Results tagged ‘ Ryne Sandberg ’

Utley to DL, Ryno Surprised

Ryne Sandberg, Chase UtleyChase Utley is down.

The team announced late Tuesday night it has placed him on the 15-day disabled list with inflammation in his right ankle. It is the same ankle that Utley badly sprained in January during offseason workouts, and the same ankle the forced him to miss the beginning of Spring Training.

“It’s hard to tell,” Utley said, asked how much the ankle has affected him at the plate. “Obviously, it’s been bothering me for a little while. Most players have aches and pains through the year. So I’m not shocked with that. It’s really showing no improvement. So I think it’s a good time to get it right. We will have a cortisone shot tomorrow. We’ll take a little time off and hopefully, that will get it squared away.”

Utley is hitting .179 (39-for-218) with seven doubles, one triple, four home runs, 25 RBIs and a .532 OPS in 65 games. His batting average and OPS are last among 163 qualified hitters in baseball.

The Phillies almost certainly do not mind Utley’s trip to the DL because he has a $15 million club option for 2016 that automatically vests if he reaches 500 plate appearances. He has 249 through the team’s first 73 games. Depending on how much time he misses and how well Cesar Hernandez plays as his replacement, the option could no longer be an issue upon his return.

“Talking to the doctor today, the more time I can lay off it the better chance it has to heal properly,” Utley said. “I don’t have an exact time frame. It will be at least 15 days.”

Utley said his knees, which have been an issue in the past, are healthy.

Ryne Sandberg said he was surprised by the news because he said Utley told him he had been fine.

“My communication with Chase throughout this season about playing is that he’s been up and willing to go and no really reports of anything holding him back,” Sandberg said. “I was a little bit surprised by it in some regards.

“I don’t know if it’s affected him, but to get it taken care of with a stint on the DL is the next step to see if that helps him get that behind him. But the way that he’s moved around and run the bases and run hard and played defense, I don’t think it was holding him back all that much, in my opinion. But to have it bothering now, as he said it has kind of crept up on him to the point of getting it rechecked and re-evalutated. That’s what he feels.”

Sandberg’s comment that he was unaware of any issues with Utley’s ankle is interesting because the Phillies said Utley had a MRI on May 16, which showed some inflammation and swelling.

“It was present on the bone itself,” Phillies head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan said. “Most of the ligaments on the outside are healing pretty well. The ligament on the inside still had some healing to still go. He has some symptoms that we want to take care of. So we’ll place him on the DL and try to get him healthy.”

Utley’s Head Back Above Mendoza Line

Chase UtleyChase Utley finally has his head above the Mendoza line.

It has been a long climb since his batting average dropped to .099 on May 8, which was the lowest batting average among qualified hitters through a team’s first 30 games since 1914. But Utley went 3-for-4 with a home run in last night’s 5-4 victory over the Reds at Citizens Bank Park to raise his average to .207.

It was the first time his batting average had hit .200 since April 14.

“Obviously the first month didn’t go as planned,” Utley said. “But you can’t really change that. You’ve got to continue to move forward. The last month or so has been a little better. You just try to build on it.”

Utley has hit .347 (25-for-73) with six doubles, one triple, one home run, eight RBIs and an .908 OPS in 22 games since May 8.

Perhaps Utley’s luck has finally turned in his favor.

His batting average on balls in play had been .079 through May 8, which was easily the worst BABIP in baseball. But his .393 BABIP since seems to be evening things out.

“It became a little frustrating at times,” Utley said. “Because you know you’re putting some decent at-bats together hitting balls, maybe not perfect, but well enough where you feel like you may deserve a hit here and there. For whatever reason, they weren’t really falling. You try not to change too much, but mentally it can be tough.”

Utley started last night’s game with a bunt single down the third-base line. The Reds had employed the defensive shift with Reds third baseman Todd Frazier essentially playing shortstop. Ryne Sandberg had been begging his hitters to drop a ball down the line to beat the shift, and Utley finally did it.

