CLEARWATER — The last time local fans saw the Phillies, they were beating the Rays for the World Series title in October.
Philadelphia's title defense officially began Saturday in the Rays' back yard, with pitchers and catchers reporting for their first workout at Carpenter Complex.
The Phillies were loose, and in some cases lighter (All-Star first baseman Ryan Howard has lost 20 pounds). But for the most part, their nucleus remained intact from a year ago, though Pat Burrell, now with the Rays, was replaced by free-agent outfielder Raul Ibanez. World Series MVP Cole Hamels is penciled in to start opening day, when second baseman Chase Utley could be ready after offseason hip surgery.
The Phillies pledge they won't stray from a familiar mentality that helped make them the last team standing in 2008.
"I think there's a blue-collar aspect to this team that really played well down the stretch last year and into the playoffs," right-hander Chad Durbin said. "And I think we're going to carry that same attitude into this season. That's kind of the way Charlie (Manuel, manager) is, the way the coaching staff is, the way the players are."
Romero still railing against suspension
Suspended reliever J.C. Romero said he didn't know about the league's drug hotline until after the Phillies left-hander tested positive last year for a banned substance found in an over-the-counter supplement.
Romero, the winning pitcher in the third game and the clinching fifth game of the World Series, was suspended for this season's first 50 games in January for being "negligent" in not researching the supplement, 6-OXO.
But Romero, calling the suspension "ridiculous," "insane" and "unfair," maintained that he made every effort to find out the ingredients of the supplement that he said he bought at a GNC store.
Romero said he asked his nutritionist and strength coach about the product and he "didn't do nothing wrong" and "didn't cheat the game of baseball." An arbitration panel rejected his argument after a two-day hearing during the first two games of the World Series, and Romero is not eligible to play until June 1.
"My understanding, to juice is like, perhaps you go, let's say, to an alley and stick a needle in your rear end," Romero, 32, said. "That wasn't the case. I didn't think that was fair for me to be suspended that way. The truth will set me free in the end."
Major League Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney said information on the hotline is posted in every team's clubhouse and each player is given a wallet card explaining it and shown a DVD during spring training on supplements. Though Romero said the league "probably" told him about the number in spring training, not everything gets digested in early meetings.
"I have players who are superstars in the game, and they're good friends of mine," Romero said. "And they ask me, 'What 1-800 number?' So there's definitely a communication thing going on here."