Archive | April, 2012

Howard and Utley Making Progress, But Still Have a Long Way to Go

12 Apr

Phillies Ryan Howard still rehabbing left Achilles injury he sustained in Game 5 of the 2011 National League Division Series.

By Chris Murray

of the CM Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

It’s still going to be a long time before you will be seeing injured Phillies, first baseman Ryan Howard and second baseman Chase Utley back in the starting lineup, but they are making progress.

However, there is no timetable for their return to the Phillies lineup.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Howard visited Dr. Mark Myerson  in Baltimore  on Tuesday and said his surgically repaired left Achilles tendon is getting better.

“His Achilles is doing great, his strength is increasing and the wound is improved,” Amaro said. “It’s not all the way healed. That’s the priority right now. It’s get the wound healed. It’s healing up well, but it’s not 100 percent yet.”

Amaro said the team will be talking to the wound specialist at Jefferson Hospital to make sure t the wound on Howard’s left leg is healed. He said the wound came as a result of an infection last month that compromisd the stitches apparently had a hole big enough to fit two fingers inside of it . Wednesday, Howard was in the infield fielding ground balls during batting practice.

“He’s done a little jump rope, he’s done some strength things and we’re making sure we’re doing things that aren’t going to compromise the wound,” Amaro said. “The tendon is in great shape. It’s intact, it’s in good shape. Ryan’s strength is better and better. In fact, it’s better than it was when he started doing hitting and that kind of stuff. We’re just waiting on the wound.”

But even when Howard comes back completely healed the question will be whether or not he will be at full strength. Athletes who typically get Achilles injuries take about a year to be completely 100 percent. Amaro said one of the “benefits” of waiting on his Achilles wound is that he is strengthening his calf.

“I’m sure it will affect him, how much it will affect we won’t know until he’s playing and we see how he’s doing,” he said.

Meanwhile, Amaro said Utley is getting stronger rehabilitating his injured knees.

“He’s becoming more stable and he’s progressing,” Amaro said. “We’ll know more about him when he see on the West Coast. We’ll see him in San Francisco or Arizona (next week). When see him we’ll know a little bit more on how he’s progressing. He’s improved.”

Amaro said the real test for both players will be when they start playing on their minor league rehab assignments.

Image 12 Apr

Phillies Still Searching for Answers on Offense in Loss to Miami

9 Apr

By Chris Murray

For the CM Report and the Sunday Sun

Cole Hamels struggled in the Phillies opener giving up four runs on eight hits while getting no run support.

With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on the shelf with injuries, the Phillies (1-3) are still in search of offense and can’t seem to find it anywhere four games into the season.

The Phillies 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Miami Marlins in front of a sell-out crowd at Citizen’s Bank Park in the home opener is yet another example of what happens when one of their best starting pitchers has a bad day and the offense is not clicking.

“We’re four games in and the bottomline is we haven’t been hitting the ball hard enough to score runs,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said in his postgame press conference. “In the last four days, we’ve been putting the ball in play, but not too hard. We definitely have to move the ball a little better than that.”

The Marlins roughed up Phils starting pitcher Cole Hamels for four runs (three earned) on eight hits in during his five and two-thirds of inning of work. Oddly enough, he struck out nine with no walks, but Miami got just enough runs off Hamels to put the Phillies in a deep hole early.

“I thought I made some really great pitches at times,” Hamels said. “I felt like all four pitches were working. I had two or three that I didn’t really throw effectively and gave up a homer.”

Marlins second baseman Omar Infante led the charge with a pair of home runs and two runs batted in by first baseman Gaby Sanchez. Miami also got run-scoring single from Hanley Ramirez and a solo homerun from Austin Kearns off closer Jonathan Papelbon.

As good as Hamels and the rest of the pitching staff are, Manuel said if the Phillies don’t start hitting on a consistent basis, it’s going to eventually take its toll on the team.

“If we don’t score runs, it’s definitely going to add pressure to our pitching,” Manuel said. “But we have a lot of good veteran pitchers, but at the same time, it could take its wear and tear on them if we don’t score runs. We gotta find away to better and we’re going to work at it.”

