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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.”

Rollins to Return Saturday

Jimmy Rollins is expected to be back in the Phillies lineup tomorrow afternoon at Wrigley Field.

Rollins, who left the team Wednesday to be with his wife for the birth of their second child, had been penciled into today’s lineup, but shortly thereafter got scratched. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg called it an “internal miscommunication” on the organization’s part.

“Everything is fine,” Sandberg said. “He’ll be good to go. He’ll get in tonight and be in the lineup tomorrow.”

Jayson Nix replaced Rollins at shortstop.

The Phillies never placed Rollins on the paternity leave list, which would have allowed them to temporarily replace him on the roster. But options were limited with available players on the 40-man roster. One possibility would have been catcher Cameron Rupp, who could have been used for pinch-hitting purposes.

Rollins Takes Baby Time

Jimmy RollinsThe Phillies could be without Jimmy Rollins through the weekend.

He left the team today to be with his wife Johari in Philadelphia for the imminent birth of their second child. Rollins could be placed on the Major League Baseball’s paternity leave list as early as Friday. Teams have 48 hours to place the player on leave once the baby is born.

Players have up to three days of paternity leave.

“He had a reason to go today,” Ryne Sandberg said.

The Phillies played today’s series finale against the Rangers at Globe Life Park with 24 players. If and when they place Rollins on paternity leave, they would be allowed to replace him on the roster.

“When the baby is delivered we’ll go from there,” Sandberg said.

In the meantime, infielder Jayson Nix is expected to play shortstop while Rollins is out. Cesar Hernandez would only be played there in an emergency situation.

“He’s very steady, very professional, very polished infielder,” Sandberg said of Nix. “I heard good things about his glove, and after watching him take ground balls, he’s fundamentally sound. I’ve also been impressed with his batting practice, and his at-bats last night.”

The Bullpen’s Rocky Start

Mario HollandsYou knew the Phillies would not score 14 runs every night — they needed 81 games to reach 10+ runs in a game last season — and if they planned to win they would need to win close games like the one they lost last night.

It is why Ryne Sandberg drilled fundamentals into his players’ heads in Spring Training. It is why they said they valued versatility and defense when they finalized their bench.

The Phillies would need to play soundly to make up for any lack of pop offensively.

Of course, they also would need to pitch well.

It is just two games, but the Phillies bullpen isn’t off to a great start. They have allowed six hits, four runs, six walks and have struck out six in 6 1/3 innings. They have allowed three of six inherited runners to score. (They finished 29th in baseball last season, allowing 36.2 percent of inherited runners to score.) Sandberg already has leaned twice on left-handers Jake Diekman and Antonio Bastardo and right-hander B.J. Rosenberg. He also chose rookie left-hander Mario Hollands to face the top of the Rangers lineup in the bottom of the ninth last night rather than use one of his more experienced right-handers. Hollands, who was making his big league debut, walked two of the three batters he faced (the left-handed Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder) before Rosenberg entered and allowed the game-winning hit to Adrian Beltre.

“I’m just using the guys in the ‘pen,” Sandberg said, asked if he is experimenting to find the best relievers for the best roles. “They’re here for a reason. They’re here to pitch. … It’s not experimenting at all. It’s putting them in the best situations to pitch and be successful.”

Theoretically, Sandberg could have used a righty to face the bottom of the lineup in the eighth and have Bastardo pitch against the top of the lineup in the ninth, but he said he wanted his best reliever (other than closer Jonathan Papelbon) to keep the game tied with a chance to win in the ninth.

“Bastardo is our eighth-inning guy,” Sandberg said.

Rosenberg has allowed three of four inherited runners to score in his first two appearances. Brad Lincoln, who was a lock to make the bullpen before Spring Training opened in February, and Justin De Fratus are still looking for their first action.

“Coming out of Spring Training, he was throwing the best, as far as throwing strikes and doing the job as a seventh- or eighth-inning right-hander pitcher,” Sandberg said of Rosenberg.

Relievers are going to blow leads and blow games. It happens in every bullpen. But the margin for error for the Phillies is small. They will need an effective bullpen to have a chance this season. This isn’t the start they wanted.

Howard: Wherever My Name Is, There’s Where I’ll Hit

Ryan HowardRyan Howard had hit fourth every time he started a regular-season game for the Phillies since June 29, 2008, in Texas.

The streak ended at 665 games Tuesday at Globe Life Park.

Ryne Sandberg dropped Howard to fifth against Texas left-hander Martin Perez. Marlon Byrd hit fourth, splitting up the left-handed-hitting Chase Utley and Howard. Sandberg split the lefties with Byrd four times in Spring Training, a strong indication he would make the move in the regular season.

“He’s the manager,” Howard said. “I don’t make the lineup. Whatever the lineup is, that’s what the lineup is. As far as spots and stuff, wherever my name is, that’s where I’m supposed to hit.”

Sandberg made other platoon-type moves, playing John Mayberry Jr. in left field and Jayson Nix at third base instead of Domonic Brown and Cody Asche, respectively.

“I’ve talked with him about it,” Sandberg said about Howard. “I’ve talked to him a couple of times about that, the reasons for it. I noticed in the Spring Training games – I think he had four or five – two of those games he had two hits and he had one hit in the other. So he had some success there. The fifth spot is still an RBI spot with men on base. It’s a power spot. It’s still a good spot for him regardless.”

Howard deferred to the manager when asked about the change.

But does he have a preference?

“I don’t know,” he said.

There are reasons for the adjustment. The Phillies ranked 22nd in baseball last season against lefties with a .679 OPS, a number which must improve. Byrd had a .959 OPS against lefties last season, which ranked 13th out of 173 qualifying players in baseball. Meanwhile, Howard has a .602 OPS against lefties from 2011-14, which ranks 203 out of 213 qualifying players.

“Yeah, it’s noteworthy,” Howard said. “But at the same time … I’m not even going to go there. I really have nothing to say about it. I’m going to stay away from all of that. Just try to keep everything on the up and up. You say the wrong thing and then all of a sudden … people just misconstrue or whatever. That’s not what I want to have happen.”

Ryno Makes Changes to Lineup

lineupRyne Sandberg isn’t the type of manager to find a lineup and stick with it.

He made considerable changes to his lineup following Monday’s 14-10 victory over the Rangers at Globe Life Stadium.

He has Marlon Byrd hitting fourth between Chase Utley and Ryan Howard tonight against Rangers left-hander Martin Perez. That itself should not surprise people. Sandberg hit Byrd fourth several times in Spring Training. Byrd also had a .959 OPS against lefties last season, which ranked 13th out of 173 qualifying players in baseball. Meanwhile, Howard has a .602 OPS against lefties from 2011-14, which ranks 203 out of 213 qualifying players.

But the move is noteworthy because Howard had started 665 consecutive regular-season games in the cleanup spot. The last time he started a game and did not hit fourth? June 29, 2008, in Texas.

Pat Burrell hit fourth that afternoon.

Sandberg also has Cesar Hernandez playing second base with Utley the DH. John Mayberry Jr. is starting in left field, giving Domonic Brown a day off. That’s a platoon move. Brown’s career splits: .794 OPS vs. righties to .672 OPS vs. lefties. Mayberry’s career splits: .852 OPS vs. lefties to .668 OPS vs. righties.

Cody Asche, who had a big game yesterday, also takes a seat to Jayson Nix at third base. Nix has a career .727 OPS against lefties, compared to a .602 OPS against righties. Asche has a .629 OPS against lefties in his brief big-league career, compared to a .762 OPS agianst righties.

Interesting stuff …

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