Phillies

Bryce Harper set to ramp up prep for spring debut

Bryce Harper set to ramp up prep for spring debut

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Bryce Harper on Tuesday continued the ramp-up toward his spring debut.

The new, headline-grabbing, shirt-selling Phillie spent some of the morning in the batter's box, tracking pitches during Zach Eflin's between-starts bullpen session. He also took some indoor batting practice before a morning rainstorm cleared out.

Harper is expected to make his Grapefruit League debut Saturday as the Phillies' designated hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays at Spectrum Field.

In preparation for that, Harper will hit in simulated games on Wednesday and Thursday.

He will join Gift Ngoepe in hitting against Jerad Eickhoff in a simulated game at Spectrum Field on Wednesday morning. On Thursday, he will hit against pitchers at the minor-league complex in a simulated game. Pitchers bear down in a simulated game and throw all of their pitches without telling the hitter what is coming.

After his morning workout Tuesday, Harper joined his new teammates in the dugout for the first few innings of the Phils' Grapefruit League game against the Cardinals. Harper spent a couple of innings leaning on the railing, speaking with young outfielder Mickey Moniak. Both are former No. 1 overall picks in the Major League Baseball draft.

"It was really cool," Moniak said of his conversation with Harper. "He's very impressive. 

"He told me to be myself. He said, you got drafted where you got drafted for a reason, so be confident in the way you go about your business and always put winning first. He said, don't care if other teams hate you, all that matters is the guys in your clubhouse and having one goal with them."

Aaron Nola made his spring debut in the game and looked good with three shutout innings. He allowed a hit, a walk and struck out three.

Nola is well aware of the buzz that Harper's addition has created back in Philadelphia.

"I've heard about the ticket sales," he said. "Since 2015, I hadn't seen, maybe one time, that place sold out. All those guys that played in '08 and '09, that's what they talk about, the fan base and how amazing it is with all those people in the crowd and we're looking forward to it. It's going to be fun.

"There was a lot more people here today. It felt more like a game and I think we're going to feel it more this year. We have a really good team."

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

Most of the baseball world agrees that the Phillies are improved with the additions of No. 2 starter Zack Wheeler, shortstop Didi Gregorius, and the new contingent of manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Bryan Price and hitting coach Joe Dillon.

The question is how much improved?

The Phils won 81 games last season, a year after winning 80. Both years, they totally collapsed in September. Both years, a good number of players were simply playing out the string, though the effort level was more questionable in 2018 than in 2019.

Even though the Phillies were quiet this offseason after their two big signings, and even though the NL East is still a beast, they should still exceed 81 wins. If they don't, there's a serious problem. If they don't, the GM probably won't be here to try to rectify things next offseason.

The over/under win totals are out and the Phillies' number is 85.5 at FanDuel and 84.5 at DraftKings.

I'd go over at 84.5. Think about how many injuries the Phillies suffered last season. Think about the talent gap between Wheeler and every Phillies starting pitcher behind Aaron Nola last season. The impact of Girardi, Price and Dillon won't be all that quantifiable, but it is realistic that this revamped coaching staff can conjure a few more wins out of the 2020 Phillies, whether it's in-game decision-making or better instructions given to young players who underperformed last season.

At DraftKings, the Mets' over/under is a game better than the Phillies' at 85.5. The Braves are at 90.5 and the Nationals 88.5. The Marlins are at 64.5, higher than only one team, the Tigers.

Much more surprising are the Phillies' World Series odds. They have the sixth-shortest odds to win it all. Seriously. They're +1800. Here is the Top 10:

Yankees: 3.5/1
Dodgers: 5/1
Astros: 6/1
Braves: 11/1
Nationals: 14/1
Phillies: 18/1
Mets: 20/1
Twins: 20/1
Red Sox: 22/1
Cubs: 22/1

Apparently, the expectation is that the NL Central will be bringing up the rear in 2020. Really, the only NL Central team that improved was the Reds. The Cardinals lost Marcell Ozuna, the Brewers lost Yasmani Grandal and the Cubs didn't spend money on a single major-league free agent.

Four of the top seven teams being NL East teams just shows you how much of a battle these next seven months will be for the Phils.

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Phillies add veteran depth in bullpen, infield with a flurry of signings

Phillies add veteran depth in bullpen, infield with a flurry of signings

Three weeks before the start of spring training, the Phillies were busy Wednesday finalizing minor-league contracts with three pitchers and a utility infielder.

The team announced the signings of veteran relievers Drew Storen, Bud Norris and Francisco Liriano, as well as veteran infielder Neil Walker.

Of the group, Liriano, 36, might have the best chance to impact the 2020 Phillies. The left-hander, a starter for the bulk of his major-league career, was used exclusively as a reliever with Pittsburgh last season. He pitched in 69 games and recorded an ERA of 3.47 over 70 innings. Liriano was particularly effective against lefty hitters, holding them to a .194 batting average (14 for 72.)

Storen, 32, and Norris, 34, are both right-handers with significant big-league time. Neither pitched in the majors last season because of health reasons. Storen was recovering from Tommy John surgery and Norris had a forearm injury. There are opportunities in the Phillies’ bullpen and both will be given a look in spring training.

Walker, 34, is an 11-year veteran who has spent much of his career as a regular second baseman, mostly with Pittsburgh. He has bounced around the diamond in recent seasons, particularly with the New York Yankees in 2018, where he played first base, second base, third base and both corner outfield spots. He played first, second and third with the Miami Marlins last season and hit .261 with eight homers and 38 RBIs in 337 at-bats.

Walker, a switch-hitter, will vie for a spot as a reserve with the Phillies. Rosters expand from 25 to 26 men this season and that will allow the Phillies to carry an extra player on their bench. There are plenty of candidates for that job. Earlier this winter, the Phillies signed veteran infielders Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin and Ronald Torreyes to minor-league deals. The team is also bringing veteran outfielders Matt Szczur and Mikie Mahtook to big-league camp on minor-league deals. The competition for a spot as a reserve outfielder will also include Nick Williams and Nick Martini, both of whom are on the 40-man roster.

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