Phillies

Corey Dickerson has been better than almost every player traded at deadline

Corey Dickerson has been better than almost every player traded at deadline

Looking back at the trade deadline six weeks out, what a lame deadline it was. Not just for the Phillies but for the league as a whole.

Sellers had sky-high prices on players with even a little bit of value — as Jim Salisbury illustrated with a head-scratching, new Phillies tidbit on this week's At the Yard podcast — and buyers were hesitant to trade prospects. The result was an underwhelming final week of July. A few big-name pitchers changed teams, but on the position player front, the only everyday guys traded were Corey Dickerson, Nicholas Castellanos, Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes.

Of that group, Dickerson and Castellanos have made by far the biggest impact. Dickerson entered Wednesday's game hitting .300 as a Phillie with more RBI (34) than games played (33) and a .386 batting average with runners in scoring position.

Castellanos entered the night hitting .335 with 14 homers and a 1.046 OPS as a Cub. He's hit just .185 with runners in scoring position with his new team but has made up for it with all the power. The Cubs are 20-17 with Castellanos in the lineup and likely would have faded in the wild-card picture without him.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, Dickerson left Wednesday's game with left foot soreness. They will sorely miss his bat if he has to miss more than a day or two.

Remember, again, that the Phillies gave up almost nothing to acquire Dickerson. They sent international bonus pool money to the Pirates and that was it. It's more than fair to criticize the Phillies' front office for not acquiring more pitching at the deadline, but the front office should also be credited for being the one that took advantage of the position the Pirates were in and pried Dickerson away for very little.

Dickerson was productive before he got to Philly but has taken his game to an even higher level here. He had hit .270 against lefties with a .708 OPS in his career before the trade. As a Phillie, he's hit .316 against lefties with three doubles and three homers. The production has been so good that his career OPS vs. lefties has risen 14 points in just over a month. It is a small sample size but not one that has involved a ton of luck. Dickerson has had high-quality at-bats against lefties, spoiling pitcher's pitches and ending them by getting the barrel to the ball. He has also fixed a weakness on up-and-in pitches.

The big-picture question, addressed here two weeks ago, is whether the Phillies can realistically re-sign Dickerson. As good as he's been here, it's not a straightforward decision because the Phillies will likely want to play Andrew McCutchen in left field next season. McCutchen will be coming off knee surgery and was better suited for the corner outfield even before tearing his ACL in San Diego in early June.

Dickerson would provide the Phillies insurance if McCutchen isn't 100 percent to begin next season and depth therafter. He would also give the Phillies the option of spot-starting McCutchen in center field on nights the Phillies want to sacrifice defense for offense. The issue is the Phillies in November or December won't have a great gauge on where McCutchen will be physically in March and April.

If the designated hitter was in the National League, this would be a no-brainer. And it does still seem like the NL will soon adopt the DH, just not within the next year or two. The Phillies may one day be able to DH a 35-year-old Bryce Harper but they won't be able to regularly DH a 30-year-old Dickerson in 2020.

Whether or not the Phillies get multiple years of Dickerson's production, his addition on July 31 moved the needle for the Phillies, unlike many of their in-season moves over the last calendar year. Put a league-average or worse hitter like Nick Williams or Sean Rodriguez in place of Dickerson in his 140 plate appearances as a Phillie and you're looking at maybe half the RBI total. Fewer runs mean fewer wins and the Phillies have needed all of them. They'd likely be a couple games worse without Dickerson.

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Joe Girardi impressed with Jean Segura, smitten with Phillies catching prospect Rafael Marchan

Joe Girardi impressed with Jean Segura, smitten with Phillies catching prospect Rafael Marchan

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Six games into the exhibition schedule, Joe Girardi is really liking what he sees of two players.

One might end up being his third baseman this season.

The other will play in the low minors.

Jean Segura played well at third base in the Phillies’ 5-4 win over the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday. He made a nifty backhand stop of a ball off the bat of Nelson Cruz to start a 5-4-3 double play in the first inning. He also had a pair of hits, including a double. He is 4 for 9 with two doubles in the early going.

“Jean had a really good day,” Girardi said. “That (double play) was not an easy play. What I like is it’s smooth, it’s not panicky. Looks like he’s been doing it.”

The Phillies are evaluating Segura’s ability to play third base. They are also taking stock of his comfort level at the position because he has never played there before. If Segura can handle third base, he will open the season there and Scott Kingery will play second base, his best position.

So far this spring, Segura has played three games at third base. If he continues to look good there, would the Phillies even bother to look at him at second, where he does have experience, this spring?

“That’s a conversation we’d have in a week or so,” Girardi said. “We have to continue to see what it looks like. Scott looks good at second. If Jean looks comfortable at third and it seems like Didi and him have a good thing going there, we might just leave him. I don’t know. It’s too early.”

Segura played shortstop for the Phillies last season. He is moving from that position to make room for Didi Gregorius, who signed a one-year, $14 million contract in December.

CATCHING THE BOSS’ EYE

Girardi, who caught for 15 seasons in the big leagues, has become smitten with Rafael Marchan, a catching prospect from Venezuela who turned 21 on Tuesday.

“The kid does a lot of things right,” said Girardi.

