Phillies leadoff man Andrew McCutchen feels good, but will he be ready for opening day?

Phillies leadoff man Andrew McCutchen feels good, but will he be ready for opening day?

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Eight months after having surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, Andrew McCutchen says he feels good and is "right in the spot I need to be."

But will he be in the Phillies' starting lineup March 26 in Miami?

"That's the plan for me," McCutchen said Monday. "The plan is for me to be ready."

It's not clear if Phillies officials share McCutchen's optimism about being ready for opening day. They won't commit to anything until they get a good look at the 33-year-old outfielder's progress over the next five weeks of spring training. It's possible that McCutchen will be ready. But he won't be rushed. If he needs an extra few weeks to be ready, he'll get it. He's too important to the Phillies' season hopes to rush things.

"Every week, we're going to make an evaluation of where he's at and what he's ready to handle the next week," manager Joe Girardi said. "He's getting stronger every day. We just have to go week by week."

McCutchen is hitting and doing supervised fielding drills. He's doing plenty more behind the scenes.

"I'm getting here at 8 o'clock and leaving at 3, and I'm not sitting down," he said. "I'm on the go. Like right now, I'm about to get in the pool to warm up, and just grind today. That's what I'm going to continue to do until I'm ready."

McCutchen tore the ACL while trying to get out of a rundown on June 3 in San Diego. He found himself in that run-down when teammate Jean Segura failed to run out a popup.

Segura revealed Monday that the incident took a toll on him mentally last season.

McCutchen absolved Segura then and continues to do so now.

"It's all good," McCutchen said. "We talked about it. We're fine. Move on. Learn from it. I guarantee next time he's going to run to first.

"That's the end of it. It's not like I was mad at him or upset at him. That was a baseball play. I could have gone out the next inning and tried to stop and catch a ball and had my knee blow out. We don't know. I'm not blaming him for anything.

"We're not all perfect. I'm not going to sit here and say I run out every ball or that I play the game hard every single time. You intend to do it, but sometimes it doesn't work that way. There's no ill will toward him. I'm not blaming him. No one is perfect, so just move on from it."

Losing McCutchen last season was a huge loss that the Phillies never recovered from. He had a .378 on-base percentage, second-best in the majors among leadoff men, when he went down on June 3. Phillies leadoff men had a paltry .295 on-base percentage the rest of the season and that ranked 29th in baseball over that span.

If McCutchen does not open the season on time, the Phillies could use Jay Bruce, Roman Quinn or Adam Haseley in left field. Quinn and Haseley are also candidates to play center field. Bryce Harper is set in right field. The Phils also have a number of players vying for spots on the bench and one of them could emerge as a safety net for McCutchen. Time will tell.

When he's ready to go, McCutchen believes he will be stronger than ever because of his intense rehab work.

"When I come back, I'll be stronger," he said. "It's like basically going in the gym every day and doing a lower body workout. You're going in every single day and I'm there for five hours a day and doing a lower-body workout. If I wasn't injured, I'd be doing a lower body workout every two or three days, but now it's every day, it's repetitive. It's over and over and over. It's like all you're doing is getting yourself stronger."

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Forgotten Phillies opening day starters of the last 30 years

Forgotten Phillies opening day starters of the last 30 years

Steve Carlton, Terry Mulholland, Curt Schilling, Roy Halladay. There are certain eras of Phillies baseball over the last 40 years when you knew who was going to have the honor of being named opening day starter before spring training even started. This year, Aaron Nola was poised to take the ball for his third straight opening-day start. 

Since Carlton’s incredible run of starting 14 out of 15 openers, there have been 15 pitchers tabbed to start the season off for the Phillies but not all were household names. Here’s a look back at some of the pitchers you may have forgotten got the nod in Game 1 of 162.

2005-06: Jon Lieber

Lieber had a couple of pretty good seasons with the Cubs early in the 2000s, was an All-Star in ’01 when he won 20 games and started three straight Opening Days for them. But after having Tommy John surgery, he signed with the Yankees, missed all of ’03 and then bounced back with a solid 2004, good enough for the Phillies to sign him.

He won that '05 opener for the Phillies and had a pretty good campaign, winning 17 games and leading the NL in starts. He pitched another two unremarkable years for the Phils, going 12-17 with a 4.87 ERA.

