Blue Jays 10, Phillies 4: Aaron Nola hit hard in final Grapefruit start

Blue Jays 10, Phillies 4: Aaron Nola hit hard in final Grapefruit start

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies got the good health they were looking for from Aaron Nola this spring.

But the overall results weren't so good.

Nola struggled in his sixth and final Grapefruit League start Tuesday night. He was roughed up for seven hits, including two home runs, and five runs and did not make it out of the second inning in the Phillies' 10-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Nola finished the Grapefruit League portion of his spring with an ERA of 8.38 after giving up 18 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He gave up 28 hits, walked seven and struck out 23.

"People say it's spring training but nobody wants to go out there and give up runs," Nola said.

While he wasn't happy with the numbers he put up in camp, Nola was pleased with his health. He missed the final two months of last season with an elbow strain. He said that is completely behind him.

"I feel good," he said. "The ball is coming out of my hand really good.

"Tonight was the best I've felt all spring. I just left some balls up and they took some good swings. It was a tough night."

Manager Pete Mackanin weighed in on Nola's spring.

"One thing I like is that his velocity is way up," Mackanin said. "I think his arm is healthy and that's good to see more than anything.

"He hasn't shown the command that makes him a good pitcher, but I think that will get there."

Nola gave up home runs to Troy Tulowitzki and Melvin Upton Jr.

Nola lines up to pitch the fifth game of the regular season a week from Saturday in Philadelphia.

He only threw 51 pitches Tuesday night so he has room for a good bullpen session and another start before that outing. The start will come at the minor-league complex on Sunday. He will then join the team in Cincinnati for Monday's season opener.

Murray injured
Reliever Colton Murray ran his scoreless string to 10 1/3 innings before allowing a two-run homer in his third inning of work. Murray left the game with what looked like a lower back injury. He fell to the ground in pain after throwing a pitch. Earlier in the day, Murray was told that he would open the season in Triple A.

Minor matters 
Infielder Cole Stobbe, 19, the Phillies' third-round pick in last year's draft, and 18-year-old righty Sixto Sanchez were named winners of the Bill Giles and Larry Rojas awards for their standout work in minor-league camp. Both are among the organization's most highly touted young prospects.

Up next
The Phillies will split the squad and play two games on Wednesday. One team will go to Lakeland to play the Tigers. The other will go to Bradenton to face the Pirates.

The battle for one of the final spots in the bullpen will take center stage as Luis Garcia starts in Lakeland and Joely Rodriguez in Bradenton.

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Busy, busy day of roster moves in Phillies camp.

Let's try to put it all in perspective.

First, the facts:

Veteran infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan was released from his minor-league contract.

Right-handed pitcher Alec Asher was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for a player to be named later or cash.

Infielder Pedro Florimon and relief pitchers Cesar Ramos, Hoby Milner, Pat Venditte and Colton Murray were all informed that they will not make the opening-day roster, but they remain in big-league camp as non-roster invitees.

OK, what does it all mean?

Let's start on the position-player side. The starting eight is set, but there are still openings to fill on the bench before the team's charter flight lifts off from Tampa International Airport early Friday evening.

Barring something unforeseen, infielder Andres Blanco, outfielder Aaron Altherr and catcher Andrew Knapp will all make the 25-man roster. That leaves two openings on the bench.

Coghlan, a former National League Rookie of the Year and member of last year's World Series-winning Chicago Cubs team, asked for his release after the club raised the possibility of him signing an advance consent form. Advanced consent gives a team more control of a player and also allows a team to release a player with no further financial commitment up to 45 days into the season. Coghlan decided to move on, as was his contractual right, and is expected to land with another club.

Coghlan's departure reduced the field of candidates for the two bench jobs to three -- Brock Stassi, Daniel Nava and Jesmuel Valentin.

