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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 …

Asche Makes First Opener Memorable

Shawn Tolleson, Cody AscheThe Phillies sent Maikel Franco to Minor League camp on March 22, which guaranteed Cody Asche would be the Phillies’ Opening Day third baseman. (Truth be told, it was going to take a miracle for him not to be the starter.)

Asche said at the time he wouldn’t believe it until he saw his name in the lineup.

It was there as expected today at Globe Life Stadium. He went 3-for-4 with a double, home run, walk and two RBIs in a 14-10 victory over the Rangers. Ben Revere and Chase Utley also picked up three hits in the victory, with Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd also hitting home runs.

The Phillies couldn’t have written the script much better, other than Cliff Lee not giving up seven runs through five innings. Asche’s couldn’t have been much better, either.

“I would compare it a little bit to that first day in the big leagues,” Asche said of his day. “It’s a new experience I’ve never had before. I’ve never played or started in an Opening Day game. Not really knowing what to expect, a lot of jitters and excitement, which is always good.”

Rollins’ Big Day

Jimmy RollinsJimmy Rollins today made a record-setting 14th consecutive Opening Day start for the Phillies.

It set a National League record for shortstops with 14 consecutive Opening Day starts for the same franchise. Cincinnati’s Dave Concepcion held the previous mark with 13. Rollins also tied Baltimore’s Cal Ripken Jr. for the big league record. Ripken started 14 straight from 1983-96.

“It’s cool,” Rollins said after a 14-10 victory over the Rangers at Globe Life Park. “I don’t think too much of it. If I’m on the team, I expect to be out there.”

Rollins then hit the 200th homer of his career in the second inning, a grand slam to hand the Phillies a 6-0 lead. He is the 19th player in baseball history to have 400 or more doubles, 100 or more triples and 200 or more home runs in a career. Fifteen of the first 18 players are in the Hall of Fame, including Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx, Stan Musial, Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, George Brett, Robin Yount and Paul Molitor.

“Oh yeah, I knew that,” Rollins said of the milestone. “I remember growing up going to Oakland A’s games and looking at the size of Mark McGwire and I was like, ‘I’m not going to hit too many home runs. I’ll hit a few, but I could play there (in the big leagues).’ Going back to that, I guess I proved myself wrong.”

Rollins’ next homer will be his 200th as a shortstop, as one of his homers came as a pinch-hitter.

Some wondered if Rollins would make the Opening Day lineup. He is on baby watch, with his wife expecting their second child in the coming days. Rollins did not travel with the team from Philadelphia to Texas on Saturday, instead arriving Sunday night. If Rollins’ wife goes into labor, he is expected to leave the team. Major League Baseball allows players three days of paternity leave, which Rollins used with the birth of his first child in May 2012.

“I stayed an extra day because I didn’t want to fly here and fly back if something happened,” Rollins said. “I wanted to be there. The baby let me go out there and play ball for a few more days.”

Mike Schmidt holds the Phillies’ record for consecutive Opening Day starts at any position, with 16 at third base from 1974-89.

Phillies Place 6 on DL

Cole HamelsThe Phillies on Friday afternoon announced they have placed six players on the 15-day disabled list:

  • Right-hander Mike Adams, recovering from right shoulder surgery (retroactive to March 26).
  • Infielder Freddy Galvis, left knee infection (retroactive to March 21).
  • Right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, right shoulder tendinitis (retroactive to March 21).
  • Left-hander Cole Hamels, left biceps tendinitis (retroactive to March 21).
  • Right-hander Ethan Martin, right shoulder inflammation (retroactive to March 21).
  • Outfielder/first baseman Darin Ruf, left oblique strain (retroactive to March 21).

Adams hopes he can rejoin the Phillies bullpen by April 15. Galvis, who is recovering from MRSA, could be back by the middle of the month, too.

The Phillies have indicated Hamels could rejoin the rotation before the end of April.

The Phillies said on March 21 that Ruf could miss 4-6 weeks. Martin just started throwing, and Ruben Amaro Jr. said recently Gonzalez could be a candidate for the 60-day DL to give them flexibility for the 40-man roster.

Frandsen Is Gone, Opts for Free Agency

Kevin FrandsenKevin Frandsen figured he no longer fit into the Phillies’ immediate plans when they outrighted him Sunday.

He had 72 hours to accept his Minor League assignment or he could become a free agent. He opted today for free agency, forfeiting a guaranteed $900,000 contract.

“A little bit,” said Ruben Amaro Jr., asked if he was surprised Frandsen elected free agency. “It’s his right as the rules go. As we told him when we talked to him about taking him off the roster, he had an opportunity to still make our club. We just wanted to try to give ourselves some flexibility. But that’s his choice, that’s his right and it’s part of the process.”

Frandsen led the big leagues with 14 pinch-hits last season. He also hit .353 with a .920 OPS the past two seasons against left-handers. A popular player in the Phillies clubhouse, the front office outrighted him because it felt it needed to create 40-man roster flexibility for impending moves.

It seemed a certainty Frandsen would be back with the Phillies at some point this season, but he apparently felt he had a better opportunity elsewhere. Regardless, he seems likely to take a pay cut. He cleared waivers Sunday, meaning none of the 29 teams wanted to pick him up at $900,000.

It leaves the Phillies even thinner in the infield. Freddy Galvis will open the season on the disabled list as he recovers from MRSA. They just released Ronny Cedeno today.

Cedeno Released, Look at Bench Options

Ronny CedenoThe Phillies created a little more intrigue to their bench jobs battle today.

They announced they had released infielder Ronny Cedeno, who seemed like the leading internal candidate to take Freddy Galvis’ spot on the 25-man roster while he recovers from MRSA. The Phillies had until Tuesday to place Cedeno on the 25-man roster, pay him a $100,000 retention bonus to play in Triple-A or release him.

The move indicates the Phillies believe they have a better option elsewhere.

“We’re still looking inside and outside the organization as far as filling that role,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “But we have candidates. We have guys internally and there are some guys we’re looking at outside the organization as well.”

Reid Brignac and Cesar Hernandez remain the only utility infielders in big-league camp, but Brignac is not necessarily regarded as a glove guy, although Rays manager Joe Maddon praised his defense in the past, and Hernandez hasn’t played shortstop since he was 17 in 2007. Infielder Kevin Frandsen also opted for free agency today after the Phillies outrighted him Sunday, which hurts their overall infield depth. The Phillies said he still had a chance to make the team, although he would not have filled the bill as a defensive shortstop.

 

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Decision Day Near for Abreu

Bobby AbreuThe Phillies have until Wednesday to make a decision on Bobby Abreu.

They must add him to their Opening Day roster or he can ask for his release. Technically, the Phillies don’t have to finalize their 25-man roster until 3 p.m. Sunday, but they essentially need to tell Abreu in good faith whether he is in their plans. If he is, he must be added to the 40-man roster.

“I’ve done everything I could,” Abreu said this morning at Bright House Field. “It’s a decision that’s not in my hands. I just have to go into the field and do my best. That’s it. But I’m not really thinking about it right now. I just have to wait and see what happens.”

Abreu, who will make $800,000 this season if he makes the big leagues, is hitting .257 (9-for-35) with three doubles, one triple, one RBI, nine walks and four strikeouts. He has a .422 on-base percentage and an .822 OPS. That might be enough to make the team, but Abreu has been slowed this week because of a sore left shoulder. He said he tweaked it swinging the bat.

He said he hopes to play tomorrow.

“It’s not a big deal,” he said. “It’s just a little sore.”

But there is much more than offense when it comes to determining Abreu’s future. He has to show some competence in right field to earn a spot. Reviews have not been glowing.

“So far he’s been OK,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said.

Is he a liability out there?

“I wouldn’t say so,” Ryne Sandberg said. “Not in a part-time, spot start.”

Abreu’s chances obviously improve if the Phillies carry a six-man bench to start the season, but that remains to be seen. Here is my best guess on a six-man bench: catcher Wil Nieves; infielders Ronny Cedeno and Cesar Hernandez; outfielders Tony Gwynn Jr., John Mayberry Jr., and Abreu. Reid Brignac also is in camp. He could take an infield spot, but I think the Phillies take Cedeno over him because he is a considered a better defensive shortstop. I think they take Hernandez over him because he already is on the 40-man roster, they can option him to Triple-A when Freddy Galvis returns, he is a switch-hitter and he runs well.

If the Phillies carry a five-man bench things might get trickier for Abreu. I think Gwynn is a lock based on his play and versatility. Mayberry, although the Phillies have been trying to trade him for months, is relatively safe because they need a right-handed hitter with power. Darin Ruf would have provided that, but he will miss 4-6 weeks with the strained left oblique.

Stay tuned …

Frandsen Outrighted

Kevin FrandsenIn a surprise move, the Phillies announced today they have outrighted infielder Kevin Frandsen to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Frandsen has 72 hours to accept or reject the assignment. If he accepts it he will remain in camp with what Ruben Amaro Jr. said is an opportunity to still make the Opening Day roster. If he rejects it, he becomes a free agent. But if Frandsen becomes a free agent, he gives up the guaranteed $900,000 contract he signed in December, which would be a considerable risk. Yes, he would be free to sign with any team, but he just cleared waivers, meaning 29 teams passed on the opportunity to claim him, put him on their 40-man roster and pay him $900,000.

It leaves the Phillies with 37 players on the 40-man roster.

