Phillies

Phillies GM Matt Klentak would consider acquiring bat, but not at cost of rebuild

Phillies GM Matt Klentak would consider acquiring bat, but not at cost of rebuild

The Phillies reached the quarter point of the season — Game No. 40 — on Tuesday night. Manager Pete Mackanin marked the occasion by using his sixth different cleanup hitter.

Tommy Joseph got the call in just his third big-league game.

Why would Mackanin use a player with just six at-bats (three of which were strikeouts) in the cleanup spot?

“Why not?” Mackanin said with a chuckle before the game.

Less than one turn through the batting order, Joseph made Mackanin look prescient when he smacked his first big-league home run, a bullet off the netting on the left-field foul pole, to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead over the Miami Marlins.

The Phillies eventually won, 3-1, and Joseph contributed three hits (see story).

The decision to use Joseph in the cleanup spot was actually the result of Mackanin’s reaching the try-anything point in his bid to coax more runs from his feeble offense. The Phillies entered Tuesday night averaging just 3.31 runs per game, second-worst in the majors.

Phillies cleanup hitters were hitting just .190 with a .347 slugging percentage and a .589 OPS, all major-league lows. Cleanup isn’t the only problem spot in the Phillies’ lineup, but it came into focus with Joseph becoming just the second Phillie since 1957 to hit cleanup in his third big-league game. The other was Pat Burrell.

Joseph was in the lineup because the Phillies were facing a lefty in Wei-Yin Chen and primary cleanup man Ryan Howard sits in those situations. (Howard will return to the lineup Wednesday.) At the time of his promotion last week, Joseph was leading the International League in hitting (.347) and OPS (.981) and was second in slugging (.611) and fifth in extra-base hits (13).

So he became the cleanup man du jour.

“Yeah, it's frustrating,” said Mackanin, referring before the game to the offense as a whole. “I don't want to hit Tommy Joseph fourth. I don't want to do that. But in this case, against a left-handed pitcher, I kind of just said, 'Why not?'"

Mackanin went on to say before the game that the team needed more offense from a number of guys. He mentioned Howard, Maikel Franco, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, Peter Bourjos — just about everybody not named Odubel Herrera. Mackanin mentioned Cody Asche, who is rehabbing an oblique injury in Clearwater, and said, “Any time along the way if we feel he's ready to help us he'll be up here. It could be a week, two weeks or something like that.”

After 40 games, the Phillies are in an interesting spot. They are clearly a rebuilding team gearing for the future, but in the present are six games over .500. Though it’s too early to call the team a contender, it’s not too early to wonder what will happen if this pitching-fueled club finds itself within striking distance of a postseason spot at the July trade deadline.

Might GM Matt Klentak look to acquire a bat?

“There will be nobody happier than me if we are still in playoff contention in July, and if that happens we’re going to do everything we can to help this team improve and get better and make a run at it,” Klentak told CSNPhilly.com Tuesday.

“The job of a general manager is to balance both the short and the long term and I need be cognizant that right now we’re not even a quarter of the way through the season.”

So, basically, it sounds as if Klentak would consider trading for a bat as long as it doesn’t compromise the team’s rebuilding effort.

There are moves Klentak could make to improve the offense now. He reportedly put a claim in for Jimmy Parades who was waived by Baltimore, but Toronto had priority and ended up with the outfielder. He did swap out Darin Ruf for Joseph, the hero of Tuesday night’s win.

“I’m very conscious of the fact that one of the things we’ve talked a lot about is building a culture and an environment,” Klentak said. “We’ve been careful not to turn the roster over too much early because we believe that allowing the players to settle into roles and feel comfortable is going to allow them to play better. So one of the reasons we haven’t turned the roster over more despite some early-season [offensive] struggles by some players is because we’re trying to allow a culture to build. As the season progresses, we are all aware that this is a performance league and to stay here you have to perform, but for now we’re pleased with the performance of the team and also the style of play that Pete is managing on the field.

“We talk about ways to improve all the time, Pete, myself, our scouts, the front office. We talk about ways we can inject some offense into this lineup. We added Tommy Joseph, who had been on a tear in Triple A and had earned his promotion as a way to hopefully inject some life into this offense. There are other players in our system that continue to develop, and at whatever juncture those players are ready to come up and help us that’ll be another option for us.

“We continue to be open-minded towards any types of additions and ways to improve, but right now the success of our team has been built on pitching and defense and we’re going to continue to respect that.”

