Sprained Ankle Keeps Utley Sidelined

Chase UtleyChase Utley did not work out with his teammates today and he is not expected to play in at least the first week of Grapefruit League games because of a sprained right ankle, but he said there is no reason to be alarmed.

Utley rolled the ankle in January. It remains visibly swollen.

“I’m making a little progress,” he said. “Obviously I wish it was a little quicker, but I’m trying to be smart about it. It seems like it’s making some progressions every few days. I’d like to get out there as soon as possible.

“There’s no sense in overdoing it and screwing something else up, especially when we have a month until the season starts.”

Nobody could say when Utley might play in a game. Ryne Sandberg said yesterday they would work Utley into a game “down the road.” Ruben Amaro Jr. said Utley would not play “for a little while.”

Utley said he did not participate in today’s workout because a nearly two-hour mandatory domestic violence education program curtailed his daily routine to get his knees and ankle ready for the field. Utley missed most of Spring Training in 2011-12 because of his knees and he works daily to keep those issues at bay.

“There’s a process I go through to get on the field,” he said.

Of course, because of Utley’s health history anytime something happens to him in Spring Training folks wonder if something more might be afoot.

He said no.

“I understand, but my ankle, look at it,” Utley said. “It looks worse than it is. But it’s not like it’s (completely healthy). There’s no point balancing on it or jumping on it. If I start balancing on it and jumping on it, and this isn’t ready, then something else is going to take the brunt of it, and I want to avoid (that). So that’s where we’re at.”

Aumont, Hernandez Out of Options

Phillippe AumontProjecting the Phillies’ Opening Day roster is an annual rite of spring.

For that reason it is worth knowing the players in camp without options. Options play a considerable role in a player’s chances of making the 25-man roster. Players without options must clear waivers before they can be assigned to the Minor Leagues, so there is risk in losing the player altogether if he does not make the team.

In Phillies camp there are six players without options: right-handers Jerome Williams, Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont; left-hander Andy Oliver; and infielders Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez.

It is not a factor for Williams, who signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract in the offseason. He is expected to be the team’s No. 4 starter behind Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Aaron Harang. It also is not a factor for Oliver, who is a Rule 5 Draft pick. The Phillies must keep Oliver on their 25-man roster the entire season or he must be offered back to the Pirates.

Galvis is expected to be the everyday shortstop, so options should not be an issue. De Fratus is a heavy favorite to make the bullpen. The same holds true for him.

But the performances of Aumont and Hernandez this spring are worth watching because of their situations.

Aumont is 1-5 with a 6.13 ERA in 45 appearances over the past three seasons. He has averaged 6.1 walks per nine innings in that time. The Phillies love his stuff, but he will need to throw strikes and pitch much more consistently to earn a spot in the bullpen which already includes locks like Jonathan Papelbon, Ken Giles and Jake Diekman with De Fratus a strong favorite for a fourth spot.

Hernandez seems to be a better bet to make the team because he can play a little bit at shortstop and the Phillies do not have a true backup for Galvis. Hernandez has hit .264 with a .624 OPS in 256 plate appearances the past two seasons.

Did Phillies Offer Moncada Deal? Amaro Keeps Quiet

moncadaThe Phillies could have used a talented prospect like Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada in their system.

The Phillies said they had interest, but how much is uncertain.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said today the organization had contact with Moncada’s agent until Monday, when MLB.com reported Moncada agreed to a record-breaking $31.5 million contract with the Red Sox.

Did the Phillies offer him a contract?

“I’m not going to get into it,” Amaro said.

Moncada is under 23 and had not played five years in the Cuban professional league, which put him under different amateur guidelines than Cuban outfielder Yasmany Thomas, who signed a $68.5 million deal in December with Arizona. Under Moncada’s guidelines, the Red Sox must pay a 100 penalty because they surpassed their annual international bonus allotment. In essence, they paid $63 million for the 19-year-old prospect.

The Red Sox also cannot spend more than $300,000 on any international player for the next two signing period (2015-16 and 2016-17). Of course, if Moncada lives up to the hype (many compare him to Robinson Cano) he would be worth it.

Is This Brown’s Last Shot?

Ryan Howard Domonic BrownIf Domonic Brown is concerned about his future in Philadelphia, he kept those thoughts to himself this morning at Bright House Field.

Brown will open the season as the Phillies right fielder, but with plenty to prove following a poor 2014. He made the 2013 National League All-Star team, but hit just .235 with 10 home runs, 63 RBIs and a .634 OPS in 144 games last season. His OPS ranked 139th out of 147 qualified hitters in baseball.

“I don’t know what they’ve got planned for me, man,” Brown said. “I think I know myself a little better every single year. I looked at last year as a learning experience as well. Even though I had some struggles, I think I ended the season on a decent note.”

Brown citied a poor May for skewing his overall numbers. He hit .146 with a .503 OPS that month. He hit .250 with a .686 OPS after the All-Star break.

If he had posted a .686 OPS the entire season it would have ranked 122nd in baseball.