Marchan has gotten a chance to play in big-league camp because Andrew Knapp (oblique) and Deivy Grullon (tooth infection) have missed some time.

Phillies officials felt comfortable enough with Marchan’s defense to give him the start with Zach Eflin on the mound Wednesday. Marchan responded with two hits and was praised for his work behind the plate by Eflin. Marchan had one miscue -- he overran a high, spinning pop up -- but Girardi chalked that up to inexperience.

“I told him, ‘You finally made a mistake -- the pop up,’“ Girardi said with a laugh. “He just went after it too quickly.”

Girardi called Marchan “a master” blocker of balls in the dirt earlier this week.

Marchan is a 5-foot-9 switch-hitter. He was a shortstop until he started working out for teams as a catcher in 2015 and the Phillies signed him for $200,000. He has played 136 professional games in Single A the last two seasons and hit .285. He has yet to hit a homer in pro ball, but that doesn’t concern Girardi.

“Here’s my thought,” Girardi said. “He doesn’t have to show power. He just has to hit, be an adequate hitter, or he could become a really good hitter. Take his walks, handle the bat. Defensively, he’s going to save you runs by catching. Those are RBIs for me. He’s going to save you a lot of runs catching.”

Marchan went unselected in the Rule 5 draft in December, not surprising because of his age, experience level and still-developing bat. But if he has a good year in 2020, he might not get through the draft.

Girardi thinks Marchan can develop into a big-leaguer, much like another converted infielder once did with the Phillies.

“I’m not comparing here, but Carlos Ruiz was not a great hitter when he first came up,” Girardi said. “He’s got talent and you hope he figures out the bat part of it because if he does, you have something really special.”

That’s high praise.

HEALTH CHECK

Girardi said Adam Haseley checked out fine in concussion protocol but would not return to action for another day or two. Haseley banged his head on the ground attempting a diving catch on Tuesday.

Outfielder Matt Szczur has yet to play because of a hamstring injury. Reliever Robert Stock has forearm pain and will be examined on Thursday.

UP NEXT

The Phillies play the Red Sox in Fort Myers on Thursday. Nick Pivetta will start.

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Outs are precious and Phillies pitcher Zach Eflin will get them his way in 2020

Outs are precious and Phillies pitcher Zach Eflin will get them his way in 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was just one pitch in the first inning of an exhibition game Wednesday, but it painted a vivid picture of who Zach Eflin was as a pitcher last year and who he wants to be this year.

With a man on first base and one out, Eflin was facing Nelson Cruz. The Minnesota Twins’ designated hitter is one of the most dangerous power hitters in the game, having averaged 34 homers over the last 11 seasons.

The count went full on Cruz and Eflin didn’t hesitate. He went to his best pitch, the sinking fastball. Cruz beat a hard ground ball to third and Jean Segura made a nice backhand play to start a 5-4-3 double play to end the frame.

“I was pretty excited about that,” Eflin said later. “Going back to my sinker. It’s a situation where I need to throw it.”

Eflin was asked what pitch he would have thrown in that situation last season.

“Ah, last year, maybe fastball at the top of the zone,” he said. “Maybe I would have tried to rip a hard cutter or slider. Something like that.”

The sinker has always been Eflin’s bread and butter pitch. But last season, under former manager Gabe Kapler and former pitching coach Chris Young, he was encouraged to emphasize four-seam, power fastballs at the top of the strike zone. He did have some success with the approach early in the season, but eventually lost his way and his spot in the rotation. After some soul searching and some counsel from teammates such as Jake Arrieta, Eflin decided that if he ever returned to the rotation he would go back to featuring his best pitch, a fastball with movement down in the zone. He returned to the rotation in mid-August, ironically when Arrieta went down with an elbow injury, and pitched well over the final weeks of the season to solidify his place this year's season-opening rotation.

“It’s not easy,” said Eflin, recalling last season’s struggles. “When you’re trying to be someone you’re not, it’s not the best way to go about it.

“At the end of the day, we want to feel as good as we can on the mound and when you’re trying to do something different, you don’t feel good.”

With each passing day, another pitcher seems to step up and offer thoughts about how wonderful life has been under new pitching coach Bryan Price in the first few weeks of camp. Price is open-minded to the new-school ways of pitching, but he’s committed to bringing back some old-school philosophies. He has stressed the down-and-away fastball. He has stressed that pitchers work to their strengths. For Eflin, that means the sinker.

“What everybody is focused on right now is being themselves and realizing what got us to the big leagues and taking advantage of doing what you’re good at, so I think that’s a huge step for everybody,” Eflin said. “I think the underlying factor is just being able to stay to our strengths and really just attacking the hitters, and for us starters to go as deep as we can in a game and really relieve the bullpen as much as we can so they’re fresh come the end of the season and playoffs. Just that being put in our heads as a starting staff is huge.”

Though the sinker is Eflin’s strength, he still has the power on his fastball to pitch occasionally at the top of the zone. In fact, it’s important that he do that occasionally to change a hitter’s eye level and prevent them from sitting on a particular pitch or location. Eflin knows this. He learned a lot about himself and pitching last year. That much was evident in the first inning of his spring debut Wednesday: Sinker, ground ball, double play.

“Outs are really precious in this game regardless of how hard they hit it, so just to be able to do that is good,” he said.

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