Phillies

Phillies Phodder: The schedule toughens, Hoskins' anniversary, Hector's rebound, a prospect to watch

Phillies Phodder: The schedule toughens, Hoskins' anniversary, Hector's rebound, a prospect to watch

SAN DIEGO — The Phillies open a three-game series against the San Diego Padres on Friday night and they really need to make some hay against the team with the worst record in the National League.

The Phillies enter Friday leading the Atlanta Braves by a game in the NL East and the Washington Nationals by 5½ games.

This race has been so close that it would not be a surprise to see it go down to the wire. The Phillies and Braves play each other seven times over the final two weeks of the season.

But the Nationals remain dangerous, talented and experienced and they have the potential to wreak havoc on the division race as they square off with the Phillies six times in the final two weeks of this month and three more times in September.

The Nationals are only one of the teams that will make the Phillies’ upcoming schedule so difficult.

The Phils play Boston, the best team in the majors, on Tuesday and Wednesday at home. The Phils split a two-game series in Boston last week, but it took exceptional pitching for that to happen because the Red Sox's pitching held the Phils to four runs in two games. The Phils will miss Chris Sale for the second time and that’s a good thing. The way things line up, the Phillies will be looking for Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez to stop the majors’ most high-powered offense.

On paper, the schedule looks to briefly soften up after the Sox leave town and the New York Mets come in for a five-game series that includes a Thursday doubleheader. But make no mistake, that won’t be an easy series for the Phillies. They are scheduled to see both Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom and those two can handcuff any opponent.

After the Mets, nine of the Phillies’ next 12 games will be against Washington and the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs.

So the Phillies are in for a big test as the schedule is about to get really tough.

Better get some wins in San Diego.

***

The Phillies began their current six-game road trip by losing two of three in Arizona.

Offense was a big problem for the Phils in Phoenix as they scored just seven runs in three games and were shut out on four hits on Wednesday. The Phils faced three formidable arms — Zack Godley, Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin — in Arizona. They will not face that caliber of pitching in San Diego. In fact, the pitching matchups dramatically favor the Phillies, who need to come out of Petco Park with a series win.

The Padres will use three rookie starters in the series. They will send Jacob Nix to the mound Friday night for his big-league debut against Zach Eflin. Walker Lockett will make his third big-league start on Saturday night. He will face Aaron Nola. In his first 10 2/3 innings in the majors, Lockett has allowed 17 hits, eight walks and 11 runs. Rookie Joey Lucchesi goes against Jake Arrieta in the series finale Sunday. Lucchesi pitched well — 5 2/3 innings, two earned runs, zero walks, nine Ks — in beating the Cubs his last time out. Arrieta has been on a roll. He has allowed just 14 hits and three earned runs over 21 innings in his last three starts.

***

Eflin is really looking forward to Friday night’s start. He is coming off eight innings of three-run ball in a win over the Marlins. And he will be facing for the first time the team that drafted him in 2012 and traded him away in December 2014. In that trade, Eflin was funneled through the Dodgers and ended up with the Phillies in a Ruben Amaro Jr. deal that sent Jimmy Rollins to Los Angeles. Eflin was actually the first trade of a Phillies’ rebuild that is just now bearing fruit.

“It’s going to be awesome,” Eflin said of facing the Padres. “I’ve been wanting to throw against them for three years. It’s a competitive thing. You want to face the team that traded you away. I’m looking forward to it.”

***

A word on Hector Neris: He is gradually rebuilding his shattered confidence at Triple A. Since being sent to Triple A on July 3, he has pitched in 16 games and allowed just nine hits and three runs in 15 2/3 innings over that span. All the runs came in one outing. He has 26 strikeouts and nine walks.

Neris struggled mightily with the big club in late May and June and needed to go down to work on command of his splitter and get his confidence back.

Turns out he needed to work on something else: The club believes Neris was tipping his pitches through the positioning of his hands and that can spell disaster when a hitter can eliminate 50 percent of a two-pitch pitcher’s repertoire. Neris has addressed the flaw. In September, both he and Edubray Ramos will deepen a bullpen that has been stellar since July 1. 

***

Friday marks the one-year anniversary of Rhys Hoskins’ major-league debut. In 155 games, he has hit .257 with a .371 on-base percentage and a .504 slugging percentage. He has 35 doubles, 40 homers and 120 RBIs.

That’ll play, right?

***

The Phillies will have a decision to make on prospect Jose Pujols this fall. It is a much different one than they contemplated last fall.

Pujols hit just .194 with a .552 OPS and 150 strikeouts in 325 at-bats at High A Clearwater season. Pujols was eligible for the Rule 5 draft last winter, but the team didn’t even think about protecting him on the 40-man roster. Releasing him was more of a consideration.

