Phillies

J.T. Realmuto hustles to Clearwater, can't wait to hit in Philly

J.T. Realmuto hustles to Clearwater, can't wait to hit in Philly

CLEARWATER, Fla. — J.T. Realmuto knew he was going somewhere. So, back home in Oklahoma City, he and his wife packed their bags last week and waited for the phone call that would tell them which way to start driving.

"We didn't want to head to Florida and get traded to [a team that trains in] Arizona," he said with a laugh.

The call came Thursday afternoon. Realmuto had been traded to the Phillies. Go east, young man, you've become the latest star player to escape the rebuilding Miami Marlins.

Realmuto wasted no time joining his new team. He and his wife, Lexi, and infant daughter, Grace, drove through the night Thursday and arrived in Clearwater late Friday afternoon. Pitchers and catchers will go through their first official workout of the spring on Wednesday. Realmuto joined the gang of earlier arrivers for a workout on Saturday morning and has already caught one of Aaron Nola's bullpen sessions.

"This is definitely an organization that I'm proud to play for and I'm happy to be here," he said Tuesday.

Realmuto, who turns 28 in March, is widely hailed as the best catcher in baseball. He made his first All-Star team last season but finished in last place with a stripped-down Marlins team that is still in the early stages of a rebuild. Realmuto saw some of his teammates, including eventual NL MVP Christian Yelich, get traded away last winter and made it known to Marlins officials that he wanted to be dealt to a team with a chance to win. It took the entire offseason and a lot of rumors du jour, but he got his wish.

"It was definitely a different offseason for me and my wife," he said. "We spent more time on social media than we ever have in our lives, just trying to find out if anybody knows any scoop that we didn't know. It was a little stressful, a little different for us, but we're definitely happy with the outcome."

And he's happy he won't be playing half his games in spacious Marlins Park anymore. Realmuto hit .277 with 30 doubles, 21 homers, 74 RBIs and an .825 OPS for the Marlins last season. He did much of his damage on the road, where his OPS was .870, compared to .773 at home.

Over his career, he has hit .309 with a .848 OPS in 280 games on the road and .245 with a .678 OPS in 260 games in Marlins Park.

"It's definitely tough," he said. "I can count too many times that I felt like I crushed a ball in Marlins Park only to watch Odubel Herrera dive in center field and catch it at the wall. So it will be nice to get out of there and — not that Citizens Bank Park is any slouch, you still have to hit the ball well, but it will be nice knowing if you get a ball, you have a chance of getting it out. In Marlins Park, sometimes you felt like you got all of it and you were flying out to center field, not even getting a double out of it. You were running back to the dugout. So it will be nice to not have that situation.

"I felt like some of my issues in Marlins Park were that I knew it was so big and sometimes maybe I tried to do a little too much and got out of my strengths. I'd muscle up and try to hit the ball too far, which over time can really create problems. I think just being able to play in a park that is more hitter-friendly will give me more confidence and I'll try not to do too much and just take things as they come and that will help me out tremendously."

As a visitor to Citizens Bank Park, Realmuto hit .282 with eight doubles, four homers, 13 RBIs and a .788 OPS in 28 games.

Phillies officials believe Realmuto will have as much impact on the team's pitching and defense as he does on the offense. Last week, GM Matt Klentak mentioned that Realmuto's blocking ability would give pitchers confidence to try to get hitters to chase balls in the dirt. Ask Brad Lidge how important that is. He always knew Carlos Ruiz would block his dirt-diving sliders.

"I've definitely studied all of them multiple times just by facing them," Realmuto said of the Phillies pitchers. "There's a lot of great arms on this team, a lot of young guys with electric stuff, guys that are getting better. From top to bottom, this entire rotation has quality, plus stuff and they've all gotten better. I look forward to helping them continue their improvement."

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Phillies' Odubel Herrera does some between-the-ears work — and it shows

Phillies' Odubel Herrera does some between-the-ears work — and it shows

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Despite having just 12 plate appearances coming into Sunday’s Grapefruit League game against the Baltimore Orioles, Odubel Herrera sure looked locked-in.

He singled, doubled and homered on his way to a four-RBI day in the Phillies’ 11-4 win.

Opening day is Thursday.

