Bryce Harper: Not signing J.T. Realmuto would be 'terrible and sad'

Bryce Harper: Not signing J.T. Realmuto would be 'terrible and sad'

Bryce Harper never stopped working out after baseball shut down. He hit three times a week back home in Las Vegas.

So it really wasn't surprising to see Harper launching balls into the empty seats at Citizens Bank Park on the first official day of the Phillies' restart Friday.

And it wasn't surprising to see him wearing his new favorite T-shirt, the one with teammate J.T. Realmuto's name and number 10 on the back.

The shirt was a giveaway last August and giveaways are always plentiful in the clubhouse. Harper wore one under his uniform a number of times late last season and is rocking it again during preparation for the new season. He has worn it three days in a row during workouts at Citizens Bank Park.

Harper is pretty shrewd when it comes to messaging. Look at the way he instantly connected with Philadelphia by embracing civic icons like the Eagles and the Phanatic last year.

Is there a message in his donning the Realmuto shirt three days in a row — with cameras catching it all? After all, Realmuto could become a free agent after the season and Harper, who's here for another dozen years, has long been on record as saying he'd like to see the Phillies lock up the catcher with a long-term deal.

"No message," Harper said after Friday's workout. "But I think J.T. is a great player. 

"If the Phillies don't end up signing him back, which would be terrible and sad, I think there's a lot of other teams out there that are going to want to sign the guy. He's a Gold Glove-caliber catcher every year, he's a great person, a great player. I mean everybody in this organization from the top down wants to see him in red pinstripes for the rest of his career and hopefully we can make that happen."

The Phillies and Realmuto were in the midst of negotiations when the game shut down in March. The two sides are now permitted to talk again, but general manager Matt Klentak has said the landscape is different because no games and no fans have equaled no revenues for the last three months. Klentak still hopes to get something done with Realmuto, maybe even by the season opener later this month. But the player is now a lot closer to free agency than he would have been in March and free agency can be enticing to a player. To be determined is whether the reduction in revenues throughout the game and the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic will hurt the market for free agents this winter.

Message or not, Harper will continue to wear his Realmuto jersey. It's not hard to spot. It's white with maroon lettering. Pretty much everyone else on the field Friday wore red.

"I wore that underneath my jersey last year," Harper said. "It was actually a cut-off version. I wore it pretty much the whole second half of the season. It was T-shirt day at the ballpark and I wanted one. I stole one for this year as well because it was very comfortable underneath my jersey and I think it gave me a little bit of good luck."

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Ruben Amaro Jr. thinks former pitching coach Chris Young did Nick Pivetta and other Phillies pitchers a 'disservice'

Ruben Amaro Jr. thinks former pitching coach Chris Young did Nick Pivetta and other Phillies pitchers a 'disservice'

It's been a tumultuous year and a half for Nick Pivetta, who just last March entered the season as the Phillies No. 2 starter behind Aaron Nola.

Pivetta was optioned to the Phillies' satellite site at Lehigh Valley on Tuesday after another poor performance out of the bullpen. With the Phillies leading the Braves 13-1 Monday, Pivetta entered in the ninth inning to get work and allowed six runs while recording just one out. In three appearances this season, he allowed 10 earned runs and three homers in 5⅔ innings.

Some believed Pivetta's big fastball would play better out of the 'pen, that perhaps his true potential was as a hard-throwing reliever. But his ERA as a reliever (6.32) is even higher than as a starter (5.42). As a reliever, Pivetta has allowed his opponents a .934 OPS.

Pivetta is one of many Phillies pitchers who showed no progress under former pitching coach Chris Young, who was promoted from assistant pitching coach after 2018, his first year on Gabe Kapler's staff. The organization's decision to let go of well-respected veteran pitching coach Rick Kranitz that offseason to promote Young played out horribly. The team ERA ballooned from 4.14 to 4.53. The Phillies allowed 66 more runs than they did the year before. But it went well beyond the numbers.

Former Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. noticed that lack of growth in the pitchers the Phillies needed it from most under Young. He raised that point on the latest Phillies Talk podcast.

"I do want to say one thing about that. I think their progression was stalled in a lot of ways by the last pitching coach they had," Amaro said of Pivetta and Vince Velasquez. "I think they were progressing really well under Rick Kranitz and I think Chris Young didn't do either one of those guys a service. A disservice in some ways. 

"I really ultimately believe that Bryan Price, with more time and more work — emotionally, physically, mentally — I think Bryan can help these guys become much more effective pitchers. It does take pitchers at times longer to be able to develop and to mature appropriately. I just wish Bryan had more of a normal progression to be able to work with these guys to get them to the point where they're gonna be much more effective pitchers."

Pivetta was a popular breakout candidate in the baseball world entering 2019. The prior year, he had struck out 10.3 batters per nine innings and walked 2.8, showing real promise as a bat-misser with potentially above-average control. But after an offseason of hype, he couldn't find a role that fit and still hasn't. He may have thrown his last pitch as a Phillie.

