CLEARWATER, Fla. -- It wasn't always pretty, but the Phillies say they were pleased with their first Spring Training under manager Ryne Sandberg.
The Phillies broke camp on Thursday night to return to Philadelphia, where they will play two exhibition games against the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park before Opening Day on Monday in Texas. While the Phils struggled with their bats this spring, Sandberg emphasized fundamentals -- starting pitching, defense, base-running, situational hitting -- from the start of camp, and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he has been encouraged by the results.
"The things that are important for us to win baseball games have really improved," Amaro said on Thursday. "We've done some fundamental things. I can't commend the coaching staff enough for not just talking about implementing things, but actually doing them. The players are buying into it. It's really designed to put ourselves in position to win games. If we play fundamentally sound baseball, that'll put us in a much better situation to win."
Sandberg believes if his club is fundamentally sound, "it equates to winning baseball and being in games. Our veteran guys will be asked to do their parts, being key guys in the lineup. To give ourselves a chance to win every day, it starts with pitching and defense."
Still, the Phillies went 9-17 in the Grapefruit League and managed just three hits in their final two games combined.
"Offensively, we're not clicking on all cylinders," Amaro said. "Hopefully, that's a work in progress for us still."
The Phillies are counting on Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to bounce back in 2014. But they are off to a slow start. Howard hit .238 this spring, while Utley carries a .175 average back to Philadelphia. Amaro believes the duo can turn things around, though.
"I have to be concerned about it, but I am not concerned to the point where I don't think it's going to happen," Amaro said. "I have seen some progress with both those guys too. With Utley it is more of a timing issue. With Ryan it is reps and getting his feet underneath him. I think it is more mechanics than anything else, and I think they will get it going."
Burnett wraps up spring in top form
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies No. 2 starter A.J. Burnett had by far his best outing of the spring on Thursday in his final tuneup before the regular season.
Burnett tossed five innings of one-run ball against the Blue Jays, allowing just three hits and striking out six against one walk. Over his final two Grapefruit League starts, Burnett was charged with three earned runs in 10 1/3 innings. That's a vast improvement from his first three outings, during which he allowed 10 earned runs in nine innings.
"I'm throwing the ball where I want to in the right direction," Burnett said. "Each time out, I got better and better."
Burnett, who signed with the Phillies in February, is still building a rapport with catcher Carlos Ruiz. The two are still getting to know each other, but progress is being made.
"Working with [Ruiz], he's good back there," Burnett said. "The more he catches me, the more he figures out what I want to do and what I like. So it was fun to get out there with him."
Burnett will be key to the Phillies' success this season. He was an important free-agent addition and will help ease the burden of Cole Hamels' absence during the first few weeks of the season. Cliff Lee will start Monday in Texas on Opening Day, with Burnett getting the ball on Tuesday.
"I'm excited for it," Burnett said. "We've been preparing and working hard every day. It's time to go to work."
Hamels confident after first spring action
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels took a major step forward Thursday, pitching two innings in his first game action of the spring.
Hamels, who suffered a setback on March 1 following his recovery from left shoulder inflammation, allowed two infield singles and recorded nine outs in a Minor League game against the Pirates' Class A Advanced affiliate at the Carpenter Complex. He threw 30 pitches, 20 of them for strikes, as he faced four batters in the first inning and five in the second.
Hamels said he felt "really great" in Thursday's outing and hopes it was the start of what should be a normal, albeit delayed, Spring Training going forward.
"From what happened March 1 to where I am now, I'm really pleased and really confident, and what I'm able to do now is to truly get Spring Training in," Hamels said. "Obviously it's a little late, but I feel healthy, and I think that's really the key. I have the strength now, and now it's just getting the repetition to feel confident to be able to do it up there in the big leagues."
Hamels will break camp with the Phillies and join the club in Texas on Monday for the season opener. After that, he said, he'll hop on a flight back to Clearwater to continue his rehab. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Hamels' exact rehab schedule is still being finalized, but the lefty said he's fine working out of the Phillies' Spring Training complex.
