Spring Training 2015: Phils Begin the Painful Process of Rebuilding

Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn't get enough run support in 2014 and now wants out of Philadelphia.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn’t get enough run support in 2014 and now wants out of Philadelphia. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is hoping to be at full strength after struggling last years. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is hoping to be at full strength after struggling last year.
Photo by Webster Riddick.

 Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—With pitchers and catchers reporting to the Phillies spring training headquarters in Clearwater, Florida this week, fans would like to believe that there would be some hope onthe horizon.

But, the Phillies are a team facing more uncertainty now than they did at the end of last season’s 73-89 finish.
Don’t get too attached to the Phillies current 40-man roster because it’ll probably change by the July 31st trade deadline or when the season ends. Heck, it may not be the same when the Phillies open the season against the Boston Red Sox on April 6 at Citizens Bank Park.

During the offseason, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. tried to move veterans like Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard.

But the offers weren’t there. So guys, along with second baseman Chase Utley and his un-waved no-trade clause, remain on the roster.
While most of those guys will be gone eventually, Hamels is already looking at moving companies. The team’s ace pitcher told USA Today: “I want to go to a place where I can win again. I know it’s not going to happen here.”

On the other hand, that’s not to say Amaro didn’t make any moves this off season. He managed to jettison the team’s all-time hits leader, shortstop Jimmy Rollins (Los Angeles Dodgers), rightfielder Marlon Byrd (Cincinnati) and starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick (Colorado Rockies).

The most notable addition of the Phillies offseason was former Los Angeles Dodgers Chad Billingsley, who hasn’t pitched in nearly two years because of elbow surgery. He missed all of last season and a good chunk of the 2013.

That one was a bit of a head scratcher. I guess that Amaro is hoping Billingsley will be healthy enough to be a functioning part of the rotation or better yet be good enough to be a tradable commodity. From 2006 to 2013, Billingsley has an 81-61 record with a 3.65 earned run average.

Health is also concern for lefthander Cliff Lee, who is scheduled to make $25 million this season. Lee ended the 2014 season on the disabled list with an injured left elbow, something that scared off potential trading partners. Amaro is hoping Lee can give teams the illusion that he’s still good enough to get some young prospects for him.

Speaking of possible pieces to trade, a big question is will Ryan Howard be healthy enough to be the slugger that struck fear in the hearts of pitchers from 2006 to 2011. If Howard has a hot start in the spring and summer, Amaro might find some willing trade partners, especially in the American League where he could help a team as a designated hitter.

But the team that does it is going to have to swallow the last two years—and $60 million—of Howard’s contract.

Rebuilding is obviously the Phillies ultimate goal. Amaro and manager Ryne Sandberg want to know if guys like Freddy Galvis, Ben Revere, David Buchanan, Cody Asche, Domonic Brown, Maikel Franco and Darin Ruf are ready and good enough to eventually become perennially contenders in the National League East.

The next few seasons will probably tell Phillies fans whether or not the light at the end of this rebuilding tunnel is attached to an oncoming train.

Phillies Need to Face the Reality of Rebuilding

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn't get enough run support in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn’t get enough run support in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—During the early part of the 2014 season, the Phillies left you with the impression that they could just have timely hitting, good defense and good pitching on a consistent basis, they were close to being a contender in the National League East.

It was something General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. believed and it was something manager Ryne Sandberg talked about even after nights when the Phillies offense came up short or the starting pitching put them in a deep hole from which they could not recover.

That was not only wishful thinking on part of Amaro and Sandberg, it was downright delusional.

Instead, the Phillies did what bad teams usually do, play well in one aspect of their game and suck in some other part. That was the most consistent aspect of the Phillies in 2014 and it resulted in the team’s last place finish (73-89) in the NL East.

To be honest, this season was doomed from the start, going back to the off-season when the most significant free agents signings were aging, over 30-something veterans like pitcher A.J. Burnett and outfielder Marlon Byrd.

While the latter actually had a decent season, the former pitched like the 37-year-old man he was during the season.

Burnett won just two games after the All-Star break and finished the season 8-18 with a 4.59 earned run average. The team also didn’t have left-handed starter Cliff Lee, who finished his season on the disabled list, for most of the season.

Right-handed starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick (now a free agent) was hot and cold, often struggling to get out of the first inning.

The only bright spots for the Phillies in 2014 were Cole Hamels, who got little help from his offense, and the young bullpen. Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but finished 9-9 and often lacked run support. He also had a no-hitter he shared with two other pitchers.

The Phils offense was a constant problem all year outside of Byrd, who led the team in home runs and lead-off hitter Ben Revere, who batted .307 and tied for the National League lead in hits.

