Sure sounds like Kapler has decided on Phils' No. 1 catcher

Sure sounds like Kapler has decided on Phils' No. 1 catcher


CLEARWATER, Fla. – Phillies manager Gabe Kapler has shied away from making definitive pronouncements early in camp, but it sure sounded as if he anointed Jorge Alfaro as his No. 1 catcher on Saturday.

Alfaro had two hits, including a grand slam on a 3-0 pitch, and drew a walk in the Phillies' 9-6 win over Baltimore.

After the game, Kapler raved about the 23-year-old rookie’s work at the plate and behind it.

“Alfaro was incredible today and it wasn’t just the grand slam,” Kapler said. “In his previous at-bat, he worked an eight-pitch walk and wore down the opposition’s starting pitcher.

“His receiving has already gotten a ton better. He's really focusing his attention on being prepared for every pitch. You don't just see it out in the game. You see it in his bullpen sessions so his practice sessions have been vastly improved. We're going to keep working with him. He's got a ways to go, but so does everybody. I don't think we need to single him out for being unprepared. He's absolutely prepared to be our catcher in Philadelphia.”

Conventional wisdom had already suggested that Alfaro was in line to be team’s starting catcher. He is out of minor-league options and team officials have long indicated that they are ready to see what he can do with an extended look in the majors. Still, it was interesting to hear Kapler essentially affirm the plan.

Alfaro’s grand slam came against Dylan Bundy and highlighted a five-run second inning. Kapler felt confident giving Alfaro the green light on 3-0.

“We just believe in our guys, plain and simple," Kepler said. "But most importantly, we play for the big innings. Big innings are critical to winning baseball games. So we never want to remove our chance to have a big inning. Probably the best way to have a big inning is to have an extra-base hit in a situation like that. We have a ton of confidence in Alfaro and his decision making. I'm really glad he picked out a pitch he liked and jumped on it.”

Starting pitcher Zach Eflin displayed power stuff, a fastball up to 96 mph. More than a year removed from double knee surgery, he has regained leg strength and it shows in the pop on his fastball. A year ago, the 6-6 right-hander was 200 pounds. Now, he’s 220 with hopes of adding more strength.

“I feel amazing,” he said. “My legs have never felt better in my life. I’m able to put more pressure on my legs to where I don’t even feel my arm when I throw.”

Eflin, who turns 24 in April, is a candidate for a job at the back end of the rotation.

Aaron Nola, likely to be the Phillies’ opening day starter, makes his spring debut Sunday against the Yankees in Clearwater.

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.