So Who Exactly Is Healthy In Phillies Rotation?

Jerome WilliamsPerhaps Roy Halladay could give the Phillies a few innings.

The Phillies scratched right-hander Jerome Williams from today’s start against the Rays at Bright House Field after “tweaking” his right hamstring earlier this week. The Phillies said he is considered day to day.

That leaves just two healthy starting pitchers in camp with previous experience in the Phillies rotation: Cole Hamels and David Buchanan, who started today.

Cliff Lee’s season and career is essentially finished, despite the fact he said he will try to rehabilitate a torn tendon in his left elbow a third time. Aaron Harang has missed two of his first three Grapefruit League starts because of back issues. He is scheduled to pitch Thursday.

The remaining healthy starters in camp include right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, who converted to a reliever last season because of questions about his durability as a starter; left-hander Joely Rodriguez; who has never pitched above Double-A; right-hander Kevin Slowey, who is a non-roster invitee; and Paul Clemens, who is a non-roster invitee.

Right-hander Chad Billingsley could be a candidate at some point, but he is recovering from a pair of elbow surgeries and is not expected to be ready until late April.

Lee’s Career on Life Support

Cliff LeeCliff Lee’s triumphant return to Philadelphia in December 2010 preceded a memorable press conference two months later at Bright House Field, where the Phillies introduced the Four Aces to a national audience.

Lee spoke that afternoon about multiple World Series championships.

He spoke in that same room this afternoon about the miracle he needs to save his career, and a five-year, $120 million contract that will end without the championship he wanted. Lee has been placed on the 60-day disabled list following a second failed attempt to rehabilitate from a torn common flexor tendon in his left elbow.

Despite the fact a handful of doctors have recommended surgery Lee will try to rehab a third time.

It is the longest of long shots.

“It’s fairly likely that it will remain the same,” Lee conceded.

Surgery would require six-to-eight months of rehab, which would end his season. Lee indicated he has little interest in surgery or rehabbing from it, and he cannot be forced to have it because doctors recommended it. But Lee also has $37.5 million remaining on his contract, including a $25 million salary this season and a $12.5 million buyout on a 2016 club option.

Lee, 36, cannot simply walk away. He cannot retire without forfeiting his contract.

There is no chance that will happen. Lee must show intent to pitch again.

The Phillies at least have insurance on Lee’s contract, although how much is unknown. But they will recoup some of his salary because it is the same injury as the one that forced him to the 60-day disabled list last July.

That should soften the blow financially, but Lee’s injury is crippling to the organization because they hoped he could return healthy and eventually trade him to a contender for a prospect or two to speed up their rebuilding process.

Those hopes are gone.

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BREAKING: Halladay Fan Still a Mystery

halladay tshirtRoy Halladay dropped into Phillies camp today, and I really wanted to ask him one question:

Did the guy in the Halladay t-shirt ever come forward?

Some background: Halladay on Jan. 11 tweeted a photo of himself at Busch Gardens, smiling and giving the thumbs up while standing behind a man in a red Halladay t-shirt. The man didn’t recognize him, so Halladay tweeted, “Oopps you missed me! Walked right by me! Hope he gets to see his pic with me on Twitter, he doesn’t know we took this.”

“Never showed up,” Halladay said. “The guy walked right by me. He stopped up at the rail and so I went up and my wife took the picture. I walked right in front of him and he had no clue, no clue.”

Halladay then mentioned a photo John Stamos posted recently on Instagram. Stamos stood in front of the “Full House” house with oblivious fans in the background.

“My wife is going, ‘Look what we started!” Halladay said with a smile.

Harang Improves, Expects to Start Thursday

Aaron HarangCliff Lee’s season and possibly career is in serious jeopardy, which makes Aaron Harang’s health an important issue.

He already has been scratched twice from starts because of back issues, but he threw a bullpen session this morning at Bright House Field and said he expects to start in a Grapefruit League game Thursday night against the Yankees in Tampa. Harang said he is confident he will have enough time to get ready for the2015 season.

