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Jack McCaffery is the lead sports columnist for the Daily Times and He has spent several decades covering everything from the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and Sixers, to college hoops, to high school sports in Delco.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A.J. Ellis catching onto the idea of playing for Phillies

By Jack McCaffery
NEW YORK >> When he was traded last week to the Phillies, A.J. Ellis resisted any celebrations.
More to the point, he was disappointed. Even more to the point, he was disturbed.
But by Saturday night, he was warming to the idea. And by Sunday, that will be him, 60-feet, six inches from Vince Velasquez in CitiField as the Phillies' starting catcher.
“You get traded off a contending team to a non-contender, you can’t be happy about that,” Pete Mackanin said before the Phils' 12-1 loss to the Mets. “But he’s over it. He’s moving forward.”
Ellis is the 34-year-old catcher who had played his entire nine-year big-league career with the Dodgers. When he was traded with pitching prospect Tommy Bergjans to the Phils for Carlos Ruiz and cash, he was quoted as telling teammates he was “absolutely devastated.”
But there he was in the bullpen earlier Saturday, working with young Phillies pitchers Jerad Eickhoff and Jake Thompson.
“The waves of emotion are getting farther and farther apart, which is a good thing,” Ellis said. “Arriving here and meeting the staff, I'm starting to feel re-energized, refueled with a sense of purpose as to why I’ve been placed here, and why this where I need to be at this time. I’m excited about that.
“I know I have huge shoes to fill. Carlos Ruiz is such a fixture in the Phillies organization. The work that he’s done here behind the plate, you can’t fill. This guy is a world champion catcher who has been back there for so many great baseball memories. So it’s up to me to do my part to fill the void.”
Not signed past this year, Ellis' purpose in Philadelphia likely is as a placeholder behind Cameron Rupp until next season, when either Andrew Knapp or Jorge Alfaro is ready for a promotion to the majors.
“The thing we like about him is his experience and his game-calling skills,” Mackanin said, “and things like that.”
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Among Ellis' earliest tasks was to help the Phillies' hitters self-scout themselves. That's because Mackanin had the veteran catcher share the Dodgers' “book” on each hitter.
“We’ve seen these guys twice in the last couple weeks,” Ellis said. “We can dig into those conversations and talk to the offensive side of how we wanted to attack them and as a catcher, things that I’ve noticed from watching them swing the bats. Maybe that can create better offensive at-bats.”
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Friday, the Phils lost, 9-4. Saturday, it was 12-1, scoring only on Freddy Galvis' home run.
“No offense to talk about other than Freddy's home run,” Mackanin said. “Nice to see that. But the last two nights, there were plenty of earned runs given up. Bad pitching. The funny thing about it is we are 11-11 in the month of August. So it's hard to figure out. But tonight was embarrassing.
“One good thing I was made aware of is we haven't made an error in the last 11 games. So it's not like we're booting the ball all over the place and making bad plays. That's something positive to think about. Just put this one behind us.”
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Jeremy Hellickson lasted only four innings, allowing seven hits and two home runs, including a three-run shot by Yoenis Cespedes and two-run Asdrubal Cabrera poke.
“I've been on a nice little run,” said Hellickson, who hadn't lost since July 15. “I just lost command of all three pitches tonight. I think the two home runs were two of the better fastballs that I threw. Yeah, it’s a good lineup that’s hot right now. You can’t make too many mistakes like I did tonight.”
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Velasquez (8-6, 4.31 ERA) will face New York right-hander Robert Gsellman at 1:10 Sunday afternoon. The Phils will be home Monday night to start a three-game series with Washington.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Carson Wentz breaks rib, likely out for rest of preseason

By Jack McCaffery
@JackMcCaffery on Twitter
PHILADELPHIA >> Carson Wentz did not make it through his first Eagles game without an issue.
After not throwing a pass in a morning practice Saturday at the NovaCare Complex, the rookie quarterback was diagnosed with a “hairline fracture in his ribs,” according to the Eagles.
The Eagles did not specify when Wentz could return to football, though Doug Pederson hinted that it could be before the end of the preseason.
Earlier, the Birds' head coach did not seem concerned that Wentz was complaining of pain on his right-side ribs, indicating that the quarterback would participate in practice Sunday. But Wentz retreated to the locker room and sent word through the Eagles' communications staff that he would not be available for comment.
Later, the Birds released this statement from Pederson: “Carson felt some discomfort and soreness as we began this morning’s practice. We decided to limit him throughout the remainder of practice and, as a precaution, sent him for a CT scan after practice. The scan revealed a hairline fracture in his ribs. We do not know an exact timetable for his return, but we hope to have him back before the end of the preseason.”