Unfortunately, Amaro’s resurgence of the “Wheez Kids” was a monumental failure and it’s painfully obvious that change has to come, especially on offense.

That means that it’s time for the Phillies to come to the realization that Amaro has been avoiding for a long time—it’s time to say a fond farewell to the now 30-something guys who won the 2008 World Series whose best days are collectively behind them.

Ryan Howard struggles hurt the Phillies offense in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Ryan Howard struggles hurt the Phillies offense in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Of course, the hardest player for the Phillies to move will be first baseman Ryan Howard, who will be 35 in 2015, because the team still owes him $60 million. No one around baseball wants to take on that salary.

Howard is coming off a season where he batted just .223 with 23 homeruns and 95 runs batted in with a league-leading 190 strikeouts. It was the first time since 2011 that Howard has played more than 150 games in a season.

After struggling through a myriad of leg injuries over the last couple of years, it was an accomplishment for Howard to finish the season. While those injuries are fully healed, I don’t think Howard was ever 100 percent back to himself from a baseball perspective.

That said, I think a change of scenery to an American League team where he can be a designated hitter might do him some good and even bring about resurgence in his career.

Meanwhile, shortstop Jimmy Rollins and second baseman Chase Utley have no-trade clauses in their contract. Rollins, the Phillies all-time leader in hits, told reporters back in June that he would be open to a trade if the team goes into complete rebuilding mode.

Guess what? That time is here.

Utley, who struggled in the second half of the season, should consider waiving his no-trade clause as well because it’s going to be a long time before this team is a contender again. I don’t know if Utley will like playing for a young, rebuilding team.

Out of the Phillies younger players that have come out of their system in the last year or so, third baseman Cody Asche was the only one who solidified a starting spot next year in the Phils starting lineup. There’s also talk that prospect Maikel Franco could be on the roster next year.

The Phillies will likely part ways with Domonic Brown, who had an awful season and regressed as a hitter. He batted .235 with just 10 home runs, 63 runs batted in and an on-base percentage of .285. In 2013, Brown had a .272 average with 27 homers, 83 RBI, and a .324 on-base percentage.

The Phillies will have a solid bullpen next year with a solid corps of young arms led by hard-throwing righthander Ken Giles, who will be the team’s next closer if they can’t find a suitor for Jonathan Papelbon, who served a seven-game suspension near the end of the season for an obscene gesture. He saved 39 of 43 games in 2014.

Giles, whose fast ball was clocked at 100 miles per hour, had a 1.18 earned run average in 44 games and had a 3-1 record with one save.

Amaro himself is on the clock in 2015—the final year of his contract. He has to figure out a way to get this ship going in the right direction for next year and beyond.

If he doesn’t, Amaro will be given his walking papers the same way former assistant general manager for amateur scouting Marti Worlever got his near the end of the 2014 season.

Phillies Bats Smash Reds Again in Support of Cliff Lee

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Cody Asche ha been swinging a hot bat for the Phillies.

Cody Asche has been swinging a hot bat for the Phillies.

PHILADELPHIA—Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg has been saying all season that he wanted to see his team to score early in the game, the middle and late.

In Sunday’s 8-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Citizen’s Bank, the Phillies did just that and they did it with the long-ball while getting a solid pitching performance from starter Cliff Lee (4-4, 3.18). The game was a showcase of the team’s offensive potential if they can do it on a consistent basis.

“I think you just saw in the last two days what can happen when we all put together all three phases of the game— pitching, defense and our offense,” said third baseman Cody Asche, whose three-run homer in the seventh sealed the Phillies win. “We’ve been missing a piece or two here or there in a couple games and dropped a couple of tough ones. I think you saw the potential of the team not just our offense.”

Lee wasn’t his usual dominating self, but he was tough enough to keep the Reds off the board after they scored two in the first inning. For the game, he allowed just two runs on nine hits with three strikeouts with just one walk.

“Cliff Lee, with his 116 pitches, got off to a bit of a slow start in the first inning with his velocity, but picked it up and it was solved,” Sandberg said. “He competed out there and he mixed his pitches well.”

Just as important as his effort on the mound, Lee got some run support from the Phillies offense, especially in the Phillies half of the first inning when they got back-to-back home runs from lead-off hitter Jimmy Rollins and catcher Wil Nieves.

“It was definitely good for our team because it put us back in the game,” Lee said. “For us to answer back that quick was definitely nice. It was nice for us to answer back right there. It’s definitely easier to pitch with the lead and it’s easier to attack the strike zone.”

Nieves said answering the Reds in their half of the first inning with home runs was a huge boost in momentum for a team that has struggle to hit at times throughout the year.

