Kyle Kendrick was delivered the news yesterday that he probably figured was coming, as he was told that he had been sent to the minors. Kendrick met with the media a couple of hours after receiving the news and although obviously disappointed, he remained positive, determined, and poised in what had to be an uncomfortable position for Kyle. "How am I feeling? At first I was upset, but I know what I need to do."
In my mind, he could not have handled himself any better. Kendrick, (1-3, 9.20 ERA in four starts) knew heading into spring training that he needed to add some secondary pitches, notably a change up. He clearly recognized that his new pitches are not where they need to be and he must improve on them. He said, "I see myself as a big league pitcher," and he appears prepared to take the necessary steps to accomplish that goal. In his usual confident approach, Kendrick explained, "I know what I need to do...I'll be back."
One can't help but believe that Kendrick is right. Probably most revealing in the press conference was when Kendrick mentioned, "I'm not just try to get back here...not worried about my numbers." That's the approach he must take, as pitching coach Rich Dubee explains, "I don't care what his numbers are in Triple-A. Again, if he pitches to a 2.00 ERA in Triple-A and it's all predominantly sinkers, we have the same Kyle Kendrick we have right now. And that isn't good enough."
With the news of Kendrick's demotion, it is now clearly a battle between J.A. Happ and Chan Ho Park for the fifth starter spot. Carlos Carrasco remains in the big league camp, but he will clearly start the season in Triple-A. Park has certainly pitched well enough to earn that final starter's spot, but he has proven to be strong in the bullpen in the past. That might just be the deciding factor, but Charlie has a tough decision to make.
Roster moves: In addition to Kendrick, the Phillies also optioned Lou Marson and Brad Harmon to minor league camp and re-assigned Dave Borkowski, Jake Woods, and Jason Donald to minor league camp.
With the news yesterday that Lou Marson has been optioned to the minor league camp, the battle for the backup catcher position is now between just two men: Chris Coste and Ronny Paulino. Let's get one thing settled from the start: there is no race for starting catcher. The Phillies management certainly seems to be in love with Carlos Ruiz, but that is not the reason his job is secure. The fact is, neither Coste nor Paulino has put up good number this spring, making the starting catcher a non-decision. Coste has one hit in only 14 bats for a .071 batting average and Paulino is hitting .185 in 27 at-bats. They aren't exactly lighting up the scoreboard.
So, the question still remains: who will be the backup catcher? One would normally think that the advantage goes to the returning player, but as much as Coste is loved by the fans, he does not seem to be a favorite with management for whatever reason. Coste has proven to be a solid offensive catcher, and Charlie Manuel (a former hitting coach) loves guys who can hit the ball with the stick. However, despite only hitting .219 with 31 RBIs in 2008, Charlie continued to pencil in Ruiz. Manuel would always explain that a catcher's main job is to play well defensively and handle the pitching staff, and he felt that "Chooch" was excellent at both. Is that the real reason, or was it that Charlie felt Coste was poor behind the plate? As Coste himself puts it, "Baseball people have always assumed that I was a weak defensive catcher, and once the label of poor defense was attached it became nearly impossible to shake. I could block a thousand dirt balls in a row, but the first one that gets by me is the one people will remember."
It is very difficult to judge a catcher on how they handle a pitching staff unless you are with the team all the time, so I will have to trust Manuel's judgment on this one. However, I never thought Ruiz was much more than solid behind the plate. He is pretty good at blocking balls, but he seems pretty average at throwing out runners and makes too many needless wild throws to first for my taste. I have a feeling Coste was not as good at handling the pitching staff, but he seemed to be more than adequate at blocking balls and throwing out runners, yet he never seems to get the love. As Coste himself puts it, "Believe me, I don't claim to be a defensive wizard. I am Carlos Ruiz' biggest fan. He deserved to be the World Series catcher and deserves to be the starter in 2009. I do know that I'm far better than what people think."
At any rate, the competition is between Coste and Paulino for the backup job. If I had to guess, I would say Chris Coste is going to win the job, and it was probably his to lose in the first place. Paulino is a career .278 and the Phillies most likely brought him here for offensive reasons, so his poor hitting this spring could not have helped things. If Coste does not win the job, it will be interesting to see because Coste has mentioned publicly that he does not want to play in the minors again. Let's hope for his sake that he does not have to worry about it.
Having decided to option Kyle Kendrick to the minors, the fifth starter spot is now a battle between J.A. Happ and Chan Ho Park. The Phillies claim that the final spot is still open.. According to Rich Dubee, "It's open, yeah." Dubee says, "We haven't committed to anybody, that's for sure."One thing is for sure: both pitchers have pitched well enough to earn the distinction of starting pitcher. With three starts each, Happ has a 3.15 ERA in 20 innings and Park has a 2.87 ERA in 15 2/3 innings.
When the Phillies signed 35 year old Park for $2.5 million in the off season, he made it clear that he wanted to start for the club. He was so committed to winning the fifth starter job that he elected not to participate in the World Baseball Classic for South Korea. Of the final decision from the Phillies, Park said, "The decision is not mine. I'm not going to make the decision. But the pitch selection, that's my decision. But Spring Training, maybe this is a little more motivation. I'm trying to be more aggressive and work a little harder. Hopefully I can get the goal I'm looking for."
Unfortunately, Park's previous success in the bullpen may actually count against him. With Happ pitching well and Romero suspended for the first fifty games, it might be in the Phillies' best interest to insert a proven veteran into the bullpen. Another motivation to make Happ the starter is the fact that he is still a young, and the best way for him to progress as pitcher is probably as a starter rather than pitch in relief. However, Happ did pitch a little in the pen last year and it would not be out of the question for him to do the same this year. Given the Phillies track record, it is likely that Happ will start this year, whether for the big club or in the minors. At this point, we can just wait and see what happens...
It appears that we are much closer to finding out the answer of who will be the backup catcher for the Phillies in 2009. According to Todd Zolecki of mlb.com, the Phillies are letting other teams know that Ronny Paulino is available for trade. Therefore, it is now pretty evident that Coste will wear Phillies pinstripes this year.
The Phillies have options on both Paulino and Coste, so they don't necessarily need to trade Paulino, but with Lou Marson waiting with the Iron Pigs there would be no room for both of them. The other possibility is to carry three catchers, but Ruben Amaro says that is an unlikely possibility. For more discussion on the back-up catcher competition, read Battle for back-up catcher.
Chris Coste can take a deep breath now, because he will be the back-up catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009. He can relax now that the Phillies have traded catcher Ronny Paulino to the San Francisco Giants for relief pitcher Jack Taschner.
After Paulino fell out of favor with Pirates manager John Russell due to his work ethic, Ruben Amaro traded Jason Jaromillo to Pittsburgh for Paulino in the winter meetings. Regardless of his work ethic in spring training, Paulino simply did not hit well enough to remain on the team, hitting only .194 in 31 at-bats with 12 strikeouts.
The deal works out for the Phillies in a couple ways. First, with Lou Marson the apparent catcher of the future, there wasn't much choice but to trade Ronny Paulino or to release him outright.
Secondly, Jack Taschner gives the Phillies a much needed second lefty in the bullpen. Granted, he is no J.C. Romero, but hopefully he can fill the void until J.C. returns after his 50 game suspension. Taschner has spent his entire four year career with the Giants. Two years ago, he appeared in 63 games with a 5.40 ERA and last year he had 67 appearances with a 4.88 ERA. The alarming number for Taschner is the fact that he had an 8.80 ERA after the all-star game last year. In 9 games so far this spring he has a 6.23 ERA with 12 walks.
All in all, this move works out pretty well for the Phillies. And, with barely a week to go before Opening Day, the Phils are one step closer to filling all roster spots.
The Phillies brought over Marcus Giles to this winter as a non-roster invitee in hopes he could add some right handed depth to the bench, but it was not meant to be. The Phillies announced today that Marcus Giles had been released.
In 19 Spring Training games, Giles hit just .167 (6-for-36) with three doubles, two RBIs and three stolen bases. Giles was certainly not surprised, but nonetheless disappointed. He provided a refreshing response when he met with the media. He said, "You'd think it'd get easier when you kinda see it comin. It's unfortunate, but..the only good thing about it is that there's no one to blame but myself. I had a chance, they gave me a chance and I just didn't make the best of it." Giles also added, "I don't think I would have gotten consistent at-bats in Triple-A, so really, they are doing me a favor to give me a release." Regardless of where his career goes from here, you have to respect his attitude.
