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Despite poor outing, Phillies optimistic as they break camp

Phillies lose to Tampa Bay, 10-1, but veterans say they are focusing on Opening Day.

Phillies' Cord Phelps tries to catch Rays' Tim Beckham in a rundown in yesterday's game. (Associated Press)
Phillies' Cord Phelps tries to catch Rays' Tim Beckham in a rundown in yesterday's game. (Associated Press)Read more

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The final week of spring training began with manager Ryne Sandberg using the word "unacceptable" in between two games when the Phillies gave up a combined 28 runs.

It came to an end yesterday with Odubel Herrera wearing a customized Hooters sleeveless T-shirt during batting practice, with his name and number scrolled on it in ink, and Jonathan Papelbon taking the mound in the ninth inning wearing a Carlos Ruiz jersey at Bright House Field.

Camp Clearwater officially broke after the Phillies 10-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Papelbon served up a home run to the first batter he faced and allowed a cycle after facing only five hitters.

"He's done that in each of the last 3 years, I think," Sandberg said. "And I don't think it's ever worked out for him."

The Phillies gave up 10 or more runs in three of their final four games in Florida. They'll play their first game of 2015 at Citizens Bank Park tonight, in one of two "on-deck" series games with Pittsburgh before opening the season Monday at home against Boston.

"We need those games to get ready for Opening Day," Sandberg said bluntly following the latest blowout.

While Opening Day is an unofficial sports holiday, it's safe to assume the buzz back home won't be quite like that of a few short years ago.

"Right now, I don't think about it," Ryan Howard said before the game. "My focus is on Opening Day. You go out there, you put a good product on the field. You play the game the right way, you play hard. Win games. Then all of that stuff will take care of itself."

The Phillies' veterans entered camp 6 weeks ago optimistic and they're leaving Florida with the same attitudes.

"We swung the bats well today, and we have in the last couple of days," Chase Utley said Wednesday, the second time in 4 days he launched a pair of home runs in a game. "It's just putting it all together. You're trying to fine tune everything and take momentum into the regular season."

Spring training statistics aren't always effective in predicting regular-season results - the 2009 Phillies, for example, were in the bottom half of baseball in runs scored in spring training - but the Phillies certainly have put together a collection of ugly numbers in the last month.

Entering yesterday, the Phillies were hitting .234 in 30 games this spring - last in baseball. They were averaging 3.7 runs per game (also 30th in MLB). The Phillies .640 team OPS was also 30th, and only the St. Louis Cardinals (56) had fewer extra-base hits than the Phillies' 63 (and the Cardinals had played four fewer games).

Before Jerome Williams took the mound against the Rays, Phillies' pitchers had a 4.83 ERA, ninth highest in baseball and second behind the Atlanta Braves in the Grapefruit League. Opponents were hitting .284 against them (highest in the Grapefruit League) and the Phils served up 46 home runs, the most among all 30 of baseball's teams.

What's been a long spring will likely be followed by a long summer, with near-nightly early-inning deficits as a result of shaky starting pitching.

Williams allowed four runs in the second inning of the exhibition start against Tampa, which doesn't exactly have a lineup reminiscent of the '27 Yankees. Williams allowed 17 runs (14 earned) in his last three spring starts.

But not all was lost this spring.

"There's a bunch of guys," Utley said, when asked who stood out for him. "Obviously Freddy [Galvis] as the shortstop every day now; he's made adjustments to his swing with his bat, a few different things. I like how he's swinging the bat."

Galvis made an error and got caught in a rundown.

"Obviously, having Odubel in center," Utley continued, "he has a lot of energy and a lot of speed, that can create a lot of havoc on the basepaths. Everyone else, we're all just trying to improve."

Anything else?

"Everyone is coming in here doing their part, everyone has been working hard," Howard said. "I think guys are itching, they're ready to go out and get started . . . There's been some good chemistry. Guys are getting along."

Once again, results in March aren't always indicative of what you can expect in April, May, June and beyond.

"Who cares," Jimmy Rollins famously said a year ago of the Phillies spring woes.

The Phillies lost 18 of the 30 spring games they played in 2008, for what it's worth.

But that was a club teeming with talent in its prime, with every regular other than Pat Burrell and Pedro Feliz still in their 20s. The 2015 Phillies, with a 35-and-over middle of the order trio, finished the Grapefruit League schedule 12-17-2.

"It's just like I said - it's going out there and playing good ball," said Howard, who hit .171 in 24 Grapefruit League games. "You can't give extra outs. Just make the plays. Make the plays and I think we'll be all right. I think we'll definitely surprise some people."

Giles progressing

For the second straight day, Ken Giles played catch. He said he felt no pain while throwing. Giles, who was removed from his last game Tuesday with a mild back strain, remains on schedule to be on the Opening Day roster.