Leslie’s Lowdown

Inside Phillies baseball

Notes from the opener at Shea

Posted by jrfinger on April 9, 2008

The final opening day at Shea Stadium was a great day… for the Phillies. The Phillies offense looked much like it is supposed to look. They manufactured runs late in the game after trailing during the early going 2-0. The Phils hit the Mets where they’re most vulnerable – in the bullpen. That’s going to be the death of the Mets this year. Oliver Perez pitched a really good game, but as soon as they went to the ‘pen, it was over.

***
Jimmy Rollins hurt his ankle. While avoiding the pick-off in the eighth inning, Rollins said he felt a “pop”. That’s usually never a good thing. Rollins wasn’t walking with any kind or a limp and down-played the injury saying he’s, “day-to-day” and it’s possible he could play Wednesday night. I think he’d like to play to keep his streak alive. He started all 162 games last season. Rollins was pulled from the game after he scored. He said it was better to have a healthy Eric Bruntlett out there, who is 100 percent than have him out there at 50 percent.

Manager Charlie Manuel called it a high ankle sprain, which is usually never good. Ankle sprains are one thing, HIGH ankle sprains are another. But again, Rollins was showing no signs of a tender ankle after the game.

***
Poor Chase Utley. He had four hits on Tuesday. Three that hit him while he was standing in the batters’ box and one that nailed him in the back when he was running from first to second on a Ryan Howard grounder. Carlos Delgado was tagged with an error on the play. Utley also had a couple of hard dives. Of course in true Chase Utley fashion, he brushed it off afterwards and deflected every question about himself to the subject of his teammates.

***
Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth collided hard in right-center on a deep fly ball from Carlos Beltran. Shane said afterwards there was no winning that battle, Werth is MUCH taller than him. Both players came down hard on the play, but both got up and stayed in the game.

***
The game didn’t have that feel like it did when these two teams last played. Of course much more was at stake when they last met. While the players said there was an intensity to the game, they chalked it up to their desire to get to .500 and the desire to win every game they can.

***
Worth mentioning: the bullpen was great today. Chad Durbin, J.C. Romero and Tom Gordon pitched three scoreless innings. Now that Gordon has gotten past that bad opening day appearance, he’s showing why he’s so valuable to this bullpen. Brad Lidge pitched the last two days. It’s a good day to give him some rest since he’s just coming back from surgery. With Gordon in the bullpen, Charlie Manuel has that luxury.

***
This Phillies team is starting to gel. The new players are finding their way with their new team, those that have been here are settling into the season. It’s a confident team right now.

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Notes from Opening Day

Posted by jrfinger on April 1, 2008

Brad LidgeIt wasn’t exactly ideal weather for opening day, but for die hard baseball fans (among which I include myself) it wouldn’t have mattered if it had been snowing as long as they played the game. For much of the pre-game, Mother Nature dropped this annoying mist on the field. The baseball gods stepped in shortly before game time and dried the place out for awhile.

***
The game itself had its moments of excitement. Jimmy Rollins getting a hit in his first at-bat followed by a big home run in the 7th. Pedro Feliz with a diving grab in the fourth to rob Ron Belliard of a hit, and Ryan Howard, with the shift on, sending a line drive to left-center in the 4th.

Also exciting was when Chase Utley went from first to third on the play and Pat Burrell drove in the run.

Then there were the not so exciting moments: A tough 5th inning for Brett Myers, his last of the game, and Tom Gordon’s very disappointing ninth inning. Gordon gave up five runs in just a third of an inning.

Myers said afterwards that he felt great when he was in the bullpen, but never quite got that feeling when he took the mound. He was pretty angry with himself afterwards. Myers gets a pass in this one, but they really need him to come out strong in his next outing.

Gordon is a different story. I think there is real reason for concern with him. I’m really afraid that in a few weeks he’s going to say he’s been hurt. Maybe it’s because that’s what happened last year. Gordon said afterwards that he had trouble locating his fastball. With Brad Lidge just five days away from joining the team there didn’t appear to be any reason for concern, but now there does. The Phillies only have 11 pitchers on the roster, and only a couple that can pitch that late in the game.

***
Charlie & Leslie My favorite part of opening day is the time leading up to the game. The three hours prior to the first pitch is filled with festivities, including our own broadcasts. We did a one-hour live SportsDay and in that show I interviewed manager Charlie Manuel and closer Brad Lidge. Charlie said that as good as last years lineup was, this one has the chance of being even better.

