Key question for Phils: How's their health?

Infielder Freddy Galvis is watched closely by Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg during a drill. Galvis tweaked his ankle on Monday and was removed from the game against Tampa Bay.
Infielder Freddy Galvis is watched closely by Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg during a drill. Galvis tweaked his ankle on Monday and was removed from the game against Tampa Bay. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 05, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The Phillies have been in spring-training camp for most of three weeks and playing exhibition games for a week, and nothing has happened that might change the theme of this season.

In fact, boring as it is, that theme will hold true on opening day, on Memorial Day and on Labor Day. While the Northeast is still hiding from the chill shadow of the actual Groundhog Day, the Phils live the proverbial one every time they take the field in the warm Florida sun. Their season - you might have heard this before - depends on nothing more than staying healthy enough to put a representative team on the field. Nothing less, either.

There is little the Phillies can do to ensure that outcome, aside from observing the same precautions as every other major-league team, and being conservative in treating the twinges and tweaks that go along with spring training.

So far, it has been a mixed bag for the Phils. The four venerable pieces of the batting order who might be the greatest causes for concern - Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz - have been fine, but have also been eased back into new season. All four have played in just half of the team's six exhibition games.

On Monday, as half the team rode the bus to Port Charlotte for the scheduled game against Tampa Bay, the others remained behind and did light workouts for most of the morning. Third baseman Cody Asche emerged from the trainer's room with an elastic wrap around his right hand, the result of being hit by a pitch on that hand the day before.

"It's fine. Just sore," Asche said.

When Pittsburgh pitcher Yao-Hsun Yang threw the rising fastball that Asche couldn't get his hands away from, it seemed a lot more serious than that. The sound, as the ball struck him on the back of the hand between the third and fourth fingers, could have been mistaken for a ball hitting a bat. It was that sharp, and Asche doubled over, went to the ground and ripped the batting glove from his hand for a quick look.

"Just scared. Anything that involves the hands is scary just because it's such a prolonged recovery. There's nothing you can do but let it heal," Asche said. "It's just part of the game. You can't blame anyone or be mad about it, but hands are brittle and you need them for everything in this game."

It wasn't Yang's fault he had no idea where the ball was going - Asche was just one of two batters hit in the pitcher's single inning of work - and it is the nature of spring training that the play isn't always going to be crisp. Still, it could have been a broken bone or two as easily as it turned out to be a bruise.

The reality, as much as the organization might privately fret about its veterans, is that young players get hurt, too, and the unraveling of last season was tied to the loss of Ben Revere as well as to that of Ryan Howard.

As spring training progresses, the Phillies are bringing starter Cole Hamels back slowly from a bout of biceps tendinitis. He was on the schedule to throw a bullpen session on Monday at the Carpenter Complex, but that didn't happen. The team said the schedule was in error, nothing more, and that Hamels will throw Tuesday and then face live hitters in batting practice sessions on Thursday and Sunday.

At best, the hope is that Hamels will be ready to join the rotation when the team goes through the order for the third time in the regular season. Because of built-in off days in that portion of the schedule, the Phils should be able to get by with just four starters - Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett, Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez is the current plan - and then insert Hamels into the rotation and go merrily along.

It won't work that way all season, of course, but despite the hand-wringing about starting depth, somewhere among the clot of interchangeable bottom-of-rotation candidates they should be able to find help if necessary. If the help is needed at the top of the rotation, that's another story.

In the same way, the Phillies have depth at the infield positions - assuming the ankle Freddy Galvis tweaked on Monday is only that - but are thin on outfield reserves. Had Asche's injury been more serious, for instance, the Phils would have plugged in Maikel Franco and hoped for the best. Fortunately, they lived another day still hoping the season won't turn on them this soon, and that Asche and Franco can play out the battle for third base over time.

"I control what I can control. That's how I've looked at it since the day I was drafted," said Asche, who skipped batting practice Monday in deference to his bruised hand but is expected to hit Tuesday. "That's not going to change. I try to stay with that mentality every day and remind myself who I have to beat and that's what I'm going to do."

The Phillies organization also knows what it has to beat this season, and that is the odds. Baseball doesn't usually reward such bets, but as the sun shines, the work is positive, and the X-rays are negative, there is still a chance. Now, they just have to get through opening day, Memorial Day and Labor Day that way.


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