April 15, 2005

Phils-Marlins series wrap

I'd say "better late than never" for this Phillies-Marlins series recap, but in reality, there's never a good time to relive a Phils series when it's played at half-empty, joyless Dolphins Stadium. (AP Photo)

Up here in Dutch Country, Florida is paradise. Ask someone their number one vacation destination, and nine out of ten will flatly say "Florida." But when it comes to Phillies baseball, vacations in Miami are about as fun as vacations in Womelsdorf, Pa.

Like us pasty Dutchies with our fanny packs and sunscreen, the Phils go to Florida feeling good, but come home badly burned.

Following a good series against the Cardinals, the Phils managed to win the first game of this series by putting up enough runs against Al Leiter to make the job easier for Brett Myers to win his first game of the season, and for the bullpen to finally piece together some semblance of relief.

Then, the Phils bats went cold, or rather, Marlins pitching got hot again Tuesday night as A.J. Burnett went the distance, and Dontrelle Willis followed it up with a complete-game shutout Wednesday, his second consecutive shutout to start the season.

It's not far fetched to believe A.J. Burnett (1-1, 2.40 ERA) isn't capable of going nine innings at this early stage in the season, but it's unbelievable he didn't walk anybody. Tommy John seems to have disappeared from his rear view, and as I projected earlier, the hard-throwing Burnett projects as a 15-game winner.

Willis had the Phils guessing all day. They hit well against lefties Leiter and Mark Mulder, but Mulder (0-1, 8.18 ERA, 2.18 WHIP) is off to a rocky start altogether. Willis (2-0, 0.00 ERA) throws junk, has a goofy delivery and the Phils don’t respond well to that.

However, folks that are ready to hand this guy the Cy Young should take caution. Fast starts are nothing new to D-Train. Last April, he went 3-0 with a 2.73 ERA and couldn’t sustain it, finishing 10-11 with a 4.02 ERA and an RAA of 0 for the season. His rookie season saw an identical drop as the months wore on.

Willis is a good pitcher, still very young, but not a great one over his short career. It will be interesting to see if Florida pitching can maintain their hot start. Already, their No. 5 guy, Ismael Valdez, is on the shelf, and Josh Beckett has a track record of blister problems.

Though they’re tied with the Braves and Nationals, all 5-4, Florida looks to be the best team out of the gate benefiting from the best pitching in baseball.

First slump of the season
David Bell plays the game harder than any other Phillie because the game moves at a faster speed for him.

Bell, in his father’s book “The Mental Game of Baseball,” makes that admission crystal clear as he explains just how hard it is for him to keep pace in baseball.

His bat will never win him fans in Philly, so it’s a shame to see him stumble defensively as he did against the Marlins, especially following an understated series with the glove in St. Louis.

Bell is hitting .192 with a .278 OBP and .242 SLG, with only one extra-base hit and no home runs.

If anyone needs to homer in his first at bat this afternoon against Atlanta to keep the home fans at bay, it’s Bell.

Danny Sandoval is fit as a fiddle
A few months ago, I wrote an article about Scranton second baseman Danny Sandoval, who at the time, was a player I never saw.

Using a photo in Baseball America as a springboard, I went on to say media guide information and real life don't often match up. In the photo, Sandoval looked a little doughy, which contradicted my initial thought of what he might look like.

About a week later, I caught my first glimpse at Sandoval. He was built like Placido Polanco - fit and trim.

The point of the article was tell readers not to trust media guide information, which is still horribly wrong usually. But the other lesson I've learned post-post is not to trust pictures, either, or to even trust sites like this one.

Maybe it's about time to take down that post, especially since it comes up in a Google search for "Danny Sandoval." I got this comment about a minute ago:

"I know Danny Sandoval (personally) from his time in Birmingham---- trust me, he is no "dough-boy."

Hopefully now, a Google search will bring up this article, which says Danny Sandoval is fit as a fiddle, and Jason Weitzel is a total beefcake.

April 14, 2005

Wade Miller working toward May return

Berks County native Wade Miller went 4 2/3 innings and allowed two earned runs on four hits, a walk, and four strikeouts for Class A Greenville yesterday in his first rehab start. He threw 73 pitches and according to Boston manager Terry Francona, got his velocity above 90 mph.

"His outing was far more good than bad," Francona told the Boston Globe. "He had a real good breaking ball. He was living around 88-89, which isn't where he will be but it was pretty good."

Miller, recovering from a frayed rotator cuff, is expected to make his next rehab start on Monday, though for which minor league team has yet to be determined. He's expected to make another two or three rehab starts then return to the Red Sox sometime in May.

Barons bats blistering

Scranton/W-B won their sixth straight game last night and third in a row versus Richmond in a 5-4 victory over the Braves.

The Red Barons are off to a fast start (6-1) and fielding one of the better Scranton/W-B teams in recent memory, especially with the bats. Here’s the linuep Scranton featured last night and their batting averages:

Budzinski CF .455
Hannahan 2B .450
Rushford RF .125
Howard 1B .500
Coste 3B .400
Castellano LF .273
Ruiz C .300
Sandoval SS .214

SWB boasts four players in the International League’s top 15 in slugging: Mark Budzinski (.864), Ryan Howard (.700), Chris Coste (.680) and Buzz Hannahan (.650).

This series features two of the best power-hitting prospects in baseball: Howard and Andy Marte.

Howard is hitting .500 and slugging .700 in seven games, but hasn’t homered yet this season.

Marte, a third baseman, is doing even better, batting .429 and slugging .893 with four homers. Marte looks to be the successor of Chipper Jones at third base, or can be called upon to take over the spot in left field. Last night he went 2-5 with a homer, but missed a chance to deliver with the bases loaded. For more on Marte and the rest of Atlanta's farm system, check out No Pepper.

April 13, 2005

Good old-fashioned bullpen remedy

In defense of traditional bullpen roles, the BPF argues there's no pill to fix an aching bullpen, but good-old fashioned routine doesn't hurt.

I didn't get to see the game last night because I was constructing my brother-in-law's resume. If anyone needs the services of an RII-certified airline mechanic trained in jet propulsion, I have your guy.

Around 8:45, I flipped to the Phils games for a minute and saw Miguel Cabrera's home run off Terry Adams. Later, I saw a bit of Sporting News' Ken Rosenthal on Comcast talking about how relief pitching is the hardest thing to get started early in the season, using the Phils pen and others as a springboard.

Bullpen, it seems, is on everyone's mind, and nobody has an answer for it.

I've considered which combination of pitchers will work best for the Phils, especially with Gavin Floyd in the mix, and haven’t come up with an answer I've totally liked.

But as far as I can tell, there are two things wrong with the Phils bullpen that should be addressed quickly: First, there's no routine, and second, there are a couple bad apples in there.

The only aspect that figures to be a sure thing when talking about bullpen is players say they perform better when they know what their roles are. The puzzle gets easier when you have some studs: Brad Lidge, Eric Gagne, guys like that. But in general, the pieces rarely fit perfectly, and will never be solved mathematically. No position on the field is based more on gut instinct than relief pitching.

In the limited chances you can exploit it, following routine seems to work. The closest that's happened for the Phils this season was Monday's game: Madson comes in to relieve Myers, Cormier relieves Madson in the eighth in a left-left situation, Worrell relieves Cormier in right-right situation, Wagner closes the ninth, and no runs crossed the plate. This is the formula the Phils would prefer to follow every game.

Around the league, routine seems to be keeping careers alive, like Jose Mesa in Pittsburgh, who's entered three games this season, all in the ninth inning, and earned his third save in as many chances yesterday.

In 70 games last season, he pitched 69.1 innings, earned 43 saves with a 3.25 ERA. That's a good line, but it's not the best on the team.

Mesa is notorious for getting pissed when he's brought in during non-save situations. Why? One, because he likes racking up saves, and second, because he knows he's out of his element. No expert predicted Mesa would still be an effective pitcher two years removed from Philadelphia, but in terms of doing the job the Pirates signed him to do, he's done it. Meanwhile, Mike Gonzalez, who's a better pitcher than Mesa, pitches the tougher spots in the seventh and eighth innings.

Though he's going to surrender some runs, Mesa doesn't hurt the team as much if he enters the game with a clean slate in the ninth. That's his spot; that's his routine.

With the Phils, there's no flow right now. The breakdown started with Tim Worrell and the effects have creeped downward. That's why Charlie Manuel will make every effort to reestablish Worrell for the eighth inning because he's a key player in the comfort zone.

The Phils are not alone. Around the league, bullpens have been battered early on, and one of the most common discussions around baseball is the relief ace, as coined by Bill James. Rosenthal spoke about it last night.

To me, relief ace makes sense, and it's working for Keith Foulke in Boston, but I'm skeptical whether something like that would work for the Phillies. The relief game is far too spontaneous in the National League where pitchers must hit. It's harder to map out a space for a relief ace, or follow a perfect coordinate, or discount things like match-ups or confidence.

On the flipside, the coordinates shouldn't be written in pen, either. When the Phillies lost Friday’s game to St. Louis, Wagner should have been brought in the eighth inning, two outs, with the bases loaded because his fastball and slider are the best weapons to get hitters out.

