Matt Klentak believes Phillies got 'one of the top shortstops in the game' in Jean Segura

Matt Klentak believes Phillies got 'one of the top shortstops in the game' in Jean Segura

The Phillies still have miles to go before they can be considered a surefire contender.

But they got better on Monday, thanks to the acquisition of two-time All-Star shortstop Jean Segura.

“He is one of the top shortstops in the game, both offensively and defensively,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said shortly after wrapping up the five-player deal with the Mariners (see story).

“Shortstop is an area where we didn’t get a great deal of production last. We think Jean Segura at shortstop moves the needle in terms of win expectancy, probably several wins, and I think that’s important as we try to turn an 80-win team into a playoff contender.

“Shortstop was an area we wanted to improve and we believe we’ve done that. Jean Segura is a really good major league player.”

Segura is an above-average defender.

But offense is what mostly made him attractive to the Phillies, who finished last in the NL in hits (1270) and batting average (.234) last season.

Segura, who turns 29 in March, is an excellent hitter, a contact machine who led the majors with 203 hits in 2016. He hit .308 with an .803 OPS over the last three seasons.

Last year, Phillies shortstops hit .235 with a .651 OPS. Those marks ranked 27th and 28th, respectively, in the majors.

“This was about making the 2019 Phillies better,” Klentak said.

The Phillies parted with former first-round pick J.P. Crawford and Carlos Santana, both infielders. Santana’s departure clears the way for Rhys Hoskins to move back to first base after struggling defensively in left field in 2018. Hoskins was the worst leftfielder in baseball, according to several sources of advanced data. The Phils will be better defensively in the outfield in 2019.

And who will be in the outfield? Right now, the Phils have Roman Quinn, Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr. More additions are expected.

“We’re still in a position where we can explore outfield improvements,” Klentak said.

Segura will make just under $15 million in 2019 and reliever Juan Nicasio, acquired in the deal as a Seattle salary dump, will make just over $9 million. The Phillies have plenty of financial flexibility and remain in the hunt for top free agents. They would like to sign Manny Machado to play third base. They would consider Bryce Harper for the outfield if they don’t sign Machado. They have made an offer to lefty Patrick Corbin, who is expected to pick a destination this week, and remain interested in relievers Zach Britton and Andrew Miller.

“We continue to explore deals in all areas knowing we have the payroll flexibility to address things either in a signing or a trade,” Klentak said.

He would not address specific free agents.

The addition of Segura means that Scott Kingery, who played shortstop most often last year, will move into the super-utility role that the team envisioned for him last spring. That could change if second baseman Cesar Hernandez is traded. In that case, Kingery would become the second baseman.

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Aaron Nola slipped in one key area last season and is out to improve on it in 2020

Aaron Nola slipped in one key area last season and is out to improve on it in 2020

CLEARWATER — Aaron Nola did not have a bad season in 2019 by any stretch of the imagination. He made every start and went 12-7 with a 3.87 ERA. There are pitchers all over baseball who would love to have a season like that.

But it's indisputable that Nola's 2019 season was not nearly as good as his 2018 season. In 2018, he was brilliant. He went 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA. He finished third in the National League Cy Young voting.

Nola's WHIP in 2018 was a sterling 0.975.

Last season, it was 1.265.

After pitching two scoreless innings in his spring debut Sunday, Nola reflected on his 2019 season.

"I didn't get ahead," he said.

He's right.

Check out the numbers.

In 2018, Nola threw a first-pitch strike 69.4 percent of the time. That ranked second in the majors to St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas (71.1).

Last season, Nola's first-pitch strike percentage slipped to 62.3. That ranked 39th in the majors, well behind leader Max Scherzer (70.4) and teammate Zach Eflin, who ranked fourth (68.6).

Nola ended up walking 3.6 batters per nine innings last season, up from 2.5 in his big year of 2018.

So, it's no surprise what Nola is working on this spring.

"Just fill up the strike zone and throw the ball down a lot," he said. "That's kind of the key. Get ahead of guys and stay ahead of guys. I just want to focus on having that tunnel vision around the plate."

If you've paid attention to the things Phillies pitchers have said this spring and even late last season, you know they weren't always comfortable with the practices of former manager Gabe Kapler and former pitching coach Chris Young. The theme in this camp, at least among the pitchers, can be summed up in one word.


"I'm just going to simplify some things and throw my fastball for strikes," Nola said. "I don't want to throw too hard too early in the count."

Nola pointed to his outing Sunday. He allowed a hit to open the game then got a double-play ball with a strike down in the zone.

"I want to try to get ground balls and I felt like I did that today," Nola said. "I got a double play and it's satisfying to get double plays."

Nola, 26, has so far enjoyed bonding with Bryan Price, his fourth pitching coach in as many seasons. Price espouses some traditional philosophies, like keeping the ball down. In that regard, he is similar to Bob McClure and Rick Kranitz, two former Phillies pitching coaches that Nola thrived under.

"That's been my mindset ever since I started to pitch and it is really stressed now," he said of pitching down in the zone. "I think that's what pitching should be and that's what we've always learned how to do.

"I think the state of the game is to simplify things and get back to that part of it. I look forward to my one-on-one bullpen sessions with (Price). When you have a bad game or not as good of a game as you want to go back to basics in the bullpen sessions. I've had previous pitching coaches like that and it has helped me a lot. Just to simplify things is going to go a long way."

Nola believes if he does a better job getting ahead early in counts that his curveball and particularly his changeup will become better weapons for him in 2020. His changeup blossomed under McClure and Kranitz during their stints in Philadelphia.

"My changeup wasn't as consistent as it was in previous years," Nola said. "I am just trying to get back to throwing that for strikes down more.

"When I'm throwing everything for strikes, I have three pitches."

Manager Joe Girardi has not named an opening day starter yet, but Nola is expected to be the guy when he does.

And when Nola takes the mound March 26 in Miami, his goal will be this:

Strike 1.

That's a big reason he had a great season in 2018 and why he slipped some in 2019.

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Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies ace Aaron Nola made his first start of the spring Sunday while their new No. 2, Zack Wheeler, is slated to debut Saturday in Dunedin against the Blue Jays.

Wheeler has been throwing to hitters at the Phils' minor-league complex.

Fifth starter candidates remain in focus as Vince Velasquez makes his first start on Monday against the Orioles in Clearwater.

Nick Pivetta, another candidate, made his first start Saturday and showed a potential new weapon.

Lefty Ranger Suarez is being stretched out as a starter and could be a dark-horse candidate for the fifth job. He will get a start Tuesday at Bradenton while Jake Arrieta starts in Clearwater that day. Suarez pitched well out of the bullpen last year but was groomed as a starter in the minors.

Zach Eflin will make his spring debut Wednesday against the Twins in Fort Myers.

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