Ralph Long

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."

Orioles 6, Phillies 4: Nick Williams wows with glove, bat

Orioles 6, Phillies 4: Nick Williams wows with glove, bat

BOX SCORE

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Outfielder Nick Williams has been playing in the spring like he's on a mission to make the big leagues, according to manager Pete Mackanin.

Williams took one step closer Monday as he showed he can generate runs with his bat and take them away with his glove.

Brock Stassi and Williams hit solo home runs but starter Jeremy Hellickson gave up five runs in the Phillies' 6-4 loss to the Orioles.

Williams' catch, however, was the story of the game as he robbed Logan Schafer of a sure home run in the bottom of the eighth inning. Williams made a full extension and reached his glove over the wall to bring the ball back in.

"That play was, 'Wow,'" Mackanin gushed.

Williams said it was an adrenaline rush as he tried to track the ball to the right field wall and it felt better than any walk-off home run he's ever hit.

"I took off with my head down expecting it to be a close play at the wall," Williams said. "I saw where the wall was and jumped. It was going over. I felt it in my glove, I saw myself catch it. I came down and I think I looked like, 'All right, I did it.' It felt like a wide receiver going for a jump ball."

It was a tough offseason for Williams after he failed to get called up following a rough finish to his season in Triple A. His slash line in Lehigh Valley of .258/.287/.427 was disappointing, as were the 136 strikeouts and only 20 walks.

He admits he may have tried too hard last season (see story) and this year he's more focused on being consistent and showing up to the park ready to play.

"Last year, I tried to make the majors so bad and it didn't work out for me," Williams said. "This year, I just wanted to polish up on everything -- offense, defense and just be a consistent player."

Williams is hitting .364 (8 for 22) in the spring with a double and a home run. He's struck out five times but also has managed a couple of walks.

"I think he was probably disappointed in himself last year, having a bad month the last month," Mackanin said. "He's really been playing with energy and a positive attitude, so showing he's put [last year] behind him."

Hellickson starts strong, fades
Hellickson struck out six of the first eight batters he faced but ran into some trouble in the third inning when he gave up a solo shot to Caleb Joseph.

In the fourth inning, the Orioles tagged him for four runs, including a three-run homer from Joey Rickard.

Hellickson gave up four hits and five runs in four innings. He also walked two and threw 76 pitches in the outing.

"He was fine, he was cruising a bit," Mackanin said. "He just hung a changeup for the first one and on the three-run home run, he tried to throw a sinker in to a right-hander and left it out over the plate.

"[He] changed speeds well, located well, just made two mistakes that hurt him, especially the one with a couple of men on."

Hellickson is ahead of schedule at this point with four starts under his belt and three weeks of spring remaining. He said he'll probably take at least one extra day off between starts and finish his spring with a three-inning stint.

Phillies option 5 more
Right-handers Drew Anderson, Alberto Tirado and Victor Arano, left-hander Elniery Garcia and outfielder Dylan Cozens were all optioned to minor-league camp. The Phillies have 53 players remaining in major-league camp.

Up next
Right-hander Jerad Eickhoff will look to improve on his 7.88 ERA this spring against the Braves on Tuesday. Atlanta will start Aaron Blair. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. on TCN.

Daniel Nava impressing Phillies with 'professional at-bats' in spring training

Daniel Nava impressing Phillies with 'professional at-bats' in spring training

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The first time Pete Mackanin saw Daniel Nava, it was in his first major league at-bat with the Boston Red Sox in 2010. Nava, on the first pitch he saw, hit a grand slam off Phillies starting pitcher Joe Blanton.

Mackanin said he's liked Nava ever since that day, and it was one of the reasons the Phillies signed him to a minor-league contract in December.

Now that the Phillies manager has gotten a closer look at Nava this spring he has an even greater appreciation for what the 34-year-old outfielder can bring to the team.

"One of the things we talked about over the winter was getting someone that can give us professional at-bats, and he certainly looks like he controls the strike zone," Mackanin said. "He doesn't get himself out, he gives you quality at-bats every time he goes up to the plate."

Nava went 4 for 4 with a triple and run scored against his former team on Sunday. He's hitting 10 of 21 (.476) this spring.

"Obviously, spring training, you take it with a grain of salt but 4 for 4 is also better than 0 for 4," Nava said. "I wasn't trying to do too much and the [ball] just fell where they weren't standing."

It's safe to say Nava took the road less traveled to get to his eighth year of service in the major leagues. He tried out for the baseball team at Santa Clara University and was cut, so he became the team equipment manager. After two years Nava left Santa Clara to play junior college baseball at the College of San Mateo (Calif.). He was named a Junior College All-American and was given a scholarship to return to Santa Clara.

Professionally, he bounced around in Independent Leagues and even took a year off before going back to the Indies, where the Red Sox purchased his contract from the Chico Outlaws for $1. Nava made it through big-league camp (the Red Sox paid Chico $1,499 to keep him after spring) and began working his way through the system until that grand slam against Blanton.

"You know, I've had a lot of doors open in my favor," Nava said. "The Red Sox gave me a shot when no one else did and I'll always be grateful for that. Fortunately, I was able to play well enough to get a chance to play for a World Series, something I'll never forget."

Nava's best season in the majors was in 2013 with the Red Sox. He played in 134 games and had a slash line of .303/.385/.445 with 12 home runs and 66 RBIs -- all career highs. His numbers have gone down considerably since then but he still has the desire to prove he belongs in the league.

This season with the Phillies, he will be asked to give quality at-bats and be a veteran influence on a talented young roster that is learning how to compete and fight for wins.

Nava is just happy to have the chance for days like Sunday to happen.

"It's a good reminder just to not take it for granted that you have an opportunity [to compete]," Nava said. "I know for a fact that that opportunity isn't always there."