Sandberg sets tone as spring workouts begin
Club gets started as it tries to bounce back from first losing season since 2002
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ryne Sandberg could not wait to talk to his pitchers and catchers, take the field and finally see some action Thursday at the Carpenter Complex.
It has been more than four months since the Phillies played their final regular-season game, concluding their first losing season since '02. Sandberg is optimistic a healthy team can return to the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Thursday represented its first step.
"I wanted to welcome them to the season and share how excited I was about the opportunity in the new year," Sandberg said.
The year depends mightily on the health and production of a high-priced core of talent that includes Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and A.J. Burnett, who agreed to a one-year, $16 million deal Wednesday.
Hamels already is behind schedule because of left shoulder tendinitis, although Sandberg said he is not worried.
"Slightly behind Opening Day," Sandberg said.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. echoed Sandberg's sentiment.
"Two," Amaro said, when asked about his level of concern for Hamels on a 1-10 scale. "He actually feels great. We're not trying to hide anything. Everyone thinks we're trying to hide things. We just want to be cautious with the guy. He's too important to us to not to be cautious. Why would you want to push him? If we wanted to push him, tell him to get ready for Opening Day, we could probably do that. But what's the point?"
Amaro and Sandberg said little about Burnett's imminent arrival, because he has not passed his physical or signed his contract. Once that happens, they will talk freely about the pitcher they expect to join the top of the rotation with Hamels and Lee.
"Something like that would be very impactful," Sandberg said about Burnett. "Who do you have in mind there? No, A.J. Burnett, there are probably 30 teams out there who he could help. We'll see what happens there. I can't really comment on it, but something like that could work out very well. You can't have enough pitching. That would be very good."
Sandberg spoke to his pitchers and catchers before the morning workout. He spoke about expectations, and he said he will continue to meet with them throughout the spring to "set the tone for the day and to get the wheels turning on the field."
"It's about stressing basic fundamentals," Sandberg said. "It's repeating them throughout the camp and setting the tone in camp about what's going to continue through the season. It's covering the fundamentals of the game -- pickoffs, rundowns, bunt plays. We'll do that stuff about six or seven times through the camp. We'll be stressing all parts of the game. We can be a better baserunning team with baserunning sessions, sliding sessions, really covering every part of the game and not covering it one time, but multiple times and covering it through the season with drills and practice sessions when we have the field in Philadelphia. It's setting the tone."
The team's first full-squad workout is Tuesday.
"It feels great, feels awesome," Sandberg said about his first spring as manager. "I think, for the most part, I feel prepared for it. I think last year, those first 42 games [as Charlie Manuel's replacement] go a long way in that. I think it will go a long way with the players as far as what's expected and the way I do things. I'll be able to implement more things and build on those 42 games by creating a structure and a norm where the players know what's expected. I also like to stay on top of things and address them as they come up. I want the staff to be involved in that. I want to do this as a group, and it's going to be a fun group to be around."
It will be more fun if the Phils win. Sandberg believes they can, although numerous things need to go right.
"The expectations for Spring Training were to come here to prepare for a championship season, a winning season," he said. "We're here to win baseball games, do it as a team. That's what I'm stressing."
The Phils play their first Grapefruit League game Feb. 26 against the Blue Jays at Bright House Field.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.