CLEARWATER, Fla. - In advance of today's Grapefruit League opener, let's take a look at some things that we've learned about this team over the first couple weeks of spring training.
1 Here's a fun game: Take a pencil and a piece of paper and attempt to construct the Phillies' Opening Day batting order.
Now let's compare answers. Here's the best I could do:
1. Ben Revere CF
2. Carlos Ruiz C
3. Chase Utley 2B
4. Ryan Howard 1B
5. Darin Ruf LF
6. Cody Asche 3B
7. Domonic Brown RF
8. Freddy Galvis SS
If you are anything like me, this exercise served to reinforce one of the long-standing quirks of the Phillies' lineup: Man, is it lefthanded. Last year's Phillies were one of only three National League teams in the expansion era to finish a season with five lefthanded hitters logging 400-plus plate appearances. This year they have a chance to become the first team in either league since 1937 to have at least six lefthanded hitters finish a season with at least 400 plate appearances. For that to happen, Ryan Howard would have to spend the entire season in the regular lineup and Grady Sizemore would have to get 400 plate appearances in leftfield. This, in addition to everybody else remaining healthy. So it's a longshot. Regardless, the point is this camp is extremely short on righthanded bats, especially when you consider that their top two bench bats are lefties in Sizemore and Odubel Herrera.
2 One of the big unknowns for the regular season is how Ryne Sandberg will utilize Darin Ruf, and I'm not sure how much clarity we are going to get over the next month. Ruf started at leftfield in a scrimmage against the University of Tampa on Sunday. He was tested early and appeared to get a good jump on a slicing line drive that he tracked down for an out. The Phillies seem comfortable with him defensively at first base. He has much more to gain from regular work in leftfield. But the Phillies gave Sizemore a guaranteed deal worth $2 million this offseason after he hit .253/.313/.389 in 176 plate appearances for them in the second half of last season. Ruf might have to hit his way out of a straight platoon situation this spring.
3 If you think it's strange seeing Jimmy Rollins wearing a Dodgers uniform on television, imagine Cole Hamels wearing a Red Sox uniform at Citizens Bank Park on Opening Day. After an offseason in which the national rumor mill percolated daily with speculation about Hamels' future, the past couple of weeks have been remarkably quiet. Or, perhaps not so remarkably. As any negotiator will tell you, action often requires a deadline, and there simply has not been anything resembling one since last year's trade deadline. The only thing the Red Sox would gain from acquiring Hamels right now is an extra month of injury risk in one of the most injury-prone times of the season. Sure, they'd acquire the certainty that the Phillies would not trade Hamels elsewhere, but I'm sure they're confident they would be offered a chance to beat any offer that might arise.
Point is, don't be surprised if you see some fireworks in the last week of March. Whatever offers Boston has already made were done with the knowledge that they have very little to gain by making their best and final offer before Opening Day. Likewise, the Phillies have little to gain by accepting such an offer when they know that there is still a better offer that will be made if Hamels makes it through the spring healthy.
The Boston media was atwitter yesterday because of the presence of Phillies special assignment scout Charley Kerfeld at JetBlue Park. It's no secret the Phillies have been paying close attention to the Red Sox system, and one look at Boston's projected rotation suggests it still has plenty of motivation to acquire Hamels. If you are Red Sox manager John Farrell, who is your Opening Day starter? Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson or Joe Kelly?
4 Speaking of Hamels, we might need to remind ourselves how dominant he was last season. He held opponents to under four runs in each of his last 23 starts. During that stretch, he posted a 1.91 ERA and averaged seven innings per start while striking out 154 and walking 44 in 160 innings. The Phillies went 14-9 in those 23 starts. That's a 98 win pace.
5 Don't give up on Jesse Biddle. After catching the young lefty in one of his early bullpen sessions, Carlos Ruiz turned to a bystander and raised his eyebrows, a telling compliment of the skill he had just seen. He's shown some of the best stuff in camp in early bullpen sessions. It'll be interesting to see if he has figured out the key to consistently locating his fastball down in the zone. You can tell how badly Biddle wants to succeed. Maybe that hampers him at times.
6 The Phillies have little reason not to keep Rule 5 pick Odubel Herrera on the roster given their lack of other options. But I also don't know that he profiles as anything more than a backup centerfielder. Herrera put up some big contact numbers last season, but we heard a lot of the same things about Michael Martinez, who had hit .325/.353/.452 after a promotion to Triple A in 2010 and then .301/.341/.376 in the Dominican Winter League before the Phillies selected him in the Rule 5 draft. Herrera will get plenty of opportunities this spring, but it's a bit premature to think he'll be more Shane Victorino than Martinez.
Let the games begin.
On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy