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Galvis Up, Hernandez Down

Freddy GalvisThe Phillies activated Freddy Galvis from the 15-day disabled list today.

They optioned Cesar Hernandez to Double-A Reading to make room for him on the 25-man roster.

Galvis had been a lock to make the Opening Day roster, until he picked up MRSA in March. He is the team’s most versatile and best defensive player. I’m guessing Hernandez is headed to Double-A so he can move around the infield a bit more. He needs to learn to play shortstop and third base to get him to stick in the big leagues.

It Gets Harder from Here

Jose FernandezThis is the challenge the Phillies face tonight.

Following four consecutive losses by four or more runs, the Phillies must step into the batter’s box tonight at Citizens Bank Park and try to beat Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, who went 1-0 with a 0.50 ERA in three starts against them last season, striking out 16 batters in 18 innings and holding them to a .359 OPS.

Fernandez has been dominant in his first two starts this year: eight hits, one run, two walks and 17 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings.

If the Phillies can’t crack the Hernandez code they will fall to 3-7. But it’s early, right? I’ve been reminded the 2007 Phillies opened the season 4-11 before winning the National League East. But a few things to remember there: the Phillies needed to finish 13-4 and the Mets needed to finish 5-12 to make it happen. It also took the Phillies until May 16 to get back to .500, and that team had the best offense in the National League and three MVP-caliber players in their prime in Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. This team can’t say that. Perhaps when Cole Hamels returns the Phillies can say they have a formidable 1-2-3 punch atop their rotation, but they still need nights when they can string together a bunch of hits.

Ask Cliff Lee, who has had some of the worst run support in baseball since resigning with the Phillies in Dec. 2010.

The Phillies have hit just .243 with a .317 on-base percentage since they scored 14 runs Opening Day against the Rangers. They have hit just .203 with runners in scoring position in that stretch. But this has been a team effort. In their last four games, the pitching staff has a 5.91 ERA, which doesn’t include the 10 unearned runs they have allowed. The bullpen has allowed 60 percent (6 of 10) of its inherited runners to score this season, which is the second-worst mark in baseball.

I’ve heard countless baseball people say pennants can’t be won in April, but they can be lost. The Phillies entered the season with a very small margin for error. They don’t want to bury themselves too deep too quickly, but a 3-7 start would have them on the way.

Sloppy Times, Sign of Times?

Ryne SandbergMaybe the Phillies need more pregame drills and pitching talks.

It’s doubtful actually. The Phillies are on the field before every game, working on fundamentals. They’re constantly talking to their pitchers about how to attack hitters. But their last three games have been a nightmare for a manager that stressed fundamentals and clean play throughout Spring Training. The Phillies have allowed 10 unearned runs in their last three games to fall to 3-5. They lost their home opener Tuesday, 10-3, and their second home game last night, 9-4.

Elias Sports Bureau said it is the first time the Phillies have lost their first two home games allowing nine or more runs in each game since 1929 at Baker Bowl.

A closer look at some ugly numbers:

  • The Phillies lead baseball with 10 unearned runs. No other team in baseball has more than seven (Padres and Marlins).
  • Elias Sports Bureau found it is the first time the Phillies have allowed 10 or more unearned runs in three consecutive games since they allowed 10 from July 26-29, 2008. Interestingly, the Phillies went 3-0 in those games while they went 0-3 in these three.
  • They are fourth in baseball with nine errors. Only the Dodgers, Marlins and Rangers have more with 11.
  • Since they scored 14 runs on Opening Day, the Phillies are averaging 3.57 runs per game, which is 21st in baseball.
  • They are 25th with a .197 average with runners in scoring position since Opening Day.

You hate to say the ninth game of the season is a must win, but if the Phillies lose tonight with Cliff Lee on the mound, A.J. Burnett will be asked to outpitch Marlins ace Jose Fernandez tomorrow night. Fernandez went 1-0 with a 0.50 ERA in three starts last season against the Phillies, striking out 16 batters in 18 innings and holding them to a .359 OPS. Fernandez has been dominant in his first two starts this season: eight hits, one run, two walks and 17 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings. If the Phillies play anywhere close to the way they’ve played the last three games against Fernandez tomorrow night they’ve got no chance.

