Phillies: Spring Training Updates

A look at news out of Phillies Spring Training (Photo by Jillian Mele, CSN Philly)

A look at news out of Phillies Spring Training (Photo by Jillian Mele, CSN Philly)

CLEARWATER, Fl. — It’s that time of year! Phillies pitchers and catchers reported to Clearwater on Wednesday after a long winter and had their first workout on Thursday.

Already big news is coming out of camp including the probability of this being Carlos Ruiz’s last with the Phillies, Matt Harrison , who was acquired in the trade for Cole Hamels last season mostly likely out for the entire spring training, and Yoervis Medina , who was acquired for Jesse Biddle earlier in the month also not in camp because of an issue that is expected to take several weeks to resolve. The other big news coming out of camp is who will be in the five-man starting rotation and who will be the opening day starter?

Starting off right

After Thursday’s workouts, manager Pete Mackanin said the first day went smooth.

“We had a good first day,” said Mackanin. “We had guys moving. There was a lot of energy. There are a lot of guys in camp (65) and the competition is going to breed a lot of excitement and energy.”

Mackanin said his players knew that there were many jobs available this season off the mound and he was pleased with the way his pitchers conditioned in the off season.

“They players aren’t stupid, they know that jobs are available,” Mackanin said. “They know that there are things they can do to make an impression. We talked to them at the end of last year to let them know that, as I’ve always said, you’re auditioning all the time. You don’t take anything for granted. You have to earn the job. I don’t care what you did last year, it’s basically what have you done for me lately. The players sense that. They know there are jobs available, especially in the pitching department. So I think everybody is real eager to show what they can do.”

The manager already started to make sure his team can handle the ball and said he plans to continue to pound his team with fundamentals.

“I want them to handle the ball as much as possible,” Mackanin said.

Ruiz’s last season

Ruiz has entered Phillies training camp for the past the past 10 years and has seen some great moments while being behind the plate for the Fightin’s, including the magical post season era from 2007-2011. But after injuries last season, Ruiz found himself playing backup to young stud Cameron Rupp, the man that looks to be Ruiz-of-the-future.

Now that he knows the end is in sight as one of the two remaining players from the 2008 World Series squad, Ruiz challenged himself to enjoy every day this season.

“I will try to enjoy every single day,” Ruiz said to CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury on Thursday. “This is part of my life and I don’t know how much longer I’ll be here. I want to enjoy this organization and my teammates and thank God because of everything he has given me.”

Ruiz believe that he will be a benefit to Rupp as well as up-and-comers Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro .

“I will try to help everybody,” Ruiz said. “I’m enjoying being here with these young guys. They make me feel young too.”

In an interview in January, Rupp talked about how much Ruiz helped the young catcher and talked about how Rupp becoming the No. 1 catcher during the season, may not have happened with out Ruiz.

“Chooch was awesome,” said Rupp. “He is completely unselfish. He’s one of the best guys in our clubhouse. I can’t tell you how much he helped me.

“He helped me learn hitters and make in-game adjustments. He’d always ask me ‘Do you need anything? Is there anything I can do? He’d talk to me before games, during games, after games. Sometimes we’d have dinner on the road. Even this offseason, we talk once a week. We’re close. You can learn so much from a guy like that.”

After the injuries last season, Ruiz spent the winter working to strengthen his left shoulder that had been a bother. This season, he was in Clearwater on Feb 3, with an attempt to improve his career-low batting average of .211 last season and playing just 86 games last season, his lowest total since becoming a regular in 2007.

“It was a tough year for me and the team,” Ruiz said. “I was disappointed in myself. I’ve come in now with a different mentality. I’m ready to go. That’s the challenge I have. Last year is over. I feel great now. My goal is to play everyday. I believe I can play every day, but it’s not in my hands. All I can control is what I do on the fields. We’ll see what happens when games start.”

Ruiz played second base while in Panama but converted to Catcher when he signed in 1998. His legacy has been forever captured in the City of Brotherly Love with the iconic photograph of him falling to his knees to embrace Brad Lidge after the last pitch of the 2008 World Series.

He is still owed $9 million and is in his final guaranteed year of his contract. There is two probable possibilities of what will happen after that. If he elects to continue to play, it will most likely be with a new team. The other option for the 37-year-old catcher is retirement. With the continual rebuilding the team is pushing, our heros of yesterday (Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels ) are either with another team or are retired. Ryan Howard seems to be coming along like Cooch and could soon be shown the door.

“I miss those guys,” said Ruiz. “They are part of my family.”

Missing Pitchers

Both Medina and Harrison were not in camp to when pitchers and catchers were due on Wednesday.

Harrison is expected to miss lengthy time due to a back issue that has plagued him the passed three season.

Harrison, 30, had spinal fusion surgery in 2014 and pitched just three games last season before heading to the disabled list for the Rangers.

“We are not expecting him in Clearwater,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said to Salisbury last week. “We’re not expecting him to be here any time soon, if at all this year. If things go well, we’ll be happy to get him back, but the reality is we’re kind of in a wait-and-see mode and we have to let it play out.”

The Phillies knew about Harrison’s history when they accepted the trade for Hamels last season but they believed that the it was worth it in order to acquire prospects Jerad Eickhoff, Jake Thompson, Nick Williams, Alfaro and Alec Asher. Harrison is owed $28 million with two years remaining on his contract. It is reported that a significant amount of the money is insured.

Rotation Roulette

Mackanin has about four solids for the starting rotation.

Aaron NolaCharlie MortonJeremy Hellickson and Eickhoff.

That last spot, well 23-year-old right-hander Vincent Velasquez wants very badly but has some competition to face in Brett Oberholtzer and Adam Morgan.

Velasquez and Oberholtzers came to the organization over the offseason when the Phillies sent Ken Giles to Houston

“I’m looking forward to a new team and a new league,” said Velasquez. “It’s going to be a fun experience.”

Velasquez is expected to develop into a pillar for the starting rotation which would mean that the Giles trade was a success.

The 23-year-old had injuries in his past missing one season on his road from the minors recovering from Tommy John surgery while missing part of another with a groin injury. Las season he pitched 19 games, seven of which were starts.

His career big-league ERA is 4.53 in 55 2/3 innings, averaging 9.4 strikeouts and 3.4 walks per nine innings. He has pitched out of the bullpen, but he is out to claim what looks to be the only open spot in the rotation.

“I’d like to help the team out in the rotation,” said Velasquez. “That’s where I want to be. I’m not really favoring that relieving half, to be honest with you. It’s never easy. There are a lot of guys with talent in this room and everyone is fighting for a spot. It’s a little journey I’m looking forward to experiencing and we’ll see how it plays out.”

Eickhoff has a small fracture on the outer part of his right thumb, which sets him back behind others pitchers but the team says he will make a full recovery and be ready to start the season.

“We expect him to be fine,” Mackanin said on Friday.

Eickhoff was doing a bunting drill and was hit by a ball.  His x-ray showed a small, non-displaced fracture. He stopped throwing off a mound but is still playing catch. He will return to the mound when he can put more pressure on the thumb. He also thinks he will be ready to start the season.

“It’s nothing serious,” said Eickhoff. “We have a lot of time to get it 100 percent.”

Another guy looking to make the rotation is Morgan, who now is projected to start the season in Triple A.

“If you get worried about what people are thinking you only get caught up in mind games,” said Morgan. “I haven’t heard much about (where he’s projected to open the season) and I think that’s good because I don’t necessarily like the limelight anyway. It helps me focus on what I need to do and not what everyone else is thinking. I know there’s more people for these spots and that’s good because competition is great. The Phillies are trying to put the best team they can on the field and my job is to step my game up and be one of those guys.”

When Morgan was around three springs ago, his pitching was compared to the style of c. That year, Morgan entered the Phillies camp as the teams’ most advanced pitching prospect.

Morgan was then plagued by shoulder injuries which led to time on and off the disabled list. He had surgery in January of 2014 and spent the rest of that season rehabbing. He finished his rehab just in time for the Arizona Fall League. Last season, he posted a 5-7 major league record with a 4.48 ERA.

