Lee wins, but can Phillies get him to the top?


Lee wins, but can Phillies get him to the top?


MINNEAPOLIS -- The singles-hitting Phillies scored just enough runs to break a season-long, five-game losing streak and get Cliff Lee a much-deserved win Thursday night.

The 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins was another of those tooth-and-nail jobs in which everything has to go right for the Phillies to win. They put together a nice little rally in the top of the eighth to get Lee the lead and Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon closed it out. Papelbon earned his 12th save in his first save chance since May 29 (see Instant Replay).

Lee improved to 8-2 on the season and 7-1 in 10 starts following a Phillies loss.

Obviously, the Phillies have done a lot of losing this season. They are just 2-5 on this trip and 32-35 on the season, 7½ games behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East.

July is right around the corner and with the Phillies sputtering, Lee’s name will soon be hot in trade rumors. Hey, it already is.

So what does ol’ Cliff think?

He offered a glimpse into his thoughts in a chat with reporters after the game. Here it is in Q & A form:

Q: You came here to win. How tough is it to be here on a team that’s spinning its wheels around .500 and has a real uphill road?

A: “The past year and a half hasn’t gone the way I anticipated, but that’s why you play the games. You never know. I don’t think anyone here is happy with the way we’ve played over that time frame. It’s due to a lot of injuries. There’s some good excuses. But they’re still excuses. We’re the Philadelphia Phillies. We should play better than we have. There’s not a good excuse for it, but we have had a lot of key guys injured, so it is what it is.”

Q: As currently constituted, do you think this team can be a playoff team?

A: “What?”

Q: With the current makeup of this team, do you think it can be a playoff team?

A: “I can’t look at it any other way besides I expect us to win and catch up with the Braves and get into the postseason. That’s the only way you can look at it.”

Q: If it doesn’t turn around, do you want to stay?

A: “I definitely want to win. There’s no doubt about that. I want to win. I don’t know how to say it besides that. I want to win.”

Q: If it doesn’t turn around, are you prepared to stay here for two months and play out the string?

A: “I don’t have any control over that. I know that I want to win and I’ll voice that to whoever. And that’s that. I want to win here. That’s why I signed here and that’s where my focus is.”

Q: Are you surprised it’s gone like this the last two seasons? (The Phils won the NL East with Lee in 2011, but missed the playoffs last year.)

A: “We had one chance at it in 2½ years. This year is not over yet. I expected to get multiple shots at it. But there are 29 other teams thinking the same thing. So nothing is going to be given to you and nobody feels sorry for you. You’ve got to go earn it. I’m going to keep doing what I can to give this team a chance to win when I pitch and that’s really all I can control.”

There’s some interesting stuff in there.

Foremost, Lee was given the opportunity to say he wanted to remain with the Phillies even if they continued to plod along out of the money, and he wouldn’t commit to it.

Lee has a limited no-trade clause in which he can block deals to 20 teams, but no-trade clauses can be negotiated away. With his 35th birthday approaching, it’s difficult to imagine Lee blocking a deal that would send him to a team with a chance of winning a World Series. That is if the Phillies decide to move him. There is a school of thought that they will hang on to him, cross their fingers for a second-half run and try to get it together with Lee and Cole Hamels at the top of the rotation next season.

But can Lee, hungry to win and tired of losing, wait that long?

We’ll see.

In the meantime, savor every Lee start. Like this one. He allowed just three hits over seven innings, walked one and struck out six. He faced the minimum through 6 1/3 before allowing a walk, an infield single and a two-run double on his only bad pitch of the night, a hanging 0-2 cutter to Justin Morneau. Lee didn’t make it past the seventh because he had a blister on his middle finger.

Down a run in the top of the eighth, Kevin Frandsen (pinch-hit double) started a two-run rally that allowed the Phils to retake the lead. Jimmy Rollins’ ground out scored Ben Revere (four hits) with the go-ahead run and Adams and Papelbon did the rest.

“Cliff pitched too well to lose that game,” Frandsen said.

Phillies’ focus turns to Aaron Nola, Scott Kingery, bench competition

USA Today Images

Phillies’ focus turns to Aaron Nola, Scott Kingery, bench competition


FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Phillies began their final full week in Florida on Sunday with a game against the Minnesota Twins. It provided manager Gabe Kapler the opportunity to look at a number of important areas — some settled, some unsettled — of his roster.

To wit:

• The opening day battery of Aaron Nola and Jorge Alfaro worked together. Nola battled through an early rough patch and delivered five innings of two-run ball. He will have one more start before he gets the call in Atlanta in 11 days.

• Scott Kingery, everybody’s favorite prospect, got the start at third base. He had two hits, raising his average to .378 (14 for 37), and made a nice play on a bunt. Kingery is projected to open at Triple A so the Phillies can control his rights through 2024. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be down there long. He projects as the second baseman of the future, but Cesar Hernandez is at the position for now. Third base could be a temporary landing spot for Kingery if Maikel Franco struggles. Kingery played some third at Triple A last season. Yes, Kapler wants to create versatility on his roster. But it was still notable that Kingery got his first look of the spring at third. He will get more time in the outfield before camp ends.

“We want him ready to step in and play all over the diamond whenever that time is,” Kapler said.

• The battle for bench spots was in full display. It’s not clear if the Phils have two or three spots open on the bench because they don’t need a fifth starting pitcher until April 11 and that could allow them a five-man bench at the outset. Regardless, the competition will come into focus this week.  Candidates Ryan Flaherty, Adam Rosales, Pedro Florimon, Jesmuel Valentin and Roman Quinn all played in the game.

Quinn, Florimon and Valentin are all on the 40-man roster so that could help their chances. Quinn, an outfielder by trade, got another look at shortstop. Florimon played left field, had a hit and walked twice. Valentin, an infielder by trade, got a look in right field and belted his third homer of the spring, a three-run shot, for the Phillies’ only runs in a 4-3 loss.

