Phillies skipper offers a little preview of his opening day lineup

Phillies skipper offers a little preview of his opening day lineup


CLEARWATER, Fla. — Three weeks before opening day, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler used a starting lineup that could look very much like the one he’ll employ March 29 in Atlanta.

OK, so the Phillies won’t use a designated hitter against the Braves on opening day, and some of the batting order positions could change. But Kapler’s lineup Wednesday against the Red Sox on a sunny, 70-degree day (sorry about that, folks) definitely had an opening day vibe to it.

“We had a lot of guys in the lineup who are likely to be on the field opening day,” Kapler said. “I would not argue with that, for sure.”

Second baseman Cesar Hernandez, who has strong on-base skills, batted leadoff. That’s where he will likely be often this season.

Kapler has stated that he believes the second and fourth spots are the most important in a batting order. Though nothing is certain, he has hinted he will use Carlos Santana in the two-hole and Rhys Hoskins in the four-hole, and that is indeed where both batted Wednesday.

Catcher Jorge Alfaro batted third. He might not be there on opening day, but he’s pretty much a slam dunk to be behind the plate.

Odubel Herrera was down in the six-hole. He has been slowed in camp by a sore shoulder and was 0 for 15 before stroking a fourth-inning single. He could migrate upward in the order as the spring progresses and he plays himself into form.

Nick Williams started in right field and batted eighth. He could move up in the order at some point. Aaron Altherr was the designated hitter. He is projected to get a lot of time in Kapler’s outfield. And, of course, J.P. Crawford was the shortstop. The Phillies committed to him when they traded Freddy Galvis to San Diego in December.

Aaron Nola topped off the (almost) sneak peek of the opening day lineup. Kapler named him opening day starter last week. The right-hander was sharp. He gave up just one hit and no runs over four walk-free innings. He struck out five. Nola was not thrilled with his changeup, but it certainly looked pretty good in fanning dangerous Andrew Benintendi in the third inning.

“Yeah, that was a pretty good one,” Nola conceded.

“Nola was pretty special,” Kapler said. “I don’t think anyone would argue with his breaking ball location. What stood out most impressively is how he adds and subtracts to his fastball. You’ll see some 88s flash up there. You’ll also see him at the right time reach back for some 94s. It's very reminiscent of some of the best pitchers in baseball.”

Despite producing just three hits, the Phillies beat Boston, 2-1. One run scored on a wild pitch. Nick Williams scored the other run from second base when an infield pop up fell in.

“Base running was a pretty big bright point,” Kapler said. “Heads-up, hustle plays like that only happen if we are engaged and bold like we’ve been talking about on the bases.”

Ben Lively starts Thursday against the Yankees in Tampa.

Phillies set to unveil new ace Jake Arrieta in spring training

Phillies set to unveil new ace Jake Arrieta in spring training

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Thursday starts the one-week countdown to opening day.

Oh, yeah, and Jake Arrieta will also make his Grapefruit League debut.

It figures to be the highlight of the spring.

Arrieta signed a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies last week. He has completed a progression from bullpen work — he actually had gotten well into that on his own before signing — to facing hitters in a controlled situation.

Now, it’s time to face some competition — the Detroit Tigers. The game will be televised on NBCSP+ at 1 p.m.

The Phillies have yet to decide when Arrieta will make his regular-season debut. The pitcher believes he will be ready during the first week of the season. The team will exercise caution. Arrieta’s performance Thursday — and possibly more important, his recovery — will go a long way into determining when the Phils turn him loose.

“I’m looking for him to be healthy, first and foremost,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I would love to see him come out just like he has in his live batting practice sessions and in his bullpens, which is strong, ball looking like a lead fastball, featuring that great cutter and a lot of that great deception.

"We’re looking for him to be Jake Arrieta. Most importantly, most critically and most consequentially, I’m looking for him to be healthy and strong.”

Kapler said the Phils would be flexible on Arrieta’s pitch count. Fifty or so seems like a good guess.

Arrieta has been around for a week now. His teammates are thrilled to have him.

“Obviously, with the Arrieta signing, we got a lot better not only on the field but in the clubhouse,” Rhys Hoskins said (more on him here). “What he’s going to be able to do not only for the pitchers but for some of us young position guys — I mean he’s recently won a World Series, he’s a Cy Young guy, he knows how to compete at the highest level. We have a good group. It’s meshing pretty quickly. I’m excited to see how it goes once we start.”

Rhys Hoskins doing damage as opening day comes into sight

USA Today Images

Rhys Hoskins doing damage as opening day comes into sight


DUNEDIN, Fla. — The season opener is eight days away and Rhys Hoskins says his swing “is getting there.” 

Getting there? Really?

It looks like it already arrived with the morning mail.

Hoskins continued his recent run of excellent at-bats in Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. He belted a two-run homer, a solo homer and also worked a walk. Over his last five games, he is 6 for 16 with five walks. For the spring, he is hitting .279 (12 for 43) with four doubles, four homers, eight RBIs, 11 runs scored and an OPS of 1.066.

“What does he have, 10 strikeouts and 10 walks on the spring?” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler asked.

Indeed, those are the numbers.

“That is fantastic,” Kapler said. “Obviously, he’s swinging the bat beautifully and really controlling the at-bats.”

It all starts with pitch recognition.

“I’ve been pretty happy with that throughout camp,” Hoskins said. “I don’t feel like I’ve chased too many, which is always good. I’ve seen a bunch of breaking balls and been able to recognize them early.”

The outstanding selectivity that Hoskins has allows him to work pitchers into fastball counts. He did that in the first inning when he got a 3-1 fastball from Marcus Stroman and drove it over the left-field wall. The ball left the bat at 108 miles per hour.

Obviously, Hoskins was pleased that the ball left the yard. He was more pleased with the swing. He believes pitchers will try to bust him in this season and he’s ready for it.

“I was really, really happy with the first at-bat,” he said. “I had been struggling with the ball in. I was able to keep my hands inside of it and the ball went.”

His second homer came on a 1-1 fastball from Luis Santos. The wind was blowing out at Dunedin Stadium. Hoskins saw a pitch up and took a rip.

“On a day like today, if you see the ball up you’re going to have a pretty good chance,” he said.

Hoskins batted second in the lineup, ahead of Maikel Franco and Carlos Santana. Kapler has juggled lineups all spring and has strongly implied that he will do that, based on matchups, during the regular season.

“I don’t care where I hit,” Hoskins said. “With the guys we have and the way they’re going to construct the lineup, if I hit second, fourth, sixth, I think I’m going to be able to hit with men on base.

“Throughout my career I’ve been a run producer, so that’s the main thing for me. If I can create some runs, whether it’s scoring runs or driving in runs, I’ll be happy.”

The Phils and Jays played to a 7-7 tie. The Phillies’ bullpen gave up five runs in the last two innings to let a 7-2 lead get away. The Phils used 10 pitchers, including two day-trippers from minor-league camp. Starter Nick Pivetta pitched two perfect innings. The team purposely scaled him back to keep him in line with a 25-inning spring target. Scott Kingery and Aaron Altherr also hit home runs.