Gabe Kapler is high on Seranthony Dominguez: 'He has no ceiling'

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Gabe Kapler is high on Seranthony Dominguez: 'He has no ceiling'

BOX SCORE 

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Seranthony Dominguez made his major league debut five weeks into the season last year and quickly became manager Gabe Kapler’s favorite bullpen weapon.

“When Seranthony is at his best, there may not be a better reliever in baseball,” Kapler said after Dominguez made his spring debut with three quick outs against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday.

“He has no ceiling. He can be as good as anyone in the league.”

Keeping the hard-throwing, 24-year-old right-hander healthy was a priority last season and it remains so this year. Dominguez had a 1.59 ERA in his first 29 games last season but it rose to 4.88 over the next 24. That might have been attributable to fatigue and the Phils want to guard against that this season.

“We’ve had a player plan meeting with Dominguez and one of the things we want to do is definitely stay in close contact with him,” Kapler said. “Anything that crops up for him related to fatigue, we definitely want to back off.

“We did see that giving him a little bit more rest made him more effective so we’re going to pay really close attention to that.”

It’s a balancing act for Kapler. The stakes are higher for the Phillies this year. The rebuild is complete. The talent is better. Bryce Harper might be coming. It’s time to win. There might be times, Kapler said, when he uses Dominguez on a night when “maybe he could use a little bit of rest,” and other nights when he stays away from Dominguez to preserve the life on his fastball for the long haul of the season.

Kapler admitted it was tempting to use Dominguez every night — wherever the game dictated — when he was pitching well last season. He believes the Phillies are better positioned to be able to back off Dominguez when needed this season. Hector Neris rediscovered his splitter and confidence and finished with a six-week flurry last season. Pat Neshek is healthy. Tommy Hunter and his hard cutter is back. And the addition of David Robertson, one of the most consistent late-game arms in the majors the last eight seasons, will help.

“We’ve got some pretty good weapons down there,” Kapler said. “That could lead to us being less reliant on Seranthony, even if he’s at his best.”

Nine different relievers saved games for the Phils last season as Kapler mostly used a matchup strategy late in games. He will likely use the same strategy at the outset of this season, but it would not be surprising to see Dominguez, Neris or Robertson eventually get significant save opportunities.

The game 

The Phillies lost, 3-2, to the Pirates. Dylan Cozens had a pair of doubles and Matt McBride homered. Drew Anderson starts for the Phillies against the Tigers in Lakeland on Sunday.

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Bryce Harper Mania is everywhere, even in Phillies' clubhouse

Bryce Harper Mania is everywhere, even in Phillies' clubhouse

CLEARWATER, Fla. — You have Harper Mania. Your neighbor has Harper Mania. The caller on the radio show has Harper Mania. The guy getting his coffee and a turkey shorti at Wawa has Harper Mania.

Everyone is going just a little crazy waiting to see if Bryce Harper is going to be a Phillie.

Even the players.

“I saw a helicopter circling over here the other day and we were joking, saying it would be funny if he just landed here and got out,” Andrew McCutchen said Saturday.

Harper Mania reached a boil Friday night when Phillies owner John Middleton’s private jet — Air Middleton — touched down in Las Vegas. Middleton traveled to Harper’s hometown for a second face-to-face meeting — the first was in mid-January — as talks between the Phillies and the free-agent slugger intensified.

The Phils are widely considered the favorite to sign Harper, but you know relentless agent Scott Boras will work every last market and mystery team until his client makes a decision. The Phillies would love to see this thing resolved — one way or the other — in the next handful of days. When it’s over, Harper is expected to top the $300 million that Manny Machado got from San Diego earlier this week and maybe the record $325 million guarantee that Giancarlo Stanton received from Miami in a contract extension in November 2014.

Players like McCutchen — he signed with the Phils in December — are already fantasizing a little about what Harper could do for the Phillies.

“It changes the team,” he said. “It changes a lot for whatever team that he’s on. We feel like we have a really good team here. The Phillies have done a good job of getting some guys over here, getting (Jean) Segura, getting (J.T.) Realmuto, getting (David) Robertson. It’s a great team here and he’s only going to make it better. It would be amazing.”

McCutchen believes the Phillies have the talent to make a playoff run.

“I haven’t played a game yet but with the names of the guys we have around, I think we definitely have the ability to do that,” he said. “We have the talent here. We just have to put it together as a team.”

Adding Harper would enhance the club’s chances of making the playoffs. But good teams need more than talent.

McCutchen locked his hands together to create a tight bond.

“You can have a great, talented team but if you don’t have this, you’re not going to win,” he said, stressing the bond. “I don’t know if there’s ever been one team that won a championship that didn’t have that. It's always the final piece of the puzzle.”

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