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Fine-tuning: Phils showing knack for 'little things'

Mackanin emphasizing fundamentals this spring, and players are responding
MLB.com

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Phillies finished last in baseball in runs scored in 2016. They're pinning their hopes for improvement on three general principles.

First, they've added two professional bats in corner outfielders Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders. Second, they're banking on their younger hitters learning from the guys who have been around the block a few times.

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Phillies finished last in baseball in runs scored in 2016. They're pinning their hopes for improvement on three general principles.

First, they've added two professional bats in corner outfielders Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders. Second, they're banking on their younger hitters learning from the guys who have been around the block a few times.

Finally, and less conspicuously, manager Pete Mackanin is focusing on the finer points of the game that don't always show up in the box score but can often make the difference between winning and losing.

Video: DET@PHI: Saunders smacks a solo homer to right

Heading into their first break of the spring -- the Phillies have a scheduled day off Monday -- Mackanin is cautiously optimistic about what he's seen so far. And what he's watching is more subtle than just hits and outs.

Consider, for example, stolen bases. In their first 11 games, the Phillies swiped 10 bags. Last spring they had a total of 18 in 29 games. So that's an improvement. But the manager, who has given most of the runners a green light, also makes note of when they don't take off.

Video: DET@PHI: Kingery swipes second base in the 7th

"I want them to attempt stolen bases to see when they should have gone, when they didn't go and when they shouldn't have gone," he explained before Sunday's split-squad 3-2 loss to the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium. "There might be a time in the game when we're down by four runs and the guy's got a green light late in the game. If that guy goes, it shows he's got a lot to learn."

He also made a mental note when Cesar Hernandez was thinking of stealing against the Braves on Saturday in Clearwater, read the slide step and stayed put. In that case, not running is a positive.

"Little things like that matter," the manager said. "And it's not just stolen bases. Getting the right jumps, scoring from second on base hits, things like that."

Shortstop Freddy Galvis was hitting .154 going into Sunday's 8-5 split-squad win over the Tigers before he went 2-for-5, including a game-tying two-run double. He has been showing more plate discipline, having struck out just three times in his first 18 at-bats, and has had better balance at the plate. Maikel Franco is making an effort to stay up the middle instead of trying to pull everything.

Video: DET@PHI: Galvis smacks two-run double off the wall

In the first inning Friday against the Twins, Kendrick hit the ball to the right side with a runner on second and nobody out. That helped the Phillies score a run without getting a hit in the inning. In a game at Dunedin the day before that, Cameron Perkins hit a grounder up the middle.

"There was a guy standing there, but you could tell he was playing the game the right way," Mackanin said. "So all these little things are important. I like looking at approaches. I notice those things more than results from hitting.

"It's early yet. But I like what I've seen. There's a lot of little stuff to look at, because I don't want to lose a game because we can't execute fundamentals. If we're going to lose a game, let's do it because somebody gets a hit against us. Not because we messed up a rundown or collided in the outfield on a fly ball."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com.

Philadelphia Phillies, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez