Greetings From Clearwater: News and Notes

The Phillies have completed reconstructing the left field wall at Citizens Bank Park, but not everybody is convinced on how much it will help. Plus, news on the battle for roster spots and a look at how the bullpen could look on Opening Day.

Apparently the Phillies' off-season construction work on the left-field fence at Citizens Bank Park hasn't convinced many people that the third season at the team's maligned field will be any friendlier for pitchers.

The Phillies have moved the left-field fence back 5 feet and raised it 2 1/2 feet in the hopes that it will cut down home runs at the park by 5 to 10 percent. That didn't change the opinion of Braves ace John Smoltz.

"Coors Field is no longer the park pitchers talk about (as the tough place to pitch)," Smoltz said. "It's the place in Philly. When you talk about pitchers' ERAs there, you can throw them right out the window."

"That park gives them a tremendous home-field advantage. It is what it is. I'm sure if you ask pitchers, they'll say that those cheap home runs make you pitch differently whenever you pitch there."

One pitcher who will be new to the tight confines is right-hander Ryan Franklin, who gave up 95 home runs over the past three seasons while pitching home games at spacious Safeco Field in Seattle. Franklin is a flyball pitcher who has a reputation of challenging hitters.

Will he stick to that game plan in Philly?

"I think everyone tries to keep the ball down," said Franklin, who gave up a pair of solo home runs Wednesday in his start against the Braves. "But guys are still going to go down and get it from time to time. You can't think about where you're at, whether it's Safeco or Philly. You can't worry about the elements."

One good start is encouraging. Two good starts is a streak.

Right-hander Gavin Floyd is on a streak.

The right-hander followed up Thursday night's impressive, four-inning effort against the Blue Jays with an even better performance Tuesday in the Phillies' 7-4 win over the Tigers in Clearwater. With the wind howling out at 20-to-30 mph, Floyd allowed no runs over five innings and struck out five.

"I'd like to have five good games now, maybe a mediocre start, then five more good starts," said Floyd, who lowered his Grapefruit League ERA to 2.30. "Or even 10 good starts."

Floyd said that a meeting involving general manager Pat Gillick, assistant GM Mike Arbuckle and pitching coach Rich Dubee gave him a reinforcing boost.

"We talked about getting back to high school and when I was in (Class A) Lakewood, and apply what I had working then and in my last game," Floyd said.

Floyd was surprised to get that type of attention from Gillick.

"It was very surprising to me," Floyd said. "Obviously he's a great baseball mind. He incorporated everyone in the organization, made a plan and we're going with it. It was very surprising and very nice."

Floyd likely will begin the season with Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes-Barre. However, if he and left-hander Cole Hamels can continue to progress and stay healthy, manager Charlie Manuel thinks the team has two significant pieces waiting in the minors.

"They give us some options," Manuel said. "It's a matter of time before they're up here."

"Gavin threw some good changeups and at times a good (curve). He stayed on hitters and was aggressive."

As for Hamels, he'll start the year at Class-A Clearwater, so he can avoid pitching in cold weather. The warm start to the season will hopefully protect his back from giving him more problems, like it has in the past. After a few weeks, Hamels will move to either AA Reading or possibly, jump all the way to AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre, depending on how well he's throwing.

Infielder Alex Gonzalez always had a reputation as a solid shortstop, and when the Devil Rays asked him to play third base last season, he made the adjustment with little difficulty.

Now the 32-year-old veteran is taking a crash course in left field. The Phillies only have four outfielders with solid spots on the roster, and there's a chance they will head north with just those four. That's why they are giving Gonzalez a test run in case an emergency arises.

"Before I signed, they said (playing outfield) was a possibility," said Gonzalez, who played left field in three minor league games before making his Grapefruit League debut there Monday against the Twins.

"Going from the infield to the outfield isn't an easy task. The toughest play is definitely a line drive off the bat, especially when you have to go back on it and it hooks or tails."

Gonzalez isn't sure how long it would take for him to be good enough to play defense in the outfield.

"In the infield I was able to make a change fairly easily," Gonzalez said. "In the outfield, I don't know. It's trial and error right now."

Tomas Perez saw some time in left field during a minor league game on Thursday. Perez is battling to keep his spot with the Phillies and may need to learn left field to keep pace with his competition.

News and Notes:

  • Ryan Howard snapped out of a brief slump Wednesday by scorching a double to center field and hitting a mammoth home run. He launched another shot on Thursday to give him a major league leading ten homeruns this spring and break the old record of nine spring training homeruns set by Richie Allen in 1964.
  • Tom Gordon is showing no signs of rustiness after being slowed earlier in the month by a stiff elbow. He pitched a perfect eighth inning against the Braves and had hitters handcuffed with his curve.
  • Geoff Geary has a chance to start the season as the Phillies' seventh-inning reliever if he can continue his impressive spring. Geary pitched a scoreless inning Wednesday that lowered his Grapefruit League ERA to 1.64.
  • Chris Roberson isn't going to go to Triple-A without a debate. He raised his spring average to .326 with a 3-for-5 performance Wednesday, and there are differing views in the front office over whether he could be effective as a fifth outfielder in the majors. On Thursday, Roberson came back to Earth with an 0-for-5, but he's still hitting .296 on the spring season.
  • David Bell (back spasms) went 3-for-5 in a minor league game on Thursday. He will likely see action in the Grapefruit League beginning this weekend. It's still up in the air whether or not he'll start the year on the disabled list.
  • Shane Victorino showed off his speed Tuesday against the Pirates, hitting a pair of triples. He led the International League with 16 triples last season, 10 of them coming in the season's final six weeks. Victorino didn't need his speed Thursday when he homered in the Phillies' loss to Detroit.
  • RHP Ricardo Rodriguez bounced back from a bad relief outing in his last appearance to throw a strong, scoreless inning Tuesday against Detroit. Rodriguez, who has been a starter for most of his career, needs to show effectiveness as a reliever if he wants to make the Phillies' roster. He has also been the subject of trade rumors, with the Pittsburgh Pirates especially interested in his services. Ironically, if the Phillies were to deal Rodriguez to Pittsburgh, it could end the quest of former Phillie Brandon Duckworth to make the Pirates' rotation.
  • RHP Rob Tejeda and LHP Eude Brito looked rusty in their first Grapefruit League games since returning from their stints with the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. Both pitchers allowed two runs in one inning against Detroit on Tuesday. Tejeda looked like he might bounce back on Thursday, but a rain delay ended his start against the Tigers after just one inning. Tejeda walked the lead-off hitter, but rebounded to get two ground balls and end the inning without any damage.
  • Brett Myers was dabbling with his change-up Monday against the Twins, but don't expect to see him throwing it regularly in games. "I've been telling (changeup specialist) Ryan Madson to throw curves all spring, so I thought I would throw a bunch of changeups (Monday)," Myers said. "What I came to realize is that my change-up isn't nearly as good as Madson's."

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