Thanks, NHL

Thanks, NHL

Imagine you work for a company that manufactures and
distributes a variety of products – hey, maybe you do! Each product is unique
in some way, and therefore assembled at a different factory, perhaps even at
locations spread across the continent. You might explain to friends and family
that you work for whatever particular brand your department is involved with,
but technically you are a tiny part of a much larger entity.

Now suppose a relatively small number of the company’s
factories are struggling to turn a profit, or at least break even. Why? Probably
because a particular factory is making a product the general public isn’t
interested in. The factory doesn’t necessarily require shutting down, although
that is an option. However, it could be converted to manufacture a different
product, or some of the profits from the other factories could be used to cover
some of those losses if the product was deemed somehow useful.

After all, we’re talking about an enormous company, and one
that is currently experiencing record growth at that – meaning they are taking
in more money than ever.

Except rather than re-purpose a few factories, operate them
at a loss, or shut down one or two, that enormous company which for the most
part is doing extremely well decides it’s much easier if they can take the
money from you, their employee. We’re not simply talking about negotiating a
lower share of revenues with your union reps when the time comes, either – but yes,
that too. The company demands all of its factory workers take a 24% pay
cut across the board, or it will cease operations.

Meanwhile, many of these individual departments have been so
overwhelmingly successful of late that they were able to give several of those
same employees huge raises as recently as a couple months ago. Who knows, maybe
you were one of the lucky ones. However, because the company is unable to
properly manage all of its assets, and is unwilling to take steps to rectify
the real problems, the money is supposed to come out of your pocket.

Now tell me: even if you were in your dream job, can you
honestly say you would take this lying down? You would agree to a significant
salary rollback in addition to a smaller share of the company’s overall
revenues – not to mention agree to policies some of which are designed almost
solely to suppress pay – when there are alternative solutions? When your union
just agreed to massive salary rollbacks eight years ago?

Replace the word company with NHL, and factory with the word
team. This is the lockout in a nutshell, folks, and yeah, I’m choosing sides.
The real question is why aren’t you?

***

Federal mediators spent two days on this before throwing
their hands in the air and walking away on Thursday. The season is all but lost
now. Yet the common refrain I most often read or hear in reference to any
hockey-related discussion is both players and owners are being greedy, so to
hell with them both.

For the record, greed is marked in part by a selfish and/or
excessive desire for more, according to Merriam-Webster. The players aren’t
actually asking for more here. They are mostly asking employers to honor their
word.

True, owners have since backed off of a 24% reduction in pay
– but they have not backed off of a salary rollback entirely, and that seems to
be the main hang-up here. The supposed “make whole provision” doesn’t actually
make these contracts whole, you see.

Maybe a professional athlete is not your typical person, but
lately he seems to be sharing the plight of many typical workers in today’s
world. Obviously clubs would not have offered contracts to players that they
could not afford to pay, so why should the working-class guy (relatively
speaking) take a hit after the fact? And bear in mind, this isn’t just any
business – if you happen to own a professional sports franchise, you were
probably doing fairly well to begin with. The owners are already wealthy.

Never mind the fact that you’ve probably never attended a
sporting event of any kind because of who was sitting in the owner’s suite.
Some fans tend to begrudge athletes because they make millions of dollars, but
it’s an industry the fans built and support. How much of that money should line
one man’s pockets, a man who is hardly visible in most cases, as opposed to
those who are performing the skilled labor?

Which is not to say the NHL has no case at all. Both the NFL
and NBA reached agreements to distribute a lower percentage of revenue to
players within the past 18 months, and pro hockey almost certainly needs to
follow suit. Having said that, those other leagues never mandated salary
rollbacks on contracts already signed. And you can’t make the case the NHL was
ever bargaining in good faith when you look at the size of the contracts that
were handed out during this summer’s free-agency period.

The players aren’t under some moral imperative to accept an
unfair deal any more than any other human being just because they play a game for a
living. This is their livelihood, and somebody is trying to take it from them.

With a new mentality, Vince Velasquez takes nice step in right direction

With a new mentality, Vince Velasquez takes nice step in right direction

Vince Velasquez needed 94 pitches to complete five innings in yet another short outing Thursday ... but still, it was a nice step in the right direction.

Velasquez minimized the damage against a stacked Rockies lineup, allowing one run over five innings with seven strikeouts in a 2-1 Phillies win (see Instant Replay). He avoided having that one big, meltdown inning. His pitch count still soared because the Rockies fouled off 28 pitches, but it was a promising sign that the longest at-bat of the day — 11 pitches to Charlie Blackmon — ended in a strikeout.

"Today was just huge on my part, even giving up the home run (to Trevor Story), just shutting down the majority of the guys," Velasquez said. "I gave up seven hits, but limiting the damage and getting out of the innings. These guys are just attacking.... I had a plan to attack the guys. You know, prior starts, changing game plans causes damage. So keep planning to attack and work your way around that.

"They're fouling off fastballs, it means they're late on them. I'm not changing my mentality. Why throw a curveball?"

