Houston Astros

For Joe Girardi’s Phillies, thwarting sign stealers will start in spring training

For Joe Girardi’s Phillies, thwarting sign stealers will start in spring training

CLEARWATER, Fla. — New Phillies manager Joe Girardi doesn’t plan to lay down the law about illicit sign-stealing when he addresses the full-squad team in the coming days.

He doesn’t think he needs to.

“Specifically having a meeting about what’s off limits, no,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t think that is necessary because this is not a club that was doing anything.”

But Girardi will address the matter of sign-stealing throughout camp.

In fact, ...

“I’ve already started addressing how we protect our stuff and our signs,” he said. “I’ve talked to catchers and pitchers about plans that we have in spring training to start incorporating some of that stuff so it’s not foreign when we get to the first day of the season.

“We’re going to do things the right way and we’re going to look for every advantage there is. If a pitcher is tipping, we’re going to use that and make sure our guys aren’t tipping.”

 

In other words, Girardi is all for stealing signs and gathering other intelligence from an opponent as long as it happens organically, between the lines, in the normal rhythm of the game, with the naked eye and not with the aid of technology that can range from cameras to trash cans.

Sign-stealing is one of the biggest issues facing the game as spring training camps open. The Houston Astros were disciplined by the Commissioner’s office for utilizing an illicit, technology-aided sign-stealing scheme during the 2017 season and the Boston Red Sox are still under investigation for potential wrongdoing in 2018. Both of those clubs won the World Series.

Girardi was manager of the New York Yankees club that lost in seven games to Houston in 2017 American League Championship Series. He was let go after 10 seasons as Yankees skipper after that season. Who knows? Maybe Girardi would have survived if the Yankees hadn’t lost that series and someone else would be managing the Phillies right now.
"I don't ever think, 'What if?' " Girardi said last month at the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association banquet. "I’ve always felt that there’s a God above that has a plan for my life. It’s what’s in front of me that I worry about."

While CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka, both pitchers on the 2017 Yankees, have made it clear that they feel they were cheated by the Astros, Girardi has played it down the middle.

“I don’t really think about that, really,” he said. “What has happened has happened. The Dodgers lost to them in the World Series, not us. 

“Sign stealing and all of this has been going on for years and it’s our responsibility to protect them. I know we will work really hard to protect every sign that we have and have different combinations and make pitchers use multiple sequencing so we can protect them. Because a lot of times it’s done by players on the field and you have to be really careful. So, I don’t really think much about it, except what we have to do to protect it.”

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Watch here as Gritty goes full savage mode on the Houston Astros

Watch here as Gritty goes full savage mode on the Houston Astros

Wait, wait ... Gritty did what?

The past few weeks in MLB may go down as some of the craziest the league and fans have ever witnessed.  

And just about everyone has voiced their opinions on the matter ... and now it looks like Gritty has, too.

That's right, everyone's favorite mascot decided to go full savage mode and trade in his infamous drum for a trash can during the Flyers' win over the Penguins on Tuesday.

What was on the trash can, you ask?

Why, it's the Astros' logo on all four sides.

Way to go Gritty, you just broke the sports world once more (don't worry, we love it).

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Vince Velasquez 'disappointed' by Astros’ scandal, ready to 'click' in Phillies’ rotation

Vince Velasquez 'disappointed' by Astros’ scandal, ready to 'click' in Phillies’ rotation

Vince Velasquez broke into the majors with the Houston Astros in 2015. His manager was A.J. Hinch. Jeff Luhnow was the general manager.

You know where this is going.

“I never saw anything,” Velasquez said Monday. “A lot of people have asked me, but I wasn’t there when it happened.

“It was shocking to hear about. And a little bit disappointing.”

The Astros were found to have used an illicit sign stealing scheme during their 2017 World Series championship season. Major League Baseball last week suspended Hinch and Luhnow for the 2020 season and Houston ownership followed up by firing both men. The explosive issue also cost Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran their jobs as managers of the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets, respectively. Cora was the Astros’ bench coach, and a mastermind of the scheme, in 2017, and Beltran was a player on the team.

Velasquez pitched in just 19 games for the Astros in 2015. He was traded to the Phillies in December of that year.

Pitchers and catchers have always been cognizant of changing their signs and varying their sequences in running through signs, especially when there is a runner on second base, to combat sign stealing. Velasquez predicted that pitchers and catchers will be even more diligent in light of the Astros' scandal.

“Now, we have to be more observant of what we’re doing,” he said. “I think it’s going to be part of the discussion [in spring training.] You have to learn to protect yourself.”

Velasquez is spending the week in Philadelphia helping the team with some promotional work. (He even plans to throw a couple of bullpen sessions in the cages at Citizens Bank Park.) On Monday, Velasquez and teammate Roman Quinn joined former Phillies Milt Thompson and Mickey Morandini at a youth instructional clinic at the Ryan Howard Training Center in South Philadelphia. Forty-five young players affiliated with the Phillies/MLB Urban Youth Academy and RBI program showed up a cold January day to get a head start on the season and some tips from the Phillies players past and present.

Quinn missed significant time last season with a torn groin muscle, the latest in a series of injuries that has robbed the exciting outfielder of playing time in his career. He has made changes to his offseason conditioning program and believes he can stay healthy in 2020 and make a run at the Phillies’ starting centerfield job. As it stands right now, he will battle Adam Haseley for the job in camp.

“I trust my abilities and I know if I’m healthy then it’s hard to keep me out of the lineup,” Quinn said.

Like Quinn, Velasquez will be in a spring-training battle.

The top four spots in the Phillies’ rotation are set with Aaron Nola, Zach Wheeler, Zach Eflin and Jake Arrieta. Velasquez will compete with Nick Pivetta for the fifth spot in the rotation. The loser of the competition will not necessarily be out of a job as the Phillies need bullpen help and one of the two could end up there.

Velasquez knows where he wants to be.

“I can play any role, but I want to start,” the 27-year-old right-hander said. “I want to be in the rotation. I want to be in that playoff run and I want to be that guy for that game.

“I know I have a job to earn. That’s my main focus. Battling.”

Velasquez, as Phillies fans know by now, is blessed with a tremendous arm. However, he has struggled to put his talents together and arrive at that place known as consistency. He runs high pitch counts and fails to get through the middle of games. He averaged just 4 2/3 innings in his 23 starts last season.

Velasquez knows it’s time for him to pitch deeper into games and he says, “I want that bad.” He has already established a telephone/text/video relationship with new pitching coach Bryan Price in hopes of picking up some keys to doing that.

“We’re in communication,” Velasquez said. “I’ve spoken to him a number of times and sent him videos of some of my bullpens.”

Velasquez avoided salary arbitration and will make $3.6 million this season. As his price tag goes up, so do expectations and the impatience of team officials. He might not be around at this time next season if he doesn’t produce in 2020.

“I’m very optimistic this is the year it clicks,” Velasquez said. “I know I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but I feel like I’m starting to figure a lot of things out. A lot of people tend to figure things out after two or three years in the major leagues and I think this is that time for me to put all the pieces together.

“My time is due. It’s really come down to that point where I need to plug in all the pieces.”

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