Lidge said he could hardly sleep last night, even though he’s not even eligible to play until April 5 when he comes off the disabled list.

I also interviewed Pat Gillick in our pre-game show. When asked what he thought the teams weakest link is this year he said the pitching — not a big shocker. He also said they’re still looking for more pitching, even with the season underway. One has to assume that means they’re looking for someone in exchange for Wes Helms. When asked if they’d prefer to go with 12 pitchers rather than the 11 they have now, he said they’ll likely go back and forth between 11 and 12.

***
Rollins intros During player introductions the crowd was clear about who they like, love and aren’t exactly fond of. Of course the usuals got a big applause, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, etc. The one that surprised me a little was Chris Coste, only because back-up catchers aren’t usually among the fans favorites, but fans have clearly developed a real fondness for Coste, who had to feel good about his reception.

Then there’s Adam Eaton. He was booed heartily. Eaton took it well, tipping his hat to the crowd, almost asking for more. Wes Helms heard some boos as well.

I stood in the dugout about a half an hour before game time talking to some of the coaches. Catching Instructor Mick Billmeyer came out while I was talking to pitching coach Rich Dubee, Mick proclaimed his love for opening day. I asked the others if they felt the same. Bullpen coach Ramon Henderson agreed with Mick, but hitting coach Milt Thompson and Dubee both agreed that they just want to get that first game in the books and move forward.

***
It feels like I was just at the ballpark yesterday, hanging on every pitch. I need to reel that in a bit. It’s opening day, not late September. There are 161 games left. I just hope that when it is late September this season, we have a reason to hang on every pitch again.

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Opening Day photo gallery

Posted by jrfinger on April 1, 2008

Charlie

Talking with Charlie before the game.

Lidge

With Brad Lidge.

Pat Gillick

Talking to Pat Gillick.

Rich Dubee

Rich Dubee.

The Phanatic

The Phanatic.

Charlie Manuel and Ryan Howard.

Jimmy Rollins.

Chase Utley

Chase Utley.

Utley & Howard

Utley and Howard.

Anthem

The National Anthem.

intros

Player introductions.

Jamie Moyer

Jamie Moyer.

anthem

Listening to the anthem.

kid on opening day

A kid on Opening Day.

parachute

Parachuting in with the first ball.

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Myers returns with a new look

Posted by jrfinger on March 28, 2008

Brett MyersI heard it more than once Friday night: “We’re sure not in Florida anymore!”

It was a frigid night that marked the Phillies’ return to Citizens Bank Park. As cold as it was, the players didn’t appear to be bothered by much. That loose attitude they carried through spring training is still evident. Of course, they don’t really get down to business until opening day on Monday.

In a pregame interview I did with Brett Myers, the Phils’ starter showed off his new mohawk. He’s very proud of his new look. I figured it was some sort of superstition thing with the season about to start. Not the case. Brett said he was just bored and the haircut was the result of his boredom. I hope I never get that bored!

During the interview Ryan Howard popped up behind us. He spoke glowingly about the confidence he has in Brett being on the mound on Opening Day. His tuned changed when asked about Brett’s Mohawk. Let’s just say I don’t think we’ll see the Phils’ first baseman sporting that look anytime soon.

Roster cuts
The Phillies are close to finalizing their roster. They have to have it down to 25 by 3 p.m. Sunday. It’s there now, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make another move before the deadline.

One of those 25 is a new face to the team. Tim Lahey is a right-handed pitcher the Phillies claimed off waivers from the Cubs. He was a rule 5 draft pick by the Cubs, who got him from the Twins. That means as a Rule 5 guy he has to be kept on the 25-man roster all season or be offered back.

While not much is expected from a Rule 5 guy claimed off waivers, general manager Pat Gillick quickly pointed out that had it not been for a few players they obtained by unconventional methods last season, the Phils wouldn’t have reached the playoffs. Greg Dobbs (claimed off waivers), J.C. Romero (signed a minor league contract with the Phillies mid-season after being released by the Red Sox) and Kyle Kendrick (called up from double-A Reading) all made significant contributions.

Gillick said Lahey will fill a roll in the back end of the bullpen and bluntly pointed out that Kendrick, Jamie Moyer and Adam Eaton are only six-to-seven-inning guys, so they need players in the bullpen that can eat up innings. That’s where Lahey comes in.