“We got the talent. It’s happy to see all of the guys getting hot at the same time,” Nieves said. “Hitting is contagious. … I know we’re a team capable of doing this day in and day. Us coming back from two runs down was just huge and Cliff Lee kept them there until we busted it open late in the game. It was huge.”

The Phillies took the lead for good in the fifth inning on an RBI ground out to first by second baseman Chase Utley that scored Lee, who singled to lead off the inning. The Phillies got a solo homer from right fielder Marlon Byrd in the sixth.

In the seventh inning, the Phillies put the game away for good on an RBI single by Byrd and Asche’s three-run homer. It was his fourth of the season. During the month of May, Asche is batting .333 with a .418 on-base percentage and has a .625 slugging percentage.

“I’m swinging at more strikes I would say,” Asche said. “The more strikes you swing at, the more chances you’re going to have to put the ball in play hard. You have to be more precise in what you’re looking and go from there.”

Notes-With his 46th career lead-off home run, Rollins has the fourth most leadoff home runs in Major League history behind Ricky Henderson (81), Alfonso Soriano (54) and Craig Biggio (53).

Phillies Having Problems Getting it Together

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Phillies right fielder Marlon Byrd says Phillies need to play better. Webster Riddick.

Phillies right fielder Marlon Byrd says Phillies need to play better. Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—The definition of a mediocre is a team in baseball is one that can’t seem to get all the aspects of the game together on a consistent basis.

Ladies and gentleman, your 2014 Phillies have been teetering around the .500 mark all season and they have been a team that can’t seem to get a handle on itself. If the Phils are consistent in one thing is that they aren’t on a regular basis.

“It’s just the consistency of putting everything together for a string of games,” said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg. “We show signs of it in all areas. We just have to be consistent in all the areas and put it all together.”

In Wednesday afternoon’s 3-0 shutout loss to the Anaheim Angels at Citizen’s Bank Park, the Phillies bats were missing in action and the starting pitching struggled, but could have use some run support.

“On the offensive side, we’ve got guys that are a capable of doing the job,” Sandberg said. “I’d say (Chase) Utley, (Ryan) Howard, (Jimmy) Rollins and Byrd have been fairly consistent in the last couple of weeks…our better players are doing a good job and they’ve been fairly consistent.

“We have to get better as a full lineup, up and down the lineup. Ben (Revere) is a catalyst at the top of the order when he gets on base. He hasn’t gotten on base in the last couple of weeks.”

The Phillies offense just couldn’t solve the riddle of Angels’ right-handed pitcher Garrett Richards, who had eight strikeouts while allowing just five hits in seven innings of work.

Phillies starting pitcher A.J. Burnett didn’t have a bad outing, but it wasn’t a good one either. He allowed three runs on five hits with five walks and six strikeouts in five innings on the mound. He gave up single runs in the first, second and third innings.

Burnett’s gritty effort was wasted by another poor effort from the Phillies hitters. It was another example of how one aspect of the Phillies game can be engaged and locked in while the other one is completely out to lunch.

On the days and nights when they pitch well, they can’t buy a hit. A starting pitcher like Cliff Lee can have a solid outing in Tuesday’s loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and not give up an earned run only to have it spoiled by errors in the field.

“I think that’s what every team tries to do—pitch good, play good defense and hit good,” said third baseman Cody Asche, who committed three errors in the loss on Tuesday.

“There’s no secret in how to win baseball games. Those three facets are what’s going to win you games. When you’re doing the right things in those three areas, you’re going to lose more than you win.

At this juncture of the season, the Phillies are exactly the 17-21 record you see in the standings. They will get swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in one series, sweep the New York Mets in another and get manhandled in the next series.

That’s the sign of a mediocre, up and down team. The Phillies are in last place and four and a half games out of a first place in a lackluster National League East. Watching this team on a regular basis it makes you wonder is this team as good as they’re going to be?Can they get better or will they be sellers by the July 31st trade?

Yes, it’s still May and they play in a fairly mediocre National League East, which means they’ll face teams like the Mets, Braves, Marlins and Nationals—teams they are capable of beating.

“We just got to put it all together, “ said Phillies rightfielder Marlon Byrd. “If it’s not all together, you lose games. If it’s all together, you win games. That’s the bottomline—pitching, defense and timely hitting are the keys to winning.”


Phillies Bullpen Lets Them Down In Loss to Nationals

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee pitched seven strong innings.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee pitched seven strong innings. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—When Cliff Lee and Stephen Strausburg took the mound for the Phillies and Washington Nationals, you were expecting a pitcher’s duel where a run or two was going to decide the game with plenty of strikeouts along the way.

It wasn’t the prettiest performance by either pitcher, but it wasn’t bad. In fact, there was only one earned run and 10 strikeouts between them. Lee nor Strausburg got the decision either way.