In other moves, the Phillies optioned John Mayberry, Jr. and Carlos Carrasco to Minor League camp and revealed that Mike Koplove, Jason Ellison, and Pablo Ozuna will not make the 25-man roster. This now leaves the Phillies with Miguel Cairo as the only possible right handed bat off the bench. The Phillies will most likely attempt to find another right handed bat at some point. Whether or not Cairo plays depends largely on how many pitchers the Phillies carry. With a few off days to start the season, the Phils probably will only need a four man starting rotation and can therefore afford to carry only 11 pitchers and add Cairo to the roster. However, if they carry 12 pitchers, the only way Cairo can make the team is if the Phillies let someone else go.
In a bit of a surprise move, the Phillies released outfielder Jenkins as they make their final roster decisions before opening day. 31 year old Jenkins signed a two-year, $13 million contract with the Phillies last off season with a mutual option for 2010 and a $1.25 million dollar buyout. Jenkins is due to make $6.75 million this year, and the Phillies will have to cover that amount in full.
After spending 12 seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, Jenkins made the playoffs for the first time in his career last season. Jenkins batted .246 in 115 games last year with 9 HR and 29 RBI.
Given the also surprising news that the Detroit Tigers released veteran outfielder Gary Sheffield, Ruben Amaro Jr. has shown interest in acquiring him. If the Phillies sign Sheffield, it would give them a much needed right handed bat in the outfield. The Tigers still need to pay Sheffield's full $14 million dollar salary this year, and any team that signs him will only need to pay $400,00. In 18 games this spring, Sheffield was hitting .178 (8-for-45) with three homers and five RBIs this spring. In 114 games last season he hit .225 with 19 homers and 57 RBIs. Sheffield first home run with whichever team he signs will be a big one, since he is currently sitting on 499 career homers.
If the Phillies are unable to sign Sheffield, it becomes much more likely that Miguel Cairo will make the team.
The Phillies finally made a decision regarding the fifth starter: it will be Chan Ho Park. Yesterday afternoon, Park learned that he had won the fifth spot in the rotation. "I feel very happy," Park said yesterday. "First, because I had a good spring. Second, I made a deal to make the rotation instead of playing for the national team. It worked out pretty well."
Park certainly pitched well enough to earn the position. In four starts and 21 1/3 innings this spring, he had a 2.53 ERA, allowing six runs, only two walks, and 25 strikeouts. When Park signed with the Phillies, he did so under the agreement that he was competing for a starter's role. He was so committed to becoming a starter that he elected not to join his native South Korean team in the World Baseball Classic. Apparently, this was the right decision to make.
J.A. Happ seemed to be the favorite to win this position. I expected that Happ would win the starters spot, since he pitched well last year and this spring, coupled with the fact that Park was a successful relief pitcher in the past and that Happ would likely progress the best as a starter. Happ did not lose the job more than Park won. In 20 innings this spring and 3 starts, he went 0-0 with a 3.15 ERA. He gave up seven earned runs, walked six, and struck out 14.
Happ did not hide his unhappiness with the decision. "Regardless of what anybody says or what's been written, there's no one that wanted this job more or worked harder to get it," Happ said. "I busted my butt to try to get it. That was my goal. I thought I had a good spring. With that being said, I did all those things to be a big leaguer. If I can get a job in the bullpen, and if I can have some success there, I think an opportunity will come where I can get back to a starting job. If I can get a job on this club, it's still a good thing."
Happ does not appear to be guaranteed a position with bullpen, either. Pitching coach Rich Dubee said, "If he's one of the best 12 (pitchers), he'd probably benefit from pitching up here." Not exactly the vote of confidence Happ is looking for. The Phillies have two bullpen spots still up for grabs. It is likely that newly acquired Jack Taschner will take one of the positions, meaning that Happ is competing with Gary Majewski and Bobby Mosebach for the last spot. In a positive sign for Happ, Andy Martino from philly.com is reporting, "the team will likely open the season with Happ in the big-league bullpen." I doubt that offers little comfort to Happ right now.