Asked how he liked the back end of the starting rotation, Gillick said the Phils are comfortable with their three, four and five. He said some clubs have better fives than others and that most teams aren’t comfortable with their fours and fives … and half jokingly added that some would even like to upgrade their one and two.

By getting themselves more help in the bullpen, the Phillies were able to outright J.D. Durbin to triple-A Lehigh Valley. Durbin’s terrible outing against the Yankees earlier this week pretty much sealed his fate.

The Phils also shipped infielder Rey Olmedo and outfielder Chris Snelling out. Olmedo refused the assignment to triple-A, so he becomes a free agent. Hope you didn’t buy your Olmedo jersey already.

In another deal they also signed Chris Woodward to a minor league deal.

Helms still here
The Phillies have 11 pitchers on their 25-man roster and that’s likely what they’ll start the season with. It’s not ideal – they’d probably rather go with 12 – but with Wes Helms still in a Phillies uniform, they’re somewhat forced to carry an extra man on the bench.

The Phils have been trying to trade him and are obviously still hopeful they can. Helms is set to make $2.15 plus buyout money this season. In total he’s owed $2.9 million, and with the Phillies reaching the point of desperate, his value isn’t real high. You have to figure they have about a week left with Helms. Once Brad Lidge comes off the DL, which is expected to be April 5, Helms will likely be gone … unless the Phils decide to stay with 11 pitchers.

Personally I hate to see Helms go. He’s a class act and the type of guy you wish there were more of. Helms drove in the one and only Phillies run on Friday night. Hopefully a team with a spare relief pitcher and in need of an infielder who can play first and third base was watching.

By the way, for anyone wondering if the Phillies had their eye on starting pitcher Claudio Vargas (released by the Brewers on March 25 and currently a free agent), Gillick said they have “no interest.”

Etc.
As I mentioned, the Phillies scored just one run Friday night. Don’t get used to it. If there’s one certainty with this team it’s that it will hit.

Two days until Opening Day. It’s another moment for Myers to shine – this time as a starter again. I wonder what other pitcher in the history of the game has pitched the first and last pitch of the regular season, followed up by the first pitch the next season. The stupid things I think about. I love this game.

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Rolen redux?

Posted by jrfinger on March 12, 2008

Scott RolenSo, Scott Rolen would have said OK to a trade back to Philadelphia. That’s what the former Phillie told me Wednesday morning when we spoke to him at the Blue Jays spring training complex in Dunedin, Fla. Of course, that’s easy to say now that he’s tucked away safely in Toronto, but I actually believe him.

The problem is, even if the Phillies had pursued a trade with the Cardinals, St. Louis needed a third baseman in return and Wes Helms wasn’t going to get the job done.

Rolen had a number of things to say during our chat on Wednesday, but what really stuck out to me was that he, “Never said he didn’t like Philadelphia.” Now that, I’m not sure I believe. He said it will never be found in quotes that he made such a claim, but it was common knowledge around the clubhouse that he wasn’t happy there.

He may very well be telling the truth – he didn’t dislike Philly – but he sure didn’t like being a Phillie. Rolen said it was all about not coming to terms on a contract with the Phillies. For anyone who was a spectator for the whole drawn out show, it was obvious it was not just about a contract … but none of that matters anymore.

Scott Rolen is now a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. Never thought I’d see that one.

From the Pharm
While thinking of what it would have been like to have Scott back in Philadelphia, I realized how much home-grown talent is on this current team.

Three-quarters of the infield, two-thirds of the outfield, the catcher and three of the five starting pitchers came up through the Phillies’ system. You could even say four of the five pitchers were home grown if you want to count the fact that Adam Eaton was drafted by the Phillies – that is if he remains in the rotation.

Needless to say, that’s pretty impressive. There aren’t a lot of good teams out there that can boast of that much successful, home-grown talent. The Rockies and Indians are two that come to mind.

The Romeros
We spent some time with J.C. Romero and his family on Wednesday afternoon. He and his wife Erin have a place not far from the facility for the spring. They have a beautiful daughter, Jaslyn, who is 15-months old and is absolutely adorable. J.C. and Erin met in college at the University of Mobile where they were both athletes. Erin can proudly boast that she hit more home runs in one season than he did.

They’re really a nice family. Erin helps J.C. keep his body in efficient shape. She introduced him to a woman who is a biochemist in Tennessee. It’s through her that Romero has put together a large assortment of supplements to keep his body in good working order. He doesn’t drink, although he consumes a ton of water. He also has a massage table and is a big believer in message therapy.