So what's to learn? Managing a bullpen is hard work? That's part of it. I don't think there’s a right or wrong way to do it, but routine tends to bring out the best in pitchers, as revealed by players themselves.

Back to the Phillies, there might be a few quick answers.

I'm sure there are better Triple-A or indie league players than Terry Adams, who, to be blunt, looks fat and out of shape to me, and Pedro Liriano is a Triple-A pitcher and should be sent down.

For now, the Phillies can only hope time irons out the wrinkles and allows their veteran pitchers to get settled into comfortable spots. I would also urge the Phillies to keep an open mind. Don’t get attached to guys like Adams and Liriano.

Their former employers didn't.

April 12, 2005

Gavin Floyd poll

What should the Phillies do with Gavin Floyd when Vicente Padilla returns from the DL?

Vote for your selection in the poll located on the right. Use the comment thread below to explain your choice.

Rollins voted best SS in NL East

Nearly 80 percent of voters said Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins would have the best season of any shortstop in the NL East.

A total of 29 voters took part in the poll posted here on BPF, with 23 votes for Rollins, three votes for Rafael Furcal of Atlanta, two votes for Jose Reyes of the New York Mets, one vote for Cristian Guzman of Washington, and no votes for Alex Gonzalez of Florida.

Last season, Rollins had the best season based on win shares.

April 11, 2005

Myers, bullpen, sink Marlins

Brett Myers allowed an unearned run and struck out eight over 5 and 2/3 innings, and the bullpen shut the door the rest of the way, as the Phillies beat the Marlins 4-1 to open their series in Florida.

The game also featured a two-run upper-deck blast by Pat Burrell in the first inning off Al Leiter, as Burrell extended his league-leading RBI total to 17, and tied Troy Glaus for the league lead in home runs with four.

Bobby Abreu supplied a terrific fantasy baseball line and generated plenty of offense, getting two hits, scoring twice and stealing three bases, which tied a career high.

Myers (1-0) got better as the game wore on, working quickly through the third, fourth and fifth innings.

Then in the sixth with two outs, Myers hit Carlos Delgado with a pitch and walked Mike Lowell, and Charlie Manuel made the call to Ryan Madson who ended the threat by getting Paul Lo Duca to pop out.

Madson stayed in the game into the eighth inning when things got hairy, as he gave up a leadoff single to Juan Pierre and a single to Miguel Cabrera. Facing Delgado, Manuel made the call for lefty Rheal Cormier who got him to fly out. Tim Worrell came in to face the right-handed Lowell and got him to pop out on one pitch to end the inning.

Billy Wagner brushed off the dust to earn the save in the ninth, his first of the year.

Placido Polanco started the game at second and went 0-5, stranding five men on base.

As a team, they left 11 men stranded, but three of their runs came with two outs: Burrell’s two-run home run, and an RBI single by Jimmy Rollins. The Phillies have now scored 31 runs with two outs this season, 11 more than the next best team, LAA.

Jason Michaels started in center field and went 0-1 with three walks.

As for Myers, his stuff - his cutter and sinker - had pop, especially in the middle innings, but one gets the sense he’s still not totally trusted to get out of jams. Though his pitch count was somewhere around 100, he needed just one more out to escape the inning with Paul Lo Duca at the plate, with men on first and second and holding on to a 3-1 lead. Manuel handed the ball to Madson, who got the out, but Myers was reluctant to leave.

In any event, the Phils get another good outing from a starting pitcher, and this time, the bullpen holds it.

The Phils are looking good at 4-3 and are riding a three-game winning streak on the road against two tough teams.

Phils-Cards series wrap

Torrid offense and solid starting pitching from Jon Lieber, pictured, and rookie Gavin Floyd helped the Phillies reassert themselves in a 2-1 series defeat of the Cardinals. (AP Photo)

Before we get to Pat the Bat's bad-to-the-bone weekend, here's my favorite aspect of the season thus far: With men in scoring position and two outs, the Phillies have scored a league-best 25 runs. That's 10 runs better than No. 2 Cincinnati. Breaking it down, it's 14 hits, three homers, good for a .359 batting average and .615 slugging. In yesterday's blowout, I counted nine hits with two outs, driving in seven runs.

Lead by Burrell, the Phillies basically destroyed Cardinals pitching this series, and blew apart Chris Carpenter in three-plus innings yesterday, tagging the veteran for 10 hits, eight runs, and one monster blast from Burrell.

