Phillies

Phillies break camp, head home with highest expectations in years

Phillies break camp, head home with highest expectations in years

On his last day in Florida, Gabe Kapler put the top down and took his new and improved lineup for a spin.

The Phillies manager used what figures to be his opening day lineup — minus starting pitcher Aaron Nola — for the team’s final spring-training game Monday.

The unit — with a little help from minor-leaguer Malvin Matos — pulled out a curtain-closing, 3-2, win over the Tampa Bay Rays at sun-splashed Spectrum Field. Matos, up for the day from minor-league camp, won it with a walk-off homer in the bottom of ninth and everybody left happy.

The new season starts Thursday when the Phillies host the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of 162. Nola, who finished third in National League Cy Young voting last season, will oppose right-hander Julio Teheran.

The Phillies added two former NL MVPs, a former NL hits leader and the best catcher in baseball this winter and expectations are high for this club that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2011, its last winning season.

Kapler had his game face on after Monday's spring finale.

“I think we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I think this team has a ton of potential, but we have to stay focused every single day.

“We have to come to the ballpark every day with a game plan of doing the little things right, running the bases hard and executing fundamentals. If we do that, we can do good things.”

The Phils will send Nick Pivetta to the mound in the second game of the series on Saturday. He will face rookie right-hander Bryse Wilson. Jake Arrieta will start Sunday night’s nationally televised game against another Atlanta rookie right-hander, Kyle Wright.

The Phillies will play their fourth game of the season Apr. 2 at Washington and send Zach Eflin to the mound. That should be a wild scene with Bryce Harper, the hood ornament on Kapler’s new and improved lineup, returning to the city in which he played for seven seasons.

Harper, a former NL MVP, anchored Kapler’s lineup in the No. 3 spot Monday. He will be right back there Thursday and could stay there all season as Kapler, with improved personnel, has said he’ll try to keep guys in consistent spots in the order this year.

Kapler’s sneak-peek lineup looked like this Monday:

Andrew McCutchen LF
Jean Segura SS
Bryce Harper LF
Rhys Hoskins 1B
J.T. Realmuto C
Odubel Herrera CF
Cesar Hernandez 2B
Maikel Franco 3B

Last season, Hernandez was the Phillies’ primary leadoff man and Franco often batted in the middle of the order. They significantly strengthen the bottom third of the order. Franco homered on Monday and Hernandez doubled.

Four of the top five spots in the batting order were occupied by newcomers, McCutchen, another former MVP, at the top followed by former NL hits champ Segura and Harper. Realmuto caught and hit fifth.

“It’s exciting,” Arrieta said of the lineup. “More than anything I think it puts a little fear into the opposition. I don’t know if you call it fear, it’s just maybe a little more preparation goes into facing a lineup like we have this year.

“With the guys we’ve got, there’s really not a break in our lineup. It’s going to be fun.”

Arrieta started Monday and struck out eight over six innings in his final spring tune-up. Pivetta pitched into the sixth inning in a minor-league game and struck out nine.

Over the weekend, Nola said: “We have a team to make the playoffs, but we still have to go out there and win and we still have to go out there and compete. Expectations are better than no expectations and that’s going to raise our game up, I believe.”

Arrieta concurred.

“Of course, I think we're a playoff team,” he said Monday. “You look at the team we had last year, we were borderline. We had our chances. Some youth, some inexperience, maybe some hangover from a tough series carried on to the next vs. the cliché of turning the page quick. This group is much better suited to deal with adversity.

“The Braves doing what they did to us last year in winning the division, not that there has to be a chip on our shoulder, but a lot of guys in here remember how it shook down for us, the way the season finished, and we don’t want that to happen again.”

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Will more changeups equal more fun for Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta in 2020?

Will more changeups equal more fun for Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta in 2020?

LAKELAND, Fla. — Nick Pivetta says it doesn’t matter what role he pitches in this season, that he just wants to have fun playing baseball — that’s something that was missing last season — and help the Phillies win games.
 
But deep down inside, Pivetta desires another chance to pitch in the starting rotation. That’s why he spent his off-season working on his changeup.
 
“Every day,” he said. 
 
“I need a fourth pitch to make this starting rotation,” he added. “For me to take my next step, that's the pitch I'm going to have to have.”
 
Pivetta made his spring debut in the Phillies’ exhibition opener Saturday against the Detroit Tigers. In two innings of work, he threw 35 pitches. Seven of them were changeups. He will continue to work on the pitch all spring as he competes for the fifth starter’s job against Vince Velasquez and dark horse candidate Ranger Suarez.
 
Pivetta is 18-28 with a 5.42 ERA in 71 starts for the Phillies over the last three seasons. The clock is ticking on the 27-year-old right-hander. It’s time for him to turn some of his huge potential into consistent performance. The Phillies thought they were going to get that from Pivetta last year. They awarded him with the second start of the season, but he was sent to the minors just a few weeks later. He eventually made it back to the majors and bounced between the rotation and the bullpen. Along the way, he butted heads with manager Gabe Kapler and struggled to adapt to some of the philosophies of pitching coach Chris Young. Baseball wasn’t much fun. It never is when you have a 5.38 ERA.
 
It’s a clean slate for Pivetta now. Joe Girardi is in as manager. Bryan Price is in as pitching coach. Pivetta is upbeat.
 