Velasquez met with pitching coach Bob McClure last Sunday after his latest poor start Saturday in Pittsburgh. The key advice he was given was "stick to your strengths." Anybody who's watched Velasquez the last two seasons knows what his strength is: his fastball.

"Definitely. That's my go-to," Velasquez said. "[Before], I was just pretty much having second thoughts about certain pitches and again, just changing my game plan. If you shy away from that, things pretty much go away from you. That's where you get hurt. Today's mentality didn't change at all. I attacked guys with high fastballs in 0-2 counts. Story put a good swing on it and it ended up escalating out."

That was the one big mistake Velasquez made. He threw an 0-2 fastball right down the middle that Story hit out of the park. The Phillies have allowed the most 0-2 home runs in the majors this season (six) and the last two seasons combined (17). For reference, the Marlins have allowed the fewest over that span, just two.

But still, the high fastballs for Velasquez mostly worked on this afternoon. He induced 10 swinging strikes on 72 fastballs.

His off-speed stuff was a different story. The Rockies' first two hits of the day came on curveballs and they went 4 for 6 against his curve, slider and changeup. Colorado's hitters swung through just 2 of the 22 offspeed pitches they saw from Velasquez.

Manager Pete Mackanin said after Velasquez's last start that commanding his off-speed pitches is the key for him. His fastball is great, we all know that, but it just doesn't play multiple times through the order when the other team knows that pitch is coming in every key situation.

"The changeup was actually working a little bit [today]," Velasquez said. "It was down. That's just another pitch I need to work on a little bit more. But it's coming around. The curveball has a good shape to it but, again, it's just locating it."

It's important to keep it all in perspective when it comes to Velasquez. He's a power-armed 24-year-old who's still figuring things out. Most pitchers wouldn't be doing their jobs by going five innings, but with Velasquez it's a baby-steps approach — every small step in a positive direction being a sign that his dominant stuff can someday translate into consistency. 

He'll carry a 2-4 record and 5.55 ERA into his next start Tuesday in Miami. 

After epically bad game, Odubel Herrera maintains he's 'making good swings'

After epically bad game, Odubel Herrera maintains he's 'making good swings'

Don't be shocked if Pete Mackanin gives Odubel Herrera the Maikel Franco treatment this weekend after Herrera's epically bad game Thursday afternoon.

Herrera, batting third for the first time since May 9, went 0 for 5 with five strikeouts in the Phillies' 2-1, extra-inning win over the Rockies (see Instant Replay).

He's the first player in the majors this season to go 0 for 5 with five Ks and the first Phillie to do so since Pat Burrell in September 2008.

(And no, that doesn't mean the Phillies are winning the World Series this season.)

Herrera is in a very bad place right now. He's hitting .226 with a .275 on-base percentage, and he has 28 strikeouts with one walk in May.

But you wouldn't know it from talking to him after the game Thursday. Herrera wasn't downtrodden or beside himself. He was typical Odubel, flashing a few smiles and remaining positive.

"I feel that I am making good swings but I'm just missing the pitches," Herrera said. "But I feel I am swinging the bat well. 

"I don't really know what it is exactly. But I am seeing the ball well. I don't know if it's when I charge at the ball or the timing of my swing. It's definitely at that point. Maybe it has something to do with the balance of the bat and my body. 

"Besides being positive, I have to check the video to see what I'm doing wrong and make some adjustment. But I'm staying positive, for sure."

Herrera and Franco, batting third and fourth, went 1 for 10 with seven strikeouts Thursday. They're both hitting below .230. They're supposed to be cornerstone pieces for the Phillies, so it's extremely troubling. Even if the Phillies were winning games recently it would be troubling.

Mackanin was elusive when asked if he'd consider benching Herrera Friday. But there's no real reason to believe it would do any good anyway. There's a fine line between giving a player time to clear his head and preventing him from having chances to bounce back.

"You know what, let me enjoy this. We'll discuss that tomorrow. Let me smile for a while," Mackanin said. 

"It's a tough decision. That's a tough decision. You wonder if he needs to be in there seeing pitches and batting or does he need time off? I'll think about that."

Herrera did say that he and Franco have leaned on each other during this rough period. They talk and try to motivate each other every day, but right now the results aren't there. Both are swinging wildly at too many pitches out of the strike zone and just making it too easy for opposing pitchers. When that's coming from the middle of your order, you're going to have problems scoring runs. 

On this date a year ago, Herrera was hitting .327 with a .901 OPS. Franco was hitting .260 with a .748 OPS.

Some of the struggles are because of pitchers adjusting to Herrera and Franco as the book on them expands. 

When asked if that's the case for his two young players, Mackanin referenced the Phillies' own adjustment to Rockies slugger Charlie Blackmon.

"I was pretty happy we got to Blackmon, that guy is a heckuva hitter and we pitched him really well today. There's an example of what you're talking about," Mackanin said. "Little by little, we're going to get there. We're going to start playing better."

Like Herrera and Franco, Mackanin has no choice but to think positive and hope for the best. It's a long summer, after all.