Last year in spring training, Andrew McCutchen was rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee.
This year, he’s preparing to play baseball.
There’s a big difference.
“I’m not thinking about rehabbing at all,” the Phillies’ left fielder/leadoff man said Wednesday. “Just getting ready for the season.
“I feel a lot better than I did at this time last year.”
McCutchen would love to play 162 games, but he knows that’s not realistic, not for a 34-year-old veteran less than two full years removed from an ACL injury, not for any player in this day and age, really.
More than ever, teams are committed to getting players rest, or recovery days, as they are now called, throughout the season. A little pruning here and there makes the rose stand taller.
“If they see something and want to give me a day, I understand,” McCutchen said. “There’s one way to keep playing and that’s how you look, how you’re performing. If you're doing well, you’ll stay out there.”
During last year’s 60-game season, the Phillies were able to protect McCutchen by using him as the designated hitter occasionally. It allowed for the Phils to get him off his feet without losing his bat.
Barring a late change, there will be no DH in the National League this season. So when Joe Girardi looks to prune McCutchen’s playing time, he will have to go to his bench.
First up could be Brad Miller.
The popular veteran utility man spent 66 games with the Phillies in 2019, moved on to St. Louis last season and returned to the Phils just before spring training on a one-year, $3.5 million contract.
Miller can play all over the diamond. He also brings a nice left-handed stick. In 2019, he smacked 12 homers, drove in 21 runs and had a .941 OPS in just 118 at-bats for the Phils.
The Phillies beat the Detroit Tigers, 6-4, in a Grapefruit League game in Clearwater, Florida on Wednesday. Miller led the team’s nine-hit attack with three of them, including a homer.
Miller started at first base Wednesday. Girardi will use him a lot this season in a number of different roles, from pinch-hitter to spot starter at several different positions, including left field.
“Guys like Brad stay prepared for every situation,” Girardi said. “You don’t ever have to question if he’s loose. He’s able to follow and manage the game along with you and understands when he’s going to be used, and he gives you a good option to give guys days off because he’s such a potent left-handed bat.”
The addition of just one player can make a team within a team better. Archie Bradley alone should make the bullpen better this season. Miller should make the bench better. But the Phils also signed Matt Joyce this winter. He’s another veteran who knows how to keep his bat sharp with minimal at-bats and he could also help make the Phillies’ bench better in 2021.
Joyce, 36, is on a minor-league contract so he will have to make the team. He’s off to a pretty good start. He had a couple of hits Wednesday and is 5 for 10 with a homer and three walks.
It is not difficult to envision Joyce winning a spot on this bench as a pinch-hitter, late-game power threat and extra corner outfielder.
Like Miller, Joyce hits from the left side so the Phils will be covered there. It’s unclear what they will have as a right-handed bat off the bench, though McCutchen will be an option on nights he doesn't start. Roman Quinn is a switch-hitter. Scott Kingery is a right-handed bat. One of them could find himself in a reserve role if they don’t win the centerfield job. At the moment, Odubel Herrera might have a leg up in the centerfield competition. If Herrera wins the job and the Phils want to carry Joyce, Quinn or Kingery could end up the odd man out. Kingery has minor-league options, but Quinn does not. These roster decisions will shake themselves out over the final weeks of camp and there’s still plenty of time for Kingery and Quinn to get hot.
When the dust settles on camp, two things seem likely:
The Phils will have a healthier, and potentially more productive, Andrew McCutchen this season. And they’ll have good options on the bench when he needs a recovery day.
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