Phillies Lose to University of Tampa in Spring Opener


The first Phillies spring training outing, a 6-2 loss to the University of Tampa, was one of those baseball games that you had to enjoy for the atmosphere, not the action on the field.

Phillies games at Bright House Field are fun, even more than the minor league Clearwater Threshers games that come during the summer, in large part because of all the Philly-centric food stands that are open only during Spring Training. It’s as if the ballpark transforms for a short time into Citizens Bank Park South, with a Bull’s Barbeque, Tony Luke’s and water ice.

Joseph warms up Clemens before the start of the Phillies 2015 spring exhibition opener in Clearwater.

One of the many differences from Citizens Bank Park is the easy access to the bullpens. In Clearwater, you can get close enough to take photos like this shot of catcher Tommy Joseph, who was warming up the day’s scheduled starting pitcher, Paul Clemens.

Joseph was a 2nd round pick of the San Francisco Giants in the 2009 Amateur Draft. He came over to the Phillies in the now infamous Hunter Pence trade just hours before the 2012 trade deadline.

The Phils sent Pence, who has gone on to become a key player for two Giants’ World Series championship teams, to San Francisco in exchange for Joseph, pitcher Seth Rosin, and outfielder Nate Schierholtz.

Rosin since moved on, making his MLB debut a year ago with the Texas Rangers, and Schierholtz left via free agency after that 2012 season.

This leaves the now 23-year old Joseph as the only piece left. He hit .276 a year ago with 5 homers, and is hoping to show enough to unseat Cameron Rupp as the Phils backup catcher in 2015.

The Phillies did not put their best foot forward for this exhibition game, lineup-wise, as it was filled with backups and minor leaguers who just began arriving at camp a week ago. Meanwhile, the Spartans are the top-ranked NCAA Div. II team, and have already played 14 games, accumulating a 13-1 record. Still, it’s exciting for college kids to take a win over a team of professionals, no matter the circumstances.

The Phillies got on the board first in what might not have actually been a scoring play at all.  Minor league vet Russ Canzler doubled in the 2nd inning for the Phils first hit, and came around to score a controversial run on an Aaron Altherr single.

Was Canzler safe as called, or out?

As you can see from the photo, it appears that the correct call may have been “out” not “safe”, but it went the Fightins’ way this time. Later in the inning, the quasi-Phillies stretched the lead out to 2-0 when Altherr scored on a pick-off try that went wild.

Phillippe Aumont came on and flashed the two things that make him so frustrating, a solid fastball, and a lack of command. He gave up 3 hits and the first Spartans run, cutting the lead to 2-1.

The Phillies took that 2-1 lead into the seventh when Ruben Amaro‘s nephew, Andrew Amaro, came up to the plate with the bases loaded. Nefi Ogando walked Amaro, who went 1-3 with the walk, 2 runs scored, and an RBI on the day as the Spartans 1st baseman and leadoff man.

Giovanny Alfonzo smacks the game winning grand slam in the 7th.

With the game now tied, Hector Neris was brought in with the bases still loaded. The first batter that he faced, shortstop Giovanny Alfonzo, ripped a grand slam, putting the Spartans in front by what would prove to be the final 6-2 margin of victory.

As the starting pitcher, Clemens looked strong in his first outing of the spring. He faced 6 batters over his 2 shutout innings, striking out one and allowing no walks or hits. He is ticketed for the AAA Lehigh Valley rotation at this point.

Andy Oliver, who is fighting for a spot with the big league club as a situational lefty, followed with another 2 hitless innings in which he allowed one walk. He was then followed by 23-year old lefty Elvis Araujo, who struck out the side in the 5th, allowing one hit.

From that point, it was ineffectiveness from Aumont, Ogando, and Neris. They were followed by one final solid inning from free agent signee Jeanmar Gomez, who struck out one hitter in a perfect 9th inning. Gomez is likely ticketed for Lehigh Valley as well, as either a starter or reliever, and is a prime candidate to see action in Philly at some point, if only due to his 5 years of MLB experience with Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

Game-winning grand slam sails over

The Phillies did give at-bats to a few familiar names, the most high-profile of which was Darin Ruf. Trying to show that he is an MLB-caliber everyday starting ballplayer, Ruf was given the start here at 1st base and inserted into the cleanup spot. He was mostly a non-factor, going 1-3 at the plate and recording just a lone putout in the field.

Cesar Hernandez started at 2nd base and went 0-2 with a walk, handling 4 chances cleanly in the field. Free agent signee Jordan Danks saw his first action in a Phillies uniform. He walked and struck out in a pair of plate appearances.

Perhaps the Phils hitter of most interest was the leadoff man, Rule 5 signee Odubel Herrera. The Venezuela Winter League MVP and Rookie of the Year who won the Texas League batting title as a member of the Texas Rangers organization, Herrera has a real chance to stick all year. He went 1-3 as the starting centerfielder.

While the season did not start as Phillies fans may have wanted, the bottom line is that it was a bunch of backups vs a very good college team playing inspired baseball. For the fans, the weather was great and the atmosphere was all you could ask for. From here on out, it’s real MLB competition, and more and more real Phillies players taking the field.