3/12/2013 2:43 P.M. ET
Amaro sees improvement and possibilities in key areas
General manager feels Phillies' defense, relief pitching are stronger than last year
By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Chase Utley looks healthy, Domonic Brown and Ryan Howard have been bashing baseballs and until Tuesday's very troubling start against the Tigers, the Phillies had been feeling pretty good about Roy Halladay, too.
The Phillies had been thinking good thoughts as they crossed the halfway point of their Spring Training schedule on Tuesday with a tilt against the Tigers at Bright House Field, although Halladay's performance will change some of that. Tuesday's game is their 18th with 17 left to play, including two exhibition games against the Blue Jays at the end of the month.
They mostly like what they have seen.
Of course, every team likes their chances in March. So what have the Phillies really learned through the first month of camp? Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. touched on five topics the other day.
Here is what he said:
Defense. The Phillies have been one of the better defensive teams in baseball in recent years, but took a sharp dip in 2012. They ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency last season according to Baseball Prospectus. They ranked 18th, ninth, 15th, 10th and 10th from 2007-11, respectively, when they won five consecutive National League East titles, two NL pennants and one World Series. Bad defense is bad news for a team built to win with pitching, like the Phillies.
"I think it's getting shored up pretty well," Amaro said.
Does his gut tell him the Phillies will be better defensively in 2013?
"My gut tells me that," he said. "A lot of it depends on whether those guys in the middle are going to be on the field. Obviously, having Chase and Jimmy [Rollins] in the middle of our field is huge for us. That's the keystone of our defense. I feel very positive about it. Is it going to be better than last year? It better be. It better be, or it's going to be a very tough year for us."
Bullpen. The competition began in earnest on Tuesday. There are three jobs available with six pitchers in the hunt: right-handers Phillippe Aumont, Mike Stutes and Justin De Fratus, and left-handers Jeremy Horst, Jake Diekman and Raul Valdes. Right-hander Aaron Cook could also make sense as a long man, if the Phillies don't feel they have enough multiple-innings relievers in the 'pen.
"It could be a team strength," Amaro said. "You hope it is. Obviously, it's a very important part of our game nowadays, and it's certainly something we're very cognizant of. It's why we signed [Mike] Adams. We've got to hope that we're better. We designed our bullpen to be better this year, and hopefully it will be."
Outfield. Ben Revere is the everyday center fielder and Brown is lining up for regular playing time in either left or right field. That leaves one corner spot available with John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix and Darin Ruf fighting for playing time until Delmon Young joins the team sometime next month.
"He's stepped forward, no question," Amaro said of Brown. "No decisions have been made about what our outfield looks like, but Domonic certainly hasn't hurt himself. He has played extremely well."
If Brown can carry his Spring Training success into the season, the Phillies will feel a little better about their corner outfielders, but it was a huge question mark entering camp.
"I think Domonic's resurgence has made us feel a little more at ease," Amaro said.
Health. The only player who has missed significant time in camp is Delmon Young, which was expected. And the Phillies have said that he is progressing better than predicted. Otherwise, everyone else has been healthy, including Utley and Howard.
"Knock on wood," Amaro said. "It can change on a dime."
It might have changed on Tuesday, with Halladay struggling terribly against the Tigers. If Halladay isn't healthy, it would be a big blow to the Phillies rotation.
Halladay had looked OK in his previous spring outings. Nobody from the Phillies has said that they expect him to be a 20-game winner again, but that he can be a good, solid piece of the rotation behind Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.
Asked if he has any concerns about Utley, Amaro said, "I really have none. I really have none. He's been great. I haven't heard hide nor hair from our medical stuff. So no news is good news on Chase."
Utility infielders. Freddy Galvis, Kevin Frandsen and Yuniesky Betancourt are competing for two utility infield jobs. Manager Charlie Manuel has not been shy about expressing his love for Galvis. Frandsen has been tearing the cover off the ball. Betancourt has played well, too.
"We're going to get a chance to watch all three of these guys," Amaro said. "These are decisions that we don't have to make today. But [by] the time we break, hopefully we'll have those answers."
They must when it comes to these jobs. Betancourt has an opt-out clause for March 24, so the club must tell him if he has made the Opening Day roster by this date, or he can ask to be released.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.