Phillies

Defensive alignment again hurts Phillies in loss to Mets

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Defensive alignment again hurts Phillies in loss to Mets

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NEW YORK — This isn’t how the Phillies wanted to come home after spending nearly $170 million on free agents and hiring a bold new manager this offseason.

But here they are, heading into Thursday’s home opener with a 1-4 record, hitting .183 as a team, scoring 2.8 runs per game and striking out more than 11 times per game.

They’re also carrying a 5.56 team ERA.

Sure, it’s a super-small sample size. But new manager Gabe Kapler and his charges are not off to a good start and it will be interesting to see what kind of welcome they get from the home folk.

“I’m excited about going back to Philadelphia and I think our players are, too,” Kapler said after his club capped its season-opening trip with a 4-2 loss to the New York Mets on Wednesday (see breakdown). “I think the fans can be excited for the young product we’re putting on the field, some hitters who have been grinding through at-bats, and some good young arms. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The road trip wasn’t fun for the Phillies or Kapler. Several of the rookie manager’s moves backfired, including a couple of defensive calls in New York. On Tuesday night, the Phils could not turn a double play in the sixth inning because they were in a shift. It led to two runs and a 2-0 loss (see story).

On Wednesday, reliever Drew Hutchison, who picked up Aaron Nola after 87 pitches, gave up a killer two-run triple to No. 9 hitter Amed Rosario with two outs in the sixth. It broke a 2-2 tie. The triple came on a first-pitch slider and sailed over the head of rightfielder Nick Williams, who was playing extremely shallow — about 50 feet closer than normal, according to MLB Statcast. Kapler said Williams was told to play in that position because Hutchison’s slider often induced weak contact and the Phils didn’t wanted to give up a hit in front of the outfielder.

Kapler defended the defensive alignment.

“That ball was hit hard,” he said. “If he was playing back 25 feet, I’m not sure he catches that ball. It was over his head by a significant margin and we’re optimizing for the ball in front of us there. I trust our positioning right there.

“Some of these moves have not worked out in the short term. In the long term, we are very confident they will. I can’t express enough confidence that our strategies will pay dividends, but I understand in the short term they haven’t and that can be disappointing. I get it.”

Williams said he was not sure if he would have had a play on the ball if he were in normal position.

Hutchison got in a jam in that inning by his own doing. He issued a no-out walk and a two-out walk before Rosario’s dagger.

“I wasn’t sharp with the two walks,” he said. “I didn’t make pitches. I didn’t get the job done.”

Nola survived a rough first inning — 32 pitches, two walks, a single and a two-run homer — and pitched through the fifth. He said Kapler made the right move going to the bullpen.

The Phils have lost three in a row and scored just four runs in that span. They struck out 15 times Wednesday and 26 times in two games in New York.

Now, this show goes home.

Phillies’ big signing Zack Wheeler to make his spring debut Saturday

Phillies’ big signing Zack Wheeler to make his spring debut Saturday

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Zack Wheeler will make his spring debut for the Phillies on Saturday afternoon against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin.

Wheeler is expected to go two innings or 35 pitches.

The right-hander signed a five-year, $118 million deal with the Phillies in December.

“He’s ready to go and I’m anxious to watch him pitch,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I’ve never sat this close to him before.”

Wheeler is the last of the Phillies’ starters to debut this spring. Nick Pivetta and Aaron Nola have already made two starts.

“It’s just the way we just set up his program,” Girardi said of Wheeler’s schedule. “He threw batting practice and stuff, simulated stuff. It’s just where he’s at.”

Girardi has not announced his opening day starter, but Nola, who pitched Friday, is presumed to be the guy. Wheeler appears to slot in second followed by Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin, though this is all subject to change.

The fifth starter’s spot is up for grabs between Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Ranger Suarez.

Suarez gets the start in Sunday’s Grapefruit League game against Baltimore in Clearwater. Arrieta and Seranthony Dominguez will get work in an intrasquad game at the minor-league complex.

Eflin is slated to pitch Monday night against Atlanta.

Nola pitched two-plus innings and threw 45 pitches in a 6-5 win over the Braves on Friday. He gave up six hits and two runs. He walked none and struck out six.

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Phillies leadoff man Andrew McCutchen out for opening day

Phillies leadoff man Andrew McCutchen out for opening day

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The knee injury that cost Andrew McCutchen four months last season will cost him more time this season.

McCutchen, who had surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee on June 14, will open the season on the injured list, Phillies manager Joe Girardi announced on Friday afternoon.

Girardi's announcement came less than two weeks after McCutchen said it was his "plan" to be ready for opening day.

According to Girardi, McCutchen did not experience a setback and the club hopes to have him back sometime in April.

"The tests continue to improve," Girardi said. "He has made improvements as we've gone along. He continues to get better.

"But as we start to put it together, there's some things, some hurdles that he still has to clear, like cutting. We've seen him out there taking fly balls, we've seen him taking batting practice. But we haven't seen him run full speed.

"Opening day is awful early. It's March 26. I think that had he been ready for opening day it would have been pretty quick. He would have been on the short end of the rehab scale. But we don't expect it to be a real long time. Our thought process is we will get him sometime in April. If it was a normal year, the season used to start April 4th or 5th. But with a high-end athlete like him, he's just not quite ready to go."

McCutchen had already left the ballpark when Girardi made the announcement so he was not available for comment.

The news on McCutchen was not a complete surprise. Less than a month before opening day, he had yet to play in an exhibition game and had shown a limp in supervised outfield drills.

McCutchen's situation creates some camp competition as the Phillies look to fill his spot in left field. It's possible that Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn could both be in the opening day outfield, either in left field or center field. It's also possible that Jay Bruce could play some left field, though he's had elbow issues that impact his throwing. The Phils have two other outfielders, Nick Williams and Kyle Garlick, on the 40-man roster, and there are a host of non-roster players in camp who can play the outfield, including Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin, Mikie Mahtook, Logan Forsythe, Nick Martini and Neil Walker.

The Phils will also have to fill McCutchen's leadoff spot. Quinn would seem to be a good bet there. Losing McCutchen from the leadoff spot was a huge blow to the Phils last season. He had a .378 on-base percentage, second-best in the majors among leadoff men, when he went down on June 3. Phillies leadoff men had a paltry .295 on-base percentage the rest of the season and that ranked 29th in baseball over that span.

McCutchen, 33, is signed through 2021 as part of a three-year, $50 million contract signed before the 2019 season. 

With McCutchen out, the Phillies will have a different opening day left fielder for the 10th time in as many years.

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