In seven innings, Lee gave up two runs (one earned) and struck out five on just four hits.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, Lee’s solid start was ruined by a poor outing by the bullpen that gave up three runs on five hits in the eighth inning to propel the Nationals to a 5-3 win Friday night at Citizen’s Bank Park.

In that decisive top of the eighth, the Phillies had a 3-2 lead. But Mike Adams gave up a double to Denard Spann and an RBI single to third baseman Anthony Rendon. After another single by Jayson Werth and manager Ryne Sandberg yanked Adams, who got the loss, from the game.

“I’ve got to do a better job of holding the lead,” Adams said after the game. “I’ve been doing this long enough to know what adjustments need to be made. It’s bad that (Lee) threw way he did and gave us a chance to win. As a whole, I’m guessing we need to get better.

“We need to make sure the coaches and the starting pitchers have enough confidence in us that they’re not afraid to go to us in the eighth inning.”

Reliever Jake Diekman couldn’t stop the bleeding giving up an RBI single to first baseman Adam LaRoche and a run-scoring double to shortstop Ian Desmond. Those runs were charged to Adams. It was the sixth time this season the Phillies bullpen has blown a lead in the late innings.

You had to be wondering why Antonio Bastardo, the Phillies regular eighth-inning set-up man wasn’t on the mound that inning? He did pitch the ninth inning, allowing a single and a walk. Sandberg said went with the right hander Adams because he liked the matchup with two right-handed hitters Rendon and Werth.

The bottom of the eighth was equally troubling for Phillies fans. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins opened the inning with a walk and second baseman Chase Utley singled to put runners on first and second.

Then disaster struck.

Ryan Howard inexplicably swung at a 2-0 curve ball and popped out to short. Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard fanned Marlon Byrd and Domonic Brown to end the Phillies threat and that was your ball game.

“We had two had men on and no outs, we did not come through in that situation which was one of our few chances throughout the game to add after the first inning,” Sandberg said. “That was the big thing was scoring early and not adding on.”

Byrd took the blame upon himself for not driving in the runs when his team had the chance.

“I had a chance with runners on first and second, but it was bad mechanics, bad approach,” Byrd said. “I didn’t make Clippard have to work. I feel that’s why I’m here to drive in runs. I take pride in doing it when the runners are in scoring position and I didn’t do it.”

Reliever Jerry Blevins was credited with the win in relief for the Nationals.

Strausburg went six-innings for the Nationals with five strikeouts and six hits and got a no-decision. He gave up a three-run homer to Byrd in the first inning. The runs were unearned because rightfielder Jayson Werth dropped a foul ball hit by Byrd to prolongthe inning. It would have been the final out.

After Strausburg retired the first two batters in the first inning, he gave up a pair of singles to Utley and Howard. Byrd parked a 2-2 Strausburg pitch into the right centerfield seats for a three-run homer to give a Phillies a 3-0 lead.

The Nationals got a couple of runs back on a solo homerun by left fielder Tyler Moore in the third and an RBI ground out by Denard Spann that drove home Moore, who singled to begin the fifth  inning.

It was that particular at-bat between Lee and Spann that almost turned into a bench-clearing brawl. When Spann stepped out of the batter’s box a fast ball by Lee came close to hitting him in the chest. The Nationals centerfielder stared at Lee.

“Obviously, I made a pitch and he wasn’t ready,” Lee said. “I’ll do that every time if they want to stand there and not look. I’ll take a strike. I threw a ball. Maybe he was mad because it was close to him. If they’re going to stand there and not look I’m going to throw a pitch. I think it’s on the hitter to be in the box and make sure they’re ready.”

As Spann was heading toward the dugout, the two apparently exchanged words, but were separated by umpires as both benches cleared. No punches were thrown.



Lee Pitches Well, but Phillies Can’t Score in Loss to Braves

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee strikes out 13 Atlanta Braves, but is on the short end of a 1-0 shut out. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee strikes out 13 Atlanta Braves, but is on the short end of a 1-0 shut out. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—On a night when Cliff Lee was mowing down Atlanta Braves hitters, the Phillies offense was about as cold as the night time temperature.

That’s because the Phils couldn’t figure out the riddle that was Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran (2-1). In nine innings, the Phillies could only manage just three hits—all singles by Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz and Jimmy Rollins.

In what was an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel, the Braves came away with a 1-0 win over the Phillies in front of 23, 382 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park who saw Lee come up with 13 strikeouts while his offense struggled.

The only mistake Lee made in 128 pitches was giving up a home run on an 0-2 pitch to Braves catcher Evan Gattis, who was ripping up Phillies pitching the way his predecessor Brian McCann used to when he was the Atlanta catcher. It was Gattis’s third home run of the series. He had four hits in the game.

