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Career home runs for Angels slugger Albert Pujols

Phillies notebook: Talk is cheap

Posted by Ron Opher On February 19

So pitchers and catchers reported to Clearwater a week ago, but it wasn’t long before other position players began arriving too.

And when that happens, and there are no games to talk about yet, we end up hearing from different players about their individual hopes and the team’s hopes for the upcoming season.

Sometimes, you get great bulletin board material – like when Jimmy Rollins proclaimed that the Phillies were “the team to beat” in 2007 – even though they hadn’t won the NL East since 1993. Rollins went out – and along with his teammates – backed that statement up.

This spring, while there is optimism, it is optimism of the cautious variety.

Exhibit A is Roy Halladay‘s interview with MLB.com’s Hal Bodley (formerly USA Today’s baseball guru), when talking about his close friend, Cardinals’ pitcher Chris Carpenter, who is dealing with a chronic neck injury at age 37:

“You never know when it’s going to go away…but we talked about doing things the right way and having no regrets. He has none and I know I have none.”

This line was an even bigger shocker:

“Hopefully I’m not sitting here anytime soon saying I’m done playing, but I think that’s a big thing in this game…you never want to look back and wish you would have done something differently.”

Halladay did say he was feeling good – better than last season – but at the same time sounded almost wistful with a touch of defiance, saying, “[t]here will be a day when what’s ahead of me is no baseball…I’m not going to try to embrace that. Until you get to that point, you do everything you can to continue to adjust.”

Halladay also had great things to say about being a Phillie:

“If I have my druthers, I would be here until I’m done…[a]s good as they’ve been to me, I think they realize I’d be as good to them as I could be. I don’t want to play anywhere else. You want to play somewhere as long as you can where you’re wanted. This is the best place I’ve ever played.”

*****

Code Red: While it might be a bit disconcerting to hear Roy Halladay speak bluntly about the point he has reached in his career, it’s a fair question to also wonder if the truth is refreshing to hear from athletes – or if we can’t handle the truth.

For example, when we titled our spring training preview “getting Young(s) but not Younger,” we thought that we were stating the obvious in terms of concerns about this team.

But Ryan Howard would not agree with us – or anyone else who’s concerned that the Phillies have aged right out of contention:

“First, I want to address this ‘old’ thing, because that’s all I keep hearing is people talking about older and older and older…[t]here was a guy in this league, Jamie Moyer, and I’m sure people would tell him about older, but he would go out every year and show people that he could play and he could get it done.”

“You can’t buy into that ‘old’ thing. It’s all about how young you feel, how well you take care of yourself. And everybody in this clubhouse goes out and works their butt off. Everybody goes out in the offseason and trains. If people want to call us old, that’s fine, but going out there this year, we’re going to show people we’re not old.”

Then you look at Chase Utley – who left people wondering how he could show up at Clearwater last season not initially realizing that his knees would not allow him to play, and creating a nearly identical half-season stat line to 2011 – one that along with Howard and Halladay’s missing significant time, left the Phillies short of reaching the postseason for the first time since 2006.

This spring, Utley reports that he trained throughout the off-season with baseball activities – something he had not done in the past. Utley also expects to play in some Grapefruit League games – something he has not done since 2010.

As a result, Utley proclaimed “I feel pretty damn good right now.”

Let’s hope that phrase doesn’t become as instantly regrettable as “World F-ing Champions” did on Halloween 2008.

*****

Reading tea leaves: We told you in our Spring Training Preview on PhillyPhanatics.com that we felt Delmon Young might start the season on the DL as he recovers from November microfracture surgery on his right ankle, and that the Phillies might like Rule 5 draftee Ender Inciarte at least as much as they liked the last Rule 5 guy that stuck for an entire season (Michael Martinez).

This week, word is out that Delmon Young might not just start out on the DL, but that he may not even play in April at all.

Then word leaked out about how Charlie Manuel likes Inciarte’s defense: “I noticed him the other day, took off from right of center field and he went and caught a ball, I couldn’t believe he caught it…[t]hey were telling me about his arm…I guess that’s the reason that we got him. He definitely has some talent.”

Putting two and two together, we’d have to say that Darin Ruf and Inciarte might both get a chance to make an impression in April before the Phillies have to decide whether each is contributing enough to keep in the majors all year. In Ruf’s case, he could be sent down to the minors; in Inciarte’s case, he’d have to be offered back to the Diamondbacks.

*****

Shut up and play: Another outfielder under the microscope this spring is Domonic Brown. Brown – unlike John Mayberry, Jr., still can be optioned to the minor leagues.

Brown’s reaction:

“You know what? I’ve been waiting for that for a long time. When I get that opportunity, getting that like I did at the second half of last year, see what I’m capable of in 400-500 at-bats.”

On one hand, it’s good to see that Brown wants to earn a full-time job in the majors.

On the other hand, to decry a lack of opportunity is to discount the fact that Brown has been given opportunities and had come up either hurt or ineffective as a result.

Considering how Ruben Amaro, Jr. steered suitors away from Brown when Brown was a hot commodity in 2009-10 – and instead dealt players like Anthony Gose, Kyle Drabek and Travis d’Arnaud at that time instead – it’s fair to say that Amaro’s reputation for managing the flow of talent at the minor league levels will stand a tough test if Brown fails to pan out, particularly with d’Arnaud poised to become a fixture behind the plate for the Mets in the very near future.

*****

Actions speak louder than words: The Phillies will play an intrasquad game Friday before opening the Grapefruit League 2013 season hosting the newest member of the American League…the Houston Astros.

Just as the Milwaukee Brewers went from the AL to the NL in 1996 to keep an even number of teams in each league when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks were added as expansion teams to each league, the Astros are moving to have an equal number of teams in each league, in order that there can be interleague play throughout the entire season – and to mitigate a certain degree of unfairness in having one 4-team division (the AL West) and one 6-team division (the NL Central). The Astros will play in the AL West.

The Phillies play in Florida from Saturday all the way through Thursday March 28 – with off days on March 11 and March 20. March 3 is the only split-squad day, while on March 5 and 6, the Phillies host the Dominican Republic’s World Baseball Classic team, followed the next day by the defending NL East champion Washington Nationals in a pair of games that perhaps provide the most intrigue this spring. There is only one night game on the schedule – March 21 at Fort Myers to take on Shane Victorino and the Red Sox.

The Phillies play the Yankees 5 times (one is a Yanks’ split squad) and the Blue Jays 4 times (one is a Phils’ split squad) before also hosting the Blue Jays in the “On Deck Series” on March 29-30 at Citizens Bank Park – for a total of 6 exhibition games against Toronto. The Phillies also play the Rays 4 times and Tigers, Braves and Orioles (2 are split squads, including an O’s split squad in the annual St. Patrick’s Day game at Clearwater) 3 times each – which provides for a pretty tough schedule, assuming that enough regulars are in the opponents’ lineups.


 

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