Wentz completed 12 of 24 passes for 89 yards and rush three times for 15 yards in his Eagles preseason debut.
“If you were watching the game the other night, he took a shot,” Pederson said. “It was around the next-to-last play. He got up a little slow. So he is just sore today. We just wanted to protect him, so he didn’t throw.”
Wentz was not expected to play much, if at all, for the Eagles this season. Rather, he was to develop while learning from Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel. The injury could compromise his early, training-camp development.
“It bothered him to throw a little bit,” Pederson said earlier Saturday. “But he’s fine.”
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Bradford pocketed $11 million to sign last offseason with the Eagles, the first payment on a contract that could be worth up to $36 million.
He was just thinking out loud Saturday, but he figures they probably expect him to appear in more than three plays a game.
After joking with reporters that he would take as much time as necessary analyzing all three of the plays he ran, two of them handoffs, in the Birds’ preseason opener, Bradford acknowledged that he will play substantially longer in the next game, Thursday in Pittsburgh.
“We really haven’t talked about that a lot,” he said. “I am sure in the next couple days we will go over that. I’m assuming we will play quite a bit over the next couple of games. I think it will be great for us to get out there and establish a little bit of a rhythm, get into some more game situations, try to simulate what we are going to see in Week 1 and just try to get some live action.”
Though the Eagles must certainly see Bradford for more than three plays against the Steelers, Pederson is committed to spreading the quarterback playing-time around.
“We are staying equal,” he said, before learning of Wentz's cracked rib, “with all three.”
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With Lane Johnson almost certain to miss the Birds’ first 10 regular-season games due to a failed test for performance-enhancing drugs, Pederson is adapting. Saturday, he used Allen Barbre at Johnson’s right-tackle spot, dropping Johnson to the second team.
“He’s played there, No. 1,” the coach said of Barbre. “It’s been more left tackle than right, but he’s been there in the past. I love his athleticism. He’s a smart guy out there.”
Left tackle Jason Peters was back Saturday after missing the preseason opener with a quad injury. Pederson experimented with multiple combinations throughout the practice, which unfolded in 96-degree heat.
“Obviously, you got ‘Big V’ (Halapoulivaati Vaitai) sitting right there,” the head coach said. “Of course, Jason Peters is on the left side. Matt Tobin can play both sides, and he played well the other night in limited reps.
“But it’s a situation where this is the time. Once you get kind of through that first game, you start shuffling your roster a little bit.”
Pederson was not committing to any particular alignment.
“What happens if Jason Peters goes down during the regular season, or Jason Kelce goes down during the regular season?” he said. “I just want to see different guys at those spots. In order to do that you’ve got to take time now, this week in camp, to get that accomplished.”
He feels he will.
“I’m looking for five tough, dirty, nasty guys that want to go out and just play football,” he said. “I don’t care which five it is, but we’re going to find the best five and the right five. And I feel like we’ve got them here on the team.”
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NOTES: Malcolm Jenkins (quad), Wendell Smallwood (quad) and Marcus Smith (concussion) practiced, if on a limited basis, Saturday … Brandon Brooks, who left the Tampa Bay game early with a biceps issue, is back. Pederson: “He’s fine.” …  After a tape review, Pederson touted Fletcher Cox and Jaylen Watkins for their performances against the Bucs … Pederson said he would take the Birds indoors for a walk-through Saturday and a similar exercise Sunday morning. Sunday night at 7, the Birds’ practice in the Linc will be open to the public. Admission is free.

Sizzling Ryan Howard could have late trade value

By Jack McCaffery
PHILADELPHIA >> If a contending team, most likely in the American League, needs a power hitter for a month or so, Pete Mackanin has one who has 10 RBIs in his last seven games, including a grand slam Friday in the Phillies' 10-6 victory over the Colorado Rockies.
Ryan Howard, anybody?
“If I were a playoff team, I would take notice of what he did tonight,” the Phillies' manager said. “It is something he is capable of doing, either as a DH or a pinch-hitter.”
Howard was 3-for-5 Friday with five RBIs, including a fifth-inning grand slam, his franchise-record 14th. Since June 22, he is hitting .320.
Any team interested in Howard would need to make a waiver deal, then have him on the roster before September to have him eligible for the playoffs. He is due the remainder of the $25 million he is owed this season and $10 million as a buyout for 2017.
Does he think about the possibility that he could interest a contender?
“Really and truthfully, I am just trying to take it as it comes,” Howard said. “I haven't put too much thought into anything. Just trying to keep it simple.”