Meanwhile, the Phillies offense was shut down by the pitching of  Miami’s Anibal Sanchez, who allowed just two runs on six hits in six and one-third of an inning—three of those hits came when the Phillies scored two runs off him in the seventh. Up until that point, he had allowed just three hits and did not allow a lead-off batter to reach base until that inning.

The Phils got their only runs of the game  on  a two-run double by rookie second baseman Freddy Galvis that scored Shane Victorino, who led off the seventh  inning with a single and Carlos Ruiz, who reached on a fielder’s choice. It was Galvis’s first major-league hit after going hitless in his first 12 at bats.

But despite of the slow start offensively, the Phillies aren’t stressing  about their offensive struggles just first four games of the season.  Even without, Howard and Utley in their lineup, Victorino said the offense is capable producing enough runs to win games even in come-from-behind situations like they have in previous years.

“Just because we haven’t done it in four games, don’t worry about it,” Victorino said. “Absolutely, we’re a good enough team that we can come back. I don’t see why we can’t.  It’s just that we haven’t done it  and so of course that question is going to be asked. Yes, we’re a good enough team that we can come back.”

For all the talk about the Phillies offense without Howard and Utley, the team has always found a way to win games when they’ve had players on the disabled list. Manuel said his team will figure it out at some point during the season.

“We’ve got guys that’s supposed to be able to hit,” Manuel said. “When you take those guys (Howard and Utley) out of the lineup it has an effect on you, but at the same time, we’ve always been able to work through that and that’s what we’ve gotta do.”

Opening Day: Baseball’s Auld Lang Syne

5 Apr

Hall of Famer Ernie Banks always gave long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans a reason to be optimistic on opening day.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

For baseball fans, hearing the words “Play Ball!” on Opening Day is about as joyous as watching the Big Ball drop from the Manhattan skyline on Times Square at midnight every New Year’s Day. It’s the collective shout of Happy New Year! for baseball fans every year with the noisemakers being the crack of the bat or the emphatic pop  of a 95-mile an hour fastball into a catcher’s mitt.

With the new season on the horizon, fans of even the worse teams in baseball are singing, “Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot and Auld lang syne.” It’s absolution from the past season’s sins and a resolution to be even better.

Opening Day for a lot of teams around major league baseball is the time that they make their New Year’s resolutions for the upcoming season. The Baltimore Orioles would resolve to climb out of the American League East cellar and not lose 93 games as the way they did in 2011. The Philadelphia Phillies are hoping the new season will end with their first World Series title since 2008 after disappointing ends to their last three post season appearances.

In St. Louis, the Cardinals are hoping they can somehow win another World Series crown despite the loss of superstar first baseman Albert Pujols.

The Washington Nationals, with a rejuvenated Stephen Strasburg, have hopes of ending the Phillies reign in the National League East as do the Miami Marlins with their new skipper Ozzie Guillen and All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes.

And like some of our bold declarations of losing weight, drinking less, or being better husbands and wives, the promise of Opening Day will be lost in the inevitable ups and downs of the long season. For some teams, the optimism of spring will be burned out by a long hot summer and their pennant dreams will fade like a Raisin in the Sun and will be a dream deferred until next year.

Other teams will see the dream within their grasp only to have it whither away in the cool winds of September and October. At the end of the day, only one team will be able to pop the bubbly and celebrate the promise of Opening Day.

And that’s what we truly love about baseball, especially at this time of the year. It’s a reminder that both good and bad times aren’t forever and that there’s always hope that things will be better no matter what has happened the previous year.

In the course of our mundane lives, we celebrate New Years Day with the pomp and circumstance of fireworks, champagne and pickled herring because we believe that no matter how much we have screwed up during the year, things will get better.

When January 1 hits, it’s our chance to start all over again and to hopefully get things going on the right foot. Maybe we go on a winning streak where we have a few more dollars in our pocket or maybe our dream of getting that promotion finally comes to fruition.

But just like that 162-game baseball season, things happen and it doesn’t necessarily go your way. Things that you just can’t control can complicate your circumstances. For a lot of us just being able to stay in the Pennant Race of Life is a victory in itself.

