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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.”

Ruf to Miss 4-6 Weeks

Darin RufDarin Ruf suffered a blow today when a MRI revealed he has between a Grade 1 and 2 strained left oblique.

He is expected to miss 4-6 weeks, which ends his chances of making the Opening Day roster.

Ruf said he had been feeling some tightness in his oblique for about a week, but he did not consider it anything serious, so he made no mention to the athletic training staff. He felt he would be fine if he simply took more time to warm up and stretch before workouts and games.

“It was one swing (Thursday during batting practice) that kind of took it to another level,” Ruf said.

Ruf could not help but think about the Opening Day roster implications after it happened. He had a good chance to make the team as a reserve outfielder/first baseman.

“Just when I was experiencing tightness that kind of crossed my mind,” Ruf said. “When that swing happened it was very disappointing.”

Chase Utley spent nearly a month on the disabled list last season with a strained oblique, and Carlos Ruiz spent three weeks on the DL in 2009 with the same injury.

Galvis, Ruf Down with Injuries

Freddy GalvisPhillies players are dropping like flies.

Freddy Galvis, who was a lock to the make the Opening Day roster as a utility infielder, is in the hospital with a staph infection. He had an abscess removed from his left knee earlier this week. He could miss at least 2-3 weeks.

Darin Ruf, who was a strong candidate to make the Opening Day roster as a reserve outfielder/first baseman, is scheduled to have a MRI today. He strained his left oblique while taking batting practice yesterday. Ruf is hopeful he can be back soon, but hitters typically need a couple weeks to recover from it.

Galvis and Ruf could join left-hander Cole Hamels and right-handers Mike Adams, Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez on a crowded disabled list with Opening Day just 10 days away.

The Galvis and Ruf setbacks have considerable implications for the Phillies bench. The Phillies have considered carrying a six-player bench the first couple weeks of the season as they only need four starting pitchers until April 14. If the Phillies still plan to carry six bench players they could carry outfielders Tony Gwynn Jr., Bobby Abreu and John Mayberry Jr.; infielders Kevin Frandsen and Ronny Cedeno; and catcher Wil Nieves.

Cedeno and Reid Brignac are both in camp fighting for a utility infield job. Cedeno might be the better bet at this point only because he is considered a better defensive player. Galvis is the best defensive infielder on the team, so they need somebody to try to replicate that.

Galvis had the abscess removed Wednesday, and he had hoped to rest for a couple days before trying to get back on the field this weekend. Ruf said he had been feeling some tightness in his oblique for about a week, but did not consider it anything serious. He felt he would be fine if he simply took more time to warm up and stretch before workouts and games.

“It was one swing that kind of took it to another level,” Ruf said. “We’ll see what the next few days bring. We’ll see if it gets back to a stage where I can play normally, if I get loose properly. Or if it’s something I’ll need to let heal completely. I don’t know.”

Ruf could not help but think about the Opening Day roster implications after it happened.

“Just when I was experiencing tightness that kind of crossed my mind,” he said. “When that swing happened it was very disappointing.”

Rollins Unfazed By Report

Phillies Player of the '00s: RollinsThe Phillies had just started batting practice this morning at Bright House Field, when Ruben Amaro Jr. called over Jimmy Rollins to a spot in shallow left field.

They spoke for a couple minutes with Amaro concluding the conversation with a pat on Rollins’ back.

Amaro and Rollins declined to discuss the conversation, but they most certainly were discussing an ESPN.com report yesterday that said there is strong sentiment within the Phillies organization that it would be better served trading Rollins as soon as possible. It followed Ryne Sandberg benching Rollins three consecutive games last week and offering a pointed “no comment” when asked about Rollins’ influence in the clubhouse this spring.

Rollins said he isn’t bothered by the report.

“Because I can’t be traded,” he said before leaving for Dunedin to play the Blue Jays. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t care which way it is tried to be twisted or said, or if it is exactly how it was said, or even if it was said, I can’t be traded. It doesn’t matter. If I was tradable it may have weight because that means I could be moving soon. But I am not tradable and so it doesn’t matter.”