All signs point to lefty-hitting first baseman/outfielder Brock Stassi being rewarded for his excellent spring with a spot on the roster. The 27-year-old from the Sacramento area, the team's 33rd-round draft pick in 2011, has never played in the majors.

With Stassi looking good, the final spot on the bench is down to Nava and Valentin. They are two very different players. Nava is 34 and has five years of big-league service time. He is in camp on a minor-league deal, essentially looking to keep his career alive. Valentin, on the other hand, is 22 and very much a prospect. The team must decide if it wants to go with the veteran outfielder or the young second baseman for the final spot on the bench.

"With the way Stassi, Nava and Valentin are playing right now, one way or another we're going to be making tough decisions on the bench," general manager Matt Klentak said.

With Asher off the 40-man roster, the Phillies have the space to add Stassi.

They would need to create one more spot, probably by waiving a player, if they want to keep Nava.

Valentin is already on the 40-man roster so the team would not have to lose a player to keep him, but doing that would cost the young player the development opportunity that would come with regular at-bats in Triple A.

"I'm not opposed to starting that way if he wins the job and that's how we open," Klentak said of Valentin. "If we concluded after a few weeks that playing time just isn't there and we need to send him back down and get somebody else up, we can do that. That's the beauty of roster flexibility and having players on the big-league club with options. We can make those decisions in real time throughout the year."

So let's move on to the bullpen.

Five spots are set with Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos, Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek.

It's likely that the team will go with seven relievers. That means there are two open spots with three candidates -- Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez and Luis Garica -- still standing. All three are on the 40-man roster, so that makes the personnel mechanics a little easier. 

The team probably needs a long reliever and Morgan profiles as that guy.

Rodriguez and Garcia are both scheduled to pitch in separate games on Wednesday, so their performances will be worth watching, though Klentak said not all roster decisions are based on spring performance. 

Garcia has had a number of chances in the majors the last four seasons. He has recently added a splitter and team officials are intrigued by that, so he has remained in the mix.

There is a slim chance the team could carry all three of these relievers and go with an eight-man bullpen and a short bench, but that would be tough to do in the National League. When the decisions are made, look for a five-man bench and a seven-man bullpen.

But, remember, things can change quickly on a 25-man roster once the season begins. Ender Inciarte was on the Phillies' opening-day roster in 2013 and gone a day later. Cedric Hunter was there last year and gone two weeks later.

"We have to make sure we're disciplined to the notion that the end of spring training is not a finish line," Klentak said. "The end of spring training is the starting line for a long major-league season. Whatever we can do to preserve as many assets and players and different possibilities as we can, we need to factor that in as we're making out our opening-day roster."

Phillies 2017 betting guide: Individual player over-unders

Phillies 2017 betting guide: Individual player over-unders

With less than a week until opening day, let's take a look at some Phillies over-unders for the 2017 season, courtesy of Bovada:

Maikel Franco: O/U .265 BA, 24.5 HR, 85.5 RBIs
Franco hit .255 with 25 home runs and 88 RBIs last season, his first full year in the majors.

Those weren't bad stats for a 23-year-old, but Franco fell short of the lofty expectations set for him by the Phillies and their fans. There was a lot of "future MVP" talk before last season, as well as an endorsement from Mike Schmidt that Franco has a chance to be a better defensive third baseman than Schmidt himself was.

Advice: I'd go under .265, over 24.5 HR and over 85.5 RBIs.

The reasoning? I just think Franco is, long-term, going to be a .260ish hitter. There are legitimate flaws in his swing, approach and, at times, his concentration. Franco gave away far too many at-bats last season, and while I do think he learned from that, I don't think he's going to, within a year, significantly improve upon his ability to lay off breaking balls low and out of the zone.

Franco isn't a fast runner, either, so infield hits will be hard to come by.

The homers and RBIs, however, seem like safe bets to go over. Franco had more homers and RBIs than Vegas' projection with less lineup protection last season. And his power is real enough that I don't see him finishing a full season with fewer than 25 homers.

