(NOT) BREAKING: Hamels Is Opening Day Starter

Matt Cain,Ryne Sandberg smirked Thursday when asked about his Opening Day starter.

“It’s a secret,” he said.

Everybody in the world knew it would be Cole Hamels. It literally could be nobody else. But Sandberg made the obvious official Sunday afternoon at Bright House Field, where he anti-climatically announced Hamels is the guy.

“It’ll be Hamels and (Aaron) Harang to start the season, officially, in that order to start the year,” Sandberg said after a 4-4 tie with the Pirates.

Hamels will face the Red Sox on April 6 at Citizens Bank Park. It will be the second Opening Day start of his career.

Sandberg said the Phillies have not lined up anything beyond that, but David Buchanan and Jerome Williams will be the No. 3 and 4 starters.

The No. 5 starter is expected to be Sean O’Sullivan or Kevin Slowey with O’Sullivan, who is in Minor League camp, considered the favorite. The Phillies do not need a No. 5 starter until April 12, and the organization is hopeful Chad Billingsley will be able to join the rotation before the end of April.

Billingsley is recovering from a pair of right elbow surgeries.

But Hamels will pitch Opening Day. How long he remains in the Phillies’ rotation remains to be seen. He is available in a trade, but the Phillies have not found an offer they like.

Gonzalez Demoted, Will He Ever Live Up to Hype?

Alfredo Miguel GonzalezSo far Phillies right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez has not come close to the hype.

The Phillies announced this morning they had optioned him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, which was not a surprise. Gonzalez entered Spring Training with a chance to make the Phillies rotation and his chances improved dramatically with Cliff Lee almost certainly lost for the season with an injured left elbow.

But Gonzalez never looked close to big-league ready. He went 0-3 with a 7.53 ERA in five Grapefruit League appearances. He allowed 25 hits, 12 runs, five home runs and one walk with seven strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings.

Gonzalez’s demotion leaves the No. 5 starter’s job to Kevin Slowey or Sean O’Sullivan, who is in Minor League camp.

O’Sullivan might be the favorite at this point because he is being stretched out. Slowey is not, although there is time. The Phillies do not need a No. 5 starter until April 12.

The Phillies on Sunday also optioned right-hander Hector Neris to Triple-A. Right-hander Paul Clemens, catcher Koyie Hill and infielders Chris McGuiness and Chris Nelson had been reassigned to Minor League camp.

The Phillies have 36 players remaining in camp: 17 pitchers, three catchers, eight fielders and eight outfielders.

The Phillies and Gonzalez agreed to a six-year, $48 million contract in July 2013, but the deal dropped to three years, $12 million following his physical. Gonzalez’s questionable health popped up last Spring Training and he struggled in the Minor Leagues as a starter with those health issues lingering.

The Phillies eventually converted Gonzalez into a reliever and he had success in that role in Double-A Reading and Triple-A. He got promoted to the Phillies in September, but he had a 6.75 ERA in six relief appearances.

Top Prospect Crawford Out 4-6 Weeks

crawfordIt is far from a crippling blow, but top Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford suffered a setback nonetheless this week.

He strained his left oblique, which the Phillies said could sideline him four to six weeks.

“That’s the range,” Phillies player development director Joe Jordan said. “We’ll see in a few days how he responds to treatment. We’ll have a better feel in five, six, seven days from now.”

Crawford, 20, was scheduled to open the season in Class A Clearwater with a potentially quick promotion to Double-A Reading, but that will have to wait.

“It’s disappointing, but it shouldn’t be a long term thing,” Jordan said.

The Phillies selected Crawford with the 16th overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. MLBPipline.com ranks Crawford as the No. 22 prospect in baseball. He hit a combined .285 with 23 doubles, 11 home runs, 48 RBIs, 24 stolen bases and a .781 OPS in 538 plate appearances last season with Class A Lakewood and Clearwater.

Surgery Likely for Hollands

Mario HollandsMario Hollands has a firm grip on reality, but he still has a sliver of hope he will avoid surgery on his left elbow.

Hollands has a torn common flexor tendon, which is the same injury that is likely to end Cliff Lee’s career. Hollands visited Phillies physician Michael Ciccotti this week in Philadelphia to discuss his recent MRI results. Surgery has been recommended because Hollands’ first attempt at rehab failed – the injury first surfaced in September, which ended his season – but he has two other options: rest and PRP (Platelet-Rich Plasma) injection.

“I wanted to do the PRP and rest because I wanted to help the team this year. I wanted to play,” Hollands said. “That’s still in my head because I want to play so bad, but I am a little worried because it’s the second time so I don’t know if rest or PRP will be the only solution. So surgery, I’m thinking about it pretty hard.”

Hollands will seek a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews. He hopes to have his recommendation soon.

Hollands’ difficult choice is this: if he elects rest or PRP and it fails a second time he risks being healthy at the beginning of the 2016 season. The Phillies said the recovery from this type of surgery is six to eight months.

“It would be heartbreaking if it came back again after rest,” Hollands said.

In that sense, surgery might be the safest option.

“That’ll help just seal it up and hopefully it will never be a problem again,” Hollands said.

Hollands made the team last season as a non-roster invitee. He went 2-2 with a 4.40 ERA in 50 appearances. His loss opens up a bullpen job. Four spots are locked up with Jonathan Papelbon, Ken Giles, Jake Diekman and Justin De Fratus. Andy Oliver, Luis Garcia and Jeanmar Garcia are the leading candidates for the final three jobs.

