Phillies

How will Gabe Kapler's bench shape up?

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How will Gabe Kapler's bench shape up?

As the confetti gets swept up along Broad Street and the Flyers and Sixers push into the second halves of their seasons, Philadelphia’s sporting calendar moves on. The Phillies report to Clearwater for spring training next week with a new manager, a new bat in the lineup and a couple of veteran additions in the bullpen.

New skipper Gabe Kapler will look for veteran stability from relievers Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, both signed as free agents. First baseman Carlos Santana, with a career on-base percentage of .365, has also joined the club as a free-agent signing.

Neshek and Hunter will join a returning cast of relievers that showed promise in the second half of last season. The Phillies made no upgrades to their starting rotation this winter. One may still come before the March 29 opener in Atlanta, but for now, management is committed to giving its core of young starters innings and the opportunity to show improvement.

Innings, however, could be a challenge with a staff prone to running high pitch counts. Therefore, there is a pretty good chance that the Phillies will open the season with an eight-man bullpen, which would mean just a four-man bench. The bench is hugely important in the National League and Kapler has promised to use his entire roster. A premium will be placed on versatility.

So, as camp gets set to start, let’s take a look at some of the decisions the team will have to make on its bench.

There are two key areas that will get significant focus: the backup catching position and the backup infield spot.

Catchers
Jorge Alfaro’s game still needs polish, especially behind the plate, but he is out of minor-league options. That means he is going to get significant playing time, probably No. 1 reps, and a chance to finish his development in the major leagues. Cameron Rupp and Andrew Knapp both return. Both can be sent to the minors or one could end up being traded. Rupp’s experience and ability to pop a long ball off the bench could help him stick, but Knapp is a switch-hitter with some plate discipline and the ability to play first base. That could help his chances. It could also factor in the decision if the Phils wanted to carry three catchers.

Nonroster invitees Logan Moore, Matt McBride and Eric Fryer could also be in the mix.

Infield
J.P. Crawford is moving in at shortstop. The Phillies need to carry a versatile Andres Blanco-type of utility infielder who can play the position if needed. Nonroster player Pedro Florimon could be that guy and his ability to play the outfield, as well, should help his chances. Florimon played well for the Phillies at Triple A and later in the majors last season and the team was obviously impressed as it re-signed him to a minor-league contract early in the offseason.

But the position is so important that management did not stop at Florimon. It has created competition with the signings of versatile veterans Adam Rosales and Ryan Flaherty. Also, Jesmuel Valentin, who hung around until the last cut last spring, will return. Scott Kingery will be in camp and should be a factor in the infield sooner rather than later. But he is likely to open the season in Triple A, a move that would delay his potential free agency until after the 2024 season.

Tommy Joseph returns and will be in line to make the team as a backup first baseman. His power (43 homers the last two seasons) is attractive, but he lacks versatility. Look for Joseph to get a lot of looks in Grapefruit League play as the Phils try to entice a trade partner from the American League, where Joseph might fit better as a designated hitter/first baseman.

Outfield
Barring a trade, there is already depth in the outfield as Kapler essentially has four regulars for three spots. Rhys Hoskins is set in left field and Odubel Herrera in center. Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr could platoon in right, a strategy that would strengthen the bench, though Altherr is gifted enough defensively to play anywhere in the outfield and that will give Kapler other lineup options. Still, the Phillies will look to carry a fifth outfielder. That could come from the cast of utility infield candidates who also carry outfielder’s gloves in their equipment bags.

It could be nonroster invite Collin Cowgill. Or it could be longtime prospect Roman Quinn. Injuries have robbed Quinn of playing time most of his minor-league career. But the speedy switch-hitter will turn 25 in May. It might be time to see what he can do in a complementary role in the majors, and his skills on both sides of the ball could be a weapon. Quinn will get a good look in Clearwater.

Phillies managing partner John Middleton and wife contribute $100K to Eagles Autism Challenge

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Phillies managing partner John Middleton and wife contribute $100K to Eagles Autism Challenge

Phillies principal owner/managing partner John Middleton and his wife, Leigh, have made a $100,000 donation to the Eagles Autism Challenge.  

Beginning this morning, The Middleton Matching Gift Challenge will match the first $100,000 in online donations dollar for dollar. So the Middletons will match each one-time donation (up to $1,000) until the $100,000 goal is reached. 

“The Eagles are a world-class organization both on and off the field and we are proud to be part of their effort to drive autism research and improve the lives of millions of people around the world,” Middleton said in a statement.

