Aaron Altherr forcing Phillies to reconsider master plan

Aaron Altherr forcing Phillies to reconsider master plan

His stroke is short and quick now, his return to prominence with the Phillies no less rapid.

Aaron Altherr, the guy who had to rethink his approach at the plate this spring, has forced the organization to reconsider its master plan.

An intriguing prospect in 2015 and injured afterthought last season, the young outfielder enters Monday's series finale against the Braves slashing .290/.364/.556. He leads the team in OPS (.920) and is tied with Tommy Joseph for the lead in homers with 16 while driving in 47 runs.

All that has come in 83 games, just over half a season. No reason to get too excited yet. But enough to give everyone something to think about.

On Saturday night, manager Pete Mackanin sat in his office before a game against Atlanta and talked not only about the 26-year-old Altherr but another outfielder, rookie Nick Williams, who was called up from Lehigh Valley on June 30. How Altherr has “really responded well” this season, and how the .277-hitting Williams is “really holding his own.”

“Those two guys in themselves is a real bonus,” Mackanin said, “just to get a look at them to see if they can fit in here. I’m not saying it’s a done deal (that they will be regulars), but it really bodes well.”

Lately, Mackanin has been playing Altherr and Williams at the corner spots with the enigmatic Odubel Herrera, and things will likely stay that way most of the rest of the season. Certainly, Daniel Nava will see some daylight when he comes off the disabled list, and maybe a call-up like Dylan Cozens or Roman Quinn will get a look in September.

But that figures to be the most frequent configuration and might turn out to be the long-term solution in the outfield as well.

Fine with Altherr, who at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds is swift enough to play any of the three spots.

“We know he’s a good defender,” Mackanin said. “We know he can run. He’s got a good arm. Hitting is the last ingredient.”

That came around after some work in spring training with hitting coach Matt Stairs, who encouraged Altherr to lower his hands, allowing him to get his bat through the strike zone more quickly.

Almost immediately, Altherr said, “I felt more relaxed and a lot quicker to the ball.”

That he homered in his first simulated game only reinforced the idea that the new approach was the way to go.

“I was just like, ‘Maybe this will work out. … Maybe I’ll stick with this, and see how this goes,’” he said.

“It was,” Mackanin said, “a night-and-day difference. He’s just more compact.”

That has been evident all season, but never more than in the first two games of this series against the Braves. In Friday’s 10-3 victory, Altherr homered twice, on a 91 mph fastball from Julio Teheran and a 95 mph heater from reliever Jason Hursh.

And never mind that Mackanin had him in the seven-hole because he began the night 1 for 12 against Teheran. He picked out a 2-0 offering from the Atlanta starter and sent it soaring into the left-field seats, some 412 feet away.

“Especially in 2-0 counts and counts like that, you want to really zone in and get a pitch you can really do damage with,” Altherr said. “I was able to do that.”

He was looking fastball on the 2-1 pitch from Hursh as well.

“Was able to put a pretty good swing on it,” Altherr said, “and it happened to go out.”

The next night, Altherr batted second against left-hander Sean Newcomb. (Against righties Mackanin plans to put Freddy Galvis in the 2-hole and hit Altherr third.) And with the Phils down 3-1 and Cesar Hernandez at third with none out in the eighth, Altherr lined a 2-2 fastball from reliever Arodys Vizcaino into right, starting the comeback that resulted in a 4-3, 11-inning victory.

(Also interesting was Newcomb’s approach when he fell behind Altherr 2-0 with two on and one out in the fifth. Newcomb, having seen what Altherr did against Teheran the night before, eschewed the fastball and went changeup/curveball/change, getting two strikes before inducing a short fly to right.)

All this comes a year later than expected. After a promising 39-game cameo in 2015 — Altherr generated 20 extra-base blows among 33 hits — he was penciled in as the regular rightfielder last season. But he tore the tendon sheath in his left wrist while attempting to make a diving catch in spring training and underwent surgery, delaying his season debut until July 28.

