Thome & Phillies vs. Raul & Yankees on TV Today!

Thome & Phillies vs. Raul & Yankees on TV Today!

It's a gorgeous day in Clearwater, and the Phillies will host the New York Yankees in the opening day of their Grapefruit League schedule. Raul Ibanez has moved on to the Evil Empire, but we ain't mad at him. The image of Raul in that classic NY cap will be cleansed the moment we see Jim Thome stroll to the plate wearing bright red once again.

Both players are DH'ing in their respective new teams' starting lineups today, which you can see below, along with some Phils stories of note. The game starts at 1:05 and will be televised on Comcast Sportsnet in Philly.

The Phils will roll out the following lineup:

Rollins SS
Victorino CF
Pence RF
Thome DH
Wigginton 3B
Mayberry 1B
Brown LF
Kratz C
Martinez 2B
Hamels P

For the Yankees, we'll initially see:

Gardner LF
Granderson CF
Swisher RF
Ibanez DH
Chavez 1B
Martin C
Nunez SS
Hall 2B
Nix 3B
Nova P

(Note: Edited from first posting)

Raul photo courtesy Ryan Lawrence of the Delco Times, who also has some video. [@ryanlawrence21]

With the open of spring training comes a look at some positional battles, as well as some health watching with this particular Phillies team. Notable among the lineup's absentees are Chase Utley and Placido Polanco, who will miss both games this weekend. Per Jim Salisbury, Charlie Manuel says it might be a while before Chase plays, with an aim toward having him healthy and feeling good to start the season. Sully says Utley's on board with that plan, and also discusses the goals for Polanco, some of the bullpen jobs up for grabs this spring, and who else will pitch today after Cole turns in a likely two innings. We should get to see Jonathan Papelbon among them. [CSN Philly]

Todd Zolecki gives us a look at what Shane Victorino might be looking for in a long-term agreement to stay with the club. Shane wants to stay in Philly and might be willing to give a hometown discount, but he's also looking for a 5-year deal. His agents will talk to the Phillies during spring training with hopes of getting something done before the final season of his current contract begins. Zo puts in some good work on looking at where Shane ranks among his peers in certain areas, as well as what the comps might be. What do you think is reasonable for retaining Victorino? [MLB.com Phillies]

Gotta appreciate the way Philly.com's sports tweeter teased this one today: "Phillies pitcher Mike Stutes gets a valuable lesson from his parents' home movies. Seriously. @magelb has more." [Philly.com]

Spring training baseball on your TV… Doesn't get a whole lot better than that in early March. Sweeping shots of bright green fields interrupted by brighter red jerseys with a backdrop of palm trees being pulled in one direction or the other by the Clearwater wind—aw hell. I'm rambling like Sam Waterston in Lebowski...

Highly ranked 2018 recruit Brandon Slater verbally commits to Villanova

Highly ranked 2018 recruit Brandon Slater verbally commits to Villanova

The future of Villanova basketball just got brighter.

Brandon Slater, a 6-foot-6 wing and highly touted 2018 recruit, told Scout.com on Wednesday night that he has verbally committed to the Wildcats.

He later made the announcement on Twitter.

Among the 2018 recruiting class, Slater, a product of Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Virginia, is ranked in the top 30 by Scout.com and top 50 by ESPN.com. He's slated as a four-star talent by both media outlets.

Per ESPN, Slater had offers from Louisville, Maryland, Miami, Syracuse, USC and Virginia Tech. He is Villanova's first commitment for 2018.

"Going up there it just feels like a second home," Slater said, via Evan Daniels of Scout.com. "It gives me a good vibe. It's nothing like all the other schools. I just feel like a Villanova guy. It feels like PVI. It's already home."

Slater and Villanova head coach Jay Wright expressed their excitement on Twitter.

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

BOX SCORE

On the surface, it might appear that the Phillies were done in by one bad inning on Wednesday night. After all, they suffered a 7-2 loss at Citizens Bank Park and the visiting Colorado Rockies scored all of their runs in one hellacious burst in the third inning (see Instant Replay).

But there was more to the loss than just one poor inning by starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson. The Phillies came to the plate in nine innings against the Rockies pitchers and managed hits in only two of them while finishing the game with just three. It was the third time in the last four games -- all losses -- that the Phillies have mustered just three (expletive deleted) hits. Through the first seven innings in this one, they were out-hit, 11-1.

"Well, once again, three hits," manager Pete Mackanin said afterward. "Not a whole lot of good to talk about."

No, there wasn't. Hasn't been for a while. The Phillies have lost five in a row, 9 of 10 and 20 of their last 24 games. Wednesday night's loss left them with the worst record in the majors at 15-29.

"There's a lot of baseball left, and I know we're better than this," Mackanin said. "We just have to have some kind of spark to get out of it. Win a couple in a row and it could put us on a winning streak."

It’s not going to be easy to start the winning streak in Thursday's series finale against Colorado. The Rockies have the best record in the National League at 31-17 and they have outscored the Phillies, 23-5, in the first three games of the series.

That's a serious beating.

"They have some really good hitters in that lineup and it’s a deep lineup, too," Hellickson said. "There are no easy outs."

Conversely, there have been many easy outs in the Phillies' lineup in this series. The Phils did not get their first hit Wednesday night until Andrew Knapp singled with two outs in the fifth inning. The Rockies’ starting pitchers in this series have held the Phils to two runs in 20 innings. And two of those pitchers were rookies, Jeff Hoffman and German Marquez. Tyler Chatwood pitched seven shutout innings Wednesday night.

The Phillies’ starting pitching in the month of May has been brutal. Phillies starters have a 6.39 ERA in the month, second worst in baseball over that span.

The team is 4-17 in the month.

"It's been kind of surprising," Mackanin said of the rotation's problems this month. "I know they're better than that. We're going to put something together. I believe that. "

Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. He's been a different pitcher in May. His ERA in the month is a hefty 7.30 in five starts. The difference in the months: Hellickson located his finesse repertoire down in the strike zone in April. He's been up in the zone in May. On Wednesday night, Rockies hitters fought off his middling fastball and didn’t miss his soft stuff because it was up. Carlos Gonzalez had the big hit against Hellickson in the Rockies' seven-run third. He jumped out of his shoes to hack at a 2-1 changeup and hit it for a three-run home run.

"He had poor command of his changeup," Mackanin said. "He was yanking his changeup, not locating it. That's his out pitch. He didn't have it tonight.

"He’s had a lot of good starts for us. When he doesn’t locate, he gives up a run here or there, but he kind of gets it back. For that one inning, it fell apart on him."

Hellickson allowed eight base runners on six hits and two walks in the Rockies' seven-run third inning. He gave up a double, a triple, a homer and three singles in the frame.

"I beat myself that inning by falling behind and walking too many," the pitcher said. "When I did make a good pitch, they found a way to get hits off those, too."

This is the third straight season that the Phillies have endured a 4-20 stretch.

"It's not easy," Hellickson said. "It’s not fun. It's just something you deal with. It’s not fun."

During this stretch, Mackanin has benched his cleanup hitter, Maikel Franco. Otherwise, he has kept his sanity.

"I remember when I took over in '15, the team was scuffling, really not playing well," Mackanin said. "Then something clicked and we started beating teams. Last year, we had a good first part of the season and then kind of scuffled at the end. Sometimes one little thing clicks and you get better.

"In a long season, these things sometimes happen. I remember Atlanta, the first half last year, was terrible. They had a real good second half. I believe we just need to get something going. We're going to put something together. I believe that."