But Brown is getting a chance to play because the Phillies need to see if he can be the player they saw in 2013, when he hit .272 with 27 homers, 83 RBIs and an .818 OPS. If he is then they know they have a right fielder for the foreseeable future. If not, then they know they need to look elsewhere.

“I really don’t even put that in my mind,” Brown said about his future in Philadelphia. “We’ll see what happens. That’s part of the business as well. All I can do is prepare myself every day to be a Philadelphia Phillie until I get traded.”

Brown returns to right field after the Phillies traded Marlon Byrd to the Reds.

“I’m not even getting into it,” he said, asked if a position change could make him more comfortable on the field. “Wherever I’m at, I’m going to have fun playing, wherever I am on the baseball field. Is it going to get me more comfortable at the plate? I really don’t know. I have a really different mindset this year and that’s going out and having a lot of fun. I know what my ability (is). I’m going to do what I’m (capable of doing).”

Brown said he and his teammates have not been on the “same page” recently. He would not elaborate, other than to say the “Phillie way is playing hard, running balls out, taking the extra base.” He would not say if those players remain in the clubhouse. He only would say he wants to win.

“That’s my biggest goal,” Brown said. “Whether I’m sitting on the bench or playing every single day, it really doesn’t matter. I’m going out there and I’m making sure that I’m going to give my team a chance to win a ballgame.”

Galvis Gets His Shot, But Is He Ready?

Freddy GalvisFreddy Galvis swears he cannot remember the moment he heard the Phillies traded Jimmy Rollins.

Funny, it would seem to be a momentous occasion.

Because when the Phillies traded Rollins to the Dodgers in December for Minor League pitchers Zach Eflin and Tom Windle, Galvis became the organization’s first everyday shortstop other than Rollins since Desi Relaford in 2000. It is a role Rollins held from 2001-14, when he became the greatest shortstop in franchise history and surpassed Mike Schmidt to become the franchise’s hits leader.

No pressure, Freddy.

“Jimmy was Jimmy,” Galvis said. “Jimmy was the man here in Philadelphia. But you have to come here and play baseball. I have to do my game. I don’t have to do Jimmy’s game. I have to do Freddy Galvis’ game and play ball.”

But what kind of game can Galvis bring?

He is fine defensive shortstop, so the pitchers should appreciate him. Ryne Sandberg loves his energy and praises his instincts. But a good glove, enthusiasm and instincts cannot help a hitter at the plate. Galvis has hit a combined .218 with a .621 OPS in 550 plate appearances with the Phillies from 2012-14. He has hit a combined .253 with a .646 OPS in eight Minor League seasons.

Galvis, 25, just hit .250 with 12 doubles, one triple, one home run, 18 RBIs and a .652 OPS in 51 games in Winter Ball in Venezuela.

The Phillies probably would take similar production from Galvis in 2015.

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Schmidt Negotiating Return to TV Booth

Jimmy Rollins, Mike SchmidtMike Schmidt will be in camp throughout Spring Training working with Phillies hitters like Domonic Brown, Cody Asche and Darin Ruf.

After that he is expected to return to the Phillies’ broadcast booth, where he served last season as a TV color analyst during Sunday home games.

Schmidt’s role could expand this season to Saturday and Sunday home games. Schmidt’s agent is meeting with Comcast SportsNet representatives Monday to try to hash out a new contract.

“I’m already in town,” Schmidt said about broadcasting both weekend home games. “I actually come in town Wednesday and play golf a couple days with sponsors. Why not just do the game Saturday night? So all of them (Saturday home games) once they iron it out. The only thing that would stop it would be negotiating the fee.”

Comcast announced Thursday that Ben Davis has replaced Jamie Moyer as a color analyst in the TV booth. Schmidt and Davis will rejoin Tom McCarthy, Matt Stairs and Gregg Murphy on the TV team.

Pap Expects to Remain Closer

Jonathan PapelbonRuben Amaro Jr. and Ryne Sandberg have said unequivocally that Jonathan Papelbon will be their closer in 2015.

It has been a question worth asking. Papelbon needs to finish only 48 games this season to automatically vest a $13 million club option for 2016. That should be a cinch, if he is healthy and continues to close. Papelbon has finished no fewer than 52 games each of the previous eight seasons, and has averaged 56.4 games finished in that span.

The option is noteworthy because the Phillies have had problems trying to trade Papelbon because of his salary. He makes $13 million this season, plus the potential for $13 million more in 2016.

Teams do not want to pay that much for a closer.

Many have wondered if the Phillies could simply demote Papelbon for Ken Giles, who had an impressive rookie season last year. The Phillies could say Giles is getting the job as part of a youth movement, which would scuttle Papelbon’s chances at the option.

That would make him more desirable in a trade.

Papelbon said he would be surprised if the Phillies approached him during the season and said they planned to make Giles the closer.

“I think that they know my stance on closing,” he said. “That’s what I am. I’m a closer. I think if the team decides to go that route, then so be it. Then they go that route. I’ll continue my route with this Major League career that I’ve had and move on.”