The Phillies gave Pujols a $540,000 signing bonus in the summer of 2012. That kind of money buys a player a little more time and Pujols has capitalized. The 22-year-old rightfielder from the Dominican Republic has shown signs of maturing as a person and a hitter and put himself back on track with one of the best offensive seasons in the organization. He was leading the Florida State League in hitting (.301) and OPS (.887) and was third in homers (18) and RBIs (58) when he was promoted to Double A Reading last week. He took right to the new level with eight hits, including two homers (one was a grand slam), in his first 18 at-bats.

Pujols is 6-5, 205 pounds. He has a plus arm in right field and power to all fields. At his age, with his tools and the numbers he is putting up this season, it is difficult to imagine the Phillies not protecting him on the 40-man roster this winter and buying some more time to see just what they have. Right now, it looks pretty good.

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Phillies finally add to bullpen by agreeing to deal with Drew Storen

Phillies finally add to bullpen by agreeing to deal with Drew Storen

The Phillies finally added a reliever, agreeing this week to a minor-league deal with former Nationals closer Drew Storen, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale.

Storen had some really good seasons with the Nationals at the beginning of the decade. From 2010-15, he had a 3.02 ERA in 355 appearances, most of which were high-leverage.

He had an unceremonious exit from D.C. after two poor postseason showings. He allowed the game-tying and game-winning runs to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLDS, and allowed a game-tying run in the 2014 NLDS as well.

When the Nationals acquired Jonathan Papelbon from the Phillies for Nick Pivetta in the summer of 2015, it led to the narrative that Storen's confidence was shaken and he was never the same.

Storen was traded to Toronto a calendar year after the Nats got Papelbon, and he's since spent time in the organizations of the Blue Jays, Reds and Royals. He underwent Tommy John surgery late in 2017 and has barely pitched the last two seasons, making just nine appearances in the minors with the Royals, all at Double A.

Storen is a classic buy-low reliever. Maybe things click in spring training and he makes the team and can provide the Phillies another quality right-handed relief option. The odds are probably against it, but the Phillies do have plenty of open roles in their bullpen.

The big wild-card in the Phils' bullpen is Seranthony Dominguez, who missed most of last season with arm injuries but could be a much-needed and useful weapon if he can revert to his 2018 form.

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J.T. Realmuto will fight for future generations in salary arbitration case against Phillies

J.T. Realmuto will fight for future generations in salary arbitration case against Phillies

More than once last summer, J.T. Realmuto expressed his affection for Philadelphia and said he’d one day be up for signing a long-term contract extension with the Phillies.

The specter of his upcoming salary arbitration hearing hasn’t changed his outlook.

“Not at all,” he said before the 116th annual Philadelphia Sports Writers Association banquet Monday night. “Anybody who knows about the arbitration process knows it’s business. It’s not necessarily me against the Phillies right now. There’s definitely not going to be any hard feelings there. So I feel like we’re at the same place we were two or three months ago as far as with the contract extension.”

Before the two sides go to work on a long-term contract extension, Realmuto is likely to play the 2020 season on a one-year contract. Barring an unlikely settlement, Realmuto will have his 2020 salary decided by an arbitration panel next month. He is seeking $12.4 million. The Phillies’ arbitration offer is $10 million. The arbitration panel will hear arguments from both sides then pick one number or the other.

Realmuto knows the game. He went to arbitration with the Miami Marlins two years ago and lost.

“I have a good understanding of the process,” he said. “I know it’s not the Phillies trying to slight me. It’s more the system. There are no hard feelings there.”

Realmuto, who turns 29 in March, is coming off a season in which he solidified himself as baseball’s best catcher while making $5.9 million. He was an All-Star. He was the catcher on the inaugural All-MLB team and he won both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in the National League. He led all big-league catchers in hits, RBIs, total bases and extra-base hits while swatting a career-high 25 homers. He threw out 37 runners trying to steal, the most in the majors.

Realmuto’s 2019 season put him in a good position to win his arbitration case.

But he made it clear that this is about more than just himself.

"It’s not me against the Phillies,” he said. “It’s the system that we’re trying to fight right now.  I’m trying to go out and set a precedent for future catchers in the game and I feel like I had a season worthy of doing that so I’m going to fight for that.

"This is not because the Phillies didn’t give us a chance to come to an agreement. We’re fighting for a cause, fighting for the rest of the catchers. Historically, catchers have not been treated well in the arbitration process and we feel like this is an opportunity to advance that for the catchers. Just being able to fight for those guys is something I take pride in. I believe in fighting for future generations and I’m excited to do it."

Once Realmuto’s 2020 salary is established in mid-February, the Phillies are expected to initiate talks on an extension that would begin at the start of the 2021 season. Those talks should commence during spring training. A contract extension is expected to cover up to five seasons with an average annual value of over $20 million.

Realmuto, who was honored as the PSWA’s Athlete of the Year for 2019, was joined by new Phillies manager Joe Girardi at the banquet.

“I’m really excited to play for him,” Realmuto said. “I feel like he’s got a lot of feel. He knows exactly what he wants to do as a manager and has a lot of confidence and he’ll be able to instill that confidence in us.”

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