We’ll have that story coming up soon on SportsNite.

Coming home
It’s back to Philadelphia Thursday morning. My time here is over. I’m hopeful that the Phillies will step it up these last couple weeks of spring because I really don’t want to spend the month of April talking about yet another slow Phillies start.

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Eaton still searching for answers

Posted by jrfinger on March 10, 2008

Leslie talks baseball on 610-WIP

Adam EatonCLEARWATER, Fla. – Adam Eaton thinks he’s going to be the team’s fifth starter. I don’t see it. It’s only because the Phillies are on the hook for $7.6 million dollars that he’s even in that position in the first place.

After limping through September last season, Eaton was left off the postseason roster. A move even he understood. After an off-season full of rehab and workouts focusing on his core, Eaton came into camp proclaiming he was fit and ready to perform the way a starting pitcher making that much money should perform.

We’ve yet to see it.

Eaton is 0-2 with a 15.75 ERA this spring. He’s shown little to get excited about and in fact, didn’t look much different than the hobbled veteran he was at the end of last year. Suddenly his back hurt. An injury Eaton never mentioned to the team during the off season. Yes, he did receive treatment for his back last year, but the pain always went away.

An MRI done Saturday revealed a slight disc herniation. Eaton threw 41 pitches during a bullpen session on Monday morning in which he felt no discomfort. He’ll throw again Wednesday and thinks he’ll be ready to pitch again on Saturday.

The clock is ticking and while nobody has made much of a case to take over that fifth spot, Eaton hasn’t made a case for why he should keep it. While Eaton may be pain free, Phillies fans won’t be if he doesn’t turn things around in a hurry.

Options
When the Phillies signed Kris Benson it looked like a good idea, but maybe not one that would pan out with Eaton seemingly ready to reclaim his spot in the rotation. Now that Eaton is struggling and Benson is creeping ever so close to game shape, it’s starting to look like a really nice option for the Phillies. Benson may not be ready until late April or early May, but when he is I think he’ll become an integral part of the Phillies’ rotation. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think anyone else will emerge out of nowhere.

Chad Durbin may work his way into the rotation, but Durbin makes more sense in the bullpen to me. What may happen is that Durbin starts the year in the rotation and when Benson is ready Durbin can move back to the bullpen, where he’ll be a long-relief guy along with Ryan Madson. Durbin saw time in both roles last year with the Tigers and had success in both places. His flexibility is a valuable asset.

The other Durbin
Speaking of Durbins, J.D. Durbin started Monday against the Pirates in Bradenton. J.D. is also in the running for that fifth spot, but won’t be soon if he keeps pitching like he did Monday. Durbin gave up 5 runs on 8 hits over 3⅓ innings of work. That means that over the last seven games, every starter not named Myers has struggled to get outs. They say competition is healthy, but the only thing healthy right now seems to be the ERAs of the starting pitcher candidates. OK, maybe bloated is a better word.

Myers update
While so many starters are stuggling, Brett Myers has been on cruise control. Granted he’s been taking on a lot of minor leaguers as the Phillies’ brass watches the others duke it out against big league hitters, but as Myers pointed out, the minor leaguers like to feed on fastballs, and he relies pretty heavily on his fastball.

Myers threw a minor league game at the Carpenter Complex on Monday. He threw 75 pitches over 5⅔ innings. He gave a up a 2-run homer to Jake Blalock in the first inning but after that he settled in. Myers retired the last 12 batters he faced.

He said afterwards that he felt good but is feeling a little sore as he stretches out for the season. Myers hasn’t pitched this many consecutive innings since last April. The kind of soreness he’s feeling is to be expected.

Now if they could just get that many innings out of their other starters.

Lidge update
Brad Lidge threw off the mound on Monday for the first time since knee surgery. He threw 25 pitches and looked good. In a perfect world he could be back by March 31 (Opening Day) and so far, all is perfect. Pitching coach Rich Dubee said he sees that return date as a very real possibility.

If the Phillies need to get by for a few games without Lidge, they’re not worried, nor should they be. Tom Gordon has made a living out of the back end of the bullpen. They’ll be fine. More than just getting Lidge back on the mound, people want to see him get there and stay there without further injury. Can he be the closer he once was? That’s the $6.4 million question.

Too strong
Everyone should stop worrying about Kyle Kendrick … for now. And no, his “trade to Japan” is not, in any way, having an effect on how he pitches when he takes the mound.