“I figured I’d try it,” he said. “I think over the course of a year guys should try it. Whether it works out or not, at least it’ll get the defense thinking a little bit.”

Utley singled to left in the third before homering in the sixth. It was his first homer since May 1 in Miami.

“They say they all even out,” Utley said. “We’ll see if that happens.”

Phillies Don’t Dig Nats’ Music, Promise Payback

rondstadtThe U.S. military bombarded Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega with heavy metal music to force him from his compound and surrender in 1989. Britney Spears’ music has blared from merchant ships to scare away pirates off the horn of Africa.

The Nationals have chosen “Somewhere Out There” by Linda Rondstadt and James Ingram to annoy their enemies.

They have been playing pop ballads and other soft and sappy music during opposing teams’ batting practices this season. There is no shortage of schmaltzy music, so the playlist has varied every day. But the past couple days the Phillies have been fortunate (or unfortunate) to hear Patrick Swayze’s “She’s Like the Wind,” Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight,” Anne Murray’s “You Needed Me,” Dan Hill’s “Can’t We Try,” and Spandau Ballet’s “True.”

“We’ll take care of that,” Ryne Sandberg said before today’s game against the Nationals at Nationals Park. “We’re going with the silent treatment at our place.

“It’s bush league. And irrelevant. What’s the point?”

Some of the Phillies are amused at the sappy tunes. Some could not care less. Others want mercy.

“I don’t think there’s any malice behind it,” Justin De Fratus said. “I think it’s funny. They played that Feivel Goes West song yesterday. If anything it’s a change of pace from some of the stuff we hear every day. I’ve got to sit there and listen to Drake every day. And it’s not about Drake. It’s every day I’m hearing top 40.”

“I mean, come on,” Jeff Francoeur said. “If you did it one time it’s funny. But we come here so many times.”

The Phillies actually had a bigger beef than the music. They feel they get on the field for batting practice late at Nationals Park compared to other ballparks, giving them less time to get ready between BP and first pitch. But according to the Phillies’ and Nationals’ respective media guides, batting practice starts only five minutes later for opposing teams at Nationals Park than at Citizens Bank Park.

“It’s very inconvenient,” Sandberg said. “That will be another adjustment. That seed was planted about six weeks ago.”

Nevertheless, the yacht rock continues.

“I didn’t even notice it,” Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth said with a hint of a smile. “But it’s nice soothing music they’ve got going on here. It’s nice for the fans at the ballpark before the game. Yeah, maybe get a beer, a pretzel, enjoy BP.”

How Is the Small Ball Going?

Ben Revere, Yadier MolinaThe Phillies keep bunting, but how is it going so far?

It did not work in the fifth inning last night in a 5-2 loss to the Cardinals. The Phillies had runners on first and second with no outs in a tie game when Ryne Sandberg called for Ben Revere to bunt. Revere bunted the ball in front of the plate and Yadier Molina threw out the lead runner at third for the first out.

“Why do I like it?” Sandberg said about the decision to bunt there. “First and second and no outs with a bunter up there.”

It was the fourth time this month the Phillies have bunted with runners on first and second and had the lead runner thrown out at third. It happened three times with no outs and once with one out.

The Phillies lead Major League Baseball with 12 sacrifice bunts. But as I wrote earlier this month, the numbers show bunting is counterproductive to scoring. Teams averaged 1.4023 runs with runners on first and second and no outs last season. They averaged 1.2714 runs with runners on second and third and one out.

The Phillies had a 9.3 percent better chance to score with Revere swinging away in the fifth inning. It might not seem like much, but for a team last in baseball averaging 2.73 runs per game every percentage point counts. And why play for the small inning there with five innings to go? It would have made more sense bunting in that situation if it were the eighth or ninth inning.

Let’s look closer at the Phillies’ bunt attempts this month:

According to MLB’s play-by-play, Phillies pitchers have bunted a ball in play 10 times. (This does not account for striking out on bunt attempts, balls bunted foul, etc.) They have successfully sacrificed eight times. The Phillies have scored seven runs in four of the innings their pitchers have sacrificed. That seems pretty good to me, but then I have no problem with pitchers bunting. Pitchers are bad hitters so having them bunt is almost always the right play.

