Phillies have a chance to see players in future roles over final 17 games

Phillies have a chance to see players in future roles over final 17 games

The final 17 games of the season will allow the Phillies to take a look at some young players, some players who need to recoup lost time and some players worthy of being evaluated at different positions or in new roles.

To wit:

• Jerad Eickhoff was the team’s top starting pitcher two years ago. He has dealt with injuries the past two seasons and has not made a start in the majors this season. Getting him a start or two could be good for his mindset heading into the offseason and give the front office a hint of where he might fit in 2019. Getting Eickhoff a start would also allow the Phils to trim some innings from other starters such as Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta. All have reached career-high innings totals.

• It hasn’t been the year anyone expected for J.P. Crawford. The team traded veteran shortstop Freddy Galvis to clear a spot for Crawford but he failed to secure the regular job early in the season. He struggled offensively and defensively, ended up on the disabled list, got some looks at third base then ended up on the disabled list again before being sent to the minors. Crawford is back and got his first start at shortstop since June on Wednesday night and had three of the Phillies’ five hits, including a homer. Look for Crawford to get more time at shortstop and possibly third base as the Phils keep their options open for the offseason. It’s quite possible that Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez will be moved in the offseason and that will create an infield shuffle. It’s possible that next year’s infield could consist of Rhys Hoskins at first base, Scott Kingery at second, Crawford at third and Manny Machado at shortstop. The Phils still plan a big run at Machado.

• According to sources, Phillies officials have at least discussed the idea of improving their outfield defense by trading Carlos Santana and moving Hoskins back to first base, which would create a spot in left field for Roman Quinn and Adam Haseley, who could be knocking on the door by the middle of next summer. Getting Hoskins some time at first base down the stretch might be a harbinger of this.

• Kingery has improved greatly at shortstop and hats off to him for that. He has shown mental toughness surviving a difficult season and that will benefit him in the future. Getting him some looks at second base, his best position, in the final weeks would seem to make some sense because it still feels like his long-term position with the club.

• Last year at this time, Phillies officials started mulling the idea of converting Seranthony Dominguez from starter to reliever. It made sense because Dominguez was basically a two-pitch guy with power stuff. A year later, you have to wonder if the Phils are contemplating a similar transition for Enyel De Los Santos, the pitcher they got from San Diego for Freddy Galvis. De Los Santos had a strong season as a starter at Triple A and is in the majors now. His breaking ball is inconsistent, but he has a plus fastball and a usable changeup. De Los Santos pitched two scoreless innings of relief and struck out two on Wednesday night. His fastball averaged 95.8 mph and topped out at 98. After the game, manager Gabe Kapler said De Los Santos showed a “good fastball-changeup combination. We asked him to rely on those two pitches, not exclusively, but certainly looking at those two pitches as a way to come out of the bullpen.” We’ll probably see more of this as the Phillies pinpoint De Los Santos’ future role.

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Will we see Scott Kingery start in center field regularly?

Will we see Scott Kingery start in center field regularly?

Sunday was Scott Kingery’s first career start in center field and it came in his first game back. Kingery was sidelined for a month with a hamstring strain that was worse than the ones suffered by Jean Segura and Odubel Herrera. 

Kingery fared well in his return. There were no issues in the field, and at the plate he went 1 for 3 with a walk and a stolen base. The hit was a smooth line drive to left field in his first at-bat. 

With Herrera not providing much at the plate (.234 batting average, .297 OBP), Kingery will continue to see time in center field. It doesn’t make sense right now to sit Cesar Hernandez for him given how hot Hernandez has been for the last month. But Herrera and Maikel Franco are different stories. 

Kingery will not start Monday night in Chicago. The Phillies are monitoring his workload with him fresh off the IL. He will, however, likely start multiple games in the Cubs series. The Phillies face lefties Jose Quintana, Cole Hamels and Jon Lester in consecutive games Tuesday through Thursday. Seems like a logical spot to sit Herrera for Kingery. 

Kingery was hitting .406 when he was sidelined. He started the season looking like a completely different player than last season. 