Amaro repeatedly called any suggestion the Phillies want Rollins out “silly” or “silliness.”

“Absolute silliness,” he said. “Jimmy Rollins is our shortstop. One of the ways we’re going to be able to win is with Jimmy being Jimmy. … We have no intention of moving Jimmy. We need Jimmy to play for us to win. It’s as simple as that.”

Asked if he believes Rollins needs to be a better leader or if that is an issue, Amaro said, “I don’t have any issues at all with Jimmy.”

It must be noted the Phillies have explored trading Rollins the previous two Trade Deadlines and again this past offseason, just like there are some that have grown weary of things like Rollins not running hard to first base, etc., so the idea the Phillies would trade Rollins at the right time with the right opportunity is correct. But Rollins has stated multiple times over the past year he has absolutely no intentions of waiving his 10-and-5 trade rights.

He is not going anywhere.

Rollins said he is not troubled that somebody could be trying to make him look bad.

“It might be a little late for that,” Rollins said. “That’s probably happened years ago. You’re persecuted long before the day you’re sentenced. You’re already found guilty or innocent by the people, so it’s a little late for that.

“Everybody wants to be loved or liked. But good or bad, right or wrong, people are going to love you and some are going to hate you regardless. You can’t change their opinions to swing either way.”

Amaro reiterated several times the Phillies need Rollins to play and play well if they expect to return to the postseason for the first time since 2011. But one thing that could be a distraction to Rollins is if he believes the front office doesn’t like him.

“Nobody, there’s nobody that is upset with Jimmy,” Amaro said. “Jimmy Rollins is our shortstop. I’m happy to have him. Like I said, we need to have Jimmy be as good as he possibly can be for us to win.”

Rollins had the worst season of his career last year. He said he isn’t worried the hammer is being dropped because he is not performing like he had in the past.

“That’s OK,” he said. “Am I coming off a bad year? Yes, that part is true. I’ve never hid from the truth. That’s OK. They can’t be harder on me than I am on myself. It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK. I’m looking forward to a great year.”

Hamels Takes Another Step

Cole HamelsCole Hamels called this a big week, and Wednesday represented another step forward for him.

He threw a 40-pitch bullpen session in the morning at Bright House Field. If he feels OK Thursday, he is expected to throw to hitters in a live batting practice session Saturday. He said he expects to throw one more live BP after that before potentially pitching in a game.

“It went really well,” Hamels said. “I’m pleased, being able to build my pitch count, getting the reps I need. I was able to get a lot of pitches out of the stretch, and I introduced the windup, which I haven’t done since last year. Getting familiar with that again and being able to build the reps from there, it’s obviously a step in the right direction.”

Hamels is weeks behind schedule and will open the season on the disabled list. He suffered inflammation in his left shoulder in November, which halted his normal offseason throwing and strengthening programs. He appeared to be recovering nicely earlier this month, when he suffered a setback, saying his arm felt fatigued.

Hamels said he has most of his total body strength back – about 90 percent in his estimations – which will allow him to continue without further setbacks.

“It’s that last 10 percent that really takes a little bit longer,” Hamels said. “But at the same time when you’re able to get it, it’s there. It’s there for the long haul. We’ve been staying on the safe side. I think seeing how I’ve been able to feel, how I’ve been able to respond, we can get a little more aggressive. Ultimately, we’ll always be cautious and on the safe side to get ready for games.”

The Rollins Drama

Rollins: We'll Win 100 GamesIs this just the beginning of the Jimmy Rollins drama?

ESPN’s Buster Olney had a very interesting tweet and story today about Rollins, who was benched three consecutive games last week because Ryne Sandberg had a problem with him:

Olney then noted, “Jimmy Rollins, of course, cannot be traded without his consent, because he has 10-5 rights.”

Yes, there are folks who have grown tired of Rollins. But then the Phillies also signed him to a three-year, $33 million extension following the 2011 season, despite no evidence any other team in baseball offered him more than a one-year deal. Rollins’ deal includes an easily attainable club option for 2015, which essentially makes this a four-year, $44 million contract. The Phillies handed him this contract, despite knowing his shortcomings, knowing they had Freddy Galvis waiting in the wings and knowing Rollins’ production had declined the previous three seasons. His .720 OPS from 2009-11 ranked 144th out of 181 qualifying players, and 14th out of 25 qualifying shortstops.

They committed big money to him anyway.

Two important things to remember here:

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Phils Acquire Hill for Minor League Depth

The Phillies acquired catcher Koyie Hill from the Nationals today in exchange for cash or a player to be named later.

He will report to Minor League camp, where he is expected to be a backup at the upper levels. Cameron Rupp is expected to receive regular playing time this season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, while Tommy Joseph is expected to see the same with Double-A Reading. Wil Nieves will be Carlos Ruiz’s backup in the big leagues.

The Phillies recently released Lou Marson, who came to camp as a non-roster invitee on a Minor League deal. Hill provides the Phillies some veteran depth.

Hill, selected by the Dodgers in the fourth round of the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, has played 331 games in the Majors over 10 seasons with four teams: the Dodgers, D-Backs, Marlins and Cubs. He signed as a free agent with the Nationals early last month.

The veteran catcher has hit .206 (192-for-930) in his career.

Big Week for Hamels

Ryne Sandberg, A.J. Burnett, Cole HamelsCheck back later this week, but Cole Hamels brimmed with confidence following today’s bullpen session at Citizens Bank Park.

He threw 27 pitches at about 70 percent as he recovers from a left shoulder issue that put him several weeks behind schedule. Hamels said he hopes to throw again Wednesday, then hopefully face hitters after that.

“I was really thoroughly impressed with the way I’ve been feeling all week,” he said. “The past couple days with recovering and still being able to maintain the exercises and the strength program without any hiccups or even having to take it back a notch, I’ve really been able to bounce back really well.”

Keep in mind Hamels seemed to be progressing nicely earlier this month before he suffered a setback. His arm felt fatigued as a result of pushing too hard too fast and being unable to build strength as he would during a typical offseason.

He indicated this time is different.

“Ultimately, my strength is now there,” he said. “I can throw at the distance I know I’m capable of throwing. I could probably throw more. Having that and throwing with the right type of intensity, then it leads right into the mound.

“The plan is to go Wednesday. A pen. And then, from there, get right into batting practice. So, I’m really looking forward to this week. This is going to be a big week, with some big stepping stones. I know with everything we’ve been able to do, the way I’ve been able to recover and gain the strength necessary to do it, I’m really pleased.”

Rollins Comments on Ryno’s No Comment

Jimmy RollinsJimmy Rollins spoke to reporters this morning following Ryne Sandberg’s interesting “no comment” yesterday, when asked about the positivity and energy he has brought this spring. Rollins has not played since Monday. He was in Tuesday’s lineup, but was scratched that morning. He did not play yesterday and he is not in the lineup today.

Rollins is healthy.

Here is some of what he said this morning:

Q: Why do you think you’re not in the lineup today? It’s unusual for a starter.
A: Yeah, I don’t know. You’ll have to go ask the manager. I don’t write the lineup.

Q: Do you think it’s unusual, though?
A: Oh, it is unusual. Yes, but I’m not going to try to second guess or predict or come up with a reason why.

Q: So yesterday Sandberg is asked about Freddy Galvis. He says he loves his positivity and energy. The next question is how has Jimmy been in that regard this spring? He gives a no comment. What do you make of that? Does that bother you?
A: Well, everyone is allowed to have their own opinion. It doesn’t make it right, but he’s the manager so he gets to have the last say.

Q: What’s your relationship with Ryne so far?
A: It’s good. We talk. Except for the last two days we talk every day. We talk about baseball behind the cage when we’re doing our hitting drills. I let people challenge me throughout situations and have fun. No one has a problem with that.

Q: When would you want to talk with Ryno about this?
A: Whenever he comes to me.

Q: Do you think there’s a method to this? Do you think he’s trying to light a fire under you or something?
A: I don’t know. I don’t know. There’s no fire that needs to be lit, though. Never has been, especially when things count.

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