The Phillies have had their hitters bunt the ball in play 10 times with at least one runner on base. (They have bunted for hits three times without a runner on base. They are 0-for-3.) Twice it seems the hitter has bunted on his own, but the other eight times have been called from the dugout. Phillies hitters successfully sacrificed just four times. The Phillies scored just three runs in those innings, which is not a good ratio.

Does bunting avoid the chance of somebody hitting into a double play? Yes, but it also hurts the team’s chances of a big inning because they have one less out to work with.

Hitters bunting with at least one runner on base:

  • Freddy Galvis (April 11): Runners on 1st and 2nd, 0 outs, 3rd inning. Force out at third base. 0 runs scored.
  • Revere (April 11): Runners on 1st and 2nd, 0 outs, 5th inning. Force out at third base. 0 runs scored.
  • Galvis (April 14): Runner on third, 1 out, 5th inning. Popped out on failed safety squeeze. 0 runs scored.
  • Chase Utley (April 15): Runners on 1st and 2nd, 1 out, 5th inning. Grounds out (not a sac attempt). 0 runs scored.
  • Cody Asche (April 24): Runners on 1st and 3rd, 1 out, 8th inning. Popped out. 0 runs scored.
  • Cesar Hernandez (April 24): Runner on 1st, 0 outs. Sacrifice bunt. 1 run scored.
  • Andres Blanco (April 26): Runner on 1st, 0 outs. Sacrifice bunt. 1 run scored.
  • Galvis (April 27): Runner on 2nd, 0 outs. Sacrifice bunt. 0 runs scored.
  • Odubel Herrera (April 28): Runners on 1st, 0 outs. Sacrifice bunt. 0 runs scored.
  • Revere (April 29): Runners on 1st and 2nd, 0 outs. Force out at third base. 1 run scored.

Brown Might Not Be Back Wednesday

Domonic BrownDomonic Brown told reporters yesterday he would rejoin the Phillies on Wednesday.

Not so fast.

Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said today at Busch Stadium that while there has been no official conversations about Brown’s status, “from what I’ve seen I don’t know that he’s ready for Major League pitching or to come up and really give us a punch the way that things have gone for him there.”

Brown has been on the 15-day disabled list since the season started because of tendinitis in his left Achilles. He has been on a rehab assignment since April 9. Once a position player begins a rehab assignment he has 20 days to be activated from the DL. His 20th day is Tuesday, which means a decision must be made by Wednesday.

Brown might have assumed he would be activated and join the Phillies. But the Phillies could activate him and option him to Triple-A.

He has hit .129 (4-for-31) with one double, two RBIs, four walks and six strikeouts in eight games with the IronPigs.

“Maybe it’s just not enough at-bats,” Sandberg said about Brown’s struggles in the Minor Leagues. “He’s had some fly ball outs. He just hasn’t connected and hasn’t hit for average, which you’d like to see.”

Asked if he would prefer Brown did not tell people he would be back before a decision had been made, Sandberg said, “Unless he’s player-GM.”

Lineup, Bullpen Moves Aren’t Working

Ryne Sandberg, Jeanmar GomezRyne Sandberg continues to mix and match his lineup and bullpen, hoping one day one of his combinations will work.

So far they have not.

The Lineup

Sandberg has tried 12 different lineups in 16 games, but the Phillies enter tonight’s series opener against the Braves averaging just 2.56 runs per game, which are the fewest in baseball. They are 30th in batting average with runners in scoring position (.176), 29th in on-base percentage (.270) and 28th in slugging percentage (.323). Sandberg has dropped Ryan Howard from fourth to seventh before moving him to fifth and sixth. Carlos Ruiz (zero home runs, one RBI this season) and Jeff Francoeur have hit cleanup since Howard’s demotion. In fact, if Francoeur hits cleanup tonight he will match Howard for the most appearances in the cleanup spot this season. (Raise your hand if you predicted that one.) Ben Revere has moved from first to eighth to second.  Grady Sizemore continues to start about half the team’s games, despite posting a .159 (17-for-107) batting average and .511 OPS since Aug. 8.