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Last seen leaving a game in Los Angeles and complaining of back pain, Jeremy Hellickson is likely to make his next scheduled Phillies start.
“Hellickson seems to be fine,” Pete Mackanin said. “We are still going to wait, see how he feels in a couple days to see if he is going to make his next start. But at this point right now I feel like he is going to make that start.”
Hellickson grabbed his back after making a fifth-inning pitch in the Phillies' 6-2 victory over the Dodgers Wednesday, then was removed from the game. To that point, the right-hander had allowed three hits and one earned run. Afterward, Mackanin admitted in print to being worried. By Friday, he was relieved.
The Phillies have not named a starter for Sunday. They have Monday off. That would suggest a Tuesday return for Hellickson against the visiting Dodgers.
“As I said, he told me he wanted to go back out,” Mackanin said. “But I didn't want to send him out. I didn't want another starter going down for just one more inning.”
By then, the Phillies' rotation was already challenged, with Aaron Nola (elbow) on the disabled list and Zach Eflin joining him with trouble in both knees. Eflin had an MRI on his knees Friday, according to Mackanin. The Phillies did not reveal the results.
If Eflin has pitched his last game for the Phils this season, he will have gone 3-5 with a 5.54 ERA. Among his 11 starts were two nine-inning efforts in which he did not walk a hitter. For that, Mackanin believes the right-hander had shown the Phillies enough in his rookie season.
“I feel like that,” the manager said. “He's had enough good starts where he's been impressive at times. And he's had chronic knee issues as it is. If they decide to take care of it now, I think that may be a good idea. But I'll leave that up to the medical people. Bring him back 100 percent next year. We'll see what they say.”
A likely candidate to pitch Sunday against Colorado is Adam Morgan, who would need to be recalled form Lehigh Valley. The left-hander is 6-1 with the IronPigs and 1-7 with the Phils in a perplexing season. However, Mackanin denied that decision had been made.
Jerad Eickhoff (7-12, 3.78 ERA) will face Colorado left-hander Tyler Anderson (4-3, 3.04) Saturday night at 7:05. Right-hander Tyler Chatwood (10-7, 3.58) will pitch for the Rockies Sunday at 1:35.
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Simply by signing with the Phillies in 2003 as a free agent, Jim Thome helped inflate the popularity of Citizens Bank Park when it opened in 2004.
Friday, the Phillies made that official when they hammered a Thome plaque onto their centerfield Wall of Fame.
“I don’t think one guy actually comes in and changes things,” Thome said before the Phillies' game against the Colorado Rockies. “I think what happens is, if a guy signs, you see other guys follow. And we were all together as a unit. And even though you don’t see at that moment, say a world championship that season, eventually you’re working towards that.”
Thome played just four seasons with the Phillies, including a 40-game hitch in 2012 at age 41. But he was thrilled to join Phillies legends Mike Schmidt, Jim Bunning, Steve Carlton and others on a stage for the pregame Wall of Fame ceremony.
“You are humbled that they would think that highly of you to put you in a great fraternity of Hall of Famers,” Thome said. “They just don’t give people that honor. To be voted by the fans, that’s something special. I know that I didn’t play here long and I know there are so many guys that are going to be in this that are deserving. I just feel so honored that they would think of me to put me in.”
Thome was introduced by Wall of Famer Charlie Manuel.
“Overnight,” Manuel said, “he changed the way people thought about the Philadelphia Phillies.”
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Jake Thompson earned his first major-league win, striking out six in five innings.
“It's awesome,” he said. “It's kind of nice to get the first one out of the way. Hopefully, I will get a little confidence out there on the mound and keep it rolling.”
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When Peter Bourjos rejoined the Phillies Friday after recovering from a shoulder injury, a roster move was necessary. The Phillies chose to return Cody Asche to Lehigh Valley, keeping Jimmy Paredes, who was hitting .200 with three home runs in 49 games.
“Well, we wanted Asche to get at-bats, go down there and figure himself out,” Mackanin said. “He hasn't been the same hitter and we're exhausting every possibility of getting him back on track and we don't want to do it here.”
Asche was hitting .213 with four home runs.
“He wasn't happy, but he was fine with it,” Mackanin said. “He was disappointed. But he handled it well. Professional.”
With that, Mackanin started Bourjos in right, Odubel Herrera in center and Aaron Altherr in left.
“I like the look of the outfield,” Mackanin said. “We’ve got two 'centerfielders' on the corners, Herrera in center. It’s like I have three centerfielders out there. So I like the look of that.”