When he finally did play, he did little — .197 in 57 games. The talk at that point was that he was nothing more than an extra man.

But just like that, things changed again.

“That’s really the big thing (this season) — just knowing the wrist is all good and I can do what I know I can do,” he said. “And the work that Stairsy has done with me has helped me out tremendously, so all that definitely adds up to being more confident, more relaxed.”

And much more prominent.

Gabe Kapler names Jim Gott Phillies' bullpen coach

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Gabe Kapler names Jim Gott Phillies' bullpen coach

Gabe Kapler on Friday added to his coaching staff by naming Jim Gott the Phillies' bullpen coach.

Gott was the minor-league pitching coordinator for the Angels the last five seasons and the pitching coach for the Arizona League Angels the three years prior to that role.

He played for the Blue Jays, Giants, Pirates and Dodgers over 14 major-league seasons as a starter and reliever. Gott, now 58 years old, compiled a 3.87 ERA while making 96 starts and converting 91 saves.

Kapler and the Phillies still need to name a pitching coach and first-base coach. Last week, they named Dusty Wathan third-base coach and hired John Mallee as hitting coach, while retaining Rick Kranitz, who was the assistant pitching coach last season (see story). He could fill the main pitching coach vacancy, although his role is currently to be determined.

In 2017, Bob McClure served the Phillies as pitching coach and Mickey Morandini was first-base coach.

MLB Notes: Astros' Jose Altuve, Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton claim MVP awards

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MLB Notes: Astros' Jose Altuve, Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton claim MVP awards

Houston Astros dynamo Jose Altuve has won the American League MVP award, towering over New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge by a wide margin.

The 5-foot-6 Altuve drew 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Altuve batted a major league-best .346. He hit 24 home runs with 81 RBIs, scored 112 times, stole 32 bases and showed a sharp glove at second base.

The 6-foot-7 Judge won the AL Rookie of the Year award Monday. He set a rookie record with 52 home runs.

Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Indians finished third. The award was announced Thursday.

Altuve helped lead the Astros to their first World Series championship. Voting for these honors was completed before the postseason began.

Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton won the NL MVP award, barely edging Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds.

In the closest MVP vote since 1979, Stanton became only the sixth player to win from a losing team. Stanton led the big leagues with 59 home runs and 132 RBIs (see full story).

MLB: Manfred says pace changes will happen with or without union
Major League Baseball will change rules to speed games next year with or without an agreement with the players' association.

Management proposed last offseason to institute a 20-second pitch clock, allow one trip to the mound by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raise the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap. The union didn't agree, and clubs have the right to impose those changes unilaterally for 2018.

Players and MLB have held initial bargaining since summer, and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said this week he would like an agreement by mid-January.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other," baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after a quarterly owners' meeting.

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 during the postseason.

There are ongoing talks for a new posting system with Japan to replace the deal that expired Nov. 1, one that would allow star Japanese pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani to leave the Pacific League's Nippon Ham Fighters to sign with a big league team (see full story).

Mariners: Team makes trade, raises available money for Japan's Otani​
The Seattle Mariners have gained more flexibility if they want to try to sign star Japanese pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani.

They acquired an additional $500,000 for their international signing bonus pool from the Chicago White Sox in a trade for Brazilian right-hander Thyago Vieira.

Otani, a 23-year-old right-hander, would be limited to a minor league contract with a signing bonus under Major League Baseball's new collective bargaining agreement. The trade announced Thursday increases the Mariners' available money for a signing bonus to $1,557,500. Seattle has spent $3,942,500 on bonuses in the signing year that started July 2 from a pool that rose to $5.5 million with the trade.

The 24-year-old Vieira made his major league debut with a scoreless inning against Baltimore on Aug. 14, his only big league appearance. He was 2-3 with two saves and a 3.72 ERA in 29 games this year for Double-A Arkansas and 0-1 with two saves and a 4.58 ERA in 12 games for Triple-A Tacoma.

Chicago is restricted to a maximum $300,000 signing bonus because it exceeded its pool in a previous year under the old labor contract.