“It’s possible early-season stuff, but we’re still in the process of ironing that stuff out and continuing to work at it and stress it, that’s for sure,” Ryne Sandberg said.

Boo Braun?

Ryan Braun, Carlos GomezSo, what should Phillies fans do to Ryan Braun tonight at Citizens Bank Park? They booed him yesterday, and he responded with three home runs.

“I love it,” Braun said about the boos. “It’s great. Seriously. As a competitor, I really do enjoy it. For all of us, it’s a challenging game, a long season, and playing in an atmosphere and environment like this is certainly something that’s motivating. … I try to use it to my advantage. As a competitor, the more hostile environment, the more enjoyable it can be. Just focus on the things I can control. I try to prepare myself every day to be successful. It’s great when we’re coming into these places and winning games; I think here and Boston are two of the most challenging places in baseball to come into and win games.”

Hamels Could Be Back Soon

Cole Hamels, Kevin YoukilisCole Hamels could rejoin the Phillies rotation a little earlier than expected.

He made a rehab start Sunday with Class A Clearwater, throwing about 65 pitches. He said he believes he will be ready to pitch in the big leagues once he builds to 90 pitches. He might need just two more rehab starts to hit that number. If that is the case, he will make rehab starts Friday and April, which would put him on course to pitch for the Phillies on April 21 or 22.

“I feel really good,” he said today at Citizens Bank Park. “My strength is definitely increasing. Just building up, getting out there, getting the reps in. Being able to throw all five pitches, is truly a good test. Because you’re going against guys that are competitive, they’re swinging. So you have to throw strikes and you have to execute pitches. But everything went really well. Health-wise, I feel really great.

“I believe the big test is the pitch count. If I’m able to get 90 pitches, I know that I’m game ready. Because that gives me enough pitches and enough reps with my pitches to be able to go out there and have the confidence I can throw, especially to big league guys. … There’s nothing lingering. I’m ready to go and they’re letting me go. And I think that’s where we’re really going, we’re playing it by ear, where we have the proper structure and they’re not pushing me too fast, too quickly. And i think everything is going really well.”

Utley Out with Flu

home opener 2014Chase Utley got sent home from the ballpark today because of the flu.

That’s a blow to the Phillies lineup. Utley entered the day leading the National League with a 1.369 OPS.

Cesar Hernandez will play second. Carlos Ruiz will hit third.

Home Opener Postponed to Tuesday

Nationals Phillies BaseballThe Phillies have postponed Monday’s home opener at Citizens Bank Park because of a forecast for “considerable rain.”

The game against the Brewers has been moved to Tuesday at 4:05 p.m. ET, when the weather is supposed to be better.

“It makes sense to me with the clean weather after that,” Ryne Sandberg said following Sunday’s 8-3 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field. “Especially Opening Day. That’s always a big deal. To have that misfire and not be a big deal would be disappointing to everybody. I think it’s smart, very smart. I’m totally on board with it.”

The Phillies said tickets for Monday will be honored for Tuesday, which was an open date on the Phillies’ schedule to accommodate the possibility of inclement weather. All gates, including Ashburn Alley, will open at 1:35 p.m.

Phillies right-hander Kyle Kendrick remains scheduled to start the home opener, but the postponement affects the team’s starting-pitching plans later in the week. The Phillies now need a fifth starter Saturday instead of next Sunday.

Ruben Amaro Jr. mentioned two choices: right-hander Jonathan Pettibone or right-hander David Buchanan, who was one of Spring Training’s best performers. Pettibone pitched Sunday afternoon for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, allowing four hits, three runs, one walk and striking out two in five innings against Pawtucket. Buchanan is scheduled to pitch Tuesday. He allowed two hits, two walks and struck out five in six scoreless innings last week against Pawtucket. Right-hander Jeff Manship is in the Phillies’ bullpen. He also had a nice spring and has started in the past.

“We’ll have some conversations about that,” Sandberg said.

If Buchanan pitches, he would be pitching on short rest.

“It wouldn’t be ideal, but we could,” Amaro said.

“That could be a tough task,” Sandberg said. “But we’ll see how we manage that and see what the smart thing to do is and who the best candidate would be. We have a couple guys in mind. We’ll have conversations.”

If the Phillies decide to pitch Buchanan on short rest, they also would need to place him on the 40-man roster. The roster is currently at its limit, so they would need to make room for him.