Baseball’s Opening Day and New Year’s Day are like an annual baptism. It is a chance for us and our favorite teams to reborn and renewed in the spirit of all that is good.

While we and the teams we root for often come up short of the glory, the new year and the new season is a reminder we always have a chance to make things right.

Phillies Hope Juan Pierre Can Spark the Phillies Offense in 2012

4 Apr

Speedy outfielder Juan Pierre hopes to help a Phils offense that will be without Chase and Ryan Howard.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Veteran outfielder Juan Pierre would like to tell you that his speed on the base paths is a valued commodity in baseball.

But he can’t, because it’s not.

Unfortunately in an age of baseball where chicks still dig the longball, finding teams that could use his ability to manufacture runs was a a challenge for the speedy Pierre, who played on five different teams before coming to the Phillies.

“I just know how baseball is going these days,” Pierre said. “It’s not that much premium put on guys that can run and do that stuff. Everybody wants homerun guys and guys who hit for power and I understand that. But my game is my game. I’m going ride it out until they don’t want me no more. I’m not a power guy.”

But as luck or fate would have it, Pierre ended up on a Phillies team that has been searching for some type of spark on offense after having their postseason end prematurely for three straight years because of their inability to score runs.

Coming in as a non-roster invitee in his 11th season in the majors, Pierre, who has a .296 lifetime batting average, was not a lock to make the team when spring training began in late February. But he made the Phillies Opening Day roster by his ability to spread the ball around the field and befuddling opponents with his ability to run the bases.

“I think my type of game can still help teams win,” Pierre said. “It’s just a matter of getting a team who thinks that. Some teams don’t put a premium on it all. They want eight or nine guys in the lineup that can it the long ball. My game is what it is and hopefully I can contribute.”

Pierre, a three-time league leader in stolen bases, gave fans a glimpse of his ability to wreak havoc on the base paths in Monday’s exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citizen’s Bank Park when he ran out what looked to be a routine single and turned it into a double. He then took third on a fly ball to right and then scored on a sacrifice fly.

“He’s been getting on base and making things happen,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “When he’s gets hits and sprays the ball around, he brings the energy. He’s been playing good. He’s the kind of guy that ticks the other team off. With his style of play, he can throw some hits around the field. He puts the ball in play.”

Manuel said Pierre’s speed makes him a valuable commodity to the Phillies offense in 2012, especially since the team is starting the season without slugging first baseman Ryan Howard and power hitting second baseman Chase Utley who are on the disabled list with injuries.

“He’s very important to us even when he’s not in the starting lineup,” Manuel said. “You can actually put him in there to lead off an inning or bunt him or run him. He’s very important to the club.”

With the Chicago White Sox last season, Pierre batted .279 and led the American League in bunt singles, infield hits and sacrifices. The left-handed swinging Pierre batted .329 against left-handed pitching.

Whether he’s a starter or coming into pinch hit, Pierre relishes the opportunity to play a brand of baseball that conjures up memories of James “Cool Papa” Bell of the Negro Leagues, St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Lou Brock and Detroit Tigers Hall of Famer Ty Cobb, players who used their speed to help teams manufacture runs.

“I like to play pepper with it, hit where they ain’t, get on and take the extra base and steal bases,” said Pierre. “That’s my goal every night is to put pressure on the defense. It’s my goal going into every game.”

In the aftermath of the Phillies inability to hit during the National League Division Series loss to the eventual world champion St. Louis Cardinals last fall, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he would like to see the team change their approach offensively and come up with ways to manufacture runs to help the Phillies starting pitching staff that played well, but got inconsistent run support.

That’s why Pierre thought the Phillies were a good fit for his style of play and he thought he could be an extra piece to a winning team. Last season, with the White Sox, Pierre batted .331 (43-130) with runners in scoring position.

“You always got a chance with those arms you run out there every night and you scrape a couple of runs across and then you’re looking good,” Pierre said. “That’s one of the intriguing reason why I signed with them. With a team that’s trying to win, you can latch on and help a team win by coming in late and pinch running or pinch hitting when given an opportunity. I’m just looking forward to it because they 40,000 come out to an exhibition. They’re serious about just coming out here, but winning and that’s the way I approach every game to help win games. ”