Phillies

Gabe Kapler planning to make lineup changes Sunday as Phillies play a gut-check game against Marlins

Gabe Kapler planning to make lineup changes Sunday as Phillies play a gut-check game against Marlins

MIAMI — Thirteen games in, the Phillies have reached their first little gut check of the new season.

They soaked up a 10-3 loss to the Miami Marlins on Saturday night (see observations). Though they are off to a nice 8-5 start, the Phillies have lost three of their last four ballgames and a loss Sunday afternoon would mean something no team that is serious about winning the National League East can afford: A series loss to the lowly Marlins.

It would not be accurate to call it a shake up, but manager Gabe Kapler plans some changes to his lineup for Sunday’s game. He will likely give some rest to catcher J.T. Realmuto and go with Andrew Knapp behind the plate. And Scott Kingery is slated to start, possibly at second base in place of slow-starting Cesar Hernandez, possibly somewhere else.

“We're going to find a way to get Kingery in the lineup tomorrow,” Kapler said. “Not sure where he's going to play, but he's going to play tomorrow.”

Kingery earned his way into the lineup for the series finale by coming off the bench with a pair of late doubles in Saturday night’s loss. Maybe he can provide a spark to an offense that, other than a 14-hit bust-out in Friday night's win over the Marlins, hasn’t done a lot lately. The Phils were held to three singles in a 15-1 loss to Washington on Wednesday night. Saturday night, they were shut out on one hit through the first seven innings. They did all their scoring in the ninth inning — garbage time.

“We have to do better,” Kapler said. “We have to swing the bats better.”

Especially in the first inning. The Phils had Marlins lefty Caleb Smith in trouble in the first inning after two-out walks to Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins, but came away with nothing after Smith struck out J.T. Realmuto in an 11-pitch battle.

“I thought we had him on the ropes there,” Kapler said. “We were really close to putting their backs up against the wall. He threw 29 pitches that inning and then he just kind of settled in, got in a rhythm and a groove and got a whole lot more efficient and we weren't able to catch up.”

First-inning scoring has been a problem for the Phils so far. They’ve had 26 first-inning base runners in the first 13 games and stranded 70 percent of them while scoring just eight times.

Zach Eflin, so good in his first two starts, struggled in this one. He liked his stuff but so, too, did the Marlins. They got him for 10 hits in four innings. He was tagged for three homers in the third inning. The homers, on a curveball, a changeup and a fastball, traveled a combined 1,251 feet.

“I think a couple pitches were (poor) location, but for the most part I honestly thought I had really good stuff tonight,” Eflin said. “I felt really good in the first and second inning and after that it seemed like they started jumping on my stuff. Just one of those games where the cards didn’t go my way so swallow it, flush it, come back out in five days.

“It was a weird game. Things that normally don’t get hit were getting hit. Everything was healthy, everything was fine, just one of those weird games.”

Vince Velasquez gets the ball in a very important series finale Sunday afternoon. Sure, it’s only game No. 14 of the marathon and the first bead of sweat hasn’t even collected on the Phillies’ collective forehead. But teams with designs on winning the NL East can’t afford to lose series against the Marlins. In other words: Mini gut-check game.

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When will Nick Williams get a start? Could we see Andrew McCutchen in center field?

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When will Nick Williams get a start? Could we see Andrew McCutchen in center field?

NEW YORK — Even with Odubel Herrera on the injured list, Nick Williams still hasn't found his way into the Phillies' starting lineup.

The Phillies do not consider Williams a viable option in center field, so with Herrera out, they've used Roman Quinn and Aaron Altherr in center. Quinn started all four games at Coors Field and Altherr was in the Phils' starting lineup Monday night in New York.

With Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen entrenched in the corner outfield and producing, the one option the Phillies have to get Williams a start is to move McCutchen to center field for a game or two.

It sounds like an alignment we could see soon.

"It's something I have considered quite a bit," manager Gabe Kapler said Monday afternoon. "I can tell you I really think Cutch has done a nice job in left field. Part of the reason for me holding off on a decision like that has been his comfort level there, Bryce's comfort level in right field.

"We had a situation (Sunday) where we had planned on double-switching Nick into the game for Roman. Nick would move to left and Cutch would move to center. So we have confidence he can go out there and get the job done. We also have several centerfielders who need reps. 

"Roman, despite the fact that he's not off to his best start — he looks a little bit like he's pressing at the plate early on. I think, when we can, we want him out in center field. 

"Has there been consideration? The answer is yes. We'll probably consider it for tomorrow as well."

The Phillies drew lefty Steven Matz on Monday night and will face lefties Wednesday (Jason Vargas) and Thursday (Caleb Smith) as well. In between is a game Tuesday night against right-hander Zack Wheeler — if weather doesn't change the schedule. That would seem to be the most logical time to get Williams his first start of the season. Williams has appeared in 18 of the Phillies' first 20 games but has seen just eight innings total in the field.

McCutchen's comfort level in center field is worth weighing as well. Once upon a time, he was a Gold Glove centerfielder with the Pirates and was hesitant to cede his position to Starling Marte in 2017, before Marte was suspended for PEDs.

Since then, McCutchen has settled into the corner outfield and has been very good defensively. He did not play an inning of center field last season with the Giants or Yankees and hasn't as a Phillie either.

"I broached the topic with him before spring training began," Kapler said. "And I think he'd be perfectly comfortable with us putting him in center field. I think we're balancing a couple of things here. The first one is our optimal lineup construction or our best lineup construction. 

"The second is, what's our best defensive construction and who's on the mound? For example, today might have been a pretty good day to get McCutchen in center field. There's also a lefty on the mound for the Mets, so this might be the right time for Altherr.

"I have had the conversation with Cutch. I'm not worried about if and when we decide to give him a start in center that he'll be fine there."

This week feels like the right time to try it out, with Herrera sidelined by a hamstring injury and Williams antsy to finally get three or four at-bats in a game.

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At The Yard Podcast: How can Scott Kingery stay sharp? Did Aaron Nola turn a corner?

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At The Yard Podcast: How can Scott Kingery stay sharp? Did Aaron Nola turn a corner?

On this edition of At The Yard, Corey Seidman (live from New York for the Mets series) and Ricky Bottalico discuss how the mounting injuries may affect the lineup. What does Scott Kingery need to do with his time on the injured list?

Did Aaron Nola turn a corner in his start in Colorado? How much concern over the workload the bullpen has faced so far?

Also, the proper strategy pitching to Bryce Harper in a high leverage situation.

0:30 - Impact injuries will have to the lineup.
3:30 - How Scott Kingery should stay sharp while on the IL.
5:15 - Positives from Aaron Nola's start in Colorado.
10:00 - Aces around MLB are struggling.
12:00 - Too much bullpen?
17:30 - Confidence that Jake Arrieta can keep up this form?
20:30 - Strategy pitching to Bryce Harper in key late-game moments.

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