As Dubee explained on Sunday, Kendrick is a sinker-ball pitcher and right now his ball isn’t sinking because Kendrick is “too strong right now.” Yes, too strong. If you throw a sinker ball too hard it’s not going to sink. The Phillies got Kyle from Double-A Reading last year after he had 70 or so innings under his belt. Kendrick, like Cole Hamels, isn’t likely to tear it up in spring training because of the way he pitchers.

Kendrick said there’s no reason to be concerned and if you hear him say it, you believe him. He said if it’s still like this in June, then he’ll be concerned. While he’s, to some extent, kidding, I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes him a good month into the season before he really settles down.

R&R
The Phillies get their first and only day off of the Spring on Tuesday. A much needed day of rest. The teams have been going at it pretty hard since mid-February. Chase Utley actually gets two consecutive days of downtime. Utley was the only regular to not make the trip to Bradenton on Monday. Instead Chase stayed behind and worked out at Bright House Field.

We sat down with Utley and talked about a number of things, some on the field stuff, some on the field. When he allows himself, Utley can be very funny. We saw him crack a smile a few times. We’ll bring you that interview Tuesday on SportsNite.

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Staking out the Howard hearings

Posted by jrfinger on February 20, 2008

Ryan HowardCLEARWATER, Fla. – You could hear a pin drop around spring training on Wednesday, it was so quiet. That’s because almost every member of the media, except our crew and a couple of other reporters, were at the Vinoy Hotel in St. Petersburg staking out the Ryan Howard arbitration hearing. I didn’t realize how loud the media really is, but I digress.

Our other crew, which included John Boruk, was at the site of the arbitration hearing. The hearing got underway at 10 a.m., and I saw the Phillies brass stroll in here (the Clearwater training complex) a little after 3 p.m.. They did not talk, and it’s my understanding that Ryan said just a few words to the media when he finally left the hotel, only to be cut off by his agent, who put an end to the interview.

A decision is expected by Thursday.

Copycat
Jimmy Rollins spoke with Comcast SportsNet on Tuesday and met with the entire media Wednesday. The highlight Wednesday came when he was asked about Carlos Beltran’s declaration – Tell Jimmy we’re the team to beat this year – Rollins said, “There are two things about that. First there are four teams that are going to work to prevent that from happening. Second, hasn’t he ever heard of plagiarism? Rollins, of course, called the Phillies the team to beat going into the 2007 season.

With most of the Philadelphia media at the site of the arbitration hearing, much of the media talking to Jimmy was from the New York area.

Good news
After flying to Los Angeles on Monday to see renowned orthopedist Dr. Lewis Yokum, pitcher Scott Mathieson got word that he won’t need surgery again on his elbow. Matheison felt some pain in his elbow while throwing a bullpen session recently.

Mathieson has a mild strain of the lunar collateral ligament, the same ligament that was repaired in 2006. He will long toss on Thursday and should be able to throw off the mound by mid March.

Burrell the base stealer?
The team hit the field early Wednesday for base running drills, and it’s worth mentioning that left fielder Pat Burrell, while not looking fast, looked faster. I know, I can hear the jokes, “My Grandmother can run faster. … He probably still looks like he’s carrying a piano on his back,” but seriously, he did look more fleet of foot.

Even Burrell joked about his speed the other day. When asked if he was any faster now that his foot is 100 percent he said “Oh yeah, I’m flying around the base paths.”

That’s it for now, folks and that’s it for me from Clearwater. Hope you enjoyed the reports.

John Boruk takes the reigns Thursday – if he’s not still outside the Vinoy Hotel.

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The MVP is here!

Posted by jrfinger on February 19, 2008

Leslie Gudel talks baseball on 610-WIP – Part 1

Leslie Gudel talks baseball on 610-WIP – Part 2

Jimmy & RyanCLEARWATER, Fla. — The Man has arrived.

Reigning National League MVP Jimmy Rollins rolled into Spring Training on Tuesday not a minute too early. Rollins doesn’t typically show up until the last possible moment and this year was no exception. In fact, Rollins was the only player that didn’t show his face until Tuesday.

Rollins made the rounds around the clubhouse, shaking hands with teammates and sharing some laughs. Rollins is always laughing at something, or making someone else laugh.

His presence made me realize the many unique personalities sprinkled through the clubhouse. Between Rollins and teammate Ryan Howard, they have two of the biggest, most infectious smiles you’ve ever seen. When engaged Jimmy gives you his undivided attention. He has his “rules” and he captains his own ship, but if you’re with the media and you understand that about him, the structure is tolerable.