“On the pitch to Gattis, I tried to elevate a fast ball, it wasn’t a bad spot, but it wasn’t the spot I was trying to hit. It was down and in,” Lee said. “The pitch I made today was a bad pitch. I missed the spot I was going for and it ended up in a decent spot, he just put a decent swing on it. You gotta give him credit. I’ve got to be better than that. I should have thrown a different pitch or a different location.”

Pitching all nine innings, Lee definitely did his part to help the Phillies win this game. He scattered 11 hits and did a masterful job of pitching himself out of jams when the Braves had men on base. The effort Lee put out tonight was nothing short of amazing.

Meanwhile, Teheran wasn’t necessarily coming up with strikeouts, but he was getting the Phillies out and thanks to the wind blowing in from center field a few hard hit balls that might have gone out of the park on a hot summer day, stayed inside the stadium.

Atlanta's Julio Teheran allowed just four hits in a complete game shutout of Philadelphia. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Atlanta’s Julio Teheran allowed just four hits in a complete game shutout of Philadelphia. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Teheran had four strikeouts and no walks in 115 pitches. He kept the Phillies offense off balance by mixing his pitches effectively. Centerfielder Ben Revere said it was frustrating for his team to not be able to put runs on the board back up

“(Teheran) was hitting his spots and everything, but that’s the way baseball goes,” said Philliescenterfielder Ben Revere. “The guys hit the ball on the money, but it was right at their guys. It’s frustrating but we just got to keep our heads and come back out (Thursday).

“(Lee) pitched one heckuva game. It was phenomenal. Everybody in here is frustrating because your pitcher does so well and gets the loss.”

Teheran was perfect through his four innings before giving up an infield single to Howard. He gave up a pair of two-out singles, but the Phillies could not push across.

This loss to the Braves is just the kind of stuff that happens to average teams. They get a solid outing from their starting pitcher, but they can’t hit. Sometimes, the reverse happens. The Phillies score a lot of runs and then the bullpen or the starting pitching breaks down.
The Phillies have to figure out away to play every aspect of their game well—whether it’s getting clutch hitting, good starting and relief pitching. Phils manager Ryne Sandberg said the Phillies have do a better job of providing Lee with run support.

“That’s a trend that we don’t want to have because we know that he gives us a chance to win,” Sandberg said. “Things didn’t go our way on the offensive side with some hard-hit balls tonight.”


Mid-Season Report: Phils Believe They Can Contend in Second Half

Phillies need a centerfielder  to replace Ben Revere, who broke his right foot during Saturday's game against the Chicago White Sox. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies need a centerfielder to replace Ben Revere, who broke his right foot during Saturday’s game against the Chicago White Sox. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

PHILADELPHIA—In spite of injuries to key players like Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard and now centerfielder Ben Revere who is on the 15-day disabled list because of a broken right foot, the Phillies (48-48) believe they can make a run in the second half of the season.

“If you come to the ball park and you got 25 guys and the biggest part of them want to play and they’re concentrating on playing the game right way and getting after it, you’d be surprised at what you can do,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.

Perhaps an even more daunting issue for the Phillies is whether they can be consistent enough to get beyond the .500 mark, something they weren’t able to do during the first half of the season.

“Obviously, You need to have some luck, but things are starting to bounce our way,” said Phillies second baseman Chase Utley.

Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Chicago White Sox put the Phillies at .500 mark for the first time since June 7. They have won eight of their last 12 and have won their last four series coming into the All-Star Break.  They are in third place, six and a half games behind the first place Atlanta Braves in the National League East.

“What’s meaningful is that we’re not out of the race,” said Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. “We have 60-something games left and that’s going to determine the season. It’s going to come down to the last week of the season and hopefully we’re popping bottles.”

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. likes where the Phillies are at this point of the season. At the very least, they are within striking distance.

“It’s pretty exciting actually for us to have gotten ourselves back into race and play a little bit better baseball,” Amaro said.  “Ben Revere has given us a lift, Michael Young has come up with some game-winning base hits for us.  (John) Lannan has pitched great. Delmon Young has come up with some big hits for us.”

Manuel said he’s still trying figure out how good his team can be even with all the injuries that the team has had this season.

“We’re still playing to see how good we really are,” Manuel said. “That’s how I look at it.”

On offense, the biggest stars on the Phillies have been Domonic Brown who leads the team in home runs with 23 and runs batted in with 65. With Howard suffering from a sore left knee throughout much of the season, Brown became the Phillies main source of power.

“He’s picked us up and he’s been getting his hits and he’s hit a lot of balls hard,” Manuel said. “He’s been consistent. He’s been out here and everyday and he’s been healthy. He’s developed into a heck of a player.”

