Clay Buchholz is embracing leadership role on young Phillies' staff

Clay Buchholz is embracing leadership role on young Phillies' staff

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- At age 32 and with 10 years of big-league service time, Clay Buchholz is the elder statesman of the Phillies' starting pitching staff.

The distinction comes with a responsibility to lead and Buchholz is ready for that role.

"It comes with the territory," the right-hander said after his second start of the spring with his new club Sunday (see story). "If you're lucky enough to be around the big leagues for an extended period of time you know what you have to do. I'm looking forward to it."

The Phillies acquired Buchholz in a December trade with the Boston Red Sox. Three weeks into his first camp with the Phils, Buchholz has been impressed with some of the young arms he now shares a clubhouse with.

He mentioned Vince Velasquez, in particular.

"I like Velasquez," Buchholz said. "That's who I've played catch with every day since I got here. Just watching him on TV over the last few years, he's got electric stuff. If he can learn how to harness it all … Stuff plays at the major-league level if you command it.

"That's with all the kids coming up now throwing 100 miles per hour. There are some arms coming up around the league that are just electric and I think Vinny is one of those guys who could open a lot of eyes this year."

Buchholz described what it's like to simply play catch with Velasquez, who had a 16-strikeout game last season.

"You see how the ball comes out of his hand, the backspin, the movement, and he's not even trying to make it move, that's just the way it comes out of his hand," Buchholz said. "That's when you've got something special."

Buchholz hopes to impart on Velasquez and others some of the lessons that he learned over his 10 seasons in the baseball cauldron that is Boston. Buchholz enjoyed the highs of pitching a no-hitter in the second big-league start of his career and the lows of losing his spot in the rotation (he ultimately regained it) a decade later.

Playing under the microscope in Boston taught Buchholz the importance of having a short memory -- the ol' never get too high when things are going well or too low when they're going bad thingy. It also taught him the importance of focus.

"I talk to (Velasquez) every day," Buchholz said. "It's more about coming from an organization where everything is so magnified and you're expected to win every year. From my short time here, it's a little more relaxed than Boston was, even in spring. It's easier to work on things without having to answer a whole lot of questions and dwelling on them and that's what I'm trying to express to these guys: You have to work every day and even if it's relaxed you've got to take it at game speed and that's how you get better."

Velasquez, 24, struck out 10.4 batters per nine innings over 24 starts last season. He is one of three starters 26 and under in the Phillies' rotation, joining 23-year-old Aaron Nola and 26-year-old Jerad Eickhoff.

"It's something different than what I've seen the past nine or 10 years," Buchholz said. "It's always been a big veteran presence and to come into a place where the average age is 24, 25 years old, it's a little different.

"It's fun to be around them, fun to be around a new group of guys. I think this team is headed in the right direction."

Aaron Nola another Zack Greinke? A quick call-up for Scott Kingery?

Aaron Nola another Zack Greinke? A quick call-up for Scott Kingery?


BRADENTON, Fla. — Gabe Kapler played most of what figures to be his opening day lineup on Friday and the Phillies responded with one of their best games of the Grapefruit League schedule in beating the Pittsburgh Pirates, 8-2.

The only regular not in the starting lineup was shortstop J.P. Crawford. Bench candidate Jesmuel Valentin played there (see story).

Opening day starter Aaron Nola pitched four shutout innings, gave up four hits, a walk and struck out five. He threw 64 pitches and 45 were strikes.

Maikel Franco belted two homers, both bombs to left. One was a two-run shot on a 3-0 fastball, the other a grand slam.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a good showing by the Phils without another impressive performance from the man who has been the best player in camp, Scott Kingery. He came off the bench, played center field, right field and third base, and stroked a hard single to right.

It is doubtful that Kingery will be on the opening day roster, but it’s looking more and more like he could be up with the big club as soon as April 13. If Kingery stays in the minors until then, the Phillies will control his rights through 2024. If he makes the opening day roster, he could be eligible for free agency after 2023. Keeping Kingery down for a few weeks won’t sit well with some fans, but it makes good baseball sense, especially for a team that does not project as a slam-dunk contender.

