Phillies plan to play J.P. Crawford as much as possible down the stretch

Phillies plan to play J.P. Crawford as much as possible down the stretch

NEW YORK — From the front office on down, the Phillies organization is eager to take a look at prospect J.P. Crawford and get a gauge on whether he could be part of the big-league roster in April.

So it was no surprise that Crawford, on his first day in the majors, was in the team's starting lineup, batting seventh and playing third base against the New York Mets on Tuesday night.

Crawford, 22, will play a lot over the final 25 games of this season that was from the outset dedicated to finding out who will be part of the future and who won't.

"I won't say every day, but as much as I can," manager Pete Mackanin said before Tuesday night's game. "The whole idea is to get his feet wet up here."

Crawford, considered by many to be the Phillies' top prospect from the time he was selected 16th overall in the first round of the 2013 draft, is a shortstop by trade. At the moment, the Phillies are more concerned with getting him at-bats than they are time at shortstop. That's why he recently began learning to play third base. He will play that position, and also some second base, this month.

Mackanin projected that Crawford would play "five or six" games at shortstop. That means Freddy Galvis may not play in all of the team's 162 games, as is his goal. Galvis, the Phils' starting shortstop since the start of 2015, has played Gold Glove-caliber defense this season, but he entered Tuesday night with an on-base percentage of just .304. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak is committed to building his team around players with strong on-base skills. Crawford has them. His career on-base percentage in the minors is .367. All of this points to Galvis or third baseman Maikel Franco being shopped for a wintertime trade that would open a spot for Crawford. Franco, who carries a .278 on-base percentage, was bounced from the lineup in favor of Crawford on Tuesday night. Regardless of where Crawford plays next season, he still profiles as the team's shortstop of the future. Galvis will be a free agent after next season.

If Galvis, 27, feels as if he is being pushed out, he hasn't revealed it — at least publicly. He has said all the right things (see story). He welcomed Crawford to the clubhouse with a hug Tuesday afternoon and was seen giving his left-side-infield partner some tips between innings during the game.

"Freddy has been very good about it," Mackanin said. "Right now he’s our shortstop and that’s the way I look at it. We’re getting a look at the other kid, just like we found a spot for (Rhys) Hoskins (in left field) to try to get a look at him. We know Crawford can play shortstop and we feel that he’s going to be a good shortstop. At the same time, he has to get a taste of the major leagues. Eventually he’s going to be here. So it’s a good way to do it. Last year, (Ryan) Howard had to sit so we could a look at [Tommy Joseph]. That’s the way it is."

Crawford survived a brutal first half of this season and finished with a .243 batting average and a .756 OPS at Triple A Lehigh Valley. From June 20 through Monday's regular-season finale, he hit .280 with a .381 on-base percentage, 13 homers, 42 RBIs and a .904 OPS.

It was a no-brainer that the Phils would take a look at Crawford this month; they would have had to place him on the 40-man roster in November anyway. Still, Crawford was a little surprised to get the call on the day he helped Lehigh Valley clinch a berth in the International League playoffs. Competing in a playoff series — at any level — can benefit a player's development. The Phillies, however, decided they wanted to see Crawford now.

"I thought I was going to stick around for playoffs and then Dusty (Wathan, the Triple A manager) told me and I was speechless," Crawford said. "It has been my dream since I was a little kid to play in the big leagues and I'm just happy to be here."

Crawford's poor first half this season left some pundits questioning his prospect status. He ranked as high as No. 6 in the game on Baseball America's list entering the 2016 season. In July, the publication dropped him to 92nd.

"It kind of sparked a fire right there," Crawford said.

Crawford said he has enjoyed playing new positions and that it doesn’t matter where he plays because the big leagues are where every players wants to be.

"I’m going to do the best I can do and hopefully get a spot for next year," he said. "Until then, I’m just focused on today. I just want to focus on this game today and take it day by day. I'm happy to be here and I want to help this team."

Phillies activate Wilson Ramos

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Phillies activate Wilson Ramos

As the Phillies continue a three-week stretch against tough teams and multiple aces, they’ll welcome perhaps their biggest trade deadline addition to the lineup.

Wilson Ramos has completed his rehab assignment and was activated ahead of the Phillies' home game tonight against the Red Sox. He will bat sixth.

To accommodate Ramos on the 25-man roster, the Phillies optioned catcher Andrew Knapp to Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Ramos went 4 for 9 with three doubles in three rehab games with the Clearwater Threshers (High A). He caught 14 innings.

The Phillies acquired Ramos on July 31 from the Rays for a player to be named later or cash, but the All-Star catcher was still recovering from a hamstring injury suffered on July 14.