The Eagles Autism Challenge is a huge deal for Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and the franchise. It has become the team’s most notable fundraising effort. 

“On behalf of my family and the Philadelphia Eagles, I would like to graciously thank John and Leigh for their extreme generosity and commitment, not just to the Eagles Autism Challenge but to the autism community,” Lurie said in a statement. “A contribution like this says a lot about someone’s character, thoughtfulness and compassion for others. John and Leigh are admired humanitarians who, together, have made a deep and profound philanthropic impact in the Philadelphia region and beyond. Our hope is that the Middleton’s generosity will inspire leadership support and further position our city as a base for autism research.”

The Middleton Matching Gift Challenge is the sixth matching gift this year. In total, it’s expected that $760,000 will be matched by the end of the week. 

The Eagles Autism Challenge is a one-day bike ride and 5K run/walk on Saturday, May 18 that begins and ends at Lincoln Financial Field. The event  also features three cycling routs — the Wawa Junior 15-Mile Ride, Wawa Short 30-Mile Ride and the Wawa Classic 50-Mile Ride. 

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Mets pick an incredibly lame moment to send Rhys Hoskins and Phillies a message

Mets pick an incredibly lame moment to send Rhys Hoskins and Phillies a message

NEW YORK — Two nights in a row, the Phillies have been outclassed by the Mets. Two nights in a row, there's been drama in an otherwise blah game.

The Phillies lost, 9-0, to Zack Wheeler and the Mets in the second game of the series (see observations), 24 hours after dropping a 5-1 decision that included a Bryce Harper ejection and a postgame message from Jake Arrieta to his teammates, through the media (see story).

On Tuesday, with two outs and nobody on in the ninth inning of a blowout, Mets reliever Jacob Rhame decided it was the appropriate time to send a message on behalf of his team after two Mets were hit by pitches the previous night.

The first pitch Rhame threw to Rhys Hoskins was a 96 mph fastball over his head. Hoskins was clearly annoyed by it, taking a few steps toward the mound as both benches slowly began to clear. After about 20 seconds, things cooled down and the at-bat continued.

Five pitches later, Rhame threw another fastball over Hoskins' head, this one at 97 mph, for ball four. Hoskins angrily slammed his bat and Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud quickly stepped in front of him to create a barrier between Hoskins and the mound.

"Oh, he just said they were trying to go inside, and I laughed," Hoskins said.

Clearly intentional. Clearly a retaliatory attempt or message from the Mets a night after two consecutive Mets were unintentionally hit by pitches from Jose Alvarez and Juan Nicasio.

"He didn't miss up and in the rest of the inning, so I'll let you decide," Hoskins said after the game.

When asked if it was lame for a pitcher to choose the potential final at-bat of a blowout to throw at a batter, Hoskins tried to be as diplomatic as possible.

"I would think so," he said. "But I understand baseball. They got hit a couple of times yesterday."

This kind of situation comes up every once in a while across baseball, and hitters always say they understand the deal but that it's not cool to throw at a guy's head. Which it's not. Ever. Especially in the age of high-90s velocity.

"I don't get it," Bryce Harper said. "I understand that two of their guys got hit yesterday. But, I mean, if it's baseball and you're going to drill somebody, at least hit him in the ass. Not in the head. You throw 98, it's scary now. You could kill somebody. Lose your eyesight. That's bigger than the game."

Harper referenced the time Hunter Strickland hit him with a pitch to retaliate for the two home runs Harper hit off of him in the playoffs three years prior. It was a silly thing for Strickland to do, but at least it was in a safer spot.

"Strick hit me in the butt. I still went and got him," Harper said, referring to his charging the mound. "But, you know, I respected him for it because he hit me in the butt. I understand protecting your guys and two of their really good guys got hit yesterday. You never want to see your star players get hit. If you're going to throw at Rhys right there — I don't know if he did or not. I know he said, 'My bad.' Hopefully, he didn't. But if you're going to, just hit him in the butt."

One could theorize this may wake up a slumping Phillies offense. The same could have been said Monday of Harper's ejection, which did nothing but further deplete a Phils lineup missing two starters and its super-utilityman.

They'll have a chance Wednesday night to get back on track against the constantly hittable Jason Vargas, a soft-tossing lefty with a 9.58 ERA. If they can't, they'll come home totally demoralized from a road trip through Colorado and New York that included injuries and several silent offensive performances.

"We just haven't played good baseball these last couple of days," Hoskins said. "End of a long road trip. It's a big game tomorrow. We'll be excited to go back home, but we've got to take care of business tomorrow against these guys."

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