“I just want to have fun playing baseball,” he said after his outing Saturday. The Phillies and Tigers played to an 8-8 tie on a chilly Florida day.
 
Using a more compact delivery and shorter arm action — he said he’s simply trying to be “more efficient” — Pivetta enjoyed a 1-2-3 first inning with his fastball reaching 96 mph. He allowed two doubles, two singles and two runs in the second inning. Two of the hits were soft.
 
Girardi has said the competition for the fifth job won’t begin in earnest until the pitchers have made a couple of starts and broken in their spikes. But Girardi liked what he saw of Pivetta his first time out.
 
“His velocity was good,” Girardi said. “He used his fastball down in the zone and up in the zone well. I thought his curveball had bite to it. His slider was pretty consistent. He threw some changeups. I thought his tempo was great. To me, you can really build off that. I don’t necessarily look at the early numbers, right? He didn’t walk people. He was ahead in the count. You start doing that and your location gets better as you get more innings under your belt and you’ve got something.”
 
Girardi had watched a lot of video of Pivetta. He liked the more compact delivery.
 
“I think his fastball is going to get on people, especially as he starts to use his off-speed more," Girardi said.
 
Girardi also liked what he saw of Pivetta’s spring project, the changeup.
 
“I think it’s a weapon for him that he needs to learn how to use to right-handers and left-handers,” the manager said. “I think he’ll continue to develop it. We’ve got time to develop it down here and we’ll see how it goes.”
 
Pivetta lost confidence in his changeup last season and threw it just 1.2 percent of the time. When he landed in the bullpen, he threw mostly just fastballs and curveballs.
 
So far in camp, pitchers have raved about their dealings with Price, whose style is to have pitchers work to their strengths. 
 
Pivetta recalled his first conversation with Price this winter. The two spoke about the importance of improving the pitcher’s changeup.
 
“With Price, when I first talked to him on the phone, something that really clicked with me was just making sure the pitch is down in the zone,” Pivetta said. “Just make sure it's down. Let the pitch do its work.
 
“Bryan is really, really good. I've really enjoyed Bryan. He has a lot of really good knowledge. I look forward to continuing to get to know him more on a personal level and really dive into the knowledge he has. He has such a vast and long history in major league baseball.”
 
The Phils host Pittsburgh in Clearwater on Sunday. Aaron Nola will start. Velasquez will get the ball Monday against Baltimore.

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Phillies, J.T. Realmuto move on to Act 2 of contract drama

Phillies, J.T. Realmuto move on to Act 2 of contract drama

CLEARWATER, Fla. — All along, J.T. Realmuto's salary arbitration hearing was just going to be the first act in one of the biggest storylines of the spring in Phillies camp.

Regardless of whether the arbitration panel ruled in favor of Realmuto or against him, he was going to be well paid in 2020.

Realmuto ended up losing the case but will make $10 million this season, a 69 percent raise from last season and a record amount for a catcher eligible for salary arbitration. 

Realmuto, who had sought to make $12.4 million, said he was not disappointed with the amount of money he will make, but in the arbitration system that views catchers through a different prism than other position players.

"It's so outdated," he said. "There's a separate catchers' market. That's what the team's main case was on, that you can't go outside of the catchers' market. But if you line my numbers up with position players, that's where our figure comes into play. It's never happened before where catchers go out of the catchers' market, but it's not in the rules that says you can't. The team knows that they had a pretty strong case just for that and they took advantage of it.

"I wanted to do something for future catchers and that didn't work out for us. In that aspect, I'm disappointed, but I'm not disappointed in my salary."

Now that the hearing has come and gone, the Phillies and Realmuto will turn their attention to negotiating a long-term contract extension.

Realmuto said the hearing left him with no ill will toward the club and he's still open to a deal.

"What we went through in arbitration, what we went through in the hearing doesn't change anything from my outlook," the All-Star catcher said.

The stakes will be a lot higher in Act 2 of this contract drama because Realmuto can become a free agent after this season.

The Phillies have said they'd like to get a deal done by opening day so that gives them about five weeks.

With the ability to walk at the end of the season, Realmuto has more leverage in extension talks than he did in arbitration. But playing out the season would come with risks such as health and poor performance. Are they risks Realmuto would be willing to take?

"I haven't really thought about that yet, to be honest," he said. "Me and my agent have been focused on arbitration for the last couple of months. We haven't had those conversations. We'll have those conversations and relay them to (general manager Matt Klentak)."

Realmuto, who turns 29 in March, is expected to seek a deal that could approach or beat $23 million per season — that would match Joe Mauer's record average annual value for a catcher — over five or six years.

He was asked if a record AAV was a goal.

"Again, I haven't even spoken with my agent about that," he said. "I have no idea what's going to happen. I can't predict the future. I don't know where we're going to go with it. Obviously, we'll have those discussions. Whether it matches up or not, that's to be determined."

Realmuto went through a full workout Friday. After taking batting practice at Spectrum Field, he stopped and chatted with John Middleton, the team's managing partner, who had been watching quietly off to the side. The two men talked for about 10 minutes and walked off the field together. Maybe they were talking about who has the best grouper on Clearwater Beach. Maybe they weren't.

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