"To be able to do the good routine, not have to worry about going on the road [with other Minor League affiliates] ... you don't want to mess with that," Hamels said. "Just get a good routine in here and have my mini-Spring Training down here."
That schedule would put Hamels in line for a late-April return date, and he believes the Phillies will be able to make up for his absence while he continues to build up strength.
"Those games count. They don't want to cost the team in trying to build me up or see how many I can possibly go. They want to know that I'm ready to go," Hamels said. "I really do feel like we have a firm chance of staying [on] pace or at least having an above .500 [record]. That's the goal. I know I'm confident in those guys doing so."
In addition to Hamels, pitchers Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, Mike Adams and Ethan Martin will start the season on the disabled list. Gonzalez could be placed on the 60-day disabled list, Amaro said, which would open a spot on the 40-man roster. Adams is targeting an April 15 return and made his spring debut on Tuesday.
Jonathan Pettibone is also on the mend, recovering from inflammation in his right shoulder. He pitched two scoreless innings on Thursday in his spring debut and was optioned to Triple-A after the game.
Veteran Abreu released by Phillies
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies released Bobby Abreu on Thursday, bringing an end to the veteran outfielder's comeback attempt with his former team.
Abreu, 40, was informed Wednesday that he would not be on the Phillies' Opening Day roster, but he was not released until Thursday morning. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Abreu would pursue an opportunity with another club.
"I hope it works out for him," Amaro said. "I hope he continues to play. People know my affinity to the player and the person. But hopefully he doesn't beat us up any."
Abreu hit .244 in Grapefruit League action, but he was limited in recent days by a sore left shoulder and struggled in the field throughout Spring Training.
"We just felt like at this stage of the game, he wouldn't be a fit for us," Amaro said. "It was a tough decision, not just because of how it affects our roster, but also as a person. Bobby is a great guy. He really made an effort to make this team. It obviously was a goal of his. We decided he wasn't prepared to do that to help us at this time."
The Phillies felt Abreu's bat alone was not enough to warrant a roster spot.
"He obviously put together some good at-bats, but we have to try to be as versatile as we can on the roster, particularly when we're talking about the 25th or 24th man," Amaro said. "We were looking for flexibility, and we didn't think Bobby would be able to help us."
Abreu has not played in the Major Leagues since 2012, when he appeared in 100 games with the Dodgers and Angels. The Phillies signed him in the offseason to a Minor League deal, and he would have earned $800,000 if he made the big league club. Abreu played nine seasons in Philadelphia from 1998-2006 and went to two All-Star Games.
• The Phillies will honor longtime owner Claire Betz this season with a patch on their uniforms with the initials "CB." Betz died on Feb. 6. She and her late husband, John Drew Betz, became Phillies owners in 1981.
• Infielder Freddy Galvis could play in extended Spring Training games as early as next week, Amaro said. Galvis, recovering from MRSA, resumed baseball activities on Wednesday.
"Freddy is doing great," Amaro said on Thursday morning. "Freddy actually did some baseball activities yesterday. We're waiting for the wounds to heal. Once they heal, we will try to ramp him up."
With Galvis unavailable for Opening Day, Amaro has said infielder Andres Blanco is a candidate for a bench job. Blanco will travel to Philadelphia for the club's final two exhibition games against the Pirates on Friday and Saturday. Top prospect Maikel Franco is likely to make the trip as well.
• Domonic Brown was held out of the starting lineup on Thursday and is still recovering from the flu. The outfielder is expected to play on Friday, manager Ryne Sandberg said.
"He's still just catching up with body strength and everything from the lingering flu symptoms that he's had," Sandberg said. "He's fine. He'll be fine. Just a day today to make sure we get ahead of that and get that all behind him."
Austin Laymance is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jalaymance. Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.