Domonic Brown is expected to return from the DL next week. Can the Phillies really keep both left-handed hitting outfielders?

Meanwhile, Chase Utley continues to hit third, despite having the third-lowest batting average (.120) in baseball.

In the end, it probably does not matter what the lineup is. But so far Sandberg has found none of his combinations working.

The Bullpen

Sandberg has made some curious moves in the bullpen in recent weeks. He employed Jake Diekman in a double-switch in the sixth inning April 15 in New York, but chose to have Diekman only pitch the sixth. Sandberg said he did not have Diekman start the seventh because he is the only left-hander in the bullpen and he had been pitching a lot lately. He said he wanted to save Diekman in case he needed him the following night. The problem is that he could have used him that night. Dustin McGowan replaced Diekman in the seventh and he allowed a solo homer to left-handed hitter Daniel Murphy, who was the first batter to hit in the inning. The Phillies lost, 6-5.

The Phillies lost the next night, 6-1, and Diekman was never needed.

That move is mentioned because of what happened in yesterday’s 9-1 loss. McGowan made a spot start, knowing he could pitch only three to four innings. He ran into trouble in the third, but the Phillies got nobody up in the bullpen. He then ran out of gas in the fourth, walking the bases loaded with one out. But the Phillies kept him in the game and he served up a two-run single to give the Marlins a 2-0 lead.

At that point the Phillies called in rookie Hector Neris to pitch in that high-leverage situation. Neris pitched one inning for the Phillies last season and just joined the Phillies this week. He promptly hit Marlins pitcher David Phelps with a pitch to reload the bases. Neris then allowed another single to allow two more runs to score to make it 4-0.

The game snowballed from there.

Then, interestingly, Diekman pitched the eighth inning despite having pitched Wednesday and the team trailing 8-0. His appearance stood out because of what Sandberg said last week: it’s important to conserve Diekman because he is the only left-hander in the bullpen. Meanwhile, Jeanmar Gomez, who the team touted as its long man, did not pitch until the ninth.

Gomez could have pitched the final two innings. He also could have tried to clean up McGowan’s mess in the fourth and give the Phillies a couple more innings from there. But Sandberg said he wanted to save his long man for Friday, in case he is needed. Of course, Aaron Harang pitches tonight and he has been the team’s most effective starter through three weeks.

That is twice Sandberg has said he did not use a reliever because he wanted him available for a potential scenario the next day.

“He still remains a length guy for tomorrow,” Sandberg said about Gomez. “To preserve that and have him be our length guy, that’s where he really comes into play for us.”

Perhaps Sandberg has such little faith in the offense’s ability to score that once the Phillies are down a couple runs he figures he might as well prepare for the next day’s game. But managing for the next day and not the game at hand certainly is different. It might not make a difference with this team, but it is worth noting.

Howard’s Week, Ryno’s Lineup Carousel

Howard Is BackIt has been a heck of a week for Ryan Howard.

He had struggled through the season’s first eight games — not as much as Chase Utley, although he heard more about it — when Ryne Sandberg sat him Wednesday against Mets left-hander Jonathon Niese. It was the second time in nine games the Phillies had faced a left-hander and the second time Sandberg had sat Howard against a lefty. Howard said Wednesday he had talked to Sandberg and had received no indication he might be platooned at first base, although Sandberg left the door open.

“Kind of take that a series at a time,” Sandberg said.

Then last night Sandberg dropped Howard all the way to seventh in the Phillies’ lineup.

From possibly platooned on April 15 to hitting seventh against a right-handed pitcher whose fastball tops out at 88 mph on April 16.

“I’ve been in situations like this before,” said Howard, who had not his seventh since 2006. “This isn’t the first time that I’ve gotten moved down in the lineup or anything like that. For me, you just try to look at it as an internal challenge. Do I feel l can hit fourth? Yeah, I know I can. I’m not worried about it. I’m not trying to look too far into it or anything like that. If I’m hitting in the seven-hole, do the best I can that day.”