The Bat has 15 RBIs now, already an outstanding month's worth, and is closing in on a Phillies record for April – 22, set by Von Hayes in 1989 (Thanks for the correction, Bob). While the rest of the lineup has been excellent, Burrell has been a one-man wrecking crew and is easily the NL’s offensive player of the week. Bobby Abreu also reestablished himself this series, going 3-4 with 4 RBIs yesterday.

Aside from the first six innings against Esteban Loazia in the Nationals series, the Phils bats haven't gone hot or cold so much as been steadily good, and really came alive the last two games of this series. In each game, they've had the lead going into the 8th inning and would be 6-0 is it weren't for the bullpen.

Utley vs. Polanco
As for the hot-button issue on Chase Utley versus Placido Polanco, Utley played the last two games of the series and went 4-10 with a homer. One gets a feeling Utley will play until he hangs an 0-fer, then Polanco will play a game. That’s the way I expect it to go until one of them – probably Polanco – gets traded.

Utley in 15 AB: .333 BA, .313 OBP, .533 SLG, 1 HR
Polanco in 13 AB: .308 BA, .400 OBP, .308 SLG, 0 HR

If Kenny Lofton goes on the DL, Utley and Polanco both do nicely hitting second, and I'm not sure Lofton should be hitting second anyway.

David Bell
Lost in all of this, and overshadowed by the third baseman in the opposite dugout, Scott Rolen, David Bell played exceptional defense at third base this series, including two great snags in Friday's game. He has some kind of cannon, and is deadly accurate with it.

What to do about Gavin Floyd?
The big issue now is what to do with rookie Gavin Floyd once Vicente Padilla comes off the DL. My first reaction was keep him up and send Pedro Liriano down to Scranton. On a team with an excellent shot at the post season, there’s simply no room for a guy that spent most of last season in Triple-A, and didn’t do all that well there (5.20 ERA). That means Floyd would have to move to the bullpen, or one of the other five starters would assume that role.

You can call me out for going with conventional wisdom, but I don’t see Floyd in the bullpen. He’s slower to the plate than any pitcher on the staff, making him a bad choice to come in with men on base. Pujols stole a base standing up in the first inning Saturday. His slow delivery has always been a big knock on him. Plus (and I forget where I read this so don't quote me) scouts have him pegged as 100 percent A-grade starting pitcher, meaning, he has the makeup of a starter, is deliberate in his preparation, and is best when used when he knows he’ll be used.

If someone has to be moved to the bullpen, I’d rather see Lidle there, to come in with men on and induce double play ground balls. Lidle pitched well Friday afternoon against the Cards, but I viewed his performance as the worst of all the starters so far.

In reality though, there's nothing wrong with sending Floyd back to Triple-A at this early, early stage in the season. It’s a long way until October, plus there’s no guarantee he can maintain it. Manuel needs to see how he adjusts to CBP with his curve, which is more of a sinking curve, unlike Wolf's.

In any event, after Saturday's game, I saw a pitcher ready to face big-league hitting. Their decision will be tough, either way.

Jon Lieber, the real deal
The Phils can win any game Jon Lieber pitches if he repeats what he did yesterday – eight innings, two earned runs. I thought it was the best Phillies start of the season so far.

Stats don’t do his outing justice, because the two homers he surrendered happened because he fell asleep up 12-1. It’s also tough to concentrate when you sit 20-30 minutes between innings.

So far, the big Alabamian, now 2-0, shows no reason why he can’t run with any No. 1 in the league.

Not the same Cardinals
What was up with the Cardinals defense this series? Scott Graham and Tom McCarthy, the radio guys, were commenting on how much the Cards miss catcher Mike Matheny already. Einar Diaz was as bad as they get Saturday behind the plate, allowing lots and lots of passed balls. And what was Edmonds doing on that play yesterday?

Phillies vs. Marlins
Here it is: The Phils first crack at the hated Marlins in Florida, where they've had almost no luck in the past. Both teams are 3-3, as Brett Myers (0-0, 1.39 ERA) takes to the hill vs. Al Leiter (0-0, 1.59 ERA) at 7:05 p.m. tonight.

Marlins pitching enters the series with the best team ERA in baseball, with a 1.07 ERA.

April 10, 2005

Notes from media day

Jim Deschanie fields questions from Pat Principe of WGAL-8 TV during Reading Phillies media day Wednesday. The Berks Phillies Fan was there.

Second baseman Brian Hitchcox sat in full uniform on a bucket of balls, sipping coffee from a styrofoam cup, watching some of his teammates give interviews with local reporters.

"I'm running on my own clock right now," Hitchcox said, after asking how he could possibly sip hot coffee on the warmest day of the year. "We've been going non-stop. Guys are still trying to figure out where they're going to live, and how to get their cars up here."

