By Bill Campbell
Call Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels’ work just “delayed.” He is now about two weeks behind everyone else on the Phillies pitching staff, but he should be able to make his claim to be in the rotation by season’s start.
The same moniker applies to Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, originally booked to make his debut in Dunedin this week. His start has been pushed back until Saturday night after he missed camp on Monday with an undisclosed illness. The 27-year-old hurler had been limited in the last two years due to elbow surgery and a suspension following a failed defection from Cuba. When he’s pitched, he’s appeared to be rusty every time he’s gone to the mound. As a free agent, Gonzalez signed a three-year, $12 million contract with the Phillies in August. He’s due to make his second appearance this spring on Thursday in a game will against the New York Mets. That will be followed by a second against Detroit on Friday. Against the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday in Dunedin, Gonzalez allowed two hits, one run in 1 2/3 innings. He had some trouble with command but the new pitching coach, Bob McClure, liked what he saw. “I saw a very competitive guy which I was really hoping to see,” McClure said, “I figured he was going to be rusty and I expected that. It didn’t seem like he was in awe and for that I was grateful. He looked competitive and in control and I was impressed by how well he handled himself. There are more pluses than minuses.”
Thirty-eight year old Minor leaguer Shawn Camp, who was released by the Cubs last year, made his debut in an intra-squad game, throwing a scoreless inning against the four batters he faced: Tom Gwyn Jr., Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Darren Ruf. Camp looked like he can pitch a bit. When he had his stuff down in the zone, he could take a bat off and Manager Ryne Sandberg appeared to be somewhat impressed. However, Camp will have to work very hard to match the impression he made in 2012 when he pitched a record-tying 80 games for Chicago. He also warmed up 120 times which took its toll on his arm, causing him to carry a 7.04 ERA for 26 games. He faced a very uncertain future in the off-season thanks to that stat and his age. However, after showing what he can do in the intra-squad game, Sandberg liked what he saw in Camp. “I thought he threw good today. He looked like he pitched a little bit, could take a little time off, was down in the zone, the ball was going both ways. He looks like he knows what he’s doing when he’s pitching.” Camp was pleased, saying, “I’ve got as good a shot as anybody” after his performance. In that game, Freddy Galvis had two doubles and one almost left the park. It hit the last fence and rolled to where no one could catch up to it.
Last week, I extended sympathy towards Cole Hamels, based upon the news that he was suffering biceps tendonitis in his pitching arm at a time when the Phillies have some serious pitching decisions to make. But it’s sounding like Hamels’ problems may have been somewhat overblown and nowhere near as ominous as originally reported. The guy we should be worrying about is Ryan Howard, who is testing his recovery and rehab after surgeries on his Achilles tendon and medial meniscus. Watching him so far, it looks like he may be OK. He’s had three straight hits off left-handed pitchers during intra-squad games. How he can perform day in, day out is the unanswered question. He missed the majority of the last two seasons after suffering the muscle tears at the end of the 2011 World Series. Who can forget how he went down before thousands of fans who spent most of last year bemoaning the loss of the one of the best third basemen ever seen here? His absence had a profound effect on the team last season as it meant to loss of their biggest and most important run producer. Losing Howard meant more than the loss of a Cole Hamels would or could have on this squad. Hamels is needed every fifth day. The powerful Howard is needed every day. He’s entering his eleventh season with the Phillies, a high-priced and highly valued $25 million man. He loves the game, loves to talk about it, think about it. After a week or so of games in the sun, he appears to physically strong and mentally ready, confident that the game would come back to him. “It’s called getting back to the old mindset,” Howard put it. He’s focusing on being the cleanup hitter, against everybody. And he’s acknowledged that he has to work at getting good pitches and swinging at more strikes.
So both Hamels and Howard look like they’re going to be OK. That’s two pieces of good news in one week. Couple that with the word on Tony Gwynn, Jr., son of the Hall of Famer, who went 2 for 4 with a double in the Phillies’ loss to the Pirates this week. Gwynn played all nine innings. He’s 31 and will try to make the squad as a non-roster player and pinch-hitter for the Phils.
