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Archive for March, 2008

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.”

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.

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.

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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