Larry Bowa sees stars aligning for Phillies

Larry Bowa sees stars aligning for Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Larry Bowa is still here, hitting ground balls, working with the infielders, pitching batting practice and offering opinions.

"This team should play .500," he said walking off the field after a workout this week. 

"At least .500."

Bowa might be 72, but his energy level is that of a man 50 years younger. Really. This is his 53rd year in pro ball and his 34th in a Phillies uniform. He was a Gold Glove shortstop and a World Series winner in his playing days, he helped win a National League pennant as third base coach in 1993. He managed the club for four years and spent the last four seasons as bench coach.

The front office made sweeping changes after last season. Pete Mackanin was let go as manager — he remains with the club as an adviser and will scout spring training in Arizona — and Bowa relinquished his bench coaching duties. But Bowa's affiliation with the Phillies, which began in 1966, continues. He is now a senior adviser to general manager Matt Klentak. He will spend the season watching all of the Phillies' clubs from top to bottom. He will work with minor-league infielders. So there will be plenty to keep him busy.

Though the Phillies' win total slipped by five, from 71 to 66, last season, strides were made in the rebuild. The team played .500 ball over the final 76 games and a number of young players, some who could be difference-makers for a long time, arrived in the majors.

That's one of the reasons Bowa thinks this Phillies team can surprise people.

"The experience they gained last year, the way they played the second half, the way they played in the division, they played Washington tough," Bowa said. "Our division is not what you'd call super strong, and you're playing all those teams 18 times.

"I think our lineup is going to score runs. They're going to catch the ball. We caught the ball in the infield last year. And I think they're going to catch it in the outfield.

"In a perfect world, you'd like to have more pitching depth, but you know what? There aren't many perfect teams. They should play .500. The bullpen is strong. You hear they might go with eight relievers. Mix and match."

In his heart, Bowa was sad to see shortstop Freddy Galvis go. The two were close after working together for years. But Bowa thinks rookie J.P. Crawford is going to be just fine.

"I think Crawford is a very good shortstop, I really do," Bowa said. "With Freddy, you're talking about a guy who in my opinion should have won two Gold Gloves. Not one. Two. He should have won the last two years, but he didn't. The thing that J.P. brings is, even when he didn't hit good the last month last season, he gets on base. That's big."

Bowa loved what he saw of Aaron Nola last season and believes Jerad Eickhoff will bounce back big.

"He cemented himself with the way he pitched," Bowa said of Nola, who ranked 20th among big-league starters with a 3.54 ERA last season. "And you didn't even see the real Eickhoff. I think there was something bothering him and he tried to pitch through it. I don't think it was anything major. He's a bulldog, man. I'd fight for Eickhoff and Nola every day of the week. I like their demeanor, their attitude, their intensity."

Bowa didn't mince words when talking about third baseman Maikel Franco and starting pitcher Vince Velasquez, two big talents that need to do more.

"It's time," Bowa said, plainly. "It's just time. These are two guys that mean a lot to this team. Stuff-wise, Vinny should pitch good this year."

Bowa loves the addition of first baseman Carlos Santana, a selective hitter who produces runs. He was impressed with the late-season work of relievers Adam Morgan and Luis Garcia and thinks the confidence they gained will fuel strong seasons. He believes the team will respond well to new manager Gabe Kapler's energy.

"If you play .500 baseball going into the middle of August," Bowa said. "There's so much parity in baseball, you catch lightning in a bottle, watch out."

Bowa is happy to still be around the game and the Phillies. The change in role agrees with him.

"I've had a charmed life," he said. "And to be honest, I wasn't in love with the travel anymore."

He remains proud of the Phillies' second half last year. The team went 38-38 in its final 76 games.

"People sort of dismiss that," Bowa said. "But the fact is, it's very easy to fold up shop when you're buried at the All-Star break. It's a credit to Pete and the guys that played, they never quit. They played hard.

"I think this organization, if you look at the second half when Pete left, it's a lot better than when he took over.

"The stars are aligning. Things are really looking up."