I talked with Rollins for a while after practice. Jimmy said he did a good job this off-season staying focused on his workouts. He watched his buddy Ryan work the banquet circuit last year after he won the MVP in 2006 and said he learned a lot from him on how to handle the demands that go along with the honor. Last year, Ryan claimed that he gained 15 pounds from eating his way through all the awards ceremonies. Fifteen pounds on Ryan’s 6-foot-4 frame is a whole lot different than putting that weight on the 5-foot-8 shortstop.

Jimmy also talked about the rivalry with the Mets and says he paid little attention to Carlos Beltran’s comments from last weekend.

The Mets’ outfielder uncharacteristically sent some choices words Rollins way. Beltran said: “Tell Jimmy (Rollins) we’re the team to beat in the NL East this year.”

Jimmy’s proclamation that the Phillies were the team to beat last season resonated throughout the Mets clubhouse all year – and ended up being true. Rollins said he thinks the whole thing is funny now and that the verbal sparring only intensifies the rivalry between division foes.

Time to get to work
Rollins said he had hoped to have a jersey made up that said Kobayashi on the back – an effort to further poke fun at Kyle Kendrick, who was told he was traded to Japan in a prank over the weekend. Kendrick was told he was traded for “Kobayashi,” who is a champion hot-dog eater.

That idea is strong but may have to wait. When manager Charlie Manuel addressed the team for the first time on Tuesday, he told it that it was time to focus on the work at hand. He reminded the team that they have a lot to do to get back to the playoffs.

Of course, if one player could get away with a joke in the wake of Charlie’s speech, it’s Jimmy Rollins.

Moving on
The aftermath of the prank looks to have peaked. The video that made the rounds on the Internet is no longer riding the top spot on YouTube, though it was the most-viewed video on Yahoo on Monday.

Kyle Kendrick and Brett Myers, the two main participants in the joke, appeared on the “Today” show Tuesday. They were interviewed by hosts Matt Lauer and Meridith Viera until outfielder Shane Victorino capped off the interview with a pie in the face of Myers. While Phillies fans have seen the Victorino stunt a thousand times, it was a big hit on the national broadcast.

Better yet, to watch the original “Traded to Japan” prank pulled off by then Reading coach Larry Andersen on minor league pitcher Wayne Gomes, back in the mid-90s, go to the Reading Phillies web site. It’s darn funny, too.

Talkin’ baseball…
I guess I should talk some actual baseball.

Wes Helms took grounders at only first base on Tuesday. The extra work there makes it possible for the third baseman to be more versatile. The only problem with that is first baseman Ryan Howard (105 home runs the last two seasons) won’t be spending much time on the bench.

It seems very unlikely that Helms will be with the Phillies when the team breaks camp in late March. There just doesn’t seem to be any room for him. Nevertheless, Helms is signed with the team for some good money for the 2008 season, but there are a number of players under contract and the team can’t keep more than 25 come Opening Day.

Here’s how the bench looks:

IF – Eric Bruntlett
C – Chris Coste
IF – Greg Dobbs
IF – Helms
OF – Geoff Jenkins/Jayson Werth
OF – So Taguchi

Assuming the Phillies carry 12 pitchers when the season begins – which is what they typically do – one of these players will have to go and Helms looks like the odd man out.

The Phillies bench breaks down like this:

• Taguchi will see significant time in the outfield, backing up in left and center field.
• Bruntlett is the only player on the roster that can play shortstop. Jimmy Rollins doesn’t miss much playing time (he set a major league record with 716 at bats last season, playing in all 162 games), but if something was to happen to him there’s nobody to back him up except Bruntlett.
• Chris Coste is the only backup catcher.
• Greg Dobbs was instrumental to the teams’ success last year off the bench. Dobbs plays both corners of the infield and the outfield. He can also play some second base if absolutely necessary.
• Jayson Werth and Geoff Jenkins will platoon in right field (although Jenkins will likely get more time) so they’re not going anywhere either.

That leaves Helms as the odd man out.

But if the Phillies carry 11 pitchers, they could make room for another bench player. Manuel said it’s not out of the question. Here’s how the bullpen sets up right now:

RHP – Chad Durbin
RHP – Tom Gordon
RHP – Brad Lidge
RHP – Ryan Madson
LHP – J.C. Romero

• Madson and Durbin (unless he makes the starting rotation, which would take him out of the mix. He handled both roles while with the Detroit Tigers last year) can pitch two innings.
• Romero is your lefty out of the ‘pen.
• Gordon will pitch the eighth inning to set up for Lidge, though he will occasionally close.

