Phillies working hard with Andrew Knapp at first base

Phillies working hard with Andrew Knapp at first base

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Every day is a new learning experience for Andrew Knapp as a first baseman.

Knapp, who is trying to make the Phillies as a backup catcher and first baseman, has had his moments, both good and bad, in the field this spring.

He made a start at first base last Thursday with mixed results. He failed to come down with a pop-up foul ball in a swirling wind and later in the game didn't close his glove on a throw from Freddy Galvis after the shortstop made a dynamic play to get a ball deep in the hole.

However, he was back at catcher last Saturday and threw out Kevin Pillar by a couple of steps when the Blue Jays outfielder tried to steal second base.

It's all part of the learning process.

"I think first base is definitely a work in progress," Knapp said recently. "I think I needed more experience over there and just continue to work and take ground balls before the game.

"I feel really good behind the plate. My catching feels good."

Knapp is spending extra time with bench coach Larry Bowa at first base. And with each day, he said he's finding more familiarity with what he needs to do there.

"I think I'm pretty confident in the positioning," Knapp said. "It's just the in-game stuff, like where there's a runner on base and how far I am getting off the bag. Proper double-play depth, stuff like that. And getting reads off the bat. I mean, taking ground balls is fine, but nothing can simulate a live at-bat."

Manager Pete Mackanin believes that in time Knapp could be a reliable option at first.

"He's athletic, he needs work and we're going to continue to work on his play over there," Mackanin said. "He's going to continue to get the work and get better. Larry Bowa won't allow [mistakes]."

Another reason the Phillies want the Knapp experiment to work is because of his history as a solid hitter. Knapp hit .360 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs in 2015 with Double-A Reading and posted a slash line of .266/.330/.390 in Triple-A Lehigh Valley last season.

With Knapp focusing so much time on his defensive development, the numbers at the plate this spring haven't been what he's used to. He struck out in his only at-bat Monday against the Orioles and is batting .056 (1 for 18). 

However, he's been happy with the contact he's made at the plate and believes his offense will come around.

"I'm hitting the ball real hard, but just hitting it right at people," Knapp said. "But they know what I can do offensively, it's just getting the reps over at first."

Although first base isn't a new position to Knapp (he played there some at the University of California), it's still raw to the longtime catcher. However, he's beginning to figure out how to mend the positions and use his knowledge as a catcher to speed up his development as a first baseman.

"When you are catching, you can get a feel for the game and what guys are trying to do, so I think I can take that experience to first," Knapp said. "When holding a runner on at first base, a lot of guys are trying hitting in that four hole, so I am ready for that. Each and every day I'm starting to figure it out more and feel more comfortable."

Aaron Nola another Zack Greinke? A quick call-up for Scott Kingery?

Aaron Nola another Zack Greinke? A quick call-up for Scott Kingery?


BRADENTON, Fla. — Gabe Kapler played most of what figures to be his opening day lineup on Friday and the Phillies responded with one of their best games of the Grapefruit League schedule in beating the Pittsburgh Pirates, 8-2.

The only regular not in the starting lineup was shortstop J.P. Crawford. Bench candidate Jesmuel Valentin played there (see story).

Opening day starter Aaron Nola pitched four shutout innings, gave up four hits, a walk and struck out five. He threw 64 pitches and 45 were strikes.

Maikel Franco belted two homers, both bombs to left. One was a two-run shot on a 3-0 fastball, the other a grand slam.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a good showing by the Phils without another impressive performance from the man who has been the best player in camp, Scott Kingery. He came off the bench, played center field, right field and third base, and stroked a hard single to right.

It is doubtful that Kingery will be on the opening day roster, but it’s looking more and more like he could be up with the big club as soon as April 13. If Kingery stays in the minors until then, the Phillies will control his rights through 2024. If he makes the opening day roster, he could be eligible for free agency after 2023. Keeping Kingery down for a few weeks won’t sit well with some fans, but it makes good baseball sense, especially for a team that does not project as a slam-dunk contender.