His bat will make the Phillies’ lineup better, there’s no question about it. Gabe Kapler will be replacing a bottom-of-the-order bat with a middle-of-the-order bat. He’ll be replacing Jorge Alfaro’s league-worst strikeout rate and .306 OBP with a catcher who can hit .300 — with power — and doesn’t whiff much.

Ramos is also steadier behind the plate, where Phillies catchers have struggled all season receiving. The Phillies have the second-most passed balls, second-most wild pitches and second-most stolen bases allowed in the National League.

Ramos has hit .297/.346/.488 with 14 homers and 14 doubles in 315 plate appearances. He’s played essentially two-thirds of the season to this point.

Ramos was also an All-Star two years ago, his last healthy, full season. He hit .307/.354/.496 with 22 HR and 80 RBI with the Nationals, who tried to reacquire him this summer to no avail.

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Playing the Red Sox tough is nice, but some wins would be nicer for struggling Phillies

Playing the Red Sox tough is nice, but some wins would be nicer for struggling Phillies


Coming out of spring training, the consensus opinion on the Phillies was that they’d pick up on the improvement they showed in the second half of last year’s 66-96 season and maybe push .500.

The thinking was that would be a nice step in the right direction for a team that had pushed its rebuild into field-goal range.

Then the season got going and the Phillies started winning, and contending, and by the first week of July they were in first place in the NL East.

They entered August in first place and that was meaningful because, in a sport where the long haul matters, four months is a significant chunk of time.

Becoming a contender a year before most envisioned changed the way these Phillies are viewed. Had they been plugging along hoping to finish the season at .500 and fuel a little optimism for the future, then Tuesday night’s loss to the Boston Red Sox might have been seen as a good thing, an oh-look-at-how-we-hung-with-the-big-boys moral victory (see first take).

But as a contender and a team with legitimate postseason hopes, the 2-1 loss stung and it stung even worse when the out-of-town scoreboard flashed the final score from Atlanta, where the Braves beat the Marlins, 10-6.

In two days, the Phillies have lost two games in the standings to the Braves and now trail them by two games in the NL East.

The Phillies are 2-5 in their last seven games and they have scored just 16 runs over that span. They have another one on tap against Boston on Wednesday night.

The Red Sox are the majors’ best team, on pace to win 115 games, and the Phillies have played them tough in three games over the last two weeks. Boston has won a pair of 2-1 games and the Phils have won a 3-1 contest. But the Phils are past the point where playing a good team tough makes them feel good. 

They need some hits.

They need some wins.

“We know that we can go toe to toe with this team,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We showed that we could at Fenway Park. We did it tonight. We came out on the losing end because they played a better baseball game. But we're very confident that tomorrow we're going to be playing the better baseball game. We're looking forward to that.”

The Phillies’ offense ranks second to last in the majors with a .234 batting average and below average in many other important offensive categories. It ran into a good pitcher on top of his game Tuesday night and the results were not good. Boston’s Rick Porcello, a Cy Young winner in 2016, dazzled with seven innings of one-run ball. He walked none and had six 1-2-3 innings. Porcello gave up just two hits – that’s all the Phillies had – and struck out 10. The Phils struck out 13 times as a team – they’ve reached double digits in Ks 60 times this season – and walked just once.

That’ll lose you some ballgames.

“Porcello deserves a lot of credit,” Kapler said. “He was really awesome. Great job by him.”

The Phillies got a strong game from their starter, as well. Nick Pivetta delivered six innings of one-run ball, walked one and struck out six. He exited early for a pinch-hitter as Kapler tried to nudge the offense only to see Roman Quinn go down on a first-pitch fly ball in the bottom of the sixth.

All the scoring came via the long ball. Sandy Leon took Pivetta deep in the third and Rhys Hoskins got Porcello leading off the fifth. Hoskins, who was dropped from second to cleanup, was 1 for 28 before hitting his 23rd homer. The Phillies need his bat to come alive.

With no margin for error, the Phillies’ bullpen – neither bullpen, for that matter – could afford a mistake. Tommy Hunter made one with one out in the eighth and pinch-hitter Brock Holt clubbed it off the facing of the upper deck in right to break a 1-1 tie and propel the Sox to their 86th win.

Holt ambushed the first pitch.

“Yeah, it was a cutter,” Hunter said. “He got it. He hit it. I'll probably throw 16 of them again tomorrow. He got it. Tip your cap.”

The cutter is Hunter’s best pitch and Holt was looking for it.

“Yeah, coming off the bench, he's going to swing at the first pitch,” Hunter said. “I left it a little too far on the plate. I probably should have buried it in off the plate.”

The atmosphere in all three of the Phillies-Red Sox games over the last two weeks has been intense, almost playoff-like.

“It’s two pretty good teams going toe to toe,” Hunter said. “That’s the way you like it though. Throw blows and see who comes out on top.”

Vince Velasquez will try to help the Phillies come out on top Wednesday night.

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