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.

Odubel Herrera, Carlos Santana lead way as Phillies crush Nationals

Odubel Herrera, Carlos Santana lead way as Phillies crush Nationals

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON – If Odubel Herrera keeps this up, he’s going to find himself right back in this city next month.

And not to visit the monuments.

Herrera swung a potent bat again Friday night in helping the Phillies beat up on the Washington Nationals, 12-2 (see first take). The win allowed the Phils to leap over the Nats and into second place in the NL East. The Phils are 40-33. The Nats are 40-34. Atlanta leads the division.

There’s still an entire summer of baseball to play before a division winner is crowned. But the Phils, who went 66-96 last season, were feeling pretty good about themselves after winning this one.

“At this point, in a lot of ways, we've proven ourselves,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We're a pretty good ball club. We have gone toe to toe with some of the best teams in the league and done a pretty good job. At some point, it stops being that we're trying to prove ourselves and we're just competing with really good teams. I think that's where we are.”

The Philies have won eight of their last 11 and much of that run has coincided with Herrera’s re-awakening at the plate.

Herrera was leading the NL in hitting at .361 on May 17. Over the next 23 games, he hit .161 (15 for 93) to fall to .283. He is back up to .308 thanks to a four-hit game Friday night. He homered, stroked three singles and scored four runs.

Over the last eight games, Herrera is 17 for 36 (.472) with six homers and nine RBIs.

Herrera joined some fine company in the third inning when he homered for the fifth straight game. The only other Phillies to do that are Rhys Hoskins, Chase Utley, Bobby Abreu, Mike Schmidt and Dick Allen.

“All I’m thinking about is helping the team win,” Herrera said. “It’s always satisfying to beat great teams like the Nationals. That’s what you play for. Everyone here is a competitor. You always want to see where you're at. It’s a good challenge for us. Luckily for me, I’m hitting the ball well.”

So well that he could end up back in the All-Star Game. Herrera was the lone Phillie in the game two years ago. This year’s game will be played in Washington.

“I’m playing hard. I’m giving my best,” Herrera said. “If it happens it will be great. That’s what you work for.”

Starter Zach Eflin won his fourth straight start with five innings of two-run ball and relievers Austin Davis, Yacksel Rios and Zac Curtis did the rest.

“Every guy who pitched for us today was not on our opening day roster,” Kapler said. “So here we are, in a very important series in the middle of the summer, and we're playing the Nationals. Kudos to our player development department, an excellent job developing these guys. These guys came in and threw strikes and attacked the strike zone.”

The Phillies had 15 hits. They struck out 13 times, but they drew eight walks and pushed Washington starter Tanner Roark from the game at 4 1/3 innings and 113 pitches.

“Our offense played Phillies-style offense,” Kapler said. “What we've been preaching all year long. Deep counts. We worked walks at the end of the counts. We found ways to put the ball in play. And drive the baseball. I thought we did a really good job. Roark is a tough dude. Really impressive to see us grind him out. I was really impressed with the way we worked counts from the very beginning of the game.”

One of those deep counts came in the first inning when Roark fell behind Carlos Santana, 3-0. With one out and runners on second and third, Kapler gave Santana the green light and Santana lined a pitch that was off the plate into left field for two runs.

“Carlos prides himself on drawing walks,” Kapler said. “He wants to have 100 walks a season. It's an excellent goal. That's why he's so valuable whether he's swinging the bat the way he wants to or not.

"However, every once and a while, he's going to get into a 3-0 count with runners on base and he might be the best guy in the lineup to do damage in that moment. And we like him to sometimes be ultra-aggressive. It doesn't mean you go way out of the strike zone to attack. But maybe you expand just a little bit. You know where the barrel is and you're in an advantageous position against the pitcher. I'm really happy that was his decision.”

Santana also had a two-run homer en route to a four-RBI night. Nick Williams drove in three runs. Cesar Hernandez had three hits and Andrew Knapp homered.

Since May 1, Santana has 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 45 games.

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Phillies make statement in blowout of Nationals for 40th win of season

Phillies make statement in blowout of Nationals for 40th win of season

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON — An off day in the schedule didn’t cool off Odubel Herrera’s molten bat. 

Or Carlos Santana’s.

Herrera had four hits and scored four runs to help the quietly heating-up Phillies beat up on the Washington Nationals, 12-2, on Friday night.

Santana drove in four runs.

The Phils had 15 hits, including three homers. They struck out 13 times, but walked eight times.

The win inched the Phillies (40-33) a half game ahead of the Nationals (40-34) in the NL East standings. The Atlanta Braves lead the division.

The Phils have won eight of their last 11 games.

Right-hander Zach Eflin (5-2) earned his fourth straight victory with five innings of two-run ball. He was supported by plenty of offense.

Herrera homered for the fifth straight game and sixth in the last seven. He also singled three times as his batting average climbed back over .300.

Over the last eight games, Herrera is 17 for 36 (.472) with six homers and nine RBIs.

Santana drove in two runs with a first-inning single against Washington starter Tanner Roark. He also blasted a two-run homer in the sixth inning. He also walked twice and scored three runs.

Since May 1, Santana has 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 45 games.

Nick Williams also had a pair of hits and three RBIs.

Andrew Knapp hit the Phillies’ third homer of the game in the ninth inning.

Relievers Austin Davis, Yacksel Rios and Zac Curtis combined on four shutout innings of relief.

Notes
• The Phillies signed veteran infielder Danny Espinosa to a minor-league deal. He will join the Triple A Lehigh Valley team and provide depth. He has been released from three organizations this season — the Yankees in spring training and the Blue Jays and Dodgers during the season.

• Pat Neshek will get some work for Single A Clearwater on Saturday. He has not pitched in the majors this season because of shoulder and forearm injuries. Manager Gabe Kapler said it was possible that Neshek could be back as early as the middle of next week, depending on how he progresses.

• Saturday is an important day for Jerad Eickhoff as he will start throwing his curveball in the bullpen. That pitch had caused discomfort in the fingers on his right hand (see story).

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