Manuel says that the Phillies will add a couple of relievers to pitch two innings along with Madson and Durbin.

It used to be that teams carried 12 out of camp and backed it down to 11 during the season, but the Phillies carried 12 most of last year and Charlie likes having the options.

Coming up…
Wednesday morning is a big day for Ryan Howard. That’s when the slugger goes to the arbitration table to plead his case for the $10 million. The panel of three arbitrators will either decide in favor of Howard or the Phillies, who offered $7 million. There is no in between. A decision shouldn’t be expected until Thursday or Friday.

Either way, Howard is about to enter into a whole new tax bracket.

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T.J. Bohn?

Posted by jrfinger on February 17, 2008

KendrickCLEARWATER, Fla. – Let the pranks continue.

Chris Wheeler went out to get in his car a little after noon on Sunday – and it wasn’t there. He knew right away someone was playing a trick on him. He immediately called media manager Greg Casterioto, knowing he had to have had something to do with it. He was right.

Casterioto had snaked the keys to Wheels’ BMW sometime during the morning workout. Traveling secretary Frank Coppenbarger and assistant equipment manager Danny O’Rourke helped execute the move. The car wasn’t taken far, just to the lot across the complex, just far enough to irritate Wheels. After rounding up his vehicle, Wheels said “Vuk (the late John Vukovich) had a hand in this, that’s the type of thing he used to do to me”.

Kendrick continued
Kyle Kendrick was happy to be back in the Phillies’ clubhouse instead of on a plane to Tokyo, one day after being told we was traded to Japan. His phony itinerary had him leaving Tampa at 7:03 a.m. Sunday. Kendrick has a bit of a prank hangover but said as he thought about it last night he realized how truly funny it was and how it would have been even funnier to him if he wasn’t the subject of the prank.

Kendrick holds no ill feelings and even praises the effort that went in to pulling it off. When I told him I’d make him a copy of the raw video he said with a smile, “I don’t know if I want to see it”.

Here’s the prank in its entirety.

Under the weather
Charlie Manuel has been feeling under the weather the last couple of days, and on Sunday he went home earlier than usual with flu-like symptoms. The skipper came close to feeling even worse. When leaving the practice field a ball came flying over the left-field wall of Bright House Networks Field and landed right in front of Manuel. Needless to say it startled him.

The ball had been hit by Outfielder T.J. Bohn over the tiki bar and Frenchy’s sign. While at first it looked like it went that far on the fly (which would have been extremely impressive) it turns out it did bounce before nearly striking the skipper.

T.J. who?
Who is Bohn? Bohn is an outfielder who looks like a mix between a surfer and a power forward. He’s 6-foot-5, has shaggy hair and weighs around 200 pounds. Bohn was picked up by the Phillies after the Braves designated him for assignment last September. He’s currently on the 40-man roster.

Bohn originally was drafted by the Mariners in 2002, which was when Pat Gillick was the GM in Seattle. Bohn made his major-league debut as a pinch hitter in 2006 but hasn’t been able to stick anywhere. Think of him as a Chris Roberson kind of guy, someone who could get called up if they need another outfielder and someone we’ll probably see in September.

Batter up
The second annual media batting challenge was held Sunday afternoon. We each got 10 pitches per round and went two rounds. There was a one pitch playoff between two guys, with Inquirer columnist Jim Salisbury taking home the title for the second year in a row.

I had a poor showing. After taking an hour of batting tips from hitting coach Milt Thompson on Saturday, I was sore and over-thinking everything. I had about three good hits in the first round, none in the second round, and I actually got in a third round with Shane Victorino throwing that session. I was terrible then, too. This is no excuse but the Phils’ center fielder gave me almost nothing to hit.

I’m not looking forward to how sore I’ll be on Monday.

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Punk’d!

Posted by jrfinger on February 16, 2008

KendrickCLEARWATER, Fla – It was a hard day to be Kyle Kendrick. For a short but agonizing time on Saturday, Kendrick was traded to Japan.

Two days ago when I approached Brett Myers with the idea of pulling a prank on someone, he eagerly chose Kyle Kendrick. It’s important to understand that Myers is pretty hard on Kendrick, always verbally abusing the poor kid. It’s good-natured ribbing and Kendrick is a good sport; he takes it well. But this plan would take the torment to a whole new level.

As Myers and I tried to come up with an idea, in steps Larry Andersen. He suggested that we revive an oldie but goodie. In the mid ’90s when Andersen was a coach at Reading, Wayne Gomes was a future big leaguer. Andersen executed a plot in which they told Gomes he was traded to Japan. Gomes cried and everyone else was left laughing.

Fast forward to Saturday. Assistant GM Ruben Amaro, Jr was a huge help. He pulled Kendrick out of the weight room and took him to Charlie Manuel’s office. Charlie was wearing a microphone. Kendrick never really noticed our photographer, Tom Kretchmer. Charlie proceeded to tell Kendrick he’d been traded to Japan for a pitcher named Kobyashi Iwamura. Ruben explained the details to a visibly stunned Kendrick.

Enter Frank Coppenbarger, the team’s traveling secretary, who gave Kendrick his itinerary. He’d be flying out early Sunday morning and arrive in Tokyo by 3 p.m. the next day. Ruben had Kendrick sign documents that legitimized the trade and explained how Iwamura would be making $1.5 million.

Kendrick walked out of Charlie’s office, through the clubhouse and outside to call his agent … whom Ruben had already called to let in on the joke. Even the agent went along with it.

The banter between the players was priceless, all of them knowing about the prank, everyone playing along. The icing on the cake was when Kendrick came back into the clubhouse, and the media (who also knew what was happening) was called to Kendrick’s locker. Ruben stepped in and announced the details of the trade, and Kendrick fielded questions, clearly not hearing what anyone was saying, stunned by what transpired. “What do you think about the trade? … How mad are you? … Do you have a passport? … Your shots?” The hits kept coming.

Myers put Kendrick out of his misery by stepping behind him and yelling, “You’ve been punk’d!

Kendrick took a deep breath, let out a big sigh and just smiled a huge smile.

“I’ve never been so happy. Seriously,” Kendrick said.

It was a moment to remember and one that you know Kyle Kendrick will never forget.

On the field
As for the business of baseball (that’s why we’re here, right?), Kris Benson arrived on Saturday. He worked out with the team and then did who knows what for the next three hours.

The media waited to talk to Benson. We waited and waited and waited. We waited so long that I went out and took hitting instruction from hitting coach Milt Thompson for an hour (I’ll explain later), and when I was done my photographer was still waiting with everyone for the right-hander to come out. Something isn’t right about a hoard of media waiting all that time to talk to a non-roster invitee with a minor league deal who might not even make the team.

Anyway, Benson finally got to his locker at 2:30 p.m. and talked about how great he feels, how he’s certain he can come back and how recovery from rotator cuff surgery is even harder than coming back from Tommy John, which Benson had in 2001.

He’s a long shot to make the team out of spring training, but stranger things have happened. I say we make him wait.

New team to beat?
Carlos Beltran has told the New York media that he’s impressed with the Mets getting Johan Santana. He said look how well they did last year without him, then said “tell Jimmy Rollins we’re the team to beat this year.”

Shane Victorino and Chris Coste both commented by saying we’ll see who the team to beat is when the games are played. You can bet Rollins will have something to say when he arrives.

Rolling in?
Speaking of that, I heard there was a Rollins sighting at the facility Saturday, but I didn’t see him. Jimmy doesn’t have to report until the 19th and you can bet that will be his first day of workouts (unless he surprises us all). Rollins never gets here before he has to.

So why would he be here? Often guys come in a day or two early to deal with any paperwork and medical issues. Rollins will probably come in Sunday to get his physical.

B.P.
As for why I was hitting with Milt Thompson, he graciously offered to give me some tips because on Sunday they are throwing to the media. A little friendly competition. I missed it by a day last year, I’m glad I’m here for it this year.

Thompson showed me some great stuff. He got me stepping forward with my left foot and throwing my hands at the ball, not my body. Despite tearing up my hand (Milt thankfully sent Shane Victorino to get me gloves when I broke the skin on my thumb), I was feeling pretty good by the end of our session. I’m just worried I’m going to be sore on Sunday – the classes I take at the gym don’t cover hitting with a wood bat.

I don’t want to make a fool of myself, and I think, thanks to Milt, I should be able to hold my own. Sunday should be a good day. I figure it this way, any day is better than the one Kyle Kendrick had Saturday.

Signed
Lastly, the Phils have signed pitchers Lincoln Holdzkom, John Ennis and Clay Condrey.

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