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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 …

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.

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