With a 1-2-3 of Cesar Hernandez, Howie Kendrick and Odubel Herrera, Franco's RBI opportunities should be plentiful.

Tommy Joseph: O/U 24.5 HR, 70.5 RBIs
I'm going under on both.

Joseph hit 21 home runs last season in just 347 plate appearances. That's a full-season pace of 32 HR. But that's not how baseball works -- think about how many times over the years we looked at Darin Ruf's numbers in limited time and extrapolated them over a full year.

Now, Joseph and Ruf are different players. Joseph is a better hitter, simple and plain. He has a better idea at the plate, and midway through last season Joseph showed an ability to adjust. There was a little over a week there when he couldn't catch up to any above-average fastballs. From June 27-July 3, Joseph went 0 for 16 and struck out four times in a game in Arizona. It made some start to wonder if he was just a flash in the pan.

But Joseph responded by going 14 for his next 28 with five homers and two doubles.

My rationale for going under with Joseph's HR and RBI numbers in 2017: 

• He's been injury-prone throughout his career so a season-long over bet doesn't feel safe. 

• Pitchers always adjust to a hitter in the hitter's second season.

• The Phillies have multiple players who can play first base, so I don't expect Joseph to start, say, 140 games. When he's slumping, the Phils could do something like move Kendrick to first base and start Aaron Altherr in left field. Or they could put Brock Stassi (assuming he makes the team) at first against a tough righty.

Odubel Herrera: O/U .280 BA, 22.5 steals
I'm easily taking the over on both. 

What has Herrera done through two years to make us think he won't reach .280? He hit .297 as a rookie and .286 last season, and if anything those two years felt like less than his potential, not more. I don't think Herrera's going to hit .330 this year, but I could definitely see a .310 in his near future as he continues to grow.

Herrera's speed and his ability to hit lefties along with righties makes this a pretty safe over bet.

As far as the stolen bases, Herrera went 25 for 32 last season, and now has a first base coach in Mickey Morandini who is focused on improving his players' jumps. 

Herrera had a .361 OBP last season. When you get on base that much and you're fast, you're in position to steal plenty of bases. 

Put me down for a .312 batting average and 31 steals for El Torito.

Cesar Hernandez: O/U .285, 25.5 steals
This one is tougher. I think the signs Hernandez showed in the second half last season were real, and I expect him to post a .350-plus on-base percentage, but I'm not fully confident that he'll exceed .285.

Would it be all that surprising if Hernandez hit something like .282 with a .360 OBP? I don't feel great about the batting average bet.

As far as the stolen bases, I'm taking the under, despite the aforementioned addition of Morandini. Hernandez has well-above-average speed, but he just hasn't proven to be an instinctive or efficient base stealer. He went 17 for 30 last season, becoming the first player since Brady Clark in 2005 to be caught at least 13 times in 30 or fewer attempts.

If the number was 20.5 or 22.5, I think I'd take the over. But 25.5 is a bit high for Cesar.

Howie Kendrick: O/U .275 BA
Taking the over. Kendrick hit .255 last season. He was also moved all over the field and all over the lineup by the Dodgers.

In the 10 seasons before last, Kendrick hit over .275 every year and hit .285 or better nine times.

He's a good singles hitter, and .275 is not a high benchmark. Unless Kendrick's skills have just completely eroded, this one feels safe.

Jerad Eickhoff and Jeremy Hellickson: O/U 10.5 wins each
Both pitchers were models of consistency last season -- Eickhoff made 33 starts and had a 3.65 ERA; Hellickson made 32 with a 3.71 ERA.

Both guys keep you in the game. Both guys will benefit from an improved offense and bullpen. And both go deep into games regularly enough to factor into the decision.

I feel slightly better about Hellickson's chances because the possibility exists that he'll be traded to a contender by the deadline, which would only enhance his chances of getting a bit more run support and being in position for an additional win or two. 

But I'd take the over on both.