“I’m ready,” Herrera said. “I want to start the year hot. I want to get going quickly. It’s important to the team and it’s important to me.”

Herrera missed significant time early in camp, first with a hamstring injury then a flu bug that visited a number of players this spring.

Herrera offered up Sunday’s performance at the plate as proof that he didn’t just sit around the athletic trainer’s room for three weeks before playing in his first Grapefruit League game March 16.

He worked in the batting cage, seeing pitches and fine-tuning his swing.

He worked in the weight room.

He also did some between-the-ears work.

While his mates were on the field, he spent some time in the video room with Geoff Miller, the team’s mental skills coach.

“We did exercises where I could visualize the game and kind of not lose time, as if I was still playing,” Herrera said through Diego Ettedgui, the team’s Spanish-language translator.

According to Herrera, Miller cued up videos of some of Herrera’s stellar performances last season.

“Maybe we’d watch a really good at-bat that I had in a game,” Herrera said. “He’d ask me to go through the at-bat. ‘What were you thinking in the at-bat? What was your approach? Try to visualize yourself in that moment again. How can you repeat what you did there because you were successful?’ Little tactics to build confidence.”

Herrera, 27, is one of the Phillies’ most talented players. He made the NL All-Star team in 2016 and signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension later that year. In addition to being talented, however, Herrera is also inconsistent. Last season was a case in point. He hit .361 with a .989 OPS in his first 40 games. Over the final two months of the season, he hit just .189 with a .530 OPS and lost playing time to Roman Quinn.

Herrera’s poor finish last season earned him a mandate from general manager Matt Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler: Get into better physical shape. Herrera reported to camp down 20 pounds in February. The bosses also wanted to see Herrera become more focused mentally. Herrera said he’s embracing the mental side of the game more now.

“I feel like I need to take advantage of everything that can help me or the team,” he said.

Kapler has seen improved focus in Herrera’s behind-the-scenes work this spring — and on the field Sunday.

“It’s really interesting how his performance coincides with his engagement so strongly,” Kapler said. “When he’s locked in from every angle, he just plays great baseball. He looks like one of the best players on the field all the time and I think that’s what is happening right now for him.

“We want to maintain this level of focus. It’s wonderful to do it in spring training. Our expectation is that he continues to maintain that focus and concentration and that high level of play throughout the season.”

If Herrera needs a reason to be motivated to maintain his sharp mental focus, there is one getting at-bats at the minor-league complex. Quinn will open the season on the disabled list, but he won’t be out long. There is no landing spot in left or right field for Herrera. Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper are going to play. If Herrera wants to stay in the lineup, he has to lock down the center field job with more performances like Sunday’s.

We’ll begin finding out if he can do that Thursday.

“I feel like this will be a really good year for me and the Phillies and hopefully we can make something special happen,” Herrera said.

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Rhys Hoskins is still sore; Phillies remain confident he will be ready for opening day

Rhys Hoskins is still sore; Phillies remain confident he will be ready for opening day

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Even after backing off a tentative plan of playing Rhys Hoskins on Sunday, the Phillies remain optimistic that he will be ready to play in Thursday’s season opener.

“The game plan is for him to play [Monday] and be ready for opening day,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We feel confident in that.”

Hoskins, the team’s first baseman and cleanup hitter, has not played since last Sunday when he hurt his left shoulder taking an awkward swing. An MRI showed no structural damage and Hoskins has continued to do drills. The Phils had hoped to play Hoskins on Sunday, but he was held out of the game against Baltimore. He was able to take batting practice.

“There’s been steady improvement but there’s still a little bit of soreness,” Kapler said. “Rhys is very important to us and our season and we’re always going to lean toward the side of caution, expecially this close to opening day. We wanted to give him some extra time to improve.”

Hoskins said much of the same: There’s still a little soreness, he’s improving and he’ll be ready for opening day. He said he was confident that he would play in the team’s final Grapefruit League game on Monday afternoon against Tampa Bay in Clearwater.

The Phillies’ lineup Sunday reflected some concern for Hoskins. Maikel Franco moved over from third base and started at first for the second time in three games. He is essentially the team’s backup first baseman. Scott Kingery started at third base. If Hoskins were to miss any time, this would be how the Phillies would cover him. At the moment, however, the team is confident that Hoskins will not miss any time.

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