Because of his outstanding performance in the first half, Brown is headed to his first All-Star game. A tremendous honor considering how fans and more than a few sports media people were calling for the team to trade him.

“I always set my goals and this definitely was one of them,” Brown said. “I’m just trying to keep moving forward and keep improving everyday.”

Before Revere hurt his foot on a foul ball in the 10th inning of the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, he was hitting the ball well and establishing himself as a pure leadoff hitter.

After batting .200 for the first month of the season, Revere has been on a tear.  Since May 1, he has batted 347. His current batting average is .305.  Before being placed on the disabled list, Revere had hit safely in 14 out of his last 15 games including 10 games.

“He was our hottest hitter,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “He and Jimmy Rollins are our speed. He gave us a chance to play little ball at times. He was very important to our lineup and it’s a big blow.”

One thing likely to happen with Revere out is that Rollins might be moved back to the leadoff spot. Rollins said that he doesn’t care either or way, but if he is hitting at the No. 1 spot in the line he certainly help his team.

“Obviously if I’m up there and I can score on a lot of balls that some guys can’t,” Rollins said.  “That will help, but I really don’t care.”

With Halladay on the DL, the Phillies have had surprisingly decent starting pitching. Cliff Lee is having an All-Star year with a 10-3 record and a 2.86 ERA.  Jonathan Pettibone has secured a spot in the rotation in Halladay’s absence compiling a 5-3 record with a 3.89 ERA. John Lannen (2-3) has also been a big contributor in the Phillies rotation. Kyle Kcndrick (8-6, 3.86 ERA) has also been a consistent element among the starters.

After a horrendous start to the season, lefthander Cole Hamels in his last three outings is starting to find his groove.  In Sunday’s win over the Chicago White Sox, Hamels pitched eight and allowed two runs on eight hits, but get the decision.

“Hopefully, he’s gotten through his struggles and he is on a roll. That’s big for us. That’s real big for us,” Manuel said. “The last three games, I’m pleased with it. He’s definitely been very good the last two games. He’s had all the pitches and his command has been good.”

While the bullpen has pitched well in the series against the White Sox, it has struggled throughout much of the first half of the season. It ranks at the bottom of the National League in earned run average. Finding a good reliever at the July 31st- trade-deadline is priority for Amaro.

“We’ve got to pitch. If we don’t pitch well we don’t have a shot,” Amaro said.

At the Cross Roads: Can the Phillies Contend in 2013 or Are They Done?

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

If the Phillies are still below .500 by the july 31st trade deadline, will general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. blow the team up and start all over?

If the Phillies are still below .500 by the July 31st trade deadline, will general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. blow the team up and start all over?

PHILADELPHIA—When a team has a string of bad losses, it can either be the springboard for something great or the catalyst that sends the team into the abyss.

Earlier this week, the Phillies had two devastating losses that have fans thinking they may have hit rock bottom.

Let’s face it. When you get your rear-end handed to you in an 8-0 shutout loss to a New York Mets team that’s real close to a Triple ‘’A” club, you know there’s something wrong.

But while that loss was bad, it was nothing compared to Monday’s loss to the San Diego Padres in extra innings.

The Phils carried a 3-0 lead into the ninth inning.  Starting pitcher Cliff Lee had pitched eight shutout innings. But after throwing 109 pitches, Lee allowed hits including a double to the first two men faced.

Manager Charlie Manuel decided he had seen enough and brought in a struggling Jonathan Papelbon into the game to close it out. Papelbon gave up three in the ninth to allow the Padres to tie the game.

In the bottom of the 10th inning, Justin De Fratus retired the first guy he faced, but then walked two and hit another to load the bases. San Diego’s Kyle Blanks, the guy who drove the two runs to put the Padres on the board in the ninth, got the game-winning walk-off RBI single.

It was one of those horrific losses that leave fans and the players themselves saying, “WTF.”

The Phillies are 38-41 and are struggling to get out of the way of themselves. With the July 31st trade deadline a month way, you get the sinking feeling that the Phillies are about as good as they’re going to get.

That’s means (in my Jim Mora voice): Playoffs? You kidding me, Playoffs? The Phillies need to win a game, any game, another game.

If that’s the case, you might be saying good-bye to guys like Lee or perhaps Jimmy Rollins, who has a year left on his current contract, if the Phillies keep floundering where they are right now.

With the way the Phillies are playing right now, there is no reason to think they’re going to get any better. The offense has been erratic, the starting pitching has been inconsistent and the bullpen is just plain awful.

But then again, we’ve seen stranger things happen. (The optimistic portion of this column.)

The Phillies beat San Diego 6-2 the next day and they beat the Padres 7-5 in extra innings. The Phils are a two-game winning streak coming into this weekend’s four-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Could this be the start of the turnaround?

