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Archive for February, 2008

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.

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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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.

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.

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

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Waiting for Ryan

Posted by jrfinger on February 15, 2008

Ryan HowardCLEARWATER, Fla. – E.F. Hutton had nothin’ on Ryan Howard Friday. When Howard talked, everyone was listening … intently. At one point in the day, though, we (the media) didn’t know if Howard would talk.

To eliminate numerous individual interview requests, the Phillies and Howard opted to hold one big “media availability.” Call it what you want, but when there’s a table, a Phillies backdrop, a microphone and speaker system set up, I call it a press conference. That’s where the problem stemmed from. Without a contract, with the possibility of an arbitration hearing looming and Comcast SportsNet set to take the “media availability” live, someone saw a media firestorm brewing … and I’m guessing that someone was Howard’s agent, Casey Close.

Just a couple of hours before the scheduled gathering the Phillies announced the “media availability” had been called off and that Ryan wouldn’t be talking Friday. It was a “mutual decision,” according to the Phillies.

So, how were they going to pull this off? With the high likelihood that the two sides are headed to the arbitration table, Ryan was going to somehow speed seven days workout out under the watchful eyes of reporters – without talking?

Though Ryan fortunately decided that the press conference-style spotlight was too bright for his liking, he was comfortable with his locker as the backdrop for a more informal meeting with 10 or so of his closest reporter buddies. There, he spoke for eight minutes and was funny, engaging and especially elusive when it came to questions about his contract. But never did he brush off anyone’s question without making a joke about it.

There, it’s over. Now was that really so painful?

One more thing on Ryan Howard: Although he’s here early, it’s nothing new for him. He has arrived early in the past and noted that he’s been working out at a gym near Tampa since the middle of January.

On Friday he was the last position player to finish his workout. He spent nearly an hour on the field with third-base coach Steve Smith, taking grounders and working on his footwork. He said he really wants to improve on his defense this year.

Isn’t it amazing that just a few short years ago barely anyone knew who Ryan Howard was?

Who is that guy?
Pat Burrell saw his shirt today for the first time. After being gone for two days, Burrell returned to the clubhouse only to find a teammate wearing a T-shirt with his mug on it. His first thought was, “what the [heck]?” Then he looked around the room and noticed that the shirts were in every locker. What really got him was the fact that his manager was even wearing one.

Burrell knows Chase Utley made them, and smiling, he said, “Chase doesn’t want to get in a T-shirt war with me because I’ll win.”

I can’t wait to see that shirt.

Meanwhile, I’ve had numerous requests/inquires about how to buy this shirt. Sorry. So far they are only made for members of the team. However, after passing on some of the e-mails I received to the Phillies, the idea was brought up of maybe making the shirts to sell and giving the money to Burrell’s favorite charity. It was only an idea mentioned in passing, but personally I think that’s a great idea.

Signed and sealed
Lost in all the Ryan Howard chasing is the fact that the Phillies have negotiated deals with several players. Headed into camp, the Phillies had 21 players (not named Howard) unsigned. But after Friday that is eight players down, 13 to go. Among those who have settled are, backup catcher Chris Coste, who will make $415,000 next season, and catcher Carlos Ruiz, who will make $425,000.

All of the unsigned players have less than three years major-league service time so they’re not eligible for arbitration.

March 2 is the first day the team can automatically renew contracts, but the Phillies typically negotiate deals before then. If they get to the point of renewal it means they couldn’t come to an agreement with the player. That rarely happens, but that’s what happened last year with Ryan Howard.

The notable names on the yet-to-be-signed list are: Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino, Kyle Kendrick and Gregg Dobbs. Hamels stands to make some good money, likely in the $500,000 range.

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Spring training – Day 1

Posted by jrfinger on February 14, 2008

pitchersCLEARWATER, Fla. – The first “injury” of the spring goes to pitcher Adam Eaton, who suffered a shin contusion (that’s my official diagnosis) when Phillies manager of media relations Greg Casterioto casually swung his foot behind him while talking to someone in the clubhouse, only to trip Eaton, who was walking behind him.

The athletic Eaton managed to keep himself from tumbling to the ground, but barely. After getting over the shock of the incident, Eaton sarcastically accused Casterioto of inflicting serious injury to his shin.

