Phillies

Source: Phillies plan to meet with Bryce Harper even as they await Manny Machado's decision

usa_manny_machado_bryce_harper.jpg
USA Today Images

Source: Phillies plan to meet with Bryce Harper even as they await Manny Machado's decision

The New Year has arrived and the Phillies remain one of at least three teams serious about signing free-agent infielder Manny Machado.

Machado visited with the White Sox, Yankees and Phillies before Christmas. Those clubs — and any mystery teams — were told to submit offers before the New Year. Given the way the negotiating game goes, those were probably preliminary offers with the bidding now ramping up as Machado focuses on a decision that is expected to come in the next week or two.

Even while they negotiate with Machado, the Phillies remain interested in outfielder Bryce Harper, the other megastar on this winter’s free-agent market. In fact, a person close to the player tells NBC Sports Philadelphia that a face-to-face meeting between Harper and Phillies officials is being planned for “the next week or so,” in Harper’s hometown of Las Vegas. Phillies officials met with Harper’s representative, Scott Boras, at the winter meetings in Las Vegas last month. The player was not in attendance at that meeting.

Machado remains the Phillies’ primary focus, but competition for him is stern. The Yankees are high on Machado and he is high on playing for them — he has been for a long time. The Yanks could even offer Machado a chance to play shortstop, his favorite position, for a good chunk of the coming season as Didi Gregorius recovers from elbow surgery. The Yanks have signed veteran infielder Troy Tulowitzki. The signing is seen as inexpensive insurance should the team fail to sign Machado. It also could be a negotiating signal to Machado that the Yankees won’t wait forever.

The Phillies like the idea of using Machado at third base and would probably have to significantly outbid the Yankees to land him. The Phillies have been gearing for this offseason for years and have the resources to do just that — if Machado would say yes to their offer.

The Phillies remain interested in adding a top reliever to the back end of their bullpen — they have interest in Zach Britton, another Boras client — and a left-handed starting pitcher. But at the moment, their focus is Machado — with Harper, as evidenced by the planned face-to-face meeting, beginning to enter the picture.

Stay tuned. The New Year has dawned and this thing is heating up.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

Bryce Harper, Jake Arrieta, the infield puzzle ... lots going on in Phillies camp Tuesday

Bryce Harper, Jake Arrieta, the infield puzzle ... lots going on in Phillies camp Tuesday

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Tuesday should be an interesting day in Phillies camp.

Bryce Harper will make his spring debut. He is slated to play five innings against the Toronto Blue Jays at Spectrum Field.

Jake Arrieta, healthy and upbeat after having his elbow surgically cleaned out last season, will make his first start of the spring in the game.

Forty-five miles south, in Bradenton, the Phillies will play a split-squad game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Lefty Ranger Suarez, a dark horse candidate for the fifth starting pitcher’s job, will get the start against the Pirates.

Lefty Damon Jones, who emerged as a solid starting pitching prospect last season, is also slated to get some work in that game. Jones struck out 12 batters per nine innings in the minors last season. He is slated to open the season at Triple A but could be in the picture in Philadelphia at some point.

Manager Joe Girardi will preside over the game in Bradenton.

Girardi is making the trip over the Sunshine Skyway because he wants to get a look at Suarez.

He also wants to continue to evaluate Jean Segura’s work at third base. Segura is slated to start at third base in Bradenton and Scott Kingery at second base. The addition of shortstop Didi Gregorius has pushed Segura off shortstop. Segura has experience at second base and is open to playing there. But the team would prefer to use him at third base so Kingery can play second base, his best position. This equation all rides on Segura’s ability to play third.

“It's important I continue to see Segura at third and Kingery at second,” Girardi said.

Monday's game

The Phillies beat Baltimore, 8-7. Mikie Mahtook, Luke Williams, Logan Forsythe and Nick Maton all homered for the Phillies.

Minor-leaguer Carlos De La Cruz, who stands 6-8, got some time in center field for the Phillies.

“I thought that was Ben Simmons out there,” Girardi quipped. “I thought we were getting Ben Simmons an at-bat.”

