At career crossroads, 'fearless' Middlebrooks vows comeback from injury

At career crossroads, 'fearless' Middlebrooks vows comeback from injury

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Will Middlebrooks wears a bracelet on his left wrist that says fearless. That is the way he likes to play and it is the way he was playing when he suffered a broken leg – and maybe more – Saturday afternoon.
“As soon as you don’t take chances you don’t know how good you can be,” Middlebrooks said upon returning to the Phillies' clubhouse on crutches and with a cast on his leg Sunday.
Middlebrooks, 29, broke his left fibula in a collision with outfielder Andrew Pullin in Saturday’s game against the Orioles. Middlebrooks was playing third base when he sprinted back after a soft fly ball to left. He slid trying to make a catch and his leg bent awkwardly under the hard-charging Pullin. Middlebrooks was to see a specialist on Sunday. More tests are planned to determine whether he sustained damage to the ligaments in his ankle, as well.
“It was just a freak play,” Middlebrooks said. “I had a good talk with Pully about it. He was distraught. I was at the hospital yesterday, got his number and texted him. I told him everything was fine, you didn’t do anything wrong. It was just one of those plays.”
Middlebrooks, who has played in the majors with Boston, San Diego, Milwaukee and Texas, is in camp with the Phillies on a minor-league contract. He appeared to be a long shot to make the big-league team as a reserve corner infielder and likely would have provided depth at Triple A Lehigh Valley. He will likely need surgery to repair the injury. No timetable was given for his recovery, but he will be out for a significant amount of time.
In one breath, Middlebrooks conceded that the injury could threaten his career.
“Yeah, the game is getting younger every day,” he said. “I’ll be 30 this year. Unfortunately, that’s not prime anymore. You look in this clubhouse and everyone is 23, 24 years old. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind.”
In the next, he promised to be back on the field this year.
“In the small window of time I’ve spent here with the staff and the training staff, I think I’ll be fine,” he said. “If it takes two months, if it takes four or five months, I don’t know how long it will take. I’m not counting myself out. I plan on playing this year.”
The Phillies are looking for versatility in filling out their bench. Middlebrooks is one of four veteran infielders with big-league experience in camp on a minor-league deal. Pedro Florimon, Ryan Flaherty and Adam Rosales are the others. Jesmuel Valentin and Scott Kingery, both members of the 40-man roster, are also in camp. Kingery is expected to open the season at Triple A.

Phillies set to unveil new ace Jake Arrieta in spring training

Phillies set to unveil new ace Jake Arrieta in spring training

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Thursday starts the one-week countdown to opening day.

Oh, yeah, and Jake Arrieta will also make his Grapefruit League debut.

It figures to be the highlight of the spring.

Arrieta signed a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies last week. He has completed a progression from bullpen work — he actually had gotten well into that on his own before signing — to facing hitters in a controlled situation.

Now, it’s time to face some competition — the Detroit Tigers. The game will be televised on NBCSP+ at 1 p.m.

The Phillies have yet to decide when Arrieta will make his regular-season debut. The pitcher believes he will be ready during the first week of the season. The team will exercise caution. Arrieta’s performance Thursday — and possibly more important, his recovery — will go a long way into determining when the Phils turn him loose.

“I’m looking for him to be healthy, first and foremost,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I would love to see him come out just like he has in his live batting practice sessions and in his bullpens, which is strong, ball looking like a lead fastball, featuring that great cutter and a lot of that great deception.

"We’re looking for him to be Jake Arrieta. Most importantly, most critically and most consequentially, I’m looking for him to be healthy and strong.”

Kapler said the Phils would be flexible on Arrieta’s pitch count. Fifty or so seems like a good guess.

Arrieta has been around for a week now. His teammates are thrilled to have him.

“Obviously, with the Arrieta signing, we got a lot better not only on the field but in the clubhouse,” Rhys Hoskins said (more on him here). “What he’s going to be able to do not only for the pitchers but for some of us young position guys — I mean he’s recently won a World Series, he’s a Cy Young guy, he knows how to compete at the highest level. We have a good group. It’s meshing pretty quickly. I’m excited to see how it goes once we start.”

Rhys Hoskins doing damage as opening day comes into sight

USA Today Images

Rhys Hoskins doing damage as opening day comes into sight


DUNEDIN, Fla. — The season opener is eight days away and Rhys Hoskins says his swing “is getting there.” 

Getting there? Really?

It looks like it already arrived with the morning mail.

Hoskins continued his recent run of excellent at-bats in Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. He belted a two-run homer, a solo homer and also worked a walk. Over his last five games, he is 6 for 16 with five walks. For the spring, he is hitting .279 (12 for 43) with four doubles, four homers, eight RBIs, 11 runs scored and an OPS of 1.066.

“What does he have, 10 strikeouts and 10 walks on the spring?” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler asked.

Indeed, those are the numbers.

“That is fantastic,” Kapler said. “Obviously, he’s swinging the bat beautifully and really controlling the at-bats.”

It all starts with pitch recognition.

“I’ve been pretty happy with that throughout camp,” Hoskins said. “I don’t feel like I’ve chased too many, which is always good. I’ve seen a bunch of breaking balls and been able to recognize them early.”

The outstanding selectivity that Hoskins has allows him to work pitchers into fastball counts. He did that in the first inning when he got a 3-1 fastball from Marcus Stroman and drove it over the left-field wall. The ball left the bat at 108 miles per hour.

Obviously, Hoskins was pleased that the ball left the yard. He was more pleased with the swing. He believes pitchers will try to bust him in this season and he’s ready for it.

“I was really, really happy with the first at-bat,” he said. “I had been struggling with the ball in. I was able to keep my hands inside of it and the ball went.”

His second homer came on a 1-1 fastball from Luis Santos. The wind was blowing out at Dunedin Stadium. Hoskins saw a pitch up and took a rip.

“On a day like today, if you see the ball up you’re going to have a pretty good chance,” he said.

Hoskins batted second in the lineup, ahead of Maikel Franco and Carlos Santana. Kapler has juggled lineups all spring and has strongly implied that he will do that, based on matchups, during the regular season.

“I don’t care where I hit,” Hoskins said. “With the guys we have and the way they’re going to construct the lineup, if I hit second, fourth, sixth, I think I’m going to be able to hit with men on base.

“Throughout my career I’ve been a run producer, so that’s the main thing for me. If I can create some runs, whether it’s scoring runs or driving in runs, I’ll be happy.”

The Phils and Jays played to a 7-7 tie. The Phillies’ bullpen gave up five runs in the last two innings to let a 7-2 lead get away. The Phils used 10 pitchers, including two day-trippers from minor-league camp. Starter Nick Pivetta pitched two perfect innings. The team purposely scaled him back to keep him in line with a 25-inning spring target. Scott Kingery and Aaron Altherr also hit home runs.