I must say I’m a little surprised Sandberg made these moves only 10 games into the season. I’m not saying Darin Ruf should not see more time at first base against left-handers (Ruf deserves more playing time, period). I’m not saying Howard should not have been moved from the cleanup spot. I’m also not saying these moves weren’t coming. Howard has struggled against lefties for some time and he struggled hitting fourth last season. I’m saying I thought Sandberg might wait a little longer, unless he told Howard before the season he would have an incredibly short leash. I’m also a bit surprised he dropped him all the way to seventh.

After all, if there was such little faith in Howard’s ability to produce why start the season with him in the cleanup spot in the first place? It is kind of the same thing with Ben Revere. He dropped from first to eighth after just seven games. Cody Asche also was benched a couple games last week after a slow start.

Clearly Sandberg is trying to find a lineup combination that works, but hitting also involves confidence and right now hitters might be thinking, “Boy, if I go 0-for tonight I might be dropped in the lineup or benched.”

That is not why they Phillies aren’t hitting, but I also think it comes into play if players never know where they stand.

Worst Start Ever for Utley

Chase UtleyRyan Howard takes the heat, but Chase Utley is struggling worse than Howard through the Phillies’ first seven games. In fact, this is the worst start of Utley’s career through the team’s first seven games.

Rk Year #Matching PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS ▾
1 2014 6 Ind. Games 28 24 3 11 3 0 2 6 3 2 .458 .536 .833 1.369
2 2008 7 Ind. Games 32 26 8 9 2 0 3 6 5 0 .346 .438 .769 1.207
3 2010 7 Ind. Games 34 26 8 9 2 0 2 6 8 1 .346 .500 .654 1.154
4 2009 7 Ind. Games 31 25 7 10 1 0 1 5 5 3 .400 .516 .560 1.076
5 2013 7 Ind. Games 30 27 5 10 2 1 1 7 2 5 .370 .400 .630 1.030
6 2005 5 Ind. Games 16 15 2 5 0 0 1 5 0 3 .333 .313 .533 .846
7 2007 7 Ind. Games 35 31 4 8 4 0 1 3 2 7 .258 .314 .484 .798
8 2006 7 Ind. Games 29 27 2 6 3 0 0 3 1 5 .222 .276 .333 .609
9 2015 7 Ind. Games 26 22 1 2 0 0 0 3 2 6 .091 .154 .091 .245
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/14/2015.

“It’s just a matter of time with Chase,” Ryne Sandberg said after yesterday’s 2-0 loss to the Mets. “I have no worries there. He gets quality at-bats. Chase will be fine. We just need to create some opportunities with men on base for those guys in the middle of the lineup.”

I’m not sure if Sandberg is saying Utley and Howard are struggling because the No. 1 and 2 hitters aren’t getting on base enough, but that should not affect Utley or Howard at the plate that much. Will Utley be better than he has been? Yes, although he has not homered since Aug. 10. It is the longest homerless drought of his career, stretching to 175 at-bats. But he posted a 1.297 OPS in Spring Training, so he was swinging the bat well recently.

Is he the only reason the Phillies are struggling offensively? Absolutely not. But he is a big reason why the team has scored just 16 runs in seven games.

Sandberg said he is not considering any significant changes to the lineup. I think that could come in time, but seven games into the season is not the time to bump Utley and Howard. I know nobody likes to hear this, but a big part of managing is managing people. You don’t take two long-time Phillies and in one day move them out of the spots they have been hitting their entire careers. They deserve a little more time. How much time? I’m not sure, but certainly more than seven games.

Ryno: Small Ball Will Continue

Ryne SandbergRyne Sandberg promised the Phillies would play oodles of small ball in 2015.

He watched those efforts fail repeatedly last night in a 3-2 victory over the Nationals in 10 innings, but he remains as determined as ever to make it part of his team’s game.

