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March 26, 2017

Mackanin on new Phillies starter Clay Buchholz: 'You can't honestly say he had a good spring'

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Clay Buchholz said there were some nervous moments within the last year, wondering whether his wife, Lindsay, would give birth to another daughter. The couple has two little girls already.

“Until we got that blood work back to figure out what we were having, I probably wasn’t a pleasure to be around for a little bit,” the veteran Phillies right-hander said jokingly. “Three girls would have been unbelievable.”

A reporter who has three kids – all girls – nodded approvingly and pointed to his graying hair.

“He knows what I’m talking about,” Buchholz said.

The Buchholz clan welcomed their first boy, Jax, to the family last week. All is well.

Papa Buchholz got back on the mound in a game for the first time in 11 days on Sunday at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Fla., against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He looked like a pitcher coming off a lengthy layoff, which was to be expected.

But he also hasn’t been all that sharp for the majority of his five starts this spring.

The 32-year-old Buchholz yielded two walks and three hits (two for extra bases) in his first two innings alone of a shaky start in a 6-3 win over Pittsburgh. Buchholz walked four batters overall.

A day after Jerad Eickhoff pitched into the seventh inning (of a minor league spring game) with 97 pitches, Buchholz used up 90 pitches in just 3 1/3 innings. Not exactly ideal a week before the start of the regular season, right?

“You’re going to have to grind at some point during the season,” an unconcerned Buchholz said. “When runners are on base, those are high-stress pitches for the most part and that’s the situations you have to make pitches. If they’re going to take until you throw a strike or take some off-speed pitches early in the count, you have to be able to throw strikes. Four walks is definitely subpar, but, you know, it’s still spring training.”

Again, we can probably give the new dad a break for Sunday. 

Here is Buchholz's game-to-game run for his first Grapefruit League season with the Phillies:

 DateIP  HER K/BB 
 2/28 22/0 
 3/10 3.1 36/1 
 3/263.1  54/4 

Perhaps we shouldn’t be overly concerned with a veteran pitcher’s spring training stats, though. Cole Hamels, for example, was never an exceptional Grapefruit League pitcher.

"Let's put it this way,” manager Pete Mackanin said, “you can't honestly say he had a good spring but he was up close to 90 pitches today. Pitch-count wise he's doing fine. He hadn’t pitched in nine days so I can understand his lack of command. Once he's into a rhythm, I think he'll be fine.”

Buchholz threw two side sessions during his 11-day layoff from spring games in the last two weeks. He’ll likely throw one more game in Florida (his fifth day would arrive in the Grapefruit League finale on Friday, unless the coaching staff pushes everyone a day back for an extra break) before taking the ball in the Phillies third game of the regular season in Cincinnati a week from Thursday.

So far this spring, Buchholz has been able to look beyond the numbers and at the opposing hitters to evaluate where he’s at with the season nearing.

“There were some swings and misses there (and) a lot of foul balls on pitches that didn’t quite get to where I wanted and let the batter get a piece of wood on it,” he said. “I think the command of the off-speed stuff will come. That’s usually what comes last. They seemed to spit on a lot of off-speed pitches that were pretty close. That just tells me I have to throw fastballs for strikes to get ahead in the count and then use my off-speed to bury them, gets some swings and misses and punchouts from there.”

Knapp Time

Andrew Knapp entered the final week in Clearwater in a tenuous position: as one of just three catchers on the 40-man roster, he’s been a favorite for the backup catching job but his spring performance has been lacking. He entered Sunday hitting .147 (5-for-34) with 15 strikeouts in his second big league camp.

Knapp had just the kind of game that should make the coaching staff and front office a little more comfortable on Sunday.

Hours before the Phils’ brass met to discuss roster decisions, Knapp went 2-for-4 with a two-run home run in Sunday’s win over the Pirates. He also threw out a runner attempting to steal second

Knapp was asked about his emotions entered the final five days of camp.

“I’m anxious. I’m really excited – it’d be a dream come true to make this team,” Knapp said. “Days like today help a lot, just the confidence going in. (But) there are still a couple of days left, so we have to finish strong.”

We broke down Knapp’s position on the roster and the decision the front office and coaching staff face on Saturday. So what did Mackanin thing of his young catcher’s game on Sunday?

"I know he hasn't had a good spring but I know he can hit,” Mackanin said. “All of the minor league people tell me he can hit, and he's coming around. As long as he's catching well - he made a couple of nice throws, Valentin made that nice pick on the low throw. Knapp is holding his own right now. Given more at-bats he's going to start showing that he's a better hitter.”

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