They’ve got enough veterans and decent young players that the offense could suddenly get hot. If somehow Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Rollins and Domonic Brown all got hot at the same time, the Phillies might run off a few wins.

What if Cole Hamels (2-12) somehow found his groove? Could Carlos Zambrano, who is going through an extended-spring training in Florida, be the answer if Roy Halladay doesn’t make it back?

A couple of the young arms in the bullpen might figure this big league thing out and start pitching well enough to hang on to leads in games.  Papelbon will probably recover from his current funk.

Before you go writing them off, just remember back on July 28, 2006 the day the Phillies traded Bobby Abreu to the Yankees. They were 49-56.

Then general manager Pat Gillick said it would be a long time before the Phillies would be contenders and pretty much wrote off 2007.  The Phillies finished the year with a 39-23 and missed the playoffs by three games, but that late run created the foundation for their run of five NL East titles, two National League pennants and a World Series crown.

However you want to look at it, the Phillies are at the crossroads of a season that could see them be good enough for the postseason or bad enough for general manager Ruben Amaro  Jr. to tear the whole thing down and start over.

Personally, I don’t think this team is good enough over the long haul to be as consistent as they should be. At the same time, they are capable enough to make liars out of us all.

Brown and Lee Propel Phils to Win Despite Shaky Bullpen

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Domonic Brown has homered in seven of  his last eight games. Photo by WebsterRiddick.

Domonic Brown has homered in seven of his last eight games. Photo by WebsterRiddick.

PHILADELPHIA—With injuries to players like Roy Halladay, Carlos Ruiz, and Chase Utley coupled with an inconsistent offense and a suspect bullpen, you have to wonder how really bad things would be if the Philllies didn’t have Cliff Lee and Domonic Brown.

So far this year, Lee and Brown have both carried an aging, injury-riddled team that would like to believe it still has fighting chance to be a contender. They have been the most consistent element for an otherwise inconsistent team.

The Phillies ended a three-game losing streak thanks to another outstanding effort by Brown and a stellar performance by Lee and came away with a 7-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers in front of 40, 613 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park.

Of course, the Phillies, especially the bullpen, did not get this win without drama. Lee (7-2) was pitching shutout baseball for seven and two-thirds innings. But in the eighth, Lee said he felt cramps in his legs, hips and his arms. Before departing the game, he gave up an RBI single to Norichika Aoki that scored Rickie Weeks, who singled to begin the inning.

“I guess I was a little dehydrated. I don’t know what the deal was,” Lee said. “It happened in Texas. Obviously, the heat is part of it. I tried to do everything I could to stay hydrated between yesterday and today. It didn’t seem to matter. It just happened.”

Meanwhile, things got even more crucial for the Phillies much-maligned bullpen when catcher Jonathan Lucroy hit what looked to be a grand-slam home run off Phils reliever Justin De Fratus to turn a 7-1 game into a 7-5 game. The ball bounced off the second railing of the left-field wall and rolled on the warning track.

Third base umpire Tom Hallion initially ruled the play a homerun, but after the umpires reviewed the play on videotape at Charlie Manuel’s request, they ruled the play a triple, allowing three runs to score. It was a 7-4 game  after the ruling.

“It hit the top of that wire fence and kicked hard to the right and back into play,” Hallion said. “So once we realized it was not a home run, we each put together where the ball went to, who picked it up and then we just placed the runners where they should be.”

With closer Jonathan Papelbon not available to pitch because of illness, Antonio Bastardo closed out the game, but allowed one run and got the final out with the bases loaded when pinch-hitter Mark Maldonado.

Between Bastardo and De Fratus, there were three walks and that seemed to bother Manuel more than anything else.

“The walks in a game like today and late like that gives them a chance to win and brings them back in the game,” Manuel said. “Yeah that bothered me.”

 The Phillies jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first two innings thanks to Brown, who has been out- of-this- world hot. He was 3-for-3 with a home run, a triple a single. He was a double short of the cycle. He drove in four runs. In the first inning, Brown hit a three-run homer off Brewers starter Mike Fiers. In the second, he had a run-scoring triple.

To his credit, Brown said he wasn’t really thinking about the cycle until he heard fans buzzing about it. In his fourth at bat of the day in the seventh, Brown walked.

“I thought about it, but if had a chance to go for three and a ball was in the gap, I’m going for three for sure,” Brown said.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Brown has been tearing the cover off the ball via the home run route. He has homered in eight of his last nine games. He leads the majors in home runs with 16.

“I’m just trying to keep it going and just trying to continue to improve,” Brown said. “Just trying to keep my stroke small and not try to do too much. I think I’ll be fine.”