2001/02: Omar Daal/Robert Person

Lumping these two together because it was a transition time for the Phillies. In the midst of their seventh straight sub-.500 finish, the Phillies traded ace Curt Schilling in July of 2000 to Arizona for four players, one of which was Daal. The lefty ended up losing 19 games in 2000, one game short of becoming the first pitcher in 20 years to lose 20. But that was good enough to earn (?) him the opening day start in 2001, the first with Larry Bowa as manager. Daal had a better year, going 13-7, but did have a 4.46 ERA.

Person also had a very solid season, going 15-7 with a 4.19 ERA. That got him the start in the 2002 opener, but he never found the same success on the mound as he did in ’01. At the plate, however, he had one of the more memorable days for a Phillies pitcher this century in a June game vs. Montreal. He hit a grand slam and a 3-run homer, going 3 for 4 with seven RBI.

2000: Andy Ashby

Ashby had come up in the Phillies system in the late '80s and actually made his MLB debut for the club in 1991. He was drafted by the Rockies in the expansion draft and ended up in San Diego, where he flourished. He was a two-time all-star, started a couple of openers and helped lead the Padres to the NL title in 1998.

When the Phillies traded three prospects for Ashby before 2000, they thought it gave them a legit 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation to go along with Schilling (who missed the beginning of 2000 due to injury). However, that didn’t work out. After going 4-7 with a 5.68 ERA, Ashby was traded during the All-Star break to the Braves for Bruce Chen.

1996: Sid Fernandez

Did you even remember Sid Fernandez was a Phillie? From 1994 through 1999, Schilling started five of six opening days for the Phils. When he started ’96 on the DL, in stepped Fernandez for the opening day honor. “El Sid” had some really good seasons with the vaunted Mets staff of the '80s, making a couple of All-Star games and helping them win a World Series.

Almost a decade later, he signed with the Phillies for the second half of the ’95 season and did well, posting a 3.34 ERA and going 6-1. He wasn’t as effective in ’96, which basically ended his career (he pitched one game for Houston the next season).

1990: Bruce Ruffin

Remembered more for his Chris Berman-given nickname, Bruce “Two Minutes For” Ruffin’s career started with a bang. He went 9-4 with a 2.46 ERA for the Phillies in 1986. But it kind of went downhill from there. Over the next five years with the club, he never finished above .500 and had only one year with an ERA below 4.00. But he got the opening day start in 1990 because someone had to. Partly because…

1989: Floyd Youmans

Maybe the original “new guy” that got the nod for the Phillies, Floyd Youmans had a promising start to his career in Montreal. He started the opener in ’87 at the age of 23, but injuries and a suspension derailed his time there. Before the 1989 season, the Phillies got him in a trade for Kevin Gross. Youmans started only 10 games for the Phillies in what was his final MLB season.

1987-1988: Shane Rawley

Rawley actually had a few good years with the Phils. He made the All-Star team in 1986 and won 17 games with a 3.54 ERA. In ’85, he won 13 with a 3.31. So when it came time to replace Carlton for Opening Day, the torch was passed to Rawley.

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What an opening weekend this would have been for Phillies

What an opening weekend this would have been for Phillies

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone." — A. Bartlett Giamatti

Of all the quotes about baseball I have read, the beginning of Bart Giamatti's essay "The Green Fields of the Mind" is the one that paints a picture (in oil, of course) of my connection to and love of baseball.

In three sentences we are taken from the renewal of spring to lazy summer afternoons and evenings at the ballpark and finally, to the ache of autumn as the game leaves us for the year.

This year, with fairly little warning, the heartbreak came early. Spring fever actually came with a ... real fever.

We had opening weekend on tap. The Phillies visiting the Miami Marlins. We would take the wraps off a revamped Phillies roster and get a feel for our new set of wheels this season.
What do we have? A team to be truly excited about? Not enough horses? Can Bryce Harper pick up where he left off? Will Jake Arrieta and Rhys Hoskins bounce back?

My watch signals game time.

My phone reminds me, too.

Do the watch and the phone know what they're doing to me?

If you've been a baseball fan since you were a kid, on opening weekend there is a sense of "school's out!" even though you've got two months left. What it is, really, is the promise of summer, laid out in 360 feet of basepath and three acres of the lushest Kentucky Bluegrass you've ever smelled.

As with this opening weekend, the weather is unpredictably tantalizing. Thursday gorgeous, Friday the same, Saturday wet, Sunday back in the drink.

All of that would have been OK. The Marlins play in a dome. The games would be played regardless of weather.

Would have been a good weekend to stay inside.

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