“It’s frustrating, but it’s not as frustrating as if this was later in camp,” he said afterward. “I don’t view this as any type of setback. I can progress through and catch up with my innings pretty easily. It’s not that hard. I know exactly what I need to do.”

Harang missed his first start this spring because of “lower back discomfort.” Harang missed Saturday’s start in Lakeland, Fla., because of a spasm around the middle of his back.

“This was just muscular,” he said. “I woke up the other morning and just kind of moved around and grabbed on me for a second. It’s being precautious. There’s no reason to push this because you don’t want it to linger.”

Phillies Make Roster Moves

Jesse BiddleThe Phillies made their first round of roster moves this morning at Bright House Field.

There were no surprises.

They optioned left-hander Jesse Biddle, right-hander Adam Morgan, right-hander Ethan Martin and outfielder Aaron Altherr to Minor League camp. They reassigned right-hander Sean O’Sullivan and catcher John Hester to Minor League camp.

They released outfielder Xavier Paul.

Biddle, Morgan, Martin and Altherr need to pitch or play on a regular basis and getting limited work in big-league camp served them little benefit. The Phillies hope each can contribute at the big-league level in the near future.

The Phillies plan Biddle and Morgan to be in the rotation at some point. Martin is a bullpen candidate, although the Phillies have been preparing him to start this spring. Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan said over the winter that Altherr “is as good of an outfielder as we have in our system, and possibly in the Major Leagues as well.”

The rebuilding Phillies could use some young outfielders.

Altherr hit .286 with five doubles, two triples, four home runs, 27 RBIs and an .878 OPS in 105 at-bats with Aguilas de Zulia in the Venezuelan Winter League. It is a marked improvement from a disappointing season with Double-A Reading, where he hit .236 with 27 doubles, two triples, 14 home runs, 57 RBIs and a .686 OPS in 492 plate appearances.

“I just went out and had fun,” Altherr said, explaining his impressive play in Winter Ball. “I really didn’t think too much. Sometimes I just put too much pressure on myself during the (Minor League) season. I didn’t worry about anything in Winter Ball.”

O’Sullivan provides the organization starting pitching depth. Hester is recovering from knee surgery.

Paul no simply longer fit in the Phillies’ plans.

Lee, Harang Issues Leave Rotation in Flux

cliff lee magic eight ballCole Hamels will pitch tomorrow against the Orioles at Bright House Field, which puts him on a five-day schedule to start Opening Day.

Hamels as the Opening Day starter is a no-brainer.

But what about the other spots? Some remain up in the air because of health issues. Cliff Lee is trying beat the odds and pitch with a torn common flexor tendon in his left elbow. He did not throw today, but at this point, even if he can pitch with an injured elbow, it is highly unlikely he could be ready by early April.

“He said his arm felt pretty good,” Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure said. “He just doesn’t want to push it. That’s what he told me.”

Aaron Harang has been scratched twice this month because of “lower back discomfort,” but is scheduled to throw a bullpen session tomorrow. If that goes well, McClure said Harang will pitch Thursday against the Yankees.

“He said he can catch up,” McClure said.

Chad Billingsley threw a successful bullpen session today. He is recovering from a pair of elbow surgeries. The Phillies said he could be ready to join the rotation before the end of April.

“Exceptional,” McClure said about Billingsley’s bullpen. “You would never know he was hurt. It’s quality stuff. It really is.”

McClure said after two or three more live batting practice sessions Billingsley could pitch in a game.

Utley’s Ankle Is Better, But Not 100 Percent

Chase UtleyThe Phillies hope today  represented just another step in Chase Utley’s chances to be in the Opening Day lineup.

He played in his first Grapefruit League game today in a 2-1 victory over the Rays at Bright House Field. Utley has been slowly recovering from a sprained right ankle, which he suffered in January when he stepped on a baseball.

