CLEARWATER, Fla. -- It's the time of year when pitchers are far ahead of hitters, and on the first day of Phillies full-squad workouts at the Carpenter Complex in Clearwater, some of the bats were happy just to make contact off of Zack Wheeler.
Wheeler faced Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber and Brandon Marsh, among others, in his first live session of the spring. The hitters were, for the most part, just tracking pitches. Mixed in were some swings-and-misses and the occasional groundball.
Wheeler's fastball came out crisp. Ditto for Jose Alvarado. Seranthony Dominguez faced hitters as well.
The Phillies' focus in the early stages of camp is health. It was a long season in 2022, with the Phils playing more than a month longer than non-playoff teams. Fatigue was a big topic surrounding their key arms in the final days of the postseason run, but nobody is behind at this point.
"Wheeler and Alvarado were outstanding so they're right in line," manager Rob Thomson said. "Seranthony is still ramping up. But I thought everything was good and organized. Try to have short, quick workouts. Get 'em on the field, get all the work done and get 'em in the training room so they can recover."
The only player not in Phillies camp is new reliever Gregory Soto, who has had visa issues leaving the Dominican Republic. Soto threw a bullpen session Monday. "It went very well and he's staying on our schedule," Thomson said.
Soto is one of eight players on the Phillies' 40-man roster leaving for the World Baseball Classic, along with Alvarado, J.T. Realmuto, Trea Turner, Schwarber, Taijuan Walker, Ranger Suarez and Garrett Stubbs. The WBC begins on March 8 but players will leave camp around March 5.
"It's a little bit nerve-racking because you want to make sure they come out of it healthy," Thomson said. "If they do come out of it healthy, it's probably a good thing because they get some more intense games early. And the flipside of that is we get to see some of these kids play more."
The Phils' first spring training games are Saturday. A portion of the team will stay in Clearwater to host the Yankees while the others make the trip to Lakeland to face the Tigers. Michael Plassmeyer, one of the candidates for the fifth starter's job along with Andrew Painter, Bailey Falter and Cristopher Sanchez, will start one of the games. Thomson did not reveal who will start the other game but said a lot of the younger guys in camp will pitch.
This is Thomson's first spring training as the manager. With the new job comes different responsibilities in camp. The longtime bench coach became known for his extremely early arrival times and meticulous spring training schedules. Thomson arrived later than usual Tuesday but not my much, giving himself one extra snooze on the alarm clock.
"A lot of times, I don't know what I'm supposed to do," he joked. "Usually, I'm behind the computer right now working on tomorrow's schedule. I find myself just kind of walking around the clubhouse talking to people, which is good, but I'm kind of lost at times."
There wasn't a rah-rah message Thomson delivered to the full squad Tuesday but rather a continuation of the theme he's reiterated several times already.
"Mainly about health," he said. "Making sure guys come out and are excited to be here. Everyone's in great shape, everyone's been doing their work through the course of the offseason. Just not to get too far ahead of themselves. Stay in control, keep their feet underneath them."
Is that sort of composure easier said than done for the players batting for opening day jobs? There aren't many roster battles for this Phillies team but the final spot in the rotation, final spot in the bullpen and last two spots on the bench are up for grabs.
"You can't force them to step back, the adrenaline is gonna take over," Thomson said. "But the message is not too much, go about it naturally. There's still gonna be added intensity but you remind them to stay in control."
Every corner of the Phillies' clubhouse at BayCare Ballpark offers reason for optimism in 2023. On one side there's Turner, the Phillies' new $300 million superstar. Directly across the room is the locker of Andrew Painter, the 19-year-old top prospect battling for a rotation spot. Farther down are some of the big new arms like Craig Kimbrel and Soto, whenever he arrives. Toward the back are young prospects who could help down the line like outfielder Johan Rojas or relievers Andrew Baker and Francisco Morales.
The Phillies spent a lot of money again this offseason to put a team on the field they think can win it all. They're trying to tune out the outside noise but everyone knows what the expectation is in 2023.
"I'm excited for these guys, these new faces in the bullpen and the infield," Alvarado said. "It's a different team compared to last year. I'm really happy with this group. I can't wait to see it start."
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