Phillies

Phillies

TAMPA, Fla. -- Less than three weeks before opening day, Pete Mackanin is still evaluating candidates for his bench.

"It'll probably go right down till the end," the Phillies skipper said of the decisions that he and the front office must make.

Mackanin was in full evaluation mode Wednesday night as the Phillies made the short drive across the causeway to play the Yankees at Steinbrenner Field. The Phils' starting lineup included four candidates for reserve roles.

Chris Coghlan batted leadoff and got his first start at second base.

Brock Stassi started at first base.

Aaron Altherr started in center field.

And Andrew Knapp was the designated hitter.

Two of the five spots on the Phillies' bench appear to be accounted for. Andres Blanco, the team's top utility man, is a shoo-in, and Altherr, a standout defensive outfielder who, like Blanco, is already on the 40-man roster, is a good bet to make the 25-man roster.

Coghlan's versatility -- he plays the outfield as well as second and third base -- and major-league track record could help his chances, though nothing is certain.

"We have to come up with two spots, maybe three," Mackanin said before Wednesday night's game.

One of those spots will have to be a backup catcher.

Spring performance will certainly play a role in the Phillies' decisions, but there is more to it. The 40-man roster is tight after the club added 11 young players to it in November, and the front office would like to retain as much depth as possible. Nonetheless, the team is going to have to trade from its 40-man roster or expose one or more players to waivers in order to finalize its 25-man roster. In addition to possibly needing to clear spots to finalize the bench, the team may need to clear a spot to add a lefty reliever.

 

Coghlan, Stassi and Daniel Nava, all candidates to be a bat off the bench and play some outfield, are all on minor-league contracts. The Phils would have to clear a 40-man roster spot to carry any one of them. A roster move would also have to be made to carry Bryan Holaday or Ryan Hanigan as the backup catcher.

Being on the 40-man roster already is a boon to Altherr's and Knapp's chances to make the club.

Knapp is a catcher by trade and he can also play first base. He is also a switch-hitter, which would come in handy.

Knapp came into camp knowing there was an opportunity to win a job, and he expressed confidence he could do just that. However, he entered Wednesday night's game with just one hit in 18 at-bats. In an effort to get him going, the Phils had Knapp get at-bats in a minor-league game Wednesday afternoon.

"I like Knapp," Mackanin said. "He's definitely a top candidate for that backup catcher job.

"I know he's a better hitter than he's shown in the spring. He might be pressing a little. I had a talk with him about three days ago. I said, 'Look, don't overthink this thing. Just go out there and have fun. See it and hit it. Just relax.'

"Once again, you should never judge a player's performance in spring training or September. But I'm looking at the quality of the at-bats. In other words, let's look at Stassi, who is killing it. You have to be careful with getting too excited about that even though he's looked very good.

"By the same token, why would you get worried about a guy who's not hitting? I expect Howie Kendrick to hit during the season. He's not having a good spring. But that doesn't concern me because he's a proven guy. So it works both ways. At least you try to make it work both ways."

Knapp came to the plate three times in Wednesday night's game. He struck out in the third inning and grounded to second in the ninth. In between, he had a nice plate appearance against Aroldis Chapman in the sixth. Knapp worked a full-count walk against the fireballing lefty. It was the Phillies' only walk on a miserable offensive night that saw them produce just one hit and strike out 13 times.