Phillies' opening day roster decisions not getting any easier

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Phillies' opening day roster decisions not getting any easier


CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies are going down to the wire with their opening day roster decisions.

Manager Gabe Kapler & Co. got another look at pitcher Drew Hutchison and bench candidates Jesmuel Valentin and Roman Quinn on Saturday in a game against the Tigers in Lakeland. None of the three hurt their chances of making the club in a 4-1 win over the Tigers.

Hutchison, a Lakeland native, pitched four scoreless innings. He gave up one hit and survived three walks. He struck out three, including Miguel Cabrera with runners on second and third with one out in the third inning. 

Hutchison, 27, made 74 starts from 2012 to 2016 with the Blue Jays and Pirates. He spent all of last season with the Pirates’ Triple A club and signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies last month. The Phillies have given the right-hander a good look and he has responded well. He has given up 12 hits and six runs in 19 2/3 innings for a 2.75 ERA. However, he has walked eight while registering 17 strikeouts.

Hutchison’s best chance to make the club could be as a long man in the bullpen. Ben Lively is also in the running for that job. Jake Thompson could also be in the picture. He is converting to the bullpen but has built up his pitch counts.

Valentin, a strong candidate for a utility job, started at first base with a borrowed mitt from Rhys Hoskins. Valentin has a first baseman’s mitt and a catcher's mitt on order. He could be the emergency third catcher. Valentin had a good game. He made a nice defensive play and had two hits and a walk. He has played seven positions this spring.

Quinn had two hits, scored a run and swiped three bases. He could open with the big club or be sent to Triple A for playing time. He has impressed Kapler with his electricity and figures to impact the big club at some point, maybe as soon as opening day.

Scott Kingery had two more hits, raising his average to .392 (20 for 51). He will likely open in Triple A but could be up by the third weekend of the season. Delaying his arrival until then would push his potential free agency back until after 2024.

• Rhys Hoskins stayed back in Clearwater and got a bunch of at-bats in a pair of minor-league games. He swatted a pair of opposite-field homers in a Triple A game.

The Phillies host the Orioles on Saturday. Nick Pivetta will start.

Phillies set date for Jake Arrieta's regular season debut

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Phillies set date for Jake Arrieta's regular season debut

CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Phillies have announced their plan for Jake Arrieta.

He will make his regular season debut on April 8 at Citizens Bank Park against the Miami Marlins.

That is a Sunday afternoon game.

Arrieta has a career ERA of 3.28 in day games as opposed to 3.77 in night games. Opposing batters have hit just .214 against him over his career in day games.

“He loves pitching in day games,” manager Gabe Kapler said in announcing the plan for Arrieta, who signed a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies on March 12.

Even though Arrieta showed up to camp in excellent shape and had been throwing on his own, the Phillies had promised to be cautious in getting him ready for the regular season. Arrieta will start Tuesday in Clearwater then pitch again on April 2, probably against minor leaguers in Clearwater, before his debut against Miami.

Arrieta had hoped to pitch during the first week of the season. The way things line up, he will miss just one start. The Phillies could stash him on the disabled list as he builds arm strength until they activate him before the April 8 game.

“Jake’s on board with this,” Kapler said. “He’s such a competitive dude, he wants to get out there immediately. But he has a strong understanding of the long view and what will keep him healthy and strong over the whole season and through the next three or four years. He understood that the best thing for his body is to build up a little more and get a nice slow, easy ramp and come out firing for us on April 8 against the Marlins.”

Arrieta has made four lifetime starts against Miami. He is 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA in those games. Over 26 innings, he’s allowed four runs and 16 hits while walking four and striking out 26.

Aaron Nola will start on opening day. The order of the rotation is unclear after that, though the Phillies could get by with four starters until Arrieta is ready. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez will be in the rotation. Zach Eflin, Ben Lively or Drew Hutchison could round out the rotation during the first seven games. Lively or Hutchison could also work out of the bullpen.

Pivetta will start against the Orioles on Sunday.