Three games into 2005 and the Reading Phillies are still trying to settle into a comfortable routine after spring training. Their flight from Florida departed at 4 a.m. Monday, and the players had only a few hours to doll themselves up for their first official undertaking of the season: the King of Baseballtown banquet on Monday night at the Sheraton Hotel, where they sign autographs and meet town dignitaries under the warp of jet lag.

The team was back on parade Wednesday afternoon for media day at First Energy Stadium, and for the second year in a row, I got to go.

As before, I was there to collect promotional poster information for the Reading Eagle newspaper, and to eat awesome stadium food. During the season, the Eagle runs ad-supported color posters of each player on the back of the sports section. Jeff Fazio, our marketing photographer, takes action shots at the ballpark, and I supply supporting information on each player. This year, I attended the event with our intern Laura Flippin.

On media day, I have about an hour to rush around and gather signatures from each player, to verify information from the Phils media guide (numbers like height, weight and birth date are often wrong) and to ask two tough questions: favorite hobby and favorite baseball player.

At first, players are pretty reluctant about the whole thing, and being approached by someone their own age about hobbies is a little odd, even on my end.

The television and print reporters grab the big names early – prospects Michael Bourn and Chris Roberson, and returning veterans Jim Deschaine, Hitchcox, Danny Gonzalez and Juan Richardson. Meanwhile, I try to pry information out of players like Korean pitcher Seung Hak Lee.

Lee has been back and forth between Reading and Scranton since 2002, and now finds himself back in Reading listening to some guy ask him who his favorite player is. He didn’t understand my question, and the only Korean player I could think of was Chan Ho Park.

“Chan Ho Park,” I said.

“No, no,” he said.

From the dugout, his teammates shouted any Asian player they could think of.




Lee just said no, so I left that question blank. Who can blame him? Chan Ho Park stinks in any language.

I’ve always liked underdogs, so I’m naturally more interested in guys that follow rocky paths toward the bigs. Reading has an unusually high amount of older indie ball and minor league veterans this year. I recognized one, Allen Davis, because I met him Monday night at the banquet.

Davis, a 29-year-old southpaw, pitched for the Ft. Worth Cats of the independent Central League last season, went 10-7 with a 3.38 ERA, 128 strikeouts, allowing only 29 walks. Before that, he was out of baseball. He signed with the Phillies as a minor league free agent and played three games with Clearwater last season. I’m glad the Phillies did extra homework and gave him a chance after a productive job in the Central League. It’s not something the team often does.

Davis started the rain-delayed continuation of the season opener Friday and earned the win, shutting down Altoona over five innings.

Pictures are worth a thousand words, and my eight-year-old Sanyo digital ran out of juice just as I was about to take a picture worth a million: Alex Prieto curled up and sulking in the corner of the dugout.

You didn’t need a media guide to figure out which player played in the majors last season and was now down in Double-A Reading. Prieto, 28, got two brief call-ups with Minnesota and even hit a home run, but ended the season in Triple-A Rochester. He was signed by the Phils as a minor league free agent back in January.

To cheer him up, I asked him his favorite hobby. His first answer was something I won’t repeat. But after a few moments, and when his teammates stopped laughing, he quietly said “fishing.”

The cheerier side of Alex Prieto.

Another guy I liked was RHP Jeff Wilson. In today’s baseball world, a right-hander with a name like Jeff Wilson needs to pitch like Roger Clemens to get noticed.

Wilson, a 28-year-old South Carolina-native and minor leaguer since 1997, comes to Reading as a bullpen arm. His best year appears to be 2002, when he went 4-4 with a 2.18 ERA and 10 saves with Double-A Bowie.

Sandy Koufax was his favorite pitcher when I asked, only after I misplaced his stat sheet twice and called him Mike Smith once. After that, he pulled out a name tag and attached it to his belt. Even professional ballplayers can’t get any respect, it seems.

Jeff Wilson, left, with Michael Bourn. Note Wilson's name tag in belt.

Right away, there is something interesting about this team. They’re older, still hanging on. At this early stage, they’re still getting to know one another, and as I walked around, asking these questions, it had another purpose – for the players listen in and get to know one another.

Here are some more photos from last week:

Despite a long day that started with a 4 a.m. flight from Florida, pitcher Allen Davis is all smiles at the King of Baseballtown banquet.

Pitchers Travis Minix and Seung Hak Lee sign autographs and greet fans.

Third baseman Juan Richardson offers up an autograph.

Outfielder Ryan Fleming lists spending time with family as a hobby.

Catcher Tim Gradoville had a walk-off hit for the Phils this spring.

Growing up in Oakland, Calif., outfielder Chris Roberson said his favorite player was Ricky Henderson.