It's an overcast morning in Sarasota. The Reds are finishing up batting practice. The Phillies are coming off their eighth loss in nine days after surrendering 11 runs to the Minnesota Twins. Charlie Manuel met with center fielder Shane Victorino privately yesterday. There's no telling what might happen if the Phils lose again today.
That said, let's take a look at some of the positives thus far in spring training.
1) Ryan Howard: It's only spring training. But it's hard not to imagine this guy having a huge season this year. He's swinging the best bat on the team right now, and it isn't close. Yesterday brought his fourth home run of the spring. This one went opposite field, landing on the berm in left-center. He's making contact, too. Thus far, he's struck out just seven times in roughly 41 plate appearances. He's hitting .378 with four doubles, four homers, and eight RBI. Even if Howard only improves his batting average by 10 points, moving him to to .275, and cuts down his strikeouts by 30, he could be in for a record-breaking year.
2) Brett Myers: He's pitching today, which I'm looking forward to. It'll be just his second official Grapefruit League start (he's also pitched in a minor league game and a B-Game). He's been outstanding thus far this spring, striking out six and allowing no runs in his one official appearance. The Phillies desperately need him to perform this season, especially with the uncertainty at the back of the bullpen.
3) Eaton's latest appearance: Yesterday afternoon, J.C. Romero walked up to Eaton at his locker and extended his right hand for a congratulatory handshake. It was a small but telling gesture. The right-hander's teammates have noticed his struggles as much as the fans, media and coaches have, and they realize how important a productive Eaton can be for the team.
"Obviously you want to go out there an pitch for yourself, but first and foremost, you’re pitching for your team," said Eaton, who pitched three scoreless innings, allowing five hits and striking out two yesterday against the Twins. "If I take the mound, I want them to feel like, OK we’re going to get a win tonight, as opposed to last year, when it was, OK, what’s he going to give us? Flip of a coin, what’s it going to be?"
Eaton's back problems appear to have subsided, at least for the moment. Eaton hasn't said this, but I think a lot of it has to do with him finally having something concrete to point to (an MRI revealed a slightly herniated disc). I'm sure his revised conditioning plan, which has essentially eliminated traditional running to decrease pounding on his back, has played a big role. But simply knowing what is wrong has helped as well.
4) Kris Benson: I'm sure this will sound quite awkward, but I had a dream about Kris Benson last night. I'm not sure what Freud would say, but it's the truth. A few fellow media members and I were watching the veteran righty pitch live batting practice. After about 40 pitches, he abruptly turned around and walked off the field, saying his shoulder hurt. That's where the dream ended (Don't worry, my next dream involved Scarlett Johanson swimming in a vat of cheese whiz). Anyway, I bring all of this up to illustrate one of the myriad things that could have gone wrong with the Benson signing. Instead, he's progressed faster than anybody on the Phillies thought he would. I'm sure the team will be very cautious with how fast it puts him on the mound in the regular season. But this could be a guy who dramatically helps the team over the last three-quarters of the season.
5) So Taguchi: All signs point to this being one of the more under-rated moves of the offseason. He's hitting .364, and is second on the team with seven runs scored. He'll be valuable as a pinch-hitter, but is also valuable insurance in the outfield, particularly with all four potential regulars (Werth, Victorino, Jenkins, Burrell) currently hitting below .240.