Phillies give up 13 runs to Royals, but it didn’t have to be this way

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I should start by writing about the intentional walk that went bad in the Royals’ rout of the Phillies on Friday.  With the Phillies up 4-2 and one out in the sixth, manager Charlie Manuel decided he’d rather have lefty Jeremy Horst face Alex Gordon with the bases loaded than Kyle Kendrick or a right-handed reliever face pinch-hitter Billy Butler with runners on second and third.

That, I think, is a defensible decision. Gordon is excellent, but not so much against lefties, while Horst limited lefties to a .170 average last season.

Gordon, of course, made it look bad, delivering a triple that put the Royals on top 5-4. Kansas City just kept piling on from there, finally winning the game 13-4.

But rather than focus on Manuel’s intentional walk, I’d rather point towards Ruben Amaro’s bullpen. Because it should be noted that five of the Royals’ runs today came against a pair of 35-year-old journeymen: Chad Durbin and Raul Valdes.

The Phillies finished last season loaded with talented, but unproven, young relievers: Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman, Josh Lindblom, Michael Schwimer. All were rather successful in the minors, some had shown flashes in the majors. All were 24-26 years old.

Right now, just one of those pitchers in on the major league roster: Aumont. He worked one scoreless inning in the Opening Day loss to the Braves and hasn’t been seen since. De Fratus and Diekman are in Triple-A. Lindblom was sent to Texas for Michael Young. Schwimer was given away to the Blue Jays because he threatened a grievance over how the Phillies handled an injury last year.

Instead of those intriguing younger arms, the Phillies are going with Durbin and Valdes. And it’s not because they needed the experience late in games. They’re paying through the nose for Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams to work the last two innings. It’s because Amaro, when it doubt, much prefers his veterans. Time will tell whether it pays off.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