Amaro credited Zach Eflin, who veered away from the previous coaching staff's high-fastball instructions last summer to go back to basing his repertoire around his sinker. From Eflin to Jake Arrieta, Phillies pitchers have talked about their faith in first-year pitching coach Price and their excitement to pitch the way they feel confident pitching.

Eflin and Arrieta are both off to solid starts. Eflin struck out a career-high 10 on Wednesday and Arrieta is coming off of six shutout innings against the Braves.

"When you start trying to make players and pitchers cookie-cutter types of players, then you're taking away from their natural athleticism and ability to perform," Amaro said. "There is a reason why they were drafted, a reason why they are professional players. Yes, you want to tweak certain abilities, but to me it's about making sure that you enhance their qualities. 

"Eflin, for example, they tried to change him into the pitcher he's not. He is an outstanding sinker-slider pitcher with a lead-pipe sinker and if you take that pitch away from that man, you put him in jeopardy of not being able to be an effective pitcher. He finally got to the point where he got fed up and said I'm gonna do it my way and go back to where I need to be. I think he's gonna be a much better pitcher as a result of that. 

"Now, do certain guys need to be tweaked or develop another pitch, a cutter, a changeup, whatever the case may be? Yes. But I think a coach is going to enhance that player's real, true abilities and then try to tweak some of the challenges that the player is not able to do consistently. That's the role of a coach for me."

Other topics that came up with Amaro included his time scouting Nola at LSU and how to navigate the unusual 2020 trade deadline (Aug. 31).

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Is it time for Rhys Hoskins to sit, or will a 'good snap' get him going?

Is it time for Rhys Hoskins to sit, or will a 'good snap' get him going?

Normally mild-mannered Rhys Hoskins crossed first base after hitting into a double play with two men on in the fourth inning. He yanked his helmet from his head and smashed it to the ground.

Frustration has arrived for the Phillies.

And Hoskins, in particular.

The Phils fell to 5-8 in the 60-game sprint after a 5-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night. The Phils have lost four of their last five and are in danger of being swept Thursday afternoon by a club that lost 108 games last year.

Hoskins grounded into three double plays, becoming the first Phillie to do that in a game since Placido Polanco in 2010. He walked and struck out in his other two plate appearances. He hit .180 after the All-Star break last season and is hitting .190 (8 for 42) with no homers and one RBI on the new season.
That's enough to make anyone smash a helmet.

Or five.

"Sometimes a good snap helps you get out of things," manager Joe Girardi said. "So maybe it will work."

Hoskins has played in every game and held down the No. 2 spot in the batting order. He does bring value to the offense because he's walked 14 times to fuel a .404 on-base percentage. But, of the 21 players who have batted second at least 10 times in the majors this season, he is the only one without multiple RBIs.

Girardi was asked if he planned on possibly giving Hoskins a day off or dropping him in the batting order.

"There are no plans to move him right now," said Girardi, citing Hoskins' on-base skills.

Girardi did not say if he was planning to give Hoskins a day off. Hoskins' good friend, second baseman Scott Kingery, is off to a 4 for 40 start. He got the night off against a left-handed pitcher (Wade LeBlanc) on Wednesday night.

With J.T. Realmuto serving as the DH, Andrew Knapp got the start behind the plate with Zach Eflin on the mound. Knapp led the Phillies' offense with three hits and two RBIs.

Knapp is also close with Hoskins. What does he see in his teammate?

"I don't think he's pressing too hard," Knapp said. "Obviously, we'd like to be winning more games so I think everyone in the clubhouse is a little frustrated with where we're at.

"Rhys is a great player and it's still really early. I think the fact that he's taking his walks and still getting on base shows he's going to get out of this thing. He's one or two days from really popping and showing who he really is.

"I think he's pressing a little as far as wanting to produce and being that guy to really help a team. But it's so early. I think he's totally going to be fine."

Eflin flashed some brilliance in his second start of the season. He used his sinker often — he said he believes he has one of the best in the majors — and struck out a career-high 10 batters.

However, Eflin got hurt three times on breaking balls as he could not hold a 3-1 lead. He threw two sliders that left the yard and a curveball that Chance Sisco blooped to left for two killer runs in the fourth.

Eflin did not second-guess throwing the breaking balls. He acknowledged the bloop hit for what it was and said he needed better execution on both the sliders.

"As good as (the sinker) is, you can't throw just one pitch in this league," Girardi said. "He just has to make a little better pitch with the breaking ball.

"He pitched well. The ball by Sisco fell in and cost us two runs."

Eflin, whose career has been marked by inconsistency, times when he's dazzled and other times when he's pitched himself out of the rotation, looked at the 10 strikeouts and surmised, "It feels like the puzzle is coming together. I felt really good. But it sucks to see four runs on the board."

In all, Baltimore hit three homers. Reliever Adam Morgan gave up one in the seventh to give the Orioles some late cushion that came in handy after the Phils scored one in the eighth before fading out.

The Phillies' bullpen has allowed 41 earned runs in 38⅓ innings for a majors-worst 9.63 ERA.

"It's very highlighted right now that our bullpen is struggling," Morgan said. "We had a lot of time down, then ramping up, then down again because of the Marlins issue. No excuses, but the more rhythm and consistency we get, the better we'll be." 

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