Cole Hamels, Neftali Feliz, Kevin Millwood

Read quotes from Cole Hamels this morning in which he admitted he wasn’t 100% with his concentration yesterday- well, isn’t that great.  Hopefully this is just a spring training issue, as he does typically have trouble this time of year.  Hamels appears to have great stuff thsi spring, just like the last half of last year, but only when he focuses and treats each pitch as if it matters. I really believe he has as good a chance as anyone to win the Cy Young Award this year- but I don’t really understand why he always seems to have these periods when he gets distracted- and why Dubee hasn’t been able to do a better job of keeping him from having this type of problem repeatedly. 

 

Very interesting to see the Rangers decide to return Feliz to closer position.  I recognize how frustrating it can be to watch a bullpen blow a game late and how well Feliz did in the position last year, but a dominant starting pitcher, which Feliz certainly appears he can be, is much more important, and much harder to replace, than a relief pitcher.  From all appearances, it seems this was purely a decision made to address the concerns of Ron Washington, who didn’t trust anyone else he had in the bullpen to handle the 9th inning.  If I was the GM, I would have told Washington to suck it up, Feliz is starting, now you figure out, with your supposedly great pitching coach, how to put someone else in the position to handle one inning.  Doesn’t make sense to have someone with the ability to go lots of innings with great pitches only throw about 50-60 innings this year, versus 200+ innings.  I think the Rangers will regret this decision, given how weak their starting pitching is, and will miss the playoffs because of it.

 

Another sign of how far the Yankees have fallen in the pitching department after losing out on Cliff Lee- signing Kevin Millwood!!  Yikes!!  Millwood won only four games last year, and not just because he pitched for the awful Orioles.  Millwood might make an okay 5th starter in the NL on the Pirates or Nationals, a la Livan Hernandez, but possibly pitching in the AL East for the Yankees- what’s next, the Yankees use old, over the hill pitchers like Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, yeah right… Oh, what, they already are?  Wow, Brian Cashman really is a genius- not.  No way, despite the Yankees great offense, they make the playoffs this year without drastic changes to their pitching staff.  I’m predicting they tie for third in AL East with Toronto.  Imagine what happens if Sabathia gets hurt.  All that money, and this is what they have for pitching?

Luis Castillo/John Mayberry

Okay, I get it now- Castillo is in camp to make those of us who were dreading seeing Valdez out at 2B everyday realize the other horrible option.  Come on Amaro- what are you thinking?  Why waste time that could be spent further evaluating Martinez, Barfield, and Young on a 35-year old who fields worse than Utley does while Utley is sitting on a lawn chair.  And, it’s not like Castillo is covering his defense through superior offense- he is weaker than Valdez, has no speed (Ruiz might beat him in a race) or power, and clogs up the bases when he does get on with one of his weak singles.  Yes, I know there is no risk from a cost perspective, but there are lots of other risks, the biggest one being that Manuel with his consistent bias for old players over younger ones, even when the younger ones are clearly better, will view him with rose-colored glasses and convince Amaro to keep Castillo around.  The Phillies would be much better off with a platoon of Valdez and Barfield at 2B and Martinez as backup 2B/SS.  Looks to me like Martinez, who I have to admit I watched play often 2 years ago when he was with the Potomac Nationals and was not impressed, has really improved and could be the SS to take over next year for Rollins.  Castillo, certainly not a long-term option, should not stand in the way of that so, I hate to say it, but I really hope he stinks so much that even Manuel can’t choose him over the others.

 

As for Mayberry- as much as I would enjoy seeing him continue the good hitting he displayed at the start of camp, I suspect he is more like the player we have seen over the last few games- lots of strikeouts, with a power shot thrown in every so often. Maybe if they play him a few games a week rather than just allowing him to pinch hit he will get a bit better, but to expect anything more would be unrealistic-which is why I suspect the Phillies will continue to watch the waiver wire for a veteran outfielder- just please don’t let it be Rowand.

 

Can’t wait for the season- only 8 days until the real games begin.

Lidge injury/Blanton First inning problem

Of all the injury concerns for the Phillies so far this spring (with Polanco’s recent elbow injury definitely a significant concern to me no matter how minor he is trying to make it), the one to Lidge is the least important.  The reality we can all see is that he hasn’t been the same since Ruiz landed on him after winning the World Series.  Yes, he did okay last year, but nothing spectacular and nothing that Madson or Contreras (or Mathieson if the Phillies would let him stay) couldn’t do.  I personally think Contreras or Mathieson should be the replacement, leaving Madson where he is comfortable in the 8th.  If Lidge is healthy, and can somehow figure out where his fastball went, maybe he can be effective, but I think the Phillies need to recognize he is not THE MAN, and be more open to someone else taking over the closer role sooner rather than later.