Kapler raved about a play Kingery made at third.

“Wow, wow,” the manager said. “His ability to go to his left and make that strong throw. He showed off that incredible arm and that versatility.”

Kapler also liked Franco’s power. The third baseman, entering a make-or-break season with the Phillies, is hitting just .192 on the spring, but he leads the club with five homers. Franco has closed his stance by bringing his front foot closer to the plate. He is getting more comfortable with the stance, which the Phillies hope will prompt him to use the middle of the field and stop pulling off balls.

“He attacked that 3-0 pitch,” Kapler said. “That was pretty impressive.”

Nola said he was “ready to go” for the opener.

Kapler concurred and compared Nola to a former Cy Young winner.

“Perfect tune-up for opening day, got him right where we wanted him with pitches — and he got to that pitch count by throwing strikes, a lot of them, and really attacking with pitches," Kapler said of Nola.

“He’s starting to look to me a lot like — I saw Zack Greinke in the American League when he was with Kansas City — kind of a familiar look to the way that he uses the gas pedal and the brake effectively and fills up the strike zone with all his pitches. His calm, easy, collected demeanor is really reminiscent of some of the best pitchers in baseball.”

The Phillies play the Tigers in Lakeland on Saturday.

Questions Phillies face as spring training nears its end

Questions Phillies face as spring training nears its end

BRADENTON, Fla. — Less than a week before opening day, there are still a number of unanswered questions surrounding the Phillies.

About the only thing known for sure is that Aaron Nola will start Thursday in Atlanta. The right-hander made his final spring tune-up Friday afternoon against the Pirates.

Some of the questions that need to be answered before the Phillies pack up and leave Florida on Tuesday include:

• When will Jake Arrieta join the rotation? Will it be April 2, 3 or 4 in New York? Will it be during the team’s first homestand, possibly April 7? Arrieta threw 31 pitches in his first spring start Thursday. A bullpen session over the weekend and his next start, likely 50 or so pitches on Tuesday, will offer team officials a better idea on when he’ll be ready.

• Who else will be in the rotation? Nothing has been announced, but Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta appear to be locks with Nola and eventually Arrieta. Zach Eflin could be the fifth starter, if the Phils use one the first time through the rotation. He could also piggyback with Arrieta in New York if the Phils wanted to get Arrieta going that early. Ben Lively and Drew Hutchison remain candidates to make the club as the fifth starter, should the Phils use one during the first 10 days of the season.

• Who's in the bullpen? Hector Neris, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Luis Garcia and Adam Morgan are locks. That likely leaves three openings. One spot will likely go to a lefty, Hoby Milner or Zac Curtis. Right-handers Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano seem to be vying for one spot and the final one could go to Lively or Hutchison. They are both stretched out and could provide the bullpen length that injured Mark Leiter Jr. would have.

• How about bullpen roles? Manager Gabe Kapler is not one to speak in absolutes. He is loath to define roles in his bullpen or batting order. He’s keeping options open and could assign roles on a nightly basis based on matchups and research that the team’s growing analytics department digs up. Neris went 20 for 20 in save chances while giving up just three runs in 19⅔ innings after June 27 last season. Logic would dictate that he'd be the closer. But will he be every night? Will Kapler use him in a matchup situation in the seventh inning some night? Time will tell. Same for batting order construction.

• Who will be on the bench? Infielder/outfielder Pedro Florimon has played well and looks like a lock. That leaves one or two openings, depending on how many pitchers the Phils open with. Veterans Ryan Flaherty and Adam Rosales were both granted their release. That leaves Jesmuel Valentin and Roman Quinn, both 40-man roster guys, as the two lead candidates. There might be room for both, depending on how many pitchers the Phils open with. It also would not be shocking to see the team send Quinn to Triple A to get more playing time. The Phils appear to be leaning toward carrying Andrew Knapp as their second catcher over Cameron Rupp, who has a minor-league option remaining.