The Phils began spring training with three wins over AL East contenders, scoring 26 runs in the process of beating the Yankees on Thursday and Friday and Toronto this afternoon in Dunedin, Florida. At the same time, a split-squad team led by Brett Myers was shut out 1-0 against the Venezuelan National Team. While it's obviously silly to read too much into "victories" in which the heroes included Chris Coste, Shawn Garrett, and Brian Sanches, anyone who remembers the team's tepid starts to the last few seasons, following sluggish springs and daily refrains of "it's early yet," has to be cheered by the first-week results.
As March unfolds, The Good Phight will keep a close eye on the Phils' handful of contested roster spots: third base, the #4 and #5 starter slots, the last two or three bullpen jobs and the reserve infield and outfield positions. (Here's a link to spring stats.) In the very early going, it seems like Ryan Madson and Abraham Nunez have helped themselves out, while David Bell's renewed injury struggles widen the opening for a job he was going to have to fight for in any circumstance.
Bell's troublesome back hampered him throughout 2003 before he shut it down in midsummer, and kept him out for a month last spring before a terrible season that arguably was the difference between the Phils' near-miss and a playoff spot. Any hope that he would rebound to put up a strong campaign like his career-best 2004 looks shaky as the veteran is once again sidelined with back woes.
Bell met with Dr. Eric Lopez Del Valle in Clearwater on Friday. On Thursday, he had his lumbar spine evaluated by Dr. Thomas Tolli in St. Petersburg and underwent an MRI and CT scan in Clearwater.
His return date is unknown.
Typically, the Phillies put the best possible spin on a spring injury: team docs or the trainer will issue a statement minimizing the time to be missed or clarifying that the player is being held out as a precautionary measure. Such reassurances here are conspicuous by their absence, and the early performance by Nunez, who hit a wind-aided homer in today's game against the Blue Jays, probably has the team more or less sanguine about Bell's status.
Madson threw two scoreless, hitless innings against the Yankees in Thursday's spring opener, looking sharp and expressing comfort on the mound. He followed Ryan Franklin, also currently penciled into the starting rotation, who did not fare as well: two innings, five hits, two runs. Gavin Floyd, who's looking to wrest a rotation job from one of the Ryans, also appeared in the game, allowing one run and three hits in two innings of work while picking up the win.
With Chase Utley and Bobby Abreu out of camp while competing for Team USA and Team Venezuela respectively, Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard have seized the offensive spotlight. Burrell smashed a double and a home run in his spring debut Thursday, while Howard--who had been sidelined with the flu for most of the week--made his spring bow Friday with a 4-4 performance punctuated by two tape-measure home runs out of Bright House Networks Field. He added a double this afternoon against the Jays.