“It feels pretty good,” Utley said about the ankle. “Still making a little progress on it. It’s not perfect yet, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

Utley was a designated hitter for four innings, striking out swinging in the first inning and singling to right-center field in the fourth. Aaron Altherr pinch-ran for Utley, and Altherr scored on Ryan Howard’s two-run home run.

“It felt good to get out there in front of the crowd, get some at-bats off an opposing pitcher,” Utley said. “It was nice.”

“I thought Chase looked great,” Ryne Sandberg said. “I thought he laid off some pitches. His swing was good, with the base hit, and ran well.”

Of course, the next step is playing in the field. Sandberg and Utley offered no timetable for that.

“I think we have to talk about it,” Utley said. “I think there might be another DH in there, but yeah, I’d like to play the field soon.”

Lee’s Discomfort Remains, Harang Scratched

Cliff Lee, Aaron HarangA little more than three weeks before Opening Day the Phillies have some legitimate health questions about their rotation.

Cliff Lee threw again today, but said the discomfort in his left elbow remains. He is trying to pitch with a tear in the common flexor tendon, but if he cannot pitch season-ending surgery is the next option.

The Phillies scratched Aaron Harang from tomorrow’s start against the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla., because he has “lower back discomfort.” The Phillies said it is precautionary, and Harang is day to day.

“I’m not that concerned about it,” Ryne Sandberg said. “It’s a muscular thing that he has.”

This is the second time Harang has missed a start this spring because of his back. He pitched Monday against the Orioles and said his back felt fine.

Could DH come to NL? Gillick Hopes Not

Pat Gillick, Charlie Manuel, Rich DubeeCould the National League adopt the designated hitter in the near future?

The Collective Bargaining Agreement expires following the 2016 season, and MLBPA president Tony Clark said recently the idea has been mentioned to the union. It does not seem to be a pressing issue, but Phillies president Pat Gillick hopes the DH remains in the American League.

“There’s nothing imminent,” Clark said this morning at Bright House Field, where the union held its annual meeting with the Phillies. “There’s nothing going on. I don’t know how that snowball got rolling down hill. This wasn’t anything that’s been discussed. This was something that was mentioned elsewhere. At the end of the day we will go to the players and will determine – if it’s actually proposed — whether or not it’s a consideration the guys want to make, and then we’ll have our bargaining position.”

Scoring in baseball is down, so including the DH in the NL could boost offense. It also would create more high-paying jobs for veteran hitters.

“I’ve been in both leagues,” Gillick said. “Basically, I like the National League style of play. Some people might say, well, that’s an old guy’s way to look at it. But I think it’s a little more intellectual. I think one thing right now that’s pretty prominent is pace of game. And the American League, those New York games, those Boston games, they’re still probably playing them right now. They’re so long. The pace of game, which is an issue, the American League games are longer than the National League games.

“So I would not be one that would be a proponent of the DH in the National League.”

Told that the DH in the NL could increase scoring, Gillick said, “To be frank, I’d rather see them lower the mound and take some of the advantage away from the pitchers and try to improve scoring that way. I just like the intellectual game.”

Clark steered clear of saying whether or not the DH in the NL makes sense.

“There could be an argument for it. There could be an argument against it,” he said. “We’re not going to take a position one way or the other. I will tell you though that each time we’ve had a bargaining session, the DH has been a part of the conversation. What do you want to do? Do you want to eliminate it? Do you want to add it? So it’s been part of the conversation. But as I stand here today I haven’t even begun to ask guys, ‘Hey, what are you thinking about this?’”

Utley Could Play Friday

Chase UtleyChase Utley could play in his first Grapefruit League game tomorrow.

Ryne Sandberg said today that Utley could be the Phillies’ designated hitter against the Rays at Bright House Field. Utley has not played in a game this spring because of a sprained right ankle, which he injured in January when he stepped on a baseball. Utley’s ankle has made incremental progress over the past several weeks, and apparently he has made enough to step into the batter’s box and potentially run the bases.

Utley’s health is worth following. First, the Phillies desperately need his bat in the lineup. Second, he has a $15 million club option for next season that automatically vests with 500 plate appearances.

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