Phillies

New Phillies pitching coach Bryan Price praised for unlocking talent, crossword puzzles

New Phillies pitching coach Bryan Price praised for unlocking talent, crossword puzzles

Bryan Price, the Phillies’ new pitching coach, gets high marks from two guys who worked closely with him.

“If I was looking for a pitching coach, he’d be at the top of my list,” Jamie Moyer said.

“Great baseball guy,” added Ben Davis. “Smart as you-know-what. He can do the USA Today crossword puzzle in 10 minutes.”

How about the New York Times crossword puzzle?

“That, I don’t know,” Davis said. “But he’s a great pitching coach.

“He relates to pitchers and catchers so well. Some guys are knowledgeable but can’t translate that knowledge in a manner where people understand. BP can relay that information in a way that pitchers understand. He puts it in layman’s terms where they get it. He has a knack for teaching and breaking things down.”

Davis, currently a member of the Phillies broadcast team, was a catcher in the big leagues and spent part of his seven-year career with the Seattle Mariners. Price was the Mariners’ pitching coach when Davis was there from 2002 to 2004.

Moyer, who notched 145 of his 269 big-league wins in a Mariners uniform, was also coached by Price, who was the Mariners pitching coach from 2001 to 2006. Phillies adviser Pat Gillick is a big believer in Price. Gillick was the Mariners general manager when Price was hired and later used him as pitching consultant in the Phillies’ minor-league system when Price was between jobs. Price has also been pitching coach for Arizona and Cincinnati. He also managed the Reds.

“He’s a student of the game and he cares about his pitchers,” Moyer said. “I think first and foremost that’s what jumps out about him — how much he cares about his pitchers.

“He was a first-time pitching coach when he came aboard and we had a lot of veterans on that team. He quickly earned their trust with great communication and with a lot of give and take. His style was basically, ‘What do you do well and what can we do with it to make you better?’ “

That give and take collaboration will surely be welcomed by some Phillies pitchers who complained about being urged to do things they weren’t comfortable doing in 2019.

“He’s going to be a suggester,” Moyer said of Price. “It’s not his personality to come in and say, ‘All right, you SOB, here’s how we do it.’ He will let you sink or swim, but he will care and make suggestions and give thoughts and ideas. That’s how it was for me and fellow teammates. He cared. Players sensed that and built trust.

“If I was feeling like something was off in my delivery, I’d tell him and he’d watch and pick it up. He could give me a hand signal from the dugout and I could make the fix.”

Davis enjoyed sitting in on Price’s meetings with pitchers.

“He can be firm, but he also knows when to back off and when to challenge a guy,” Davis said. “I think one of his greatest qualities is that he doesn’t try to make every pitcher do the same thing. He’s flexible from guy to guy.”

But there is a constant in Price’s approach.

“Fastball command,” Davis said. “I’m sure he’s going to concentrate on improving fastball command. Obviously, the Phillies need to get a few guys, but I think (Jake) Arrieta still has some stuff there. Bryan is the type of guy who can help get the most out of it. I can see Aaron Nola taking the next step and being the guy he was two years ago on a more consistent basis.”

Davis sees just about every Phillies game in a season. He was asked what he’d tell Price about the pitching staff if his opinion were sought.

“I tell him they need work on fastball command and on challenging guys,” Davis said. “The walks were up, they fell behind in too many counts and we’re way too predictable.”

At the news conference announcing manager Joe Girardi’s hiring last week, general manager Matt Klentak turned up the heat on everybody, including himself, by saying, “We’ve reached a place where it is time to win. No questions asked, it is time to win right now.” To do that, the Phillies will have to bring in at least two starting pitchers this winter, either through trades or free-agent signings. Talented but inconsistent Vince Velasquez is likely to return and Nick Pivetta’s status is up in the air. On the surface, Pivetta appears to be a candidate for a change of scenery. But Girardi mentioned the right-hander by name last week and, like most everyone else, seems intrigued by the talent and the challenge of unlocking it.

In Bryan Price the Phillies trust.

“Vinny and Nick,” Davis said. “Put it this way, if anyone can do it, it’s BP. And I’m not just saying that. He’s an unbelievable hire.”

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Checking in on Phillies' division rivals as camps fully open

Checking in on Phillies' division rivals as camps fully open

A year ago at this time, the Bryce Harper-Manny Machado saga was still plodding along as full-squad workouts began.

Phillies players, the fans, those covering it — everyone felt the fatigue.

The rest of the division?

• The Nationals were preparing for their first year without Harper, though their first with Patrick Corbin, who signed a $140 million contract that took all of 10 months to pay off permanently.

• The Braves were gearing up to defend a division title after taking a big risk on Josh Donaldson, who had missed 49.1 percent of games the previous two seasons to injury. Donaldson was the only free-agent addition the Braves made in 2019 until bringing in Dallas Keuchel in June.

• The main intrigue with the Mets at this time last year was what they'd do with their starting pitchers. Would they capitalize on Noah Syndergaard's value and deal him? What about free-agent-to-be Zack Wheeler? The Mets had a streaky season, a terrible first-year experience with Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano, a weird trade deadline, and ended up three games out of the playoffs, with Marcus Stroman in the rotation and Wheeler likely to leave.

