PHILADELPHIA (AP) Five things to know about the Philadelphia Phillies at the start of spring training camp:
GETTING OLDER: Six years after leading the Phillies to the franchise’s second World Series title in 2008, former NL MVPs Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, along with five-time All-Star Chase Utley, remain the core of the team. Rollins and Utley are 35, Howard is 34 and each is on the downward part of their career. Howard has missed 172 games the last two seasons because of injuries, and the slugger’s production has steadily dropped since his big years during the middle of Philadelphia’s five-year postseason run. New outfielder Marlon Byrd, 36, was the team’s main offseason acquisition, and 34-year-old catcher Carlos Ruiz signed a three-year deal. That’s five regulars who’ve likely had their best seasons in the past.
RYNO’S TEAM: Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg made it clear last season he expects his team to play strong fundamentals, and he isn’t afraid to demand more from his veteran players, even if they were used to doing things a certain way under former manager Charlie Manuel. Sandberg gets to instill his philosophy from the start of spring training. It’ll be interesting to see if the older players respond and make the necessary adjustments to improve their game.
TWO ACES REMAIN: It was only three years ago the Phillies boasted their ”Four Aces” rotation featuring Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. Halladay and Oswalt have retired, but Lee and Hamels are still a formidable 1-2 punch when healthy. Hamels says he won’t be ready by opening day because of left biceps tendinitis. But the Phils have added A.J. Burnett, coming off a strong year with the Pirates. Newcomers Miguel Gonzalez and Roberto Hernandez join Kyle Kendrick in the mix in a rotation with young arms – Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin – ready to fill in, if needed. The starters might be the team’s strength.
PAPELBOMBED: Closer Jonathan Papelbon had a tough 2013, blowing seven of 36 save chances. His velocity was down on his fastball and he didn’t dominate hitters the way he used to with Boston. Papelbon was critical of teammates and didn’t endear himself to fans. The Phillies couldn’t find any takers for him on the trade market, mainly because he’s owed $26 million over the next two seasons with a vesting option for $13 million for 2016.
YOUNG GUNS: Third baseman Cody Asche had a promising rookie year in 50 games after making the jump from Triple-A. Left fielder Domonic Brown finally lived up to potential with an All-Star season. Center fielder Ben Revere led the team with a .305 average, but missed the entire second half with foot problems. Top prospect Maikel Franco will learn to play some first base while competing with Asche at third. Infielder Freddy Galvis and center fielder-second baseman Cesar Hernandez give the Phillies capable backups.