The Phillies said home opener pregame festivities, including the Citizens Bank Way Opening Day Party and on-field performances, will take place Tuesday. The Citizens Bank Way Opening Day Party will now begin at 1 p.m. Standing room only tickets will go on sale at noon Tuesday at the first-base ticket windows. The game will be broadcast live on MLB.TV and NBC10 and will air on WPHT (1210 AM), SportsRadio 94 WIP (94.1 FM) and in Spanish on WTTM (1680 AM).

Utley’s Hot Start

Chase UtleyCubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija had a rough afternoon Saturday against Chase Utley, but he should not feel alone.

Utley finished Sunday’s series finale against the Cubs at Wrigley Field hitting .458 (11-for-24) with three doubles, two home runs, six RBIs and a 1.369 OPS. He entered the afternoon ranked third in the National League in batting average, total bases (18) and slugging percentage (.857).

“He’s right on the dish, he has a short swing and he loves the ball in,” said Samardzija, who allowed a home run, single and walk to Utley. “As a pitcher, it puts you in a tough spot right off the bat. You need to attack him right away and see how his approach is. To know his power zone is in and he’s on top of the dish, he covers the plate, not to mention, he has a great eye. You add that together and you have one tough out, especially when he’s healthy. He’s a good player, man. The more times you get him out, the better you can navigate around their lineup.”

Utley hit the 300th double of his career Saturday, which is eighth on the franchise list. He is just the third player in Phillies history to collect 300 doubles, 200 home runs, 800 RBIs and 100 stolen bases, joining Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt and teammate Jimmy Rollins.

Utley picked up the 814th RBI of his career in Sunday’s 8-3 loss, which moved him into a tie with Bobby Abreu for 10th place on the franchise’s all-time list.

Pap Rides Space Mountain Again

Jonathan Papelbon,  Cliff LeeJonathan Papelbon’s fastball never hit more than 91 mph in the ninth inning today at Wrigley Field, but he threw a clean inning to pick up his first save of the season and bury the nightmare of Wednesday’s blown save in Texas.

“This is what I chose to do,” he said following the 2-0 victory over the Cubs. “I take the ups with the downs. For some reason I enjoy it. I don’t know why. It’s a roller coaster ride. I liked Space Mountain as a kid, you know what I’m saying?”

Ryne Sandberg said Wednesday that Papelbon needed to mix his pitches better, which he said was addressed in between appearances. He said he noticed some improvement today.

It will be important moving forward. In the past, Papelbon could rear back and blow a 95 mph fastball past hitters.

Not anymore.

“I think I need to do more pitching,” Papelbon acknowledged. “If that’s what that means, yeah. The longer and longer I pitch I think the more and more I learn, so sometimes I need to be a pitcher more than a thrower. I get into that mode sometimes, just going out there and throw by guys or throw a pitch without a certain intent.

“You know, as the season goes on, hopefully my velo will be able to increase. I think everybody usually hits their peak around June. But right now I’m going to focus on just pitching.”

Ryno Likes Big Piece’s Start

Ryan Howard, Cody AscheRyne Sandberg said he is encouraged with what he has seen this week from Ryan Howard.

Howard is hitting .294 (5-for-17) with one double, one home run, three RBIs and two walks with eight strikeouts. He put up those numbers despite facing three left-handed starting pitchers in the season’s first four games. (Howard had a .604 OPS against left-handers from 2011-13, which was 249th out of 269 qualifying hitters) Howard’s extra-base hits and every RBI have come against a lefty in big situations. His single to right field in the fourth inning Friday against Cubs left-hander Travis Wood advanced Marlon Byrd from first to third. Byrd scored the Phillies’ first run in a 7-2 victory on an infield single from Domonic Brown.

The only issue is Howard’s swings and misses at pitches outside the strike zone. Eight strikeouts in 17 at-bats are a lot.

(It also means Howard is 5-for-9 when he puts the ball in play.)

“I liked the aggressiveness in his swings,” Sandberg said. “I think there is more bat speed. That’s come a long way since the middle part of Spring Training. With that being said, when he gets a pitch in the zone with that swing, he can do some damage for us. He just needs to concentrate on making them come to him. There are some bats behind him. Take some walks if they give them. Ball in the zone, he can make something happen.”

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