competitiveness, desire and work ethic that he took to the gridiron. It's just difficult to see that ever getting him to the major leagues. 

But if he ever does ...

"Who knows, maybe I'll face him," critic David Hernandez said with a laugh. "Hopefully he doesn't hit a home run off me. That would be the ultimate comeback."