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Another drama-filled spring for Phillies
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Last spring was like so many springs that came before it for the Phillies. There were questions that led to distractions. Or distractions that led to questions. Or both. Either way.

People wondered whether Ryan Howard was healthy and could play a full year (nope), whether Roy Halladay would pitch like a top-tier starter again (also no) and whether Charlie Manuel’s lame duck contract would become an issue during the season (yup). There was also the day Carlos Ruiz talked about his suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. I’m no doubt forgetting some other memorable moments, but you get the idea.

During a conversation at Bright House Field, one Phillies employee remarked that he was waiting for an uneventful spring training where nothing dramatic happened. He’s still waiting.

This spring training resembles the one that came before it. As usual, the narrative has been dominated by on- and off-field stories that have been, by turns, twisted and troubling and oddly entertaining.

Where to begin? The NCAA dustup feels like a good place to start, if only because it was so strange. The Phillies were almost universally criticized for their role in the NCAA investigation of Ben Wetzler. The Phils took the Oregon State pitcher in the fifth round of last year’s draft. He went back to school rather than sign with the Phils. According to Baseball America, the Phils told the NCAA that Wetzler used an agent in the negotiations, and Wetzler was suspended for 20 percent of the Beavers’ upcoming schedule.

Players often use agents in a wink-wink, hush-hush situation that’s usually kept quiet by teams. Usually. Not this time, and not by this team. The Phillies issued a statement that didn’t state much, and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said he was “aware” that a complaint about Wetzler had been filed with the NCAA. Not a good look for the Phillies, who were crushed in the fallout from all angles. Even Forbes took a shot.

What else? Cole Hamels began the spring proceedings by revealing he has discomfort in his pitching shoulder and won’t be ready by opening day. But Hamels recently channeled Halladay and said he feels great, so there’s probably nothing to worry about.

Same goes for Howard, who said he felt good the last two years during spring training. He was dealing with Achilles and ankle injuries. Howard played 80 games last season and just 71 before that. But he’s feeling good again, and Jimmy Rollins said it’s refreshing to see Howard run without a limp. So there’s that. No limp.

Moving along: Starting pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, whom the Phillies signed during the offseason for a tidy sum, has not received rave reviews and was rusty in his debut. Roberto Hernandez pitched well on Monday, but in the first inning of his first outing, the hurler formerly known as Fausto gave up a monster home run to Jose Bautista that might have landed by now. Maybe. And the closer, who has had velocity issues and is not known for promoting clubhouse chemistry, promised to be a positive influence –- while simultaneously questioning the former manager’s approach.

A team that was the third-oldest in baseball brought in some new guys -- who happen to be older. Among the additions: 36-year-old Marlon Byrd, 37-year-old A.J. Burnett, and Bobby Abreu, who will be 40 next week. Happy birthday, Bobby.

Oh, and Ruiz is taking Adderall again. Don’t sweat it. This time it’s cool.

All of that happened in just a few short weeks. Makes you wonder what will go down in March before they leave Clearwater and head north.

But back to the beginning. Amaro was asked about the Wetzel situation and whether he was worried it might create an image issue for the Phillies. The general manager gave a response specific to that situation, but it feels applicable in an overarching sense given everything that’s already occurred.

“I’m not,” Amaro said. “I think people know that we do things professionally in the way we go about our business and our reputation is very good.”


Just another Phillies spring training. At least no one is talking about trading Cliff Lee ... what’s that? Oh man.