March 08, 2016
CLEARWATER, Fla. – In a span of a little more than 24 hours, three different Phillies pitchers competing for the final spot in the team’s rotation threw three shutout innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Vince Velasquez and Brett Oberholtzer, who both came over in the December trade that sent Ken Giles to Houston, put their work in on Monday in Bradenton. The guy many have forgotten about, it seems, followed with an equally efficient and impressive outing on Tuesday in Clearwater.
Left-hander Adam Morgan retired the Pirates lineup with four starters, including Andrew McCutchen, in order in the first inning and didn’t allow a hit until his third inning of work.
“I liked Morgan,” manager Pete Mackanin said following a 4-2 win over the Pirates. “Morgan threw some cutters he didn’t have last year. I really liked that, I think that’s going to help him. And his velocity went up a couple of miles an hour, and this is early in the spring. That bodes well for him.”
Morgan hit 93- and 94-MPH on the Bright House Field radar gun on Tuesday. While it’s possible that gun could be a tick or two off, it wouldn’t be crazy for Morgan to have gained strength over the last year.
The 26-year-old Morgan is 26 months removed from shoulder surgery. Unlike Tommy John surgery (on the elbow), shoulder surgeries generally take longer than a calendar year for a pitcher to regain form.
Last season, as a rookie, Morgan’s fastball usually hovered between 88-89 MPH.
Morgan isn’t one to pay attention to radar guns – as he pointed out, major league hitters can hit any fastball, whether it’s 88 or 98 - but did admit his arm feels much better than it did a year ago at this time.
“This offseason was great for the shoulder – it’s feeling great,” said Morgan, who had his first regular offseason in three years. “It’s feeling a lot more free than last year, this early in spring training. I feel like it’s good that it’s right there. But I feel like there’s still more in there.”
Morgan, the Phillies third-round pick out of the University of Alabama in 2011, went 5-7 with a 4.48 ERA in 15 starts with the Phillies last season. But he showed signs of a pitcher with promise, allowing two runs or fewer in eight of his 15 games (and three runs or fewer in 10 of his 15 starts).
Even though he had a spot in the rotation at the end of the 2015 season, Morgan is completely fine with competing for a job in 2016. He likes the energy and talent in the clubhouse.
“There has literally been no one in this clubhouse that anybody has a problem with,” Morgan said. “Everyone is good, everyone is meshing together good. And it’s just been fun. It’s been fun. I feel like it only makes the team better when everybody is rooting for each other. And the competition, everyone is trying to out-do everybody else. It’s been great.”
But shouldn’t he be rooting for himself in this race? Doesn’t he expect himself to be the one given the ball after Jeremy Hellickson, Aaron Nola, Charlie Morton, and Jerad Eickhoff next month?
“Yeah, but you can’t play (general manager), though,” Morgan said. “That’s one thing I’ve learned. Once you think you’ve got it figured out, they throw you a curveball and you never know what’s going to happen. As soon as you take your mind off of what you need to do and play G.M. or play, ‘what’s he thinking, what’s she thinking,’ you can’t really say you’re giving 110 (percent).”
Darin Ruf kept making an argument that he should be getting regular time at first base this season when he launched a two-run home run in the first inning of Tuesday’s win.
Ruf ripped his first home run of the spring off of Pittsburgh left-hander Jonathon Niese.
“That was good to see, off the lefy,” Mackanin said.
Mackanin entered camp with an idea of platooning Ruf and former MVP Ryan Howard, who hasn’t played since March 4 after battling an illness that’s invaded the Clearwater clubhouse. Last season, Ruf had a 1.107 OPS against left-handed pitchers, tied for best in the big leagues (among players with 100 plate appearances) with Seattle’s Nelson Cruz.
But at least one National League lefthander might be a little craftier against Ruf next time he seems him.
“I told him when I got on first base that I’m never throwing (a cutter) to him again,” Niese said. “He’s punished it every time I’ve thrown it to him.”
“I think he’s trying to get in my head.”
Cesar Hernandez went 2-for-3 with a two-run triple in Tuesday’s win. … Cody Asche did some hitting work in the cage but remains day-to-day with a right oblique injury. Asche hasn’t played in a game yet this spring and probably needs to see a few days of live pitching before he could be an option to get back into a lineup that’s now with fellow outfielder Aaron Altherr out for 4-6 weeks. … Right-handed pitchers Frank Herrmann and Michael Mariot have not appeared in a game yet this spring, but general manager Matt Klentak said they weren’t major injury concerns.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21