Phillies pitcher saw slugger's awesome power before most others did

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Phillies pitcher saw slugger's awesome power before most others did


TAMPA, Fla. — Pitching on the road in spring training often means facing the opposition’s A lineup.

For Ben Lively, that meant squaring off against the New York Yankees’ power duo of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton at Steinbrenner Field on Thursday. Judge and Stanton combined to hit 111 home runs last season. But Lively was not intimidated. He’d held Stanton hitless in three at-bats when the slugger — and National League MVP — was with the Miami Marlins last season.

Lively’s history with Judge goes back a little further.

Though Lively spent his college years at Central Florida and Judge across the country at Fresno State, they were opponents in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2012.

Judge crushed 52 homers for the Yankees en route to winning the American League Rookie of the Year award last year.

Lively saw the power long before that.

“Still the farthest ball I’ve ever seen hit off a pitcher was one he hit at Brewster on the Cape,” Lively said. “It’s still the farthest ball I’ve ever seen hit in person. It was still going up over the trees in left field when we last saw it.”

Lively was reminded of the eye-popping home run when he faced the 6-foot-7 behemoth in the first inning of Thursday's 7-6 win over the Yankees (more on the game here). In four innings of work, Lively retired Judge twice on fly balls to center field. He also retired Stanton, he of the 59-homer last season, twice on a strikeout and a pop out.

Lively, a candidate for a back-end spot in the Phillies’ starting rotation, sailed through the first three innings without allowing a run. He was touched for three of them after a two-out walk in the fourth, his final inning of work. Didi Gregorius highlighted the uprising with a two-run homer to right. He hit a 1-1 fastball, a 91-mph four-seamer that drifted over the plate.

The runs were the first that Lively has given up this spring. He had pitched five scoreless innings in two outings coming into the game.

Without a top-of-the-scale fastball, Lively has to rely on precise location. The pitch to Gregorius did not have it. But in the first inning, he located a fastball very well against Judge. It was inside just enough that the right-handed hitting masher skied it to left-center, but not deep enough.

"After that one and he smiled at me,” Lively said. “I was like, ‘I know you missed it. Miss another one.’"

Lively had previously faced Judge a number of times in the minor leagues.

“I love it,” Lively said. “He’s so big, it’s unbelievable when he steps in the box. It’s always fun throwing against guys like him and Stanton. Gear up, get ready to go.”

Oh, and that mammoth home run that Judge clouted six years ago in the Cape Cod League … one more question:

“It wasn’t off me,” Lively said with a laugh.

What's up with Phillies top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez?

Photo: NBCSP

What's up with Phillies top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez?

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Sixto Sanchez, the Phillies' top pitching prospect, has been noticeably absent from game action in minor-league camp.

Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development, says there's nothing to be alarmed about.

"He had the flu and he's over it now," Jordan said. "He's fine now. No issues. He's 100 percent."

Jordan said Sanchez got up to 30 pitches in a bullpen session this week.

"He let it go with all his pitches," Jordan said.

Jordan added that Sanchez would pitch in a game in the next few days. He added that Sanchez would open the season on time with the Clearwater club, though his innings will be watched at the outset until he's fully stretched out.

Sanchez, 19, is a power-armed right-hander with remarkable control. He went 5-7 with 3.03 ERA in 18 starts at Lakewood and Clearwater, both Single A affiliates, last season. He pitched 95 innings, struck out 84, walked 18 and had a WHIP of 0.958.

Phillies take long look at Roman Quinn as potential backup SS

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Phillies take long look at Roman Quinn as potential backup SS


FORT MYERS, Fla. — However the Phillies’ bench shapes up — whether it features four or five men during the first week of the regular season — one thing is a must:

“We need somebody who can play shortstop, absolutely,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

“We need someone who can play multiple positions in the infield on our bench and someone who can play multiple positions in our outfield on the bench. That’s a necessity.”

Kapler has taken a long look at Roman Quinn at shortstop the last two days. Quinn played four innings there Sunday against the Twins. He was there for the entire game Monday against the Red Sox.

Quinn grew up playing shortstop and outfield. He broke into pro ball as a shortstop but moved to center field during the 2014 season, when it became clear that J.P. Crawford was the shortstop of the future. Now, Quinn is relearning the shortstop position so he can potentially serve as a utility man on the Phillies’ bench. He’d be an intriguing talent to have on the bench because he’s a switch-hitter with electrifying speed.

As a shortstop, the Phillies won’t be looking for Quinn to be a Gold Glover. They need someone to make the play on an emergency or fill-in basis. Quinn made three plays in Monday’s game. He short-hopped one throw and Carlos Santana made the pick. He knocked down one ball, recovered and made a strong throw for an out. He made a nice play on a groundball while shifted behind second. It wasn't the prettiest exhibition, but it got the job done.

“The more I play there, the more comfortable I’m getting,” Quinn said. “I’m enjoying it. I’d like to think I can play any position. It’s fun coming in from center field and playing shortstop. I love it.”

Quinn turns 25 in May. Some schools of thought might come down against carrying a player of his potential as a reserve. Certainly, more time in Triple A would not hurt him, especially after missing more than three months with an elbow injury last year. But the Phillies are open to the possibility of carrying Quinn. His shortstop audition the last two days has made that clear.

“Everyday reps at the minor-league level are incredibly valuable,” Kapler said. “However, because a guy is on the bench at the major-league level doesn’t mean his development is stunted. He’s getting a different kind of experience and a really valuable experience.”

Tom Eshelman was charged with four runs in the bottom of the ninth as the Phils squandered a three-run lead and lost, 6-5, to Boston.

Aaron Altherr drove in four runs. He belted a three-run homer in the fifth inning against Boston ace Chris Sale. Cesar Hernandez grinded out a long at-bat before striking out and Santana and Rhys Hoskins both walked before the home run.

“When you have a guy like Sale, making him work is critical,” Kapler said. “Cesar’s punchout was an incredible at-bat. Santana and Hoskins made him work. [Sale] gets a little fatigued and Altherr gets a pitch to whack. So Altherr hitting a home run doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens as a result of team baseball.”