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The Grapefruit League calendar says it is Sunday, March 19. The Phillies have a 56-mile trip south to play the Reds in Sarasota.
The office at Bright House Networks Field is quiet. Folks back in the Philly office won’t be calling because it is Sunday. Emails even seem to take a holiday on Sundays.
Carpenter Field is a different story. Phillies minor leaguers are spread on four different fields this afternoon. There’s a triple-A game on the Richie Ashburn Field, a Double-A game on the Mike Schmidt Field, a game against a college team on the Robin Roberts Field and a group of young minor leaguers working on fundamentals on the Steve Carlton Field.
The weather for the day is typical of the entire spring: sunshine, blue skies and a rare cloud or two.
The Triple-A game has a different flavor today because lefty Cole Hamels is going to throw three innings. He’s been slowed by back problems and the program of getting him back on the field in a regular rotation is a methodical process.
GM Pat Gillick chose a walk to Carpenter Field rather than a car ride with Dallas Green to Sarasota. Nothing personal, Dallas. Pat wanted to see Hamels pitch. He was perched behind home plate on the rooftop level. In three innings, Hamels allowed 3 hits, 1 run, 1 earned run, 0 walks and 2 strikeouts.
After a 1-2-3 second inning, Dickie Noles walked by: “You can see why this guy is special. He stands out.” Someone responded, “Just like you when you were younger?” “I wasn’t even close,” laughed Dickie.
Assistant GM Mike Arbuckle was also on the roof standing at the top of stairway that is midway between two fields. On his right, Hamels was pitching and on his left, Gio Gonzalez, the prospect acquired in the Jim Thome deal with the White Sox, was hurling in a Double-A game. Hamels’ performance: “Most impressive was his command. For someone who hasn’t pitched in a while, he was around the plate and worked his pitches to spots,” said Arbuckle.
Also playing in the same game for five innings was Alex Gonzalez. The free agent infielder signed by Gillick this offseason was spending his third minor league game in left field. The Phillies are in need of a fifth outfielder and the brass wants to see if Gonzalez can play out there. He had a run-scoring double in two at-bats and caught the only fly ball hit his way.
“It is a different feel out there,” said Gonzalez. “Getting a read on the balls is the biggest adjustment from playing the infield.” Gonzalez will continue to shag fly balls during batting practice. More minor league games or the outfield in a Grapefruit League game or two will be pondered.
Meanwhile next door at Bright House Networks Field, one Major Leaguer was still at work following a short morning workout. Veteran Mike Lieberthal took extra batting practice in the enclosed left field batting cage hitting off a tee under the watchful eyes of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre coach Sal Rende. Later, “Lieby” donned catching gear and spent time catching bullets from a pitching machine. The guy’s caught 1,079 games and he’s still polishing his skills.
Rusty Kennedy / AP