 

Yes, it is only Spring Training, but it appears that Blanton continues to suffer from an inability to come out pitching effectively in the first inning.  Maybe there is no magical answer, but it seems to me this is something Dubee should be focused on, somehow altering his bullpen session or maybe getting him to change his pitching pattern in the first. Blanton’s first inning ERA, somewhere over 6, was ridiculous last year, and every time he pitched I spent the first inning wondering just how many runs the Phillies would have to make up.  It’s not like he can’t pitch well, as he usually is effective from innings 2-6, so there has to be something that an $8.5 million a year pitcher and a coach paid to focus on pitchers can change.  If not, maybe they should have Joe spend the first inning pitching a simulated game in the bullpen and have a reliever throw the first inning and get a new pitching coach- I mean, it’s not like he has to spend much time with Lee, Oswalt, Hamels, or Halladay.

Phillies Roster decisions

As we enter the last two weeks of Spring Training, I think I’m past the dead-arm period- just haven’t been inspired to write the past week plus- depressed by Utley’s injury, tired of hearing from the goofball Bill Conlin that Domonic Brown is a bust, and sick of reading about how the Phils offense was struggling- come on guys- it’s Spring Training, who cares how the offense is doing this early.  Every year, the same writers run out of stories, start making things up, like the Phils trading for Michael Young- the stupidest of all from Phil Rogers who wrote that the Phillies would consider sending Oswalt or HAMELS to Texas for Young.  Sure, no problem, the Phillies will give one of the top pitchers in baseball for a player making too much money on the downhill side of his career.  And that writer has a job?!!

 

Well, enough ranting- I could go on for pages with all the dumb things I’ve read by professional writers the past two weeks- time to address the Phils roster.  Easy one of course is that Francisco is now the starting right fielder- although I believe by July Brown will have supplanted him.  With regard to 2B, let’s assume Utley will be out for at least a few weeks to start the season- despite the remarks by Amaro that there has been small progress.  While Valdez will be the opening day 2B- ugh in my book- it leaves several openings for back ups.  So, assuming the Phils have 13 slots for non-pitchers, looks like the following to me:

Regulars (Rollins, Polanco, Ibanez, Howard, Victorino, Francisco, Valdez, Ruiz)

Bench (Gload, Schneider, Mayberry, Michael Martinez, Josh Barfield).  I’m thinking Martinez over Young because they would have to return Martinez if not on the roster plus he plays shortstop- but can certainly see them taking Young instead).

Pitchers (12 total)

Starters (Obvious 5)

Relievers: (Lidge, Madson, Romero, Contreras, Bastardo, Kendrick (although I would take Worley) Baez (but by midseason, he will be replaced by Stutes))

I think, despite the loss of Utley, and injury to Brown, the Phillies are the best team in NL, and should still easily outdistance the Braves.

 

Domonic/Bill Conlin

I’ve waited a day to respond since reading the article by Bill Conlin, a writer I generally respect given his long history in the profession and although I don’t always agree, I can see where he is coming from.  However, his bashing of Domonic Brown, and his already taking to calling him a bust is ridiculous.  Not sure why Conlin is so cranky already- looks like a fairly relaxed atmosphere for him down there.  His story didn’t even make sense as he compared Brown to Mike Anderson, a1973 prospect who was only a bust because he got beaned and became afraid to stay in on curveballs.  I’m definitely a Brown supporter, but recognize he might have to go to AAA this year to start- even Brown himself said that.  But that doesn’t make him a bust- and to make that judgement based on early, early at bats- ridiculous and does a disservice to Brown as it feeds into the minority of Phils fans who for some reason enjoy player’s failures rather than providing him support in what is certainly a disappointing and uncomfortable early March.  I anticipate that this weekend or early next week Brown will start to hit the ball again, and in a couple weeks everyone will be wondering what the concern was about- but if not, and he has to go back to the minors to start the year- no big deal and it doesn’t make him a bust, just a young player still learning to make the most of his incredible talent.

Utley Position change?

There have been a few stories and comments in the past few days suggesting a position change for Chase Utley to try to better accomodate what appear to be long-term knee issues.  Generally, the suggestions have been a corner outfield position (with a few suggesting 1B which of course is not going to happen).  I, for one, just don’t see the outfield as a viable solution for several reasons.  First, Utley, as great a player as he is, has one of the worst arms of all second baseman- not David Eckstein bad, but bad nonetheless- and the arm has gotten worse over the years because he has trained to throw the short distance from second to first.  To expect him to be able to throw the ball from the wall and even reach the cut-off man with any accuracy is quite a stretch.  Maybe he could improve his arm strength a bit, but not enough to make him anything more than a really low-rated outfield arm.  Second, Utley has good second baseman range, but not the range necessary to cover ground in the outfield.  Is he as slow as Ibanez- no- but with bad knees and aging, he is getting there quickly- and constant running after balls certainly would just as bad if not worse on the knees than bending over to field maybe 4-5 ground balls a game.  I think the Phillies instead need to seriously evaluate his knees and if they won’t get better with rest (and stay in good shape) they need to recommend knee surgery- after the season if he can put up with the pain, but now if not, and get him back in shape to be the great 2B he has always been.