But again, the Phillies have said that is not happening as long as Papelbon is performing. He has posted 106 saves (seventh-most in baseball) and a 2.45 ERA (16th out of 137 qualifying relievers) in his three seasons in Philadelphia. If the Phillies suddenly pull him despite pitching well, he very well could file a grievance with the Players’ Union.

Lee Staying in Philly? Ask Again Later

cliff lee magic eight ballIf only Cliff Lee had a crystal ball and not a $10 plastic Magic 8 Ball.

Maybe then he could see into the future and learn how much time he has left in Philadelphia.

Lee met with reporters following today’s workout for Phillies pitchers and catchers at Carpenter Complex. He finished last season on the disabled list with an injured left elbow, which scuttled any chances he could be traded this offseason. Lee has hinted in the past he would like to leave the struggling Phillies and play for a World Series contender, but he used a Magic 8 Ball he said he found in his locker to deflect those inquiries today.

“I brought this to answer my hard questions,” he said.

Questions like, “Phillies president Pat Gillick said the team would not contend until 2017 …”

“Hold on a second,” Lee said, picking up the Magic 8 Ball. “Most likely.”

So what did he think about Gillick’s comments? Lee signed a $120 million contract with the Phillies in Dec. 2010 because he believed the Phillies could win multiple World Series championships. Instead, the Phillies have not made the postseason since 2011, including a last place finish in the National League East in 2014.

Lee will make $25 million this season with a $12.5 million buyout on a $27.5 million club option for 2016. Essentially, the Phillies front office has said the team does not expect to win throughout the remainder of Lee’s deal.

Lee picked up the Magic 8 Ball again.

“Yes, definitely,” he said, referring to Gillick’s comments.

Yes, definitely he wants to be traded?

“Let me see,” he said. “That’s another tough one. I don’t know if I want to answer that.”

He looked at the ball again.

“Very doubtful.”

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Are Ryno and Hamels on Different Pages?

Cole HamelsRyne Sandberg said yesterday he thinks the Phillies have a “chance to surprise some people.”

But then Cole Hamels told USA Today he wants to win and “I know it’s not going to happen here.”

It sounds like manager and pitcher are not on the same page. But Ruben Amaro Jr. and Sandberg said today they had no problem with Hamels’ comments. How could they? The Phillies front office has said the organization is rebuilding for the future and the process could take at least a couple seasons before the team can be a postseason contender.

“Maybe I would have liked for him to have chosen his words a little differently, but it’s totally understandable,” Amaro said Thursday. “Cole wants to win. I think everyone is on the same page. We all want to win.”

Sandberg said he spoke with Hamels about those words. He said Hamels told him that he made those comments “a while ago and it didn’t reflect on his feelings coming into camp. I think it was unfortunate timing and it wasn’t a reflection on how he feels coming into camp.”

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale wrote Wednesday’s story. He said he interviewed Hamels for the story Tuesday.

Perhaps Hamels completely changed his feelings from Tuesday to Thursday, when Phillies pitchers and catchers held their first workout at Carpenter Complex.

Perhaps Hamels simply does not want to ruffle any feathers.

But Hamels has said numerous times he does not want to spend his prime years on a losing team. He told USA Today his limited no-trade clause would not scuttle a trade to a contender.

“He’s one of those guys that sits in the sweet spot for us,” Amaro said about Hamels. “He’s going to be a tremendous asset if he stays with us, and if we get to the point where we move him, it’s going to be because we get assets back that are going to move us forward. He’s in our camp. I fully expect him to pitch on Opening Day for us. I’m glad to have him. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game and I’m happy to move forward with him and get us going back on track.”

Amaro said he has talked to veterans like Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon and Cliff Lee since they have arrived in camp. Each player has indicated in the past they would like to play for a winning team.

“There’s a lot of talk about us rebuilding and these (veterans) being disgruntled and all of that stuff,” Amaro said. “(But) these guys are all professionals, and they’re going to play and pitch and they’re going to do their best to win baseball games for the Phillies, I’m sure of that.”

Manuel Will Work with Howard This Spring

Mike Schmidt, Charlie ManuelThe Phillies had one of the least productive offenses in baseball last season, and then traded two of their best hitters in the offseason: Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd.

Scoring runs could be a significant struggle in 2015.

They hope a new hitting program in Spring Training can combat a lineup that lacks power. The program involves coaches working with specific hitters throughout camp in an effort to give them a consistent voice as they stress making more contact, using the whole field, having a more consistent two-strike approach and situational hitting.

Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is scheduled to work with Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, Maikel Franco, Jeff Francoeur and Grady Sizemore. Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt will work with Domonic Brown, Cody Asche, Darin Ruf and Freddy Galvis; and assistant hitting coach John Mizerock will work with Chase Utley, Ben Revere and Cesar Hernandez.

“With the minds we’ve got here, why not utilize them?” Phillies hitting coach Steve Henderson said today.

Henderson will oversee the program and float among the hitting groups, which also will have groups coached by Minor League instructors Sal Rende, Andy Tracy and Dave Brundage.

“I’m going to make sure everything goes the way we want it to go,” Henderson said. “We’re trying instill what we want as an organization. I’ve never done this anywhere. But we’ve never had this type of guys to help.”

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