Fortunately Eaton did go unharmed in the incident, especially since Eaton has finally recovered from the shoulder trouble he suffered at the end of last season. Eaton proclaims himself ready to hold on to his spot in the rotation, a spot that’s pretty much his to lose.

When talking about last season with Eaton (10-10, 6.29 ERA), he said nobody was more upset than him that he failed the team so terribly. He said people would ask him if he was surprised he was removed from the rotation down the stretch and left off the postseason roster. He told them, “The right decision was made. They’d be stupid to put me on the playoff roster”.

Eaton said he is looking forward to “atoning for last season” and expects to be in the starting rotation when they break camp in the end of March.

Day 1, sort of
Sometime not so long ago, the first day of spring training turned into the first official day of spring training. The players don’t milk their off-season in today’s highly competitive world of baseball. In fact some of them arrive in Clearwater well in advance of the “first day”.

Cole Hamels got to town in the beginning of February. And while Thursday is the day pitchers and catchers are supposed to report, several position players have jumped into the fray. The most notable among that group is Ryan Howard, who arrived Thursday morning. New third-baseman Pedro Feliz was here Wednesday, as was Chase Utley. New acquisition Geoff Jenkins was finding his way around by mid-afternoon, and Pat Burrell lives here (although he hasn’t been here the last two days).

More than meets the eye
Charlie Manuel held his first post-practice media gathering on Thursday. As is the arrangement, the print media gets him first, then the electronic media can step in and conduct their interviews (this whole split interview session with the manager, by the way, was brought on by the print media some time ago because the writers didn’t like TV “stealing” their stuff, but that’s a whole other topic).

Anyway, Manuel can be quite entertaining, and I wish everyone could see the side of him that we in the media see. The perception of him by the general public is very different from the reality. He’s funny… and while he may be a self-proclaimed “redneck from West Virginia”, he’s smarter than people give him credit for.

Manuel can also be self-deprecating, as evidenced in Thursday’s gathering with the print media. When talking about getting off to a bad start the last three years, he pointed out that all three years they’ve had pitching issues at the beginning of the season. Manuel said, with a smirk on his face, maybe getting off to bad starts is partially his fault.

That opened the door for Daily News columnist Paul Hagen to sarcastically ask, “Why did you bring Fultz in to face Walker?” Chuck chuckled and quickly shot back, “that’s one of them … did you ever call someone and want to take it back?”

Hagen was referring to his call to the bullpen in a game against the Cardinals – opening week of the 2005 season. It was Manuel’s first year at the helm. The new skipper brought reliever Aaron Fultz in to face Larry Walker. Fultz walked Walker on four straight pitches, bringing in the tying run. He then walked in Albert Pujols. The Cards won 6-5.

Walker said afterwards, “It turned out to be a pretty smart move, pitching around me to get to Albert. Just kidding.”

Good sign
On new closer Brad Lidge, Manuel said he really liked what he saw in Thursday’s practice. He said the ball is bouncing all over the place once it leaves Lidge’s hand. When asked if he’ll use him for more than an inning at any point, Manuel said no, but he also noted, “I told you guys I wasn’t going to pitch [Billy Wagner] four outs and I did.

Lidge can reach 100 mph on the radar gun, and Manuel thinks that it’s important that Lidge uses both sides of the plate to be successful. He also said that if he gets Lidge in the game and he’s throwing like he can but they lose, “so be it.”

Manuel loves the back end of his bullpen – actually, the whole bullpen. If it plays out like it’s supposed to, new acquisition Chad Durbin and Ryan Madsen are your middle relievers; both eat up innings if necessary. J.C. Romero gives you that dominant lefty out of the pen, while Tom Gordon pitches the eighth and Lidge closes it out.

Speaking of Gordon. Flash came to camp in great shape. Manuel says he won’t hesitate bringing him in to close an occasional game.

Gordon is noticeably bigger. He said he feels like he did last year coming out of the All-Star break. He felt incredibly strong then and that’s how he feels now.

Almost every pitcher that’s being counted on this year dealt with some sort of injury or setback last year. They’re all healthy now, so if the Phillies PR staff can keep from taking anyone else down in the clubhouse, they should be in great shape going into the season.