How ABC’s The Goldbergs Recreated the Vet

SEAN GIAMBRONEABC’s “The Goldbergs” is a sitcom set in 1980’s suburban Philadelphia. This Wednesday’s episode at 8:30 p.m. ET centers on young Adam Goldberg getting lost at a Phillies game at Veterans Stadium.

The show recreated the stands, the concourses, the concession stands, the bathrooms, etc. But the show almost never happened.

Goldberg spoke with MLB.com recently about the episode, being a Phillies fan and more.

Click here to read the story, which includes a couple clips from Wednesday’s episode.

Q: So why did you want to have a Phillies/Vet episode?
A: The Goldbergs is completely autobiographical about my life growing up in the ‘80s in Philadelphia. Every day in the writers’ room, we just talk about stories from our childhood and things that mattered to us. I grew up in a sports family. As you see in the show, I wasn’t athletic. But my brother was. My dad was an athlete. I was the black sheep. But that didn’t stop me from being dragged to Phillies games, Eagles games. We had Flyers season tickets. So sports are a big part of my family and growing up. Some of my best memories were going to Phillies games with my dad, going to Veterans Stadium. There was one particular instance where we got separated, and in the ‘80s when you got separated from somebody in a big place without a cell phone there was no way to find them. So I was telling this story about how I went with my dad to a Phillies game and we got separated. And there was this panic you felt because Veterans Stadium was so big and so scary. It was terrifying. It’s really an episode about Adam’s transition into manhood as he learns to survive in Veterans Stadium by himself only to be reunited with his dad at the end.

Q: But I remember seeing on Twitter you couldn’t get script approval.
A: The show is a love letter to the ‘80s, but it’s also a love letter to Philadelphia and a love letter to the sports that I grew up with. So it’s a love letter to all the Philly teams. I’ve done a lot of Flyers stuff. The NHL is really cooperative. Baseball, everybody knows, they’re just tougher. So the interesting thing was, when we approached them they had concerns about the scripts as any franchise would. Be it sports or even when we try to get an ‘80s movie cleared. Everyone wants their property to be portrayed in the right way and they have concerns. And the way it happened was I tweeted my frustrations and the Phillies saw that fans wanted Veterans Stadium to be resurrected so badly. So MLB has been awesome because they’ve decided to stay out of it and leave it in the hands of the Phillies. So now I’m working with the Phillies, which is so cool, to really come up with something that I’m happy with comedically and they’re happy that represents the Phillies in the best way. The other thing that’s amazing that is that it is a comedy and the Phillies were able to have a really good sense of humor about what Veterans Stadium was. So that’s been really cool. I think there’s concerns that naturally, we don’t want the fans to be portrayed in a certain way. So what was explained back that this isn’t about the fans. This is about Veterans Stadium, what that meant to the city and yes it was rough around the edges, but it was a place that people loved. So we’re recreating the stands and the bleachers. We’re recreating the bathrooms. There’s a lot of people from Philly on my show. And those bathrooms. Those giant troughs that you had to pee in with the drunk fans. You’re so crowded in. I remember having stage fright for the first time, having to go so bad, but being so freaked out by the experience I couldn’t go. There was so much. It was so ripe for material. This episode came out so easily because we all have so many experiences going to Phillies games with going to Veterans Stadium.

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Billingsley to Pitch in Minors on Thursday

Chad BillingsleyChad Billingsley hopes to clear another hurdle in his recovery Thursday.

He is scheduled to pitch a Minor League game at Carpenter Complex. Billingsley, 30, is recovering from a pair of surgeries on his right elbow, which have limited him to just 12 innings in the big leagues the previous two seasons.

Billingsley is expected to throw 30 to 35 pitches, about two innings of work.

“Then do it again,” Billingsley said.

The Phillies have indicated Billingsley could make a Grapefruit League appearance before the team heads to Philadelphia on April 2, but he said he is not focused on that.

“I’m not thinking that far ahead,” he said. “When you’ve been going through two years of rehab, you don’t look beyond the next week or the next start or the next whatever. You just kind of approach it one start at a time and put all your focus on doing your rehab and your treatment to get to the next step. I’m just getting ready for Thursday.”

Billingsley’s successful return to the big leagues is worth following. First, the Phillies need starting pitching help. Second, if Billingsley comes back and pitches successfully he could be a valuable trade chip come July.

Brown Out, Achilles Acting Up

Domonic BrownDomonic Brown sounded deflated tonight at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

He left a Grapefruit League game against the Yankees in the third inning because of soreness in his left Achilles. He said in the visitors’ clubhouse the Achilles had been bothering him for a couple weeks.

“They’re saying tendinitis,” Brown said.

Brown said he will have a team doctor examine him tomorrow.

Brown struck out twice in his only two plate appearances tonight. He is hitting .241 (7-for-29) with one double, two RBIs, five walks and five strikeouts in 11 games. The Phillies are hoping for a big bounce back season from Brown, who struggled as one of the least productive outfielders in baseball in 2014.

“I want to be in there, Spring Training or not,” Brown said. “I feel pretty good at the plate. I don’t want to miss any time, but this is part of the game, also. I’m definitely frustrated for sure. It seemed like we were going in the right direction, it was getting a little bit better.

“As soon as Chase Headley hit the home run (in the second inning), I took off and started feeling it then. Once I got to the on-deck circle … I could definitely feel it. Not pulling but grabbing a little bit.”

Brown missed a game earlier this week because of dehydration. He said he had been doubling up on anti-inflammatories, which might have keyed the dehydration.

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.

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