Leslie’s Lowdown

Inside Phillies baseball

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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