This afternoon in Clearwater, Florida, the Grapefruit League season got underway for a Philadelphia Phillies squad many believe is destined to be a big loser. The team did not lose today…but they didn’t win either.
The final score was a 5-5 tie between the Phils and the visiting New York Yankees, but it’s hard to convince any Phillies fans watching that this was anything other than a defeat.
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The Phils held a 5-2 lead with two outs in the 9th, only to have New York force the tie on a 2-out, 3-run homer by one of the Yanks top prospects, outfielder Aaron Judge on a ball that Phillies outfield prospect Aaron Altherr barely missed snatching for what would have been the final out of the game.
Before we reached that deflating 9th, there was much to make Fightins’ fans feel good. Perhaps nothing more positive came from this game than the appearance and performance of Ryan Howard.
“His body right now looks like it will allow him to be more productive and have a good spring training camp.” ~ Sandberg, on Howard
The greatly maligned ‘Big Piece’ is obviously trimmed down, some reports saying that he dropped up to 30 pounds in the off-season. He looks as good physically as he ever has in his career.
Aside from just his physical appearance, Howard’s performance today was a big story. He showed that he could indeed take a ball the opposite way. He went 2-2 and drove in a run in the 4th inning that tied the game 1-1 at that point. He also looked much more nimble around the 1st base bag than in recent years.
Mar 3, 2015; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies pitcher JRodriguez (64) throws a pitch during the fifth inning against the New York Yankees during a spring training baseball game at Bright House Field.
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
As Matt Lombardo for NJ Advanced Media at NJ.com reported, skipper Ryne Sandberg had telegraphed Howard’s improved physical condition in this statement to reporters last Wednesday:
“His body right now looks like it will allow him to be more productive and have a good spring training camp. Just running the bases he even looks better. It looks like he has a much better chance of scoring from second base, much better getting to the cut-off spot playing first base. There should be some more range there with the way he looks from the waist down.”
If this wasn’t just an early spring aberration, but instead is a portent of things to come, Howard could easily become one of the biggest stories of the spring in all of baseball.
On the mound for the Phillies, the original plan of starting Jerome Williams and having him followed by David Buchanan was flip-flopped. Perhaps the last-minute notice affected Buchanan, who looked shaky allowing a run and 5 hits over the first two frames. Williams on the other hand cruised through his two innings.
The two-inning stints by the pitchers currently favored for the #4 and 5 slots in the Phils 2015 starting rotation were followed by two-inning stints from a pair of relievers battling for roles with the big club, but likely ticketed for the minors.
Joely Rodriguez, obtained from Pittsburgh in the Antonio Bastardo deal this off-season, struck out one and allowed one walk over the 5th and 6th innings. He was followed in the 7th and 8th by veteran Jeanmar Gomez, who allowed a pair of hits and a walk, working around those to keep the Phillies up by 5-1 headed to the fateful 9th.Mar 3, 2015; Clearwater, FL, USA; New York Yankees right fielder
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
In that 9th inning, Mario Hollands came on to wrap it up, and did anything but. In 2/3 of an inning, Hollands allowed 4 earned runs on 5 hits, including the Judge game-tying homer. This chased Hollands from the game, and Luis Garcia came on to strikeout the only batter he faced.
In the bottom of the 9th, the Phils put the tying run at 2nd base with two outs, but Altherr struck out swinging to maintain the tie. It was an inning of opportunity for the young Phillies prospect outfielder who ultimately came up a bit short with both the glove and the bat.
The two teams then mutually agreed to leave things as they were, and not play extra innings, creating the final 5-5 tie score.
Tomorrow, the Phillies will go on the road, again facing the Yankees, this time at George Steinbrenner Field. Many more of New York’s top stars, including Alex Rodriguez, are slated to appear in that one. The Phils will go with newcomer Kevin Slowey getting the starting pitching assignment.
Check back with TBOH on Wednesday morning for a preview of Game #2 of the 2015 Philadelphia Phillies spring training Grapefruit League schedule.