By Bill Campbell
Random Baseball Notes
Cliff Lee is close to returning to the mound and the Phillies are playing better baseball lately. Lee took a measurable step toward getting back in stride early this week. He threw 20 fastballs, his first real workout since going on the DL a month ago. He said he intends to work out hard again this week before revealing his future plans. Lee won’t rollout those plans until he sees how he feels after some hard throwing but he hopes that this means he’ll be back to full-time duty before the July All Star Break. He may be somewhat optimistic but fans can hope. If Lee returns to competitive form by the first of July, the Phillies might do cartwheels. But even if he doesn’t make it back until three or four days after the break, I think the Phillies will be very satisfied. Lee says his arm is pain free although he says he can still feel something there, whatever that something means.
Chase Utley had a couple of days off in Atlanta this week. Manager Ryne Sandberg said that Utley “just looked like he needed a day off” and decided to sit the second baseman after several extra-inning road games. At the start, it looked like Utley might go the whole season until someone got him out. I guess the guy is human after all. Before the vacation day, Utley was hitting just .206 with a .561 OPS over his previous 17 games. During that stretch, he had three extra-base hits, six walks and nine strikeouts in 68 at-bats. Utley’s overall numbers still put him as the top offensive second baseman in the National League, with a .301/.360/.477 batting line, including five home runs in 256 at-bats. It was Utley’s first day off since June 1. He was replaced in the lineup by Cesar Hernandez, who entered the day hitting just .200/.257/.262 with 20 strikeouts and two extra-base hits in 65 at-bats.
Tony Gwynn, Jr. is in San Diego mourning the death of his father, Tony Sr., who succumbed to salivary gland cancer early this week. Outfielder Aaron Altherr arrived from Reading on Tuesday after a hasty summons and a lengthy flight delay to fill in for Gwynn. Manager Sandberg decided there was no time like the present, giving Altherr his first-ever big league plate appearance in the twelfth inning against Braves pitcher, Anthony Varvaro. After the game, Sandberg said, “I’m thinking, ‘This guy is probably really excited, maybe he’ll square one up and get a hit. Maybe beginner’s luck or something will kick in and he’ll finish the story.” Unfortunately, Altherr flied out.
Things are improving a bit for the Phillies of late. Out in the bullpen, Kyle Kendrick’s record is 3-6, Cole Hamels 2-3, A.J. Burnett 4-6, and Antonio Bastardo 4-3. Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams paced the relieving pitchers with 2-1 records. At the plate, Jimmy Rollins is hitting 247, Ryan Howard is at 231, Carlos Ruiz 279, and Byrd is at 262. After three wins in Atlanta, the Phillies head to St. Louis for a couple of games with the Cardinals.
The Phillies right-handed pitcher, Ken Giles, got our attention over the weekend. On Sunday against the Chicago Cubs, Giles pitched a scoreless ninth inning though the Phils lost, 3-0. But in this, his second appearance for the team, Giles totaled two strikeouts, wrapped around a pop-up. But it was the radar gun that got the crowd excited: Giles threw one fastball that blipped at 101 M.P.H. and another two at 100. This came after he had allowed a home run and recorded the game’s final out on a strikeout in a third of an inning during Thursday’s 7-3 win over the San Diego Padres.
The July 31st trade deadline is looming and there is a lot of talk about who the Phillies might trade to start the undeniable rebuilding process that they are facing. Lots of folks think the team will continue to try to make a deal involving reliever, Jonathan Papelbon. He is the best-paid closer in baseball, but his contract could expire after next season. He has a vesting option for 2016 based on games finished, but a team could probably talk him out of it because of how disgruntled he has been during the last two seasons with the Phillies. It’s well known that the Phillies tried to trade Papelbon last season and over the winter. With Ken Giles improving, Papelbon seems ripe for the trading but his reputation as a difficult guy to get along with is known throughout the league which makes it hard to market him. On the other hand, Giles could be a legitimate eighth inning guy and there are many clubs that are looking for a reliable closer. On the West Coast, both the Dodgers and the Angels are said to be interested in bolstering their bullpens. If they can’t move Papelbon, the Phillies might have to use Giles to make a deal.
There also is chatter about the possibility of the Phillies’ trading Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins, since both are experienced and still retain value. But “experience” also goes with “age” and teams who are looking for young talent are not going to entertain deals for guys with a shorter shelf life left no matter how well they may be playing. And Utley’s knee problems – though they seem to be quiet at the moment – are well known. Cliff Lee could also have been on that list of potential trade material but his recent injury came at a bad time and limits his value. It will be interesting to see what Ruben Amaro is able to broker, if anything, before the July 31st deadline passes.
The Oakland A’s have placed their left-handed starter, Drew Pomeranz, on the 15-day DL since he fractured his right hand on Monday night. After a disappointing game, Pomeranz broke his hand when he struck a chair in frustration. The twenty-five-year-old pitcher was 5-4 with a 2.91 ERA (130 ERA+) before the injury, 1.24 WHIP and 48 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings. He opened the season in the bullpen but was later moved into the rotation. In eight starts, he’s gone 4-3 with a 3.21 ERA. The numbers were far better before the Rangers ran up seven earned runs on eight hits in 3 2/3 innings Monday night – and that’s why Pomeranz acted out after the game.
Out in Los Angeles last night, Clayton Kershaw threw his first career no-hitter, striking out fifteen Colorado Rockies hitters and missing a perfect game only due to his teammate Hanley Ramirez’s error in the seventh inning. Of 107 pitches thrown by Kershaw, 79 were strikes. Kershaw (7-2, 2.52 ERA) has won two Cy Young Awards in the past three seasons and we can easily see why. His no-hitter follows that of his fellow Dodger, Josh Beckett, who threw one here in Philadelphia back on May twenty-fifth. Looks like we can’t count out the Dodgers.
The Eagles are holding a mini-camp this week at the Nova Care Complex. This is the last set of practice days that the team will hold until training camp officially opens at the end of July. Nick Foles has looked good throwing on the run. Alex Henery has looked pretty consistent with his kickoffs. Cornerback Nolan Carroll has impressed the coaching staff with his moves. Shady McCoy more than suggested to the press that DeSean Jackson is playing for Washington now because he didn’t “buy in” to Coach Kelly’s vision for the team. Six weeks or so from now, the Birds will start camp. Opening game is September 7, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. at The Linc.