Carlos apparently suffered nothing more than a tweaked nerve after falling while going after a popup. He was back in Panama's lineup against the Dominican Republic yesterday, and thanks to his country's two-and-through performance in the Classic, he soon will be back in a Phillies uniform. You can do without a shortstop and centerfielder for close to 3 weeks, but not without your No. 1 catcher. Hurry back, Chooch.
Twenty-three days after pitchers and catchers reported to manager Charlie Manuel and his staff, it's on. The real spring training is on. Pitching coach Rich Dubee was even moved to drop a checkered flag on the No. 1 competition in town, the ongoing pitchoff that will determine Manuel's No. 5 starter. What began as a four-way race now looks like a mano a mano. Kyle Kendrick, anointed the favorite by Dubee, has had location, stuff and body-language problems. Carlos Carrasco's ERA is 7.71 after yesterday's rank outing against the Braves. Edge CC into the "needs more seasoning" column. But Chan Ho Park had a solid outing against the Blue Jays on Friday night and J.A. Happ produced an incandescent, scoreless, seven-strikeout gem against the Tigers on Saturday.
It never takes long for bleep to happen once a Phillies spring training gets under way in earnest. It's in the organizational genes. A year ago, Brad Lidge was still a reliever under a cloud of suspicion - how could Ed Wade part with a guy nicknamed "Lights Out" for what Pat Gillick sent him? The cloud showed some tornadic rotation after something went click in Lidge's scoped right knee as he delivered his first warmup pitch with cameras rolling.
Just under 7 months later, Brad looked remarkably limber as he dropped to his knees and braced to field the runaway puppy embrace of Ruiz followed closely by Ryan Howard's mother of all swan dives.
Lidge has yet to appear in a Phils exhibition game after experiencing what he calls typical forearm tightness. Nobody seems worried. After all, the Venus de Milo once had arms.
Injuries are the X-factor of every spring training. As Chase Utley edges closer to coming back from hip-labrum surgery, Alex Rodriguez has opted to have similar surgery. The 6- to 9-week recovery timetable set for Rodriguez seems optimistic. But no surgery in the history of sports has ever been announced as "unsuccessful." Recovery times are notoriously tilted toward "speedy."
It sounds as if Ruiz came perilously close to leaving the Phillies near the midpoint of the WBC-interrupted exhibition season with five of eight regular position players unavailable for a potentially protracted period. Unlike the deflated Dream Team of 2006, which failed to advance to the medal round, this edition appears to get the "team" aspect of it and should play into the final weekend. That would keep Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino away 2 more weeks. Meanwhile, no drop-dead date has been announced for Utley and third baseman Pedro Feliz, who had November surgery to repair a herniated disc. They are down to a month before the April 5 opener. Utley could get out of bed at midnight on a crutch and lash a line drive with it.
Back in the day, the Phillies were renowned for making big-ticket, jaw-dropping, trades during spring training, often when least expected. But with Amaro setting the "Register Closed" sign on the checkout counter, there probably will be no lefthanded bullpen help from outside. Suspended J.C. Romero's 50-day surrogate could wind up being Happ.
On Feb. 25, 1972, GM John Quinn announced he had acquired Cardinals lefthander Steve Carlton for Phillies ace Rick Wise. Fans and media alike blasted the deal. Never mind that Carlton was coming off a 20-9 season. Oh, we of little faith.
Paul Owens continued the blockbuster trend on Feb. 23, 1979, dealing catcher Barry Foote, second baseman Ted Sizemore, outfielder Jerry Martin, righthander Derek Botelho and a minor leaguer to the Cubs for second baseman Manny Trillo, outfielder Greg Gross and catcher Dave Rader.
On March 25, 1981, Owens acquired outfielder Gary Matthews from the Braves for righthander Bob Walk, who had started and won Game 1 of the 1980 World Series. Five days later, the Pope dropped the other shoe, selling his most successful first-round draft pick, sore-kneed slugger Greg Luzinski, to the White Sox.
March madness continued on March 24, 1984. The Pope sent setup lefthanded reliever Willie Hernandez and utility man Dave Bergman to Detroit for catcher John Wockenfuss and outfield prospect Glenn Wilson. After Hernandez went 9-3 with 32 saves for the world-champion
Tigers and won the American League MVP award, Wockenfuss became "John Bleeping Wockenfuss."
Spring training is finally on. Anticipate the unanticipated and expect the unexpected. Just don't expect a headline-grabbing deal. *
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