• And of course, the Marlins — the 2019 Marlins who won 17.5% of their games against the Phillies. They were 57-105 overall, 10-9 against the Phils.

Here's what changed this offseason:

Phillies

Additions: Zack Wheeler, Didi Gregorius, manager Joe Girardi

Subtractions: Maikel Franco, Cesar Hernandez, Brad Miller, Drew Smyly, Jason Vargas

Returning from injury: Andrew McCutchen, Jake Arrieta, Adam Morgan, Seranthony Dominguez(?)

Two huge, necessary additions but still so much uncertainty because the 3-4-5 spots in the rotation and almost every role in the bullpen is a question mark.

Mets

Additions: Dellin Betances, Rick Porcello, Michael Wacha, manager Carlos Beltran Luis Rojas

Subtractions: Zack Wheeler, Todd Frazier

Returning from injury: Yoenis Cespedes

The Mets are entering 2020 feeling good about the back end of their bullpen. If Diaz rebounds, this really could be a lights-out unit with the underrated Seth Lugo pitching the seventh, Betances the eighth and Diaz the ninth. 

The Mets badly need at least one good bullpen year to maximize Jacob deGrom's value. Somehow, someway, they went 14-18 in each of the last two seasons in deGrom's starts despite his league-best 2.05 ERA.

They also have to feel like anything they get in 2020 from Cespedes or Cano is a plus. Cano was a disaster last season and Cespedes is finally in camp after missing most of the last three seasons because of injury.

A big question is whether Pete Alonso is actually a 50-home run hitter. Poll Mets fans or those around the team and they'll say yes. I'm skeptical. What if he hits 32 this season? How much different do the Mets look if he's just a pretty good power hitter and not a perennial high-30s/low-40s guy like Carlos Delgado?

Why couldn't Matt Klentak find a J.D. Davis in any of the last several offseasons?

Braves

Additions: Marcell Ozuna, Cole Hamels, Will Smith, Travis d'Arnaud

Subtractions: Josh Donaldson, Julio Teheran, Brian McCann, Matt Joyce

Returning from injury: Darren O'Day, A.J. Minter

Hamels is injured and probably won't be able to contribute until at least a month or so into the season. That hurts the Braves, who lost Keuchel to the White Sox and will again be reliant on young starting pitchers Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Sean Newcomb. They need to hope that 2019 was a blip and not a trend for Mike Foltynewicz.

The Braves have the two best position players in the division in Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman. Ozuna helps mitigate the loss of Donaldson but Ozuna is not the hitter that 2019 Donaldson was for the Braves.

Don't let the generic name fool ya, Will Smith is a nasty lefty who struck out 167 in 118 innings the last two seasons and has been one of the most reliable closers over that time.

Nationals

Additions: Will Harris, Starlin Castro, Eric Thames

Subtractions: Anthony Rendon, Gerardo Parra, Brian Dozier, Matt Adams

When you lose Anthony Rendon you cannot possibly be as good as you were a year ago. Especially when Rendon had a near-perfect year for a baseball player, hitting .319/.412/.598 with the most doubles in the league, the most RBI in the majors despite missing 16 games, a career-high in home runs and only six more strikeouts than walks.

Washington's biggest move was retaining Stephen Strasburg, but this new seven-year, $245 million contract for Strasburg seems destined to play out poorly. He had a storybook contract year, staying the healthiest he'd been in five years, leading the league in innings and wins and then totally dominating in the postseason. This contract runs through his age-38 season.

The Nats could still match last season's 93 wins, particularly because they're unlikely to experience two straight months of bullpen meltdowns as they did last April and May.

You have to wonder about the World Series hangovers for Max Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin. Not only did they combine for 583 regular-season innings, they also appeared in a combined 20 playoff games. The Nats rode their horses harder in October than any team in years. It worked out magnificently for them, but this wouldn't be the first set of rotation-mates to experience lingering soreness from all that October stress.

Marlins

Additions: Corey Dickerson, Matt Kemp, Matt Joyce, Francisco Cervelli, Brandon Kintzler

Subtractions: Starlin Castro, Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker, Martin Prado, Sergio Romo

The Marlins made two trades in 2019 that you just have to snicker at. Midway through then-28-year-old reliever Nick Anderson's breakout year, they traded him to Tampa, because he was apparently too good. Anderson now looks like one of the five best relievers in baseball. He struck out 110 batters in 65 innings and had a 2.11 ERA after the deadline with Tampa. 

As a player with just one year of big-league experience but immense arm talent, Anderson might have the most appealing contractual situation of any reliever in the majors.

Miami also, midway through Zac Gallen's promising rookie year, traded the 24-year-old right-handed starting pitcher to Arizona for 21-year-old shortstop Jazz Chisholm, who spent the year at Double A. Some really like Chisholm's upside and think the Marlins made a shrewd move trading for a player who might better fit their next window to contend. Maybe that is true.

In the meantime, those two moves made things easier on the rest of the NL East.

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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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