“We’re in a situation now with many of the injuries that have happened and the things that have occurred this spring to try and create some roster space for us,” Amaro said. “That’s what we’ve done. We still think he can be a valuable part of our club. But he’s competing. Just like he was before, he continues to compete for a job on the bench.”

“We can add him back,” assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said.

It would be unusual for a team to outright a player from the roster then put him back on the roster in less than a week — Opening Day rosters must be finalized by 3 p.m. Eastern Sunday — but that is the situation Frandsen faces. Freddy Galvis will open the season on the disabled list with MRSA, which leaves Ronny Cedeno, Reid Brignac, Cesar Hernandez and Frandsen (if he stays) competing for utility infield jobs. Darin Ruf, like Galvis, also seemed likely to make the Opening Day roster, but he will open the season on the DL with a strained left oblique.

Cedeno and Brignac are not on the 40-man roster. Cedeno must be added to the roster by Tuesday, or he can ask for his release. If he decides to stay in the organization he receives a $100,000 retention bonus. Tony Gwynn Jr. and Bobby Abreu also seem likely to make the roster. Abreu must be added to the roster by Wednesday or he can ask for his release.

There are some pitchers that also might be added to the 40-man roster: Shawn Camp, Mario Hollands, Jeff Manship and David Buchanan.

Frandsen led the big leagues with 14 pinch-hits last season. He also his .353 with a .920 OPS the past two seasons against left-handers. He has hit .206 (7-for-34) with two RBIs, six strikeouts and a .412 OPS this spring.

Asche Wins Third Base Battle

Cody AscheCody Asche will be the Phillies’ Opening Day third baseman.

Ryne Sandberg did not exactly say it this afternoon following a 5-3 loss to the Pirates at McKechnie Field, but there is no other way to look at it. The Phillies announced this morning they had reassigned third baseman Maikel Franco, right-hander Sean O’Sullivan and outfielder Clete Thomas to Minor League camp.

The Phillies had billed Asche/Franco as a competition to be their third baseman.

Franco is gone, Asche remains.

“Uh, yeah,” Sandberg said, when asked about Asche as the Opening Day third baseman. “Well, I think it’s a combination of two things. Franco goes and gets seasoning and gets at-bats and works on things, probably more on the offensive side, shortening up his swing and getting some better line drive-type of contact. Now Cody plays in these games and gets ready for the start of the season and then we go from there.”

While the Phillies touted this as a true competition, the reality is Franco would have had to completely outplay Asche to have any shot at the job. Asche impressed the Phillies in 50 games late last season, while Franco has not played above Double-A.

Franco hit .184 (7-for-38) with two RBIs, two walks and six strikeouts in 16 games. After starting the spring 0-for-13, Asche has hit .250 (7-for-28) with two doubles, three home runs and six RBIs. He had started to come around earlier this spring, but got hit in the hand with a pitch, which set him back.

“I had kind of a tough go at it in the first two weeks and I was started getting comfortable and then got hit in the hand,” Asche said. “I had to sit for two days and you have to start over when you should be at a point of progression. I had to work through that for a little bit and I have been pretty happy with my last five to seven games with the at-bats I have had.”

Asked about being in the Opening Day lineup, Asche said, “Until my name is on the lineup card Day 1, it’s anybody’s job still. I can’t take anything for granted, whoever is down or whoever is here.”

Hamels’ Latest Step

Cole Hamels remains about a month behind schedule, but the Phillies hope he could rejoin the rotation before the end of April.

He threw a live batting practice session this morning at Bright House Field. He threw two simulated innings of 15 pitches each. He said earlier this week he would throw two BP sessions before he pitched in a game.

“I feel great,” Hamels said. “Just all the progressions I’ve been able to make for the last week and a half have definitely been positive. … I think we’re just looking kind of how I respond in the next couple days and getting bullpen reps and seeing where and what they want to do.”

Hamels opened camp in February about two weeks behind schedule because of inflammation in his left shoulder. He had been progressing nicely once he started throwing again, until he suffered a setback March 1, saying he felt fatigue in his left arm. That pushed him back further, but since he restarted his throwing program recently he has been fine.

“Oh, of course,” said Hamels, asked if he is more optimistic he could be back earlier than he thought two weeks ago.

Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure seemed encouraged with what he saw Saturday.

“Ball was coming out of his hand really well,” he said. “Crisp, real clean. Didn’t hold back on any pitches. Had velocity and life. I was really happy with it. He’s had no issues of late. I don’t expect any either. We’re pretty stoked about it.”

If Hamels can rejoin the rotation before the end of April it would be a big boost for the Phillies. They need plenty of things to be close to perfect to compete this season.

“If everything goes as scheduled, I would think towards the end of the month there,” McClure said of Hamels’ potential return. “Somewhere in the last week, I would think so.”

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