Busy Weekend-Utley, Brown, Werth

Haven’t had a chance to write in a few days and now don’t know where to start given the numerous items of note from this past weekend.  The best part was of course seeing the Phillies back out playing baseball- nothing better than the crack of the bat or a great play in the field to get one thinking of spring weather.  However, it wasn’t all roses.  I’m sure, like everyone, concern only heightened regarding Utley- given the numerous injuries over the last couple of years, and knowing how important good legs are to a major league player, any diagnosis involving knees and tendinitis is not good.  From personal experience, tendinitis never seems to go away completely, and while it feels better after some rest it tends to keep coming back again.  I know Utley has a high pain tolerance, but I’ve got to believe that the best-case scenario is he takes a week or two off, backs off on his workouts once he is back, and gets a cortisone shot to alleviate the pain.  Phils don’t really have a viable option at 2b, so gotta hope Utley is back soon.

 

Now, I’m a big backer of Domonic Brown, and certainly too early to panic- but the beginnings of panic have set in- not so much because he struck out in all three at bats on Sunday, but because of the comments by Manuel about Brown not holding his hands up high- I thought holding them up high was the problem they were trying to correct from last year.  Given my belief that Manuel is looking for a reason to start Francisco, and Francisco’s hot start, I’m starting to think we are looking at Brown being sent to Lehigh Valley to work with Sandberg for a couple months.  I hope not, but…

 

Finally, not sure if Werth really said he hates the Phillies, or if he did, the real context of it.  I know GM Rizzo, who was also quoted as saying that says the reporter (Boswell) got it wrong, so perhaps he did, but, unless Werth comes out and addresses that type of comment, I hope he hears about it in a Scott Rolen/J.D. Drew sort of way upon his first return to Philadelphia.  Certainly his right to want to beat the Phillies (good luck with that Jayson) but to say he hates the Phillies- come on, grow up Jayson, and stop letting your bitterness that the Phillies and Red Sox didn’t jump at the ridiculous idea put out there by Boras that you were worth $126 million and you had to go play for the last place Nationals in a park where if they get 20,000 fans during the week they are lucky- and a good deal of those fans sit on their hands throughout the game- that stadium, except when Phillies fans show up to cheer, is abnormally quiet. 

 

 

 

Chad Durbin

I read this morning that I believe Peter Gammons put out a report that Chad Durbin might be returning to the Phillies- please tell me that is just a bad rumor started by Durbin’s agent who is hoping to get some other team to up their offer.  Even on a minor league contract, Durbin is not the right move for the Phillies- particularly since Charlie Manuel, with his love for old players, will find it hard to actually see Durbin for what he is (a pitcher who it seems lets up runs every time he comes into an important situation) rather than giving one of the young pitchers such as Bastardo or Herndon or Stutes a chance.  Phils never should have resigned Romero, who we all know will do nothing but issue walks in key appearances, and need to tell Baez to get out of town.  The bullpen is clearly the weakpoint for the Phillies- hopefully with the starting staff they won’t need anyone beyond Madson and Lidge very often, but when they do, let’s not cost the team games with the same tired arms who hurt the team last year.

Cliff Lee

I’m sure most Phillies fans had the same reaction I did when I saw the headlines about Cliff Lee’s injury/soreness “You’ve got to be kidding!!”  The more I read about it, particularly the quotes from Amaro and Lee that everything is fine, the more worried I got.  Not because I think Amaro is lying- but because athletes in general tend to downplay their injuries, and particularly so when they are a new arrival to a team (and have a had a history of small, nagging injuries).  Hopefully this will be just what Lee and Amaro have stated- nothing to worry about- but history tells us that when someone says “there is nothing to worry about”, frequently we have a lot more to worry about than we ever thought possible.  I, along with all Phillies fans will be watching Lee closely (if he does start when scheduled) during his first spring training appearance next week.

Phillies/Braves comparison

To date, most baseball writers have predicted that the Braves represent serious competition for the Phillies in the NL East.  After comparing the teams closely, and trying to put aside my obvious rooting for the Phillies, I can say I just don’t see it.  The biggest difference is defense, where the Phillies, assuming health by their regulars, are clearly dominant at essentially every position except perhaps first base where let’s call it even since I don’t know enough about Freddy Freeman’s fielding skills.  I’d say the defensive differences provide the Phillies a 3-4 game advantage (more if the Braves put Brooks Conrad back out there).  Looking at the offense by position, the Phils have a distinct advantage at 1B, CF, SS (think a big year ahead for Rollins) and likely 3B (no way Chipper comes back and plays more than 100 games and likely hits about .245 this year when he does play).  I’d give the Braves the edge at only RF, with the teams relatively even at 2B (assuming this is where Uggla plays), C, and LF.  Overall, I’d give the Phillies a 3-4 game advantage because of offense.  With Starting Pitching, yes the Braves have some good/great pitchers, but they also have Lowe and possibly Rodrigo Lopez in their rotation.  No need to discuss who the Phils have, but to me this is at least a 5-6 game advantage.  With regard to the bullpens, the Braves have some good young pitchers, but the Phils pitchers have a better track record and I think Lidge will be adequate as closer, so I think this is probably a 1 game advantage for the Phillies.  Taking into account other intangibles such as injury, bad luck, and managing, I’d say on paper and based on past performance, the Phils should finish at least 12 games ahead of the Braves- say Phillies with 98 wins, Braves with 86 and not in the playoffs. 

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