PHILS INSIDER

J.T. Realmuto sits as Phillies seek lineup protection for Bryce Harper

PHILS INSIDER

After going 0 for 8 with four strikeouts the previous two games (both losses) in Milwaukee, J.T. Realmuto was not in the Phillies' starting lineup for the first game of a four-game series against Colorado on Thursday night.

"Just a day," manager Joe Girardi said. "He's played every day here. He'll play the next three."

Rafael Marchan started at catcher and Brad Miller at first base. Realmuto has been seeing time at both positions.

With 23 games remaining, the Phillies trailed first-place Atlanta by 2½ games in the NL East. They were three back in the wild card race

Girardi admitted it was difficult not to have Realmuto in the lineup for such a crucial game.

"But at some point, you get diminished returns, right?" he said. "And you hope that giving him a day today maybe freshens him up and he gets hot. We gave (Jean Segura) a day and he came back and got a bunch of hits. That's kind of the thing. Because you can run people into the ground. And, as a catcher, obviously, your legs take a lot of the brunt, and, if you don't have legs as a hitter, it can be difficult."

Realmuto swung a hot bat during the Phillies' eight-game winning streak in early August. In 22 games since then, he's hitting .213 with five doubles, a triple, a homer and seven RBIs. He has struck out 26 times and walked nine. His OPS over that span is just. 638.

Girardi used Realmuto as the leadoff man Tuesday night in Milwaukee and as the cleanup man Wednesday night. Neither spot produced results. So the next step is a day off.

 

Realmuto's struggles were magnified Wednesday night when Brewers reliever Devin Williams walked Bryce Harper on four pitches in a one-run game with two outs and a man on first in the eighth. Williams wasn't going to let Harper beat him and the decision paid off when he struck out Realmuto to end the threat.

The walk was one of three that Harper received after belting his 29th homer in the first inning.

The Phils have had trouble coming up with a formidable cleanup hitter behind Harper in Rhys Hoskins' absence. Miller got the assignment on Thursday night.

It would not be a surprise if teams continue to resist throwing Harper strikes.

"It could (happen)," Girardi said. "But I think teams have always pitched him carefully because of his ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark. And that happens, but guys behind him are going to have to make them pay."

It would also help if the Phillies could put consistent traffic on the bases in front of Harper. That would take away open bags. Harper often hits with the bases empty. Phillies leadoff hitters rank 29th in the majors with a .299 on-base percentage. The team's No. 2 hitters rank 28th in the majors with a .311 OBP.

"Sometimes we talk about all the pressure on the guy behind him," Girardi said. "It's also on the guys in front of him to get on because, if you've got first and second, you don't want to just walk him to get bases loaded or that sort of thing. So, that guy on first is really important."

Girardi has been impressed with the way Harper has maintained a disciplined approach as teams have pitched him off the plate.

"You take it as a compliment," Girardi said. "I think he's done a really good job of not getting frustrated. We've seen him remain patient and have good swings and swing at strikes and take his walks when he needs to so I think he's handled it extremely well, actually, and we need that to continue because we don't need to give people outs. I think he'll continue to handle it well."

As far as Realmuto's struggles, Girardi insisted they were not related to the player's sore right shoulder.

"He actually feels better," Girardi said. "You watch him throw between innings. He shakes it less."

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