Girardi loved the work of minor-league catcher Rafael Marchan.

“My favorite part of the game was Marchan,” Girardi raved. “He's the block master. The master. That might have been the best exhibition of blocking I have ever seen in one game.”

That’s high praise from Girardi, who caught for 15 seasons in the majors and was part of three World Series championship teams.

Marchan, who turns 21 on Tuesday, played in Single A last season. He is considered an excellent defender.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

This is a recording: Vince Velasquez seeks efficiency

This is a recording: Vince Velasquez seeks efficiency

CLEARWATER, Fla. – In four seasons with the Phillies, Vince Velasquez has teased with his potential and frustrated with his inconsistency.

But at least he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

Standing in front of his locker at Spectrum Field on Monday afternoon, Velasquez made a pack of reporters break into laughter after his spring debut against the Baltimore Orioles.

“I threw 26 pitches in two innings – which is a shocker,” he said comically.

Running high pitch counts early in games has been one of the reasons for Velasquez’ frustrating inconsistency.

“The past three or four years, it’s always been an issue,” the 27-year-old right-hander said.

He’s trying to address the shortcoming – and several others – this spring under new pitching coach Bryan Price, who just might be the most popular guy in camp right now, at least with a pitching staff that is eating up everything he has to say, especially when it comes to pitching down in the strike zone.

“I’ve developed a lot of confidence with Bryan and really trust in his work,” Velasquez said. “I’ve told you guys so many times that I have that confidence to be that pitcher and I think Bryan is the guy who is going to pull that out of me.”

When Velasquez says, “that pitcher,” he means, that starting pitcher. He knows he’s in a battle for the fifth starter’s job. He knows about all the talk of possibly ending up in the bullpen when camp breaks.

But he wants to start.

“I know what the task is at hand,” he said. “It’s just a matter of what I have to do to earn that spot. Today was a good display of what I can be. It seemed like everything was working in my favor. I walked the first guy and then got some ground balls. I executed pitches down in the zone.”

Velasquez allowed just one hit, a walk and he struck out one in his two innings of work. The Phillies won the game, 8-7.

Velasquez is competing mostly with Nick Pivetta for the No. 5 starter’s job. Lefty Ranger Suarez, who will get a start Tuesday against the Pirates in Bradenton, is also in the mix.

Manager Joe Girardi has stressed that the competition for jobs has not really started yet, that the first couple of starts are a time to prepare for the competition that will come in March. But he is clearly watching. He liked what he saw of Velasquez on Monday. He especially liked the economy of pitches.

“He was very efficient,” Girardi said. “That's how you get deep in games. If you're throwing 20 pitches every inning, it's not a very long night.”

At least not for the starter.

Sometimes it is for the team.

Girardi mentioned how much he liked seeing Velasquez execute pitches down in the strike zone. Last year, Velasquez was encouraged to work the top of the strike zone. He has the giddy-up on his fastball to do that, but locating the pitch was a problem and poorly located pitches up in the zone turn into trouble and short outings.

“He got outs down in the zone, not just up in the zone, which he's done a lot in the past,” Girardi said. “But he got outs down in the zone. Because he did that, he was pretty efficient. He got a strikeout down there. He got a double play down there. So, I was encouraged by what he did.”

Velasquez believes he was too predictable last season, that he got away from throwing his changeup and lived too high in the zone with his fastball. He still wants to elevate and has the stuff to do it, but he also wants to work the lower part of the zone with his fastball like he did Monday.

“I was living at the top of the zone 95 percent of the time,” he said. “Every game plan was always at the top of the zone, so, again, you’ve got to learn how to change speeds and live up and down and in and out.

“I have the weapon to go up in the zone. That pitch just makes it even more useful to go down in the zone. You can’t be too predictable in this game.”

It’s too early to predict whether Velasquez will end up in the rotation or the bullpen. But if his work the rest of the spring is as efficient as it was Monday, he will give Phillies decision-makers something to think about.

More on the Phillies