The Phillies had runners on first and second with no outs in the third and fifth innings and twice tried to sacrifice bunt to advance their base runners. But Freddy Galvis bunted the ball back to the pitcher in the third and Ben Revere bunted the ball back to the pitcher in the fifth with the lead runner thrown out both times. (A batter earlier in the fifth, Cole Hamels reached base when he attempted to sacrifice a runner to second. He bunted the ball in front of the plate, but an errant throw to second allowed both runners to be safe.)

That’s 3-for-3 on bad bunts on a team that vowed bunting would be a big part of its game this season.

The Phillies also had a runner on second and no outs in the ninth, but Revere missed the sign to sacrifice bunt. He struck out swinging.

“We have to get the bunts down,” Sandberg said. “It’s a priority. We need to improve on that. We could have made it much easier on the offensive side of things with Cole out there on the mound and with the pitching we had.”

But the Phillies would have been better served swinging away in those situations … yes, even knowing the end result of Revere’s at-bat in the ninth. Baseball Prospectus’ Runs Expectations data from 2014 showed a team’s chances to score decreased when a team gave up an out to advance a runner.

Teams averaged 1.4023 runs with runners on first and second and no outs last season.

They averaged 1.2714 runs with runners on second and third and one out.

In other words, the Phillies had a 9.3 percent better chance to score with Galvis and Revere swinging away in the third and fifth innings. That might not seem like a lot, but every percentage point counts for a team that acknowledges it will struggle to score runs this season.

(more…)

Wait, Ruf Is Playing Tonight?

Darin RufIt seemed like Darin Ruf answered 20 minutes worth of questions this afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.

Why? Because Ryne Sandberg actually had him in the lineup against the Red Sox.

Wait, what?!

Ruf has hit .251 with 21 doubles, one triple, 20 home runs, 48 RBIs and an .805 OPS in 447 career plate appearances with the Phillies. He is the only Phillies player with 400 or more plate appearances from 2012-15 with a .787 OPS or higher.

Ruf also has an .839 OPS against left-handed pitchers, which might help a power-starved team of mostly left-handed hitters.

But Ruf has had a difficult time finding an opportunity to play. The Phillies front office and coaching has often cite his defense in the outfield, although the organization just a couple years ago gave Delmon Young an opportunity to play every day in right field. They said then Young’s offense would outweigh his defensive shortcomings. In fact, they almost completely downplayed Young’s defensive issues.

They do not say the same about Ruf, but if he hits, who knows?

“If there’s a hot bat, I’ll have trouble taking a hot bat out of the lineup,” Sandberg insisted.

Baseball Prospectus’ 2015 player projections actually have Ruf as the fourth-most productive player on the Phillies roster with a 1.4 WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player), despite only 334 projected plate appearances. Only Chase Utley (3.9), Carlos Ruiz (2.9) and Ben Revere (2.5) are projected to be better.

But Ruf has been relegated to backing up Revere in left field and Ryan Howard at first base. For whatever reason, the Phillies prefer Grady Sizemore (0.1 WARP projection) and Jeff Francoeur (-0.1 WARP projection) in right field over Ruf, who has played there in the past.

Sandberg said that could change.

“That’s an option,” he said. “I think there’s versatility and some spots wide open as far as that goes if a hitter wants to get hot. (Ruf) has a little bit of history in right field. Not a lot, but he actually didn’t have a lot of history in left field and I thought that he’s taken to that pretty well. I would say that remains an option for him.”

It should be noted that teams are not beating down the Phillies’ door to acquire Ruf. Scouts generally view him as a part-time player with some power. And I’m not saying Ruf is an All-Star in the making, a guy that would hit 35 home runs if only afforded the opportunity. But on a team begging for offense and talking about small ball like it it something that could actually work, semi-regular at-bats for a right-handeded power bat makes some sense.

If this was 2009 and the Phillies’ outfield included Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth there is no question Ruf should be on the bench. But Revere, Odubel Herrera and Sizemore might not combine for 10 home runs this season. Ruf can’t get some semi-regular at-bats knowing that?

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