Kapler raved about a play Kingery made at third.

“Wow, wow,” the manager said. “His ability to go to his left and make that strong throw. He showed off that incredible arm and that versatility.”

Kapler also liked Franco’s power. The third baseman, entering a make-or-break season with the Phillies, is hitting just .192 on the spring, but he leads the club with five homers. Franco has closed his stance by bringing his front foot closer to the plate. He is getting more comfortable with the stance, which the Phillies hope will prompt him to use the middle of the field and stop pulling off balls.

“He attacked that 3-0 pitch,” Kapler said. “That was pretty impressive.”

Nola said he was “ready to go” for the opener.

Kapler concurred and compared Nola to a former Cy Young winner.

“Perfect tune-up for opening day, got him right where we wanted him with pitches — and he got to that pitch count by throwing strikes, a lot of them, and really attacking with pitches," Kapler said of Nola.

“He’s starting to look to me a lot like — I saw Zack Greinke in the American League when he was with Kansas City — kind of a familiar look to the way that he uses the gas pedal and the brake effectively and fills up the strike zone with all his pitches. His calm, easy, collected demeanor is really reminiscent of some of the best pitchers in baseball.”

The Phillies play the Tigers in Lakeland on Saturday.

Questions Phillies face as spring training nears its end

Questions Phillies face as spring training nears its end

BRADENTON, Fla. — Less than a week before opening day, there are still a number of unanswered questions surrounding the Phillies.

About the only thing known for sure is that Aaron Nola will start Thursday in Atlanta. The right-hander made his final spring tune-up Friday afternoon against the Pirates.

Some of the questions that need to be answered before the Phillies pack up and leave Florida on Tuesday include:

• When will Jake Arrieta join the rotation? Will it be April 2, 3 or 4 in New York? Will it be during the team’s first homestand, possibly April 7? Arrieta threw 31 pitches in his first spring start Thursday. A bullpen session over the weekend and his next start, likely 50 or so pitches on Tuesday, will offer team officials a better idea on when he’ll be ready.

• Who else will be in the rotation? Nothing has been announced, but Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta appear to be locks with Nola and eventually Arrieta. Zach Eflin could be the fifth starter, if the Phils use one the first time through the rotation. He could also piggyback with Arrieta in New York if the Phils wanted to get Arrieta going that early. Ben Lively and Drew Hutchison remain candidates to make the club as the fifth starter, should the Phils use one during the first 10 days of the season.

• Who's in the bullpen? Hector Neris, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Luis Garcia and Adam Morgan are locks. That likely leaves three openings. One spot will likely go to a lefty, Hoby Milner or Zac Curtis. Right-handers Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano seem to be vying for one spot and the final one could go to Lively or Hutchison. They are both stretched out and could provide the bullpen length that injured Mark Leiter Jr. would have.

• How about bullpen roles? Manager Gabe Kapler is not one to speak in absolutes. He is loath to define roles in his bullpen or batting order. He’s keeping options open and could assign roles on a nightly basis based on matchups and research that the team’s growing analytics department digs up. Neris went 20 for 20 in save chances while giving up just three runs in 19⅔ innings after June 27 last season. Logic would dictate that he'd be the closer. But will he be every night? Will Kapler use him in a matchup situation in the seventh inning some night? Time will tell. Same for batting order construction.

• Who will be on the bench? Infielder/outfielder Pedro Florimon has played well and looks like a lock. That leaves one or two openings, depending on how many pitchers the Phils open with. Veterans Ryan Flaherty and Adam Rosales were both granted their release. That leaves Jesmuel Valentin and Roman Quinn, both 40-man roster guys, as the two lead candidates. There might be room for both, depending on how many pitchers the Phils open with. It also would not be shocking to see the team send Quinn to Triple A to get more playing time. The Phils appear to be leaning toward carrying Andrew Knapp as their second catcher over Cameron Rupp, who has a minor-league option remaining.