Leslie on the WIP Morning Show
Leslie on the WIP Morning Show, #2

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Phillies sign the Bensons

Posted by jrfinger on February 13, 2008

BensonsCLEARWATER, Fla. – The Phillies have agreed to terms with Anna Benson.

Tell the truth, that’s what you’re thinking. Anna Benson is coming to town. In 2004 FHM Magazine named her baseball’s hottest wife. That same year, the husband of the former Penthouse Model won 12 games pitching for the Pirates and Mets.

Kris Benson is now headed to Philadelphia, and, according to assistant GM Ruben Amaro, Jr,, he’s the last player the team plans on pursuing before the season starts (although he didn’t rule out moves during spring training, specifically at the overcrowded hot corner).

Benson spent seven seasons in the big leagues. He’s posted double digit wins in five of them. He’s 10 months removed from rotator cuff, surgery and Phillies Scout Chuck LaMar said that while Benson’s got his command back, he’s about 60-70 percent recovered in terms of his velocity. When asked for a timeline for Benson’s return, LaMar said he could be Major League ready anywhere between the start of the season and the beginning of June.

Benson and the team agreed to terms on a minor league contract, which is pending a physical. Benson will meet with Phillies team doctor Micheal Ciccotti on Thursday and could be in Clearwater as early as Friday.

He said, she said
Throughout the day on Wednesday players could be found in front of the TV watching the Congressional hearings. Even the guys who tried to avoid it couldn’t because the two plasmas hanging in the clubhouse were tuned to the proceedings from beginning to end.

While players were hoping out loud that Roger Clemens is cleared of any wrongdoing, they’re privately questioning his innocence/guilt just as everyone else is. For guys like pitcher Scott Mathieson, they hope to see Clemens name cleared because they grew up idolizing him. For players like Brad Lidge, it’s a different story. Lidge played with Clemons and Andy Pettitte in Houston and spoke openly about his admiration for both players. Lidge said that no matter what happens, Clemens is still a future Hall of Famer in his eyes.

Early arrival
New third basemen Pedro Feliz is in Clearwater already, even though he doesn’t need to be here until the 19th. Feliz said he’s here to work and get with his new teammates. Feliz has spent his entire eight-year career with the San Francisco Giants.

Feliz is the leading man in the aforementioned over-crowded hot corner. The odd man out will likely be Wes Helms. Greg Dobbs is the third member of that crew. Dobbs proved himself valuable last year with the ability to play the corners of both the infield and outfield while coming up big off the bench.

Just married
Mathieson was throwing a bullpen session while on his honeymoon in Hawaii when he felt a pinch in his elbow. I must admit, I thought throwing a bullpen session while on his honeymoon was a little unromantic (“not tonight honey, I have to throw a bullpen session), but I guess if you’re going to suffer a career setback, Hawaii isn’t a bad place to do it.

Mathieson broke into the Major Leagues two years ago. He was called upon to fill a hole in the Phillies injury plagued starting rotation. Mathieson was attempting to make a case to stay in the big leagues when he went down with an injury. Tommy John surgery soon followed.

The encouraging news is, after visiting Dr. Ciccotti in Philadelphia this week, an ultrasound revealed no nerve or ligament damage. Mathieson will now fly to California this weekend to see renowned orthopedist Dr. Lewis Yokum for a second opinion. If healthy, Mathieson could compete for a roll in the starting rotation this season.

Man or machine?
Winning starts now!! That’s what the back of the T-shirt reads that’s hanging in every locker in the clubhouse. But it’s what’s on the front of the shirt that has everyone laughing. It’s a picture of Pat Burrell from early in his big league career doing biceps curls (you may remember the picture from one of the Phillies promotional campaigns) and under the picture it reads, Man or Machine.

The shirts were made by one of Burrell’s “close friends” in the clubhouse. The joke will be really funny when Burrell returns Thursday and sees them. Burrell is in Miami Wednesday to be inducted into the University of Miami Hall of Fame.

Here’s a nice promotion idea: Print those shirts to sell to all the women that want to wear Pat Burrell around town and make another shirt for the guys. I’ll bet Anna Benson would be happy to pitch in for her new team.

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