“I didn’t miss a start all year,” said Morgan. “They shut me down (because of an innings limit) at the end, but I did not miss a start. That was huge being able to pitch every fifth day. I showed myself I could make it through a whole season.”

Mackanin some what compared Morgan to the style of Jamie Moyer, a guy who never overpowered hitters but found a way to get them out. Last season he allowed 9.4 hits per nine innings while striking out just 5.2 per nine.

“He had a pretty severe shoulder injury,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “So, for a guy that hardly pitched for a couple years, for him to get on the mound and throw strikes with lesser stuff than he had in the past. He was more or less a power pitcher and lost a little bit of velocity. But, he made strides in possibly reinventing himself. I’m not saying he’s a finished a product. He’s made improvements in the respect that he was able to get out there and pitch.

“He’s not going to blow anyone away. And by no means am I comparing him to any of these pitchers. But, you look at Jamie Moyer’s career and he learned how to pitch. He was pretty darn good. You see these other left-handers that were pretty crafty. They used their changeups.”

Opening Day

There are many arguments that Nola should be the top guy in the Phillies rotation and earn an opening day start.

In the past, the likes of Curt SchillingRoy Halladay or Cole Hamels have had the honor of starting the season off for the team. This year’s squad doesn’t feature a player like that.

This year the team can go with young-gun Nola or a veteran stabilizer in Hellickson or Morton. If one of the veterans were chosen for the opening day nod in Cincinnati, Nola could start the second or third game and allow himself an ease into his first full season at the majors level. Plus, Nola could start the home opener if he started the second game.

“We’re going to talk about it and we’ll decide on the guy who we feel is the best guy suited for the job,” said Mackanin. “Experience is very important, it’s a definite factor, but at the same time, I liked the mound presence of (Jerad) Eickhoff and (Aaron) Nola. Neither of them showed any fear (last year). That’s a big part of it.”

“Not necessarily the best, but we’ll have discussions about that in-house and we’ll figure out who we feel are the best candidates for that role, Mackanin said of if the guy who pitches the best camp or early in camp be the starter. “I, for one, believe that there is more to it than just the experience. It’s what you have inside and how you are going to cope with it.”

Nola vs Maddux

Mackanin became a first year manager in 1985 in the Class A Midwest League.

Guess who his starting pitcher was.

That’s right, Greg Maddux.

Last week in an interview with Breakfast on Broad’s Jillian Mele, Mackanin, who in a way is a first-time manager again with this being his first season as skipper of the Phils, said that Nola reminds him of his former pitcher, now Hall of Famer.

“I’ll just say this and I probably shouldn’t, but I’m just gonna say it: Aaron Nola reminds me a bit of [Maddux],” said Mackanin. “Because (Nola) shows no fear, he’s very confident in his abilities and he has the uncanny ability to locate his fastball down in the zone on both sides of the plate. And he really believes in himself. I think over the course of time, he’s gonna turn into something special.”

Foe turned Friend

Flashback.

Flashback to August 11 of last season to a game with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Most of you will remember it as the night Maikel Franco‘s season came to a halt for the better part of six weeks.

Jeremy Hellickson, the AL 2011 Rookie of the Year, remember it as one of the best that season.

“It was one of those nights where everything was clicking,” Hellickson said on Friday. “I was getting ahead and that allowed me to use my off-speed stuff and my curveball was good that night. It was my longest outing of the year. Everything felt good.”

In the first inning, Hellickson hit Franco on the wrist. The hit resulted in Franco leaving the game and being diagnosed with a fracture, which all but cut him off the list for NL Rookie of the Year.

“You’re out there competing and it’s part of the game, but you still feel bad when you take someone’s season away, especially a young kid like that,” Hellickson said Friday. “I felt bad when it happened and I feel worse now.”

When he was first traded, Hellickson didn’t put two and two together until fans took to Twitter.

“When I first got traded over here it didn’t really cross my mind, but then I got on Twitter and there were a few fans who reminded me of what happened,” Hellickson said. “I can’t wait to apologize to him. I know he’s a great kid with all the talent in the world.”

Stay tuned for continuing coverage of the Phillies Spring Training. 

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