For seven and two-thirds innings, Lee struck out 11 Brewers and seemed to be on cruise control until cramps settled in along with some anxiety with the Phils shaky bullpen. He allowed three runs on seven hits.

“It was a little bit frustrating, but what can you do,” Lee said. “I’d rather be in control every game from the first inning to the last inning.”


Back-to-Back Homers by Galvis and Kratz Give Phillies an Improbable Walk-off Win over Reds

Revere’s Hustle Fuels Phillies Comeback

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Ben Revere's two out single in the eighth started the Phillies come back. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Ben Revere’s two out single in the eighth started the Phillies come back. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—After the Phillies were shut out by the Cincinnati Reds the previous day, Charlie Manuel talked about the importance of his team hanging in there and not quitting.

“You stay aggressive and keep working on trying to get a good ball to hit. Not trying to overdo it, but just stay within yourself and do something. … Never get down, play 27 outs,” Manuel said.

For a team that was scoreless for 16 and two-thirds innings, that mentality would pay dividends in the Phillies 3-2 walk-off win over the Reds in the series finale at Citizen’s Bank Park Sunday afternoon.

The back-to-back homeruns off the Reds hard-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman by third baseman Freddy Galvis, who hit the game-winner and Erik Kratz, whose homer tied it gave the Phillies an improbable win.

“As soon as I hit, I thought hit it good,” Galvis said. “It was the first time in my life (hitting a walk off homer). I don’t think I’ll forget it.”

The Phillies ninth inning heroics were set up by the speed and hustle of centerfielder Ben Revere, who had three hits in four at-bats. It was his last hit that put the Phillies on the path to victory on a day when it looked like they were going to get shut out again.

With two outs in the bottom of the eighth and the Phillies trailing 2-0, Revere smacked a hard grounder to Reds first baseman Joey Votto who dived for the ball and gloved it, but couldn’t get the ball to the pitcher covering first base in time put out the Phillies speedy centerfielder.

“It’s just all about hustle,” Revere said. “I could have just gave up on the play. About a week ago that could be an out, but no way today because I was feeling comfortable at the plate.”

After stealing second and a walk to Michael Young, Revere scored on a single by Chase Utley to cut the Reds lead to 2-1.

“Maybe that was the moment to get stuff going off of this,” Kratz said. “Anytime Ben gets on base, he can score from anywhere because of what he can do on the base paths.”

Kratz’s game-tying solo homerun should have been the game-winner if Chapman had not picked off pitcher Cliff Lee, who was pinch-running for Delmon Young who walked to open the bottom of the ninth.

“That was brutal. I’ve never been so disappointed when a guy hit a home run to tie the game in my life,” Lee said of his gaffe.  “That was bad. I felt horrible. Fortunately, Kratzy hit the home run and Freddy right behind him and that was a really good feeling. They made up for my mistake, which was unacceptable and basically brutal.”

Rookie Jonathan Pettibone kept the Phillies in the game. He gave up two runs on seven hits in seven innings. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Rookie Jonathan Pettibone kept the Phillies in the game. He gave up two runs on seven hits in seven innings. Photo by Webster Riddick.

For about seven and two-thirds innings, it was looking like the Phillies offense was going to waste another outstanding effort by a starting pitcher. Rookie sensation Jonathan Pettibone definitely pitched well enough to win. The offense’s late heroics turned a certain defeat into a no-decision.

In seven innings, Pettibone allowed just two runs-solo homer by Jay Bruce in the second inning and an RBI double to Todd Frazier in the sixth-and seven hits. He had four strikeouts and three walks.

More importantly, Pettibone and relievers Justin De Fratus and Antonio Bastardo kept the game within reach and didn’t allow the Reds to score anymore runs after the sixth inning.

“It was huge,” said Kratz, who came into the game in the third inning after Carlos Ruiz left the game with a strained right hamstring. “It doesn’t matter if we would have gone through seven guys in the bullpen or one guy, as a catcher you come out and you tell them we got to keep it right here.

“We got to play it like it’s a zero-zero game. You can’t let them get to three. Chapman with a two-run lead is tougher than Chapman with a one-run lead.”


Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard missed Sunday’s game because of soreness in his left knee. Team officials said Howard will get an MRI Monday in Miami where the team will begin a four-game series against the Marlins.

Howard said the knee had been bothering him for awhile and that the pain was bothering him more than normal Saturday night.

“It’s been acting up since Spring Training and I was able to tough my way through it,” Howard said. “(Saturday) it just kicked up a little bit.”

When asked if he thought that soreness was affecting his hitting in any way, he said it’s been tough trying to push off that knee. Howard has just four hits in his last 33 at-bats.

“We’ll see if the rest helps it,” Howard said.