“Valentin has really put his strongest foot forward,” Kapler said. “He’s demonstrated pop, versatility and come up with huge hits.”

Flaherty, who played seven different positions with the Orioles over the last six seasons, started at first base and had a hit. He’s hitting .333.

“He’s having an awesome spring,” Kapler said.

Like Flaherty, Rosales, who has played parts of the last 10 seasons in the majors, can also play anywhere. Flaherty has an out in his minor-league contract on Thursday, so that could bring some clarity to his situation. If he’s still in the hunt Saturday, the Phillies must add him to the 40-man roster, pay him a $100,000 retention bonus or allow him to walk. Ditto for Rosales. So the bench picture will start to come into focus soon.

“There’s a lot to be excited about in that bench role,” Kapler said.

Charlie Manuel keeps his promise to Roy Halladay's son

Jim Salisbury/NBCSP

Charlie Manuel keeps his promise to Roy Halladay's son

DUNEDIN, Fla. – It’s not hard to find Charlie Manuel in spring training. In late mornings, he’s perched behind the batting cage watching Phillies hitters take their swings. During the game, he’s on the top step of the dugout, taking it all in and offering advice where needed.

Manuel didn’t stay for the game Saturday. He watched batting practice, showered and drove out of the parking lot 30 minutes before the first pitch.

Manuel, you see, had a promise to keep.

Back in November, Manuel was one of nine people to speak at Roy Halladay’s memorial service at Spectrum Field, the Phillies’ spring training home. Manuel stood at a podium near the very mound that Halladay trained on and spoke from the heart about what an honor it was to manage such a great talent and competitor. Manuel had jotted his words down on a paper, but he didn’t stick completely to his script that day. At one point, he looked down at Halladay’s two grieving sons, Braden and Ryan, and told them he’d be keeping tabs on their progress as young ballplayers. Manuel promised to attend their games. And that’s just what he did Saturday afternoon.

Braden Halladay, a lanky 17-year-old right-hander who bears a striking resemblance to his dad, on and off the mound, is a member of the Canadian Junior Team’s spring training roster. He was born in Toronto when his dad played for the Blue Jays, hence his eligibility to pitch for Canada.

On Saturday, Braden pitched a scoreless eighth inning against a Jays’ split-squad team on the very Dunedin Stadium mound where his dad began his career.

“I’m so glad I came over,” Manuel said after Braden’s perfect inning of work. “He did good. I’m glad he got ‘em out.”

This wasn’t the first time Manuel had seen Braden pitch. Braden pitches for Calvary Christian High School in Clearwater, where he is a junior. Manuel watched him pitch five shutout innings earlier in the week. And on Wednesday night, Manuel attended young brother Ryan’s practice in Clearwater.

Manuel has a warm spot for the boys for a lot of reasons. Obviously, there was the respect he had for their dad. “When I think of Roy, I think of the perfect game and playoff no-hitter first,” Manuel said. “Right after that, I think of his work ethic. It was the best I’ve ever seen.” 

But Manuel’s affection for the boys goes beyond the respect he had for their dad. Manuel was 18, the oldest son in a family of 11 children, when he lost his dad.

“I feel for those boys,” Manuel said. “I know what they’re going through and it isn’t easy. Not easy at all.”

It takes a lot of love to get through a tragedy like the one the Halladay family has gone through. The boys get it from their mom, Brandy, who is at all of their games. And they get it from people like Charlie Manuel.

Saturday’s first pitch at Dunedin Stadium, just a few miles from the Phillies’ ballpark, was scheduled for 1:15 p.m. Manuel wanted to hustle over so he could wish Braden luck before the game. Manuel made his way down to the bullpen area and spotted one of his former Phillies players, Pete Orr, who is a coach with the Canadian team. Orr called over to Braden. A huge smile crossed the kid’s face when he saw Manuel. He sprinted over and gave Manuel a hug. Orr, who grew up near Toronto, slapped Braden on the back of his Team Canada jersey and said, “He looks good in red and white.”

He sure did.

Braden chatted with Manuel for a minute or two, and Manuel wished him luck. A reporter from Philadelphia asked Braden what it felt like to have Manuel keep tabs on his baseball career.

“It’s pretty sweet,” Braden said with a big smile. “It means a lot to me.”

The reporter wished him luck and told him that all of Philadelphia was rooting for him.

“I appreciate that,” the young pitcher said before trotting off to join his teammates.

Braden Halladay is 6-3 and 150 pounds. He entered the game in the bottom of the eighth inning with his team down, 11-3, at first to a smattering of applause. That grew into a big, beautiful round of applause after the PA man announced his name and everyone in the crowd realized the magnitude of the moment. Braden knelt behind the mound and wrote his dad’s initials in the dirt before delivering his first pitch. His pitching delivery is smooth and fundamentally pure.

“You can tell Roy worked with him,” Manuel said.

Braden mixed his pitches nicely in getting two pop-ups and a ground ball. He hit 83 mph on the stadium radar gun. A few months ago, Braden announced that he had committed to Penn State. Manuel sees a lot of promise in the kid.

“When he’s 21, he’ll pitch at 205 pounds,” Manuel said. “He’ll get stronger. You watch, he’s got a chance to be real good. He has a good, quick arm, command of the ball and mechanics.”

Where the game will eventually take Braden Halladay is a story for another day. Back in November, he sat in the middle of a baseball field and listened to people eulogize his dad. It was an excruciatingly difficult experience and the look on his face that day said as much.

So on Saturday, it was just great to see Braden Halladay back on a baseball field with a smile on his face. And it was great to see Charlie Manuel there, taking it all in, just as he had promised.