“The most important thing (while I was out) was trying to keep my timing,” Kingery said after the Phillies’ 7-5 win over the Rockies Sunday. “As soon as I could pick up the bat I was in the cage, working on my swing, fastball machine, doing whatever I could, seeing live arms BP-wise and stood in on a few bullpens just to see some different pitches. That's about all you can do when you're hurt. I feel good now.”

Defensively, Kingery will face some adjustments. Center field is not his natural position nor does he have extensive experience there. But his speed, range and instincts give him a chance to be an above-average defender there. 

“I think the main goal is my arm slot has always been for an infielder,” Kingery said. “So I have to work at getting a little more over the top and get a little more carry on the ball. I'd say that's one of the most important things for me right now.”

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Bryce Harper back to feeling like Bryce Harper as Phillies head to the Midwest with something to prove

Bryce Harper back to feeling like Bryce Harper as Phillies head to the Midwest with something to prove

For a little while, all of those "What's wrong with Bryce Harper?" pieces can be shelved. 

Harper's not on the verge of breaking out of his slump. He's already broken out of it.

"It's not a close thing, I think he's there," manager Gabe Kapler said after the Phillies completed a weekend sweep of the visiting Rockies with a 7-5 win.

Harper had the game-winning home run, a 404-foot blast into the Phillies' bullpen to untie the game in the sixth inning (see observations). It was his second straight game with a homer and gave him four extra-base hits in his last three games. He's raised his slugging percentage by 47 points over that span.

"He might not get two hits and a home run tomorrow, but that doesn't mean he's not where he needs to be," Kapler said. "I think the home run that he hit to center field (Saturday) was the turning point and the moment where he started to feel more like Bryce."

In the all-important sixth inning Sunday, J.T. Realmuto tied the game with a pinch-hit home run off of a right-handed reliever and Harper followed three batters later with the deciding home run against a left-handed reliever. The inning highlighted how the Phillies' best hitters are equipped to deal with specialists from both sides. 

Realmuto's longball came against veteran reliever Bryan Shaw, who has lasted 10 years in the bigs because of his ability to retire right-handed hitters. Coming into Sunday, righties were 8 for 58 against Shaw, hitting .138.

Realmuto, like Rhys Hoskins, has reverse career platoon splits. Realmuto's hit .286 against righties with a .777 OPS compared to .250 vs. lefties with a .730 OPS. From 2016-18, Jean Segura and Realmuto ranked second and third in the majors, respectively, batting .292 and .291 against right-handed breaking balls.

The pitch Realmuto hit out from Shaw was not a breaking ball but a changeup. It was his first career pinch-hit home run and it came a few days after Kapler noted that Realmuto's power should be coming based on the quality of hard contact he'd been making.

Harper, meanwhile, took Dunn deep for the second time in a month. He is hitting .304/.407/.537 this season against lefties with six doubles and three homers.

Rare is the left-handed power hitter who doesn't have a major hole in his swing against lefties. Harper is that rare lefty. Last season, he had nine homers, 12 doubles and an .857 OPS against southpaws. The pace he's on this year is even better.

Harper knows he's faced Dunn a ton but doesn't pay attention to his career numbers against him or many other pitchers for that matter.

"He's always been a tough matchup for me," Harper said of Dunn. "Since I was younger, 2012, faced him my rookie year in the East when he was with Miami. Being able to face a guy like that, see his tendencies ... got him today.

"I just go with the feel. I don't really look at (the batter vs. pitcher matchup). Any given day, you could go out there and punch me out in three pitches, it's part of the game. Just gotta keep going. Any given day could be different."

In the span of three days, the Phillies removed the bad taste of the Brewers series from their mouths. They followed a season-high three straight losses with three straight wins. They head to Chicago leading the Braves by 2½ games, the Mets by 6½ games and the Nationals by 7½ games, pending Sunday night's result.

In Chicago, Harper's sample size of 54 plate appearances against lefties will grow. The Phillies face three straight lefties Tuesday through Thursday in Jose Quintana, Cole Hamels and Jon Lester.

The Phillies aren't looking past the Cubs, who are the hottest team in baseball. But they definitely have the following series circled.

"We're really looking forward to getting back at Milwaukee," said Jerad Eickhoff, who started Sunday's game. 

"We didn't put our best foot forward against them. We're gonna take care of Chicago first and go into Milwaukee with a chip on our shoulder."

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