Manager Ryne Sandberg said that he would have used instant replay if it had been available during the game against the Pirates on March fourth. He said he would have challenged the first-inning play at second base when shortstop, Freddy Galvis, grabbed a ground ball and tried to force Pedro Alvarez at second base. The umpire ruled Alvarez safe though Galvis’ foot beat him. Sandberg believes the replay would have shown that Alvarez was out. The Phils will test instant replay in five spring training games. Unfortunately, it wasn’t being used that day.
At the start of the week, the Flyers had 23 games remaining this season, 14 at home and 9 on the road. Fourteen of those games were to be played against play-off teams, 9 against nine-man playoff teams, 7 against first place teams, 9 against non-first-place teams.
They are scheduled to play four back-to-back games which always are tough. They also have just acquired defenseman Andrew MacDonald from the New York Islanders. Coach Craig Berube said, “No matter how many games we have left, we must stay out of the penalty box.
Those are the games that kill you. Those minutes are not good minutes, they kill you.” Flyer Kimmo Timonen is about to turn 39 and Berube is concerned about age catching up with him. But time in the penalty box is what Berube worries about most of all.
The Philadelphia 76ers retired Allen Iverson’s number on Saturday night before a sell-out crowd at the Wells Fargo Center. It was a stirring ceremony. One of the most remarkable parts of the program was Iverson’s speech. It was thoughtful, composed, and ended with him looking up in the rafters, saying, “Dr. J, Moses Malone, Mo Cheeks, Charles Barkley, Bobby Jones — are you serious? My name can now be mentioned with those names. Show me the fool who says dreams don’t come true because they do.” Iverson opened and ended the evening with a standing ovation that was as heartfelt as his speech. Like him or not, the trajectory of Allen Iverson from poverty in Virginia to superstar cannot be argued; his influence is felt on every playground and basketball court where an athlete dribbles, turns and shoots a ball into a net. He wasn’t much for rules and he always wanted to do things his way. Discipline was not one of his virtues. But at six feet and somewhere around 165 pounds, he could play. He could dribble. He could pass. He had adequate speed and, boy, he could shoot. He led the league in scoring four times and was in the Top Ten per season eleven times. There wasn’t much he couldn’t do and was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Many have wondered whether if Iverson had quieted down and softened his attitude, might he have been even better? But for Iverson, as long as people were in the building to see him play, that was all the inspiration he needed. He was a prime-time player and he always came ready to perform.
The Iverson Night offered a relief from the catastrophe that the season has become for the now 15-45 Sixers. Even in the games they win, the team looks awkward, scattered on both offense and defense. The end of this season can’t come soon enough.
On the college court, Villanova rolled over Marquette 73-56 on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center. They made it look easy. The Wildcats have had a terrific season in sharp contrast to the 76ers. If fact, there are some nights when they look more like the pro team in team. The Daily News captured it best with a recent caption, noting that Villanova was playing under the newly-hung Iverson jersey, and trumpeted “A.I.” as “The Cat the ‘cats Copied”. Adding to Villanova’s success was Creighton’s loss last Saturday which put the ‘cats in first place in the Big East conference. St. Joe’s, 21-7, also is playing well, routing Fordham on Saturday, 87-72, to hold on to second place in the Atlantic Ten. The Hawks will meet 21 -7 George Washington on Wednesday night in D.C. and will play 14-4 LaSalle at home on March ninth. The rumor mill is churning out stories about NCAA bids for both Villanova and St. Joe’s.
While the Eagles have reached agreement with Riley Cooper and Jason Kelce, they officially released Jason Avant yesterday. Jeff Lurie and Howie Roseman clearly regretted having to make a tough decision, praising Avant’s contributions as a player and a professional.
Avant handled the news with class. It shouldn’t be forgotten that, along with Michael Vick, Jason Avant was key in calming the locker room down and bringing the team back together following Riley Cooper’s “N-word” explosion, taped at a concert last summer. It’s ironic that Cooper remains part of the team going forward while Avant is gone and Vick will likely leave as a free agent. The Birds owe Avant who has been a class act on and off the field, every season. Best of luck to him.
See you next week.