CLEARWATER, Fla. — There were a couple of notable "firsts" in the Phillies’ 5-1 Grapefruit League win over the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday.
Didi Gregorius broke an 0-for-22 skid with his first hit of the spring.
And top pitching prospect Spencer Howard pitched for the first time in a game.
Gregorius has lit up camp with his big smile, but his bat had been slow coming around until his first-inning RBI single Tuesday. He added another base hit and drew a walk before his day was over.
Gregorius and manager Joe Girardi go way back to their days with the Yankees. Girardi used the occasion of Gregorius’ slump-breaking hit to have some fun with his fun-loving shortstop. In the dugout, he presented Gregorius with a ball that said, “First hit as a Phillie. Broke an 0-for-82 stretch.”
Gregorius had a good laugh when he read what Girardi had written on the ball.
“I was like, ‘Who wrote this?” Gregorius said. “He tried to look away, but I knew it was him. I figured it was him.”
Gregorius kept the ball as a souvenir — even though it was not authenticated as the ball he stroked for his first hit.
“It wasn't really the ball,” Girardi confessed, “but don't tell him.”
Howard, 23, debuted with a scoreless inning. He fought some jitters and allowed two hits before settling down. He walked none and struck out one.
The radar gun at Spectrum Field has been inconsistent all spring so readings have not appeared on the scoreboard. A scout behind home plate had Howard’s fastball at 94 to 97 mph on his gun.
The Phillies have taken things slowly with Howard this spring. He will be on a workload limit this season and the Phillies would like to save a good amount of his bullets for the big leagues. When he gets there, however, remains to be seen. It won’t be at the start of the season.
“This is the best I’ve felt in spring training in three years,” Howard said. “Just getting out here with 7,000 people. It’s still not anything like Philly, but the energy is there."
Howard, selected in the second round of the 2017 draft, has pitched 100 innings only once in his pro career. It's not clear how far above that he'll go this year.
"As much as they’ll let me go, I’m ready.”
J.T. Realmuto and Logan Forsythe homered for the Phillies, who have the best spring record in the majors at 13-5.
Forsythe is making a strong bid to make the club as a bench bat. He is 8 for 20 with two doubles and three homers on the spring.
Fifth starter candidate Nick Pivetta threw five innings and struck out nine in a minor-league game.
Aaron Nola, scratched from his scheduled start on Monday because of illness, visited with team medical personnel in the morning then left the park. Girardi said the pitcher was feeling better and could throw in the bullpen as soon as Thursday and be in line to pitch a simulated game on Saturday. He could still be in line to make the opening day start two weeks from Thursday in Miami.
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