CLEARWATER, Fla. – Phillies manager Gabe Kapler has shied away from making definitive pronouncements early in camp, but it sure sounded as if he anointed Jorge Alfaro as his No. 1 catcher on Saturday.
Alfaro had two hits, including a grand slam on a 3-0 pitch, and drew a walk in the Phillies' 9-6 win over Baltimore.
After the game, Kapler raved about the 23-year-old rookie’s work at the plate and behind it.
“Alfaro was incredible today and it wasn’t just the grand slam,” Kapler said. “In his previous at-bat, he worked an eight-pitch walk and wore down the opposition’s starting pitcher.
“His receiving has already gotten a ton better. He's really focusing his attention on being prepared for every pitch. You don't just see it out in the game. You see it in his bullpen sessions so his practice sessions have been vastly improved. We're going to keep working with him. He's got a ways to go, but so does everybody. I don't think we need to single him out for being unprepared. He's absolutely prepared to be our catcher in Philadelphia.”
Conventional wisdom had already suggested that Alfaro was in line to be team’s starting catcher. He is out of minor-league options and team officials have long indicated that they are ready to see what he can do with an extended look in the majors. Still, it was interesting to hear Kapler essentially affirm the plan.
Alfaro’s grand slam came against Dylan Bundy and highlighted a five-run second inning. Kapler felt confident giving Alfaro the green light on 3-0.
“We just believe in our guys, plain and simple," Kepler said. "But most importantly, we play for the big innings. Big innings are critical to winning baseball games. So we never want to remove our chance to have a big inning. Probably the best way to have a big inning is to have an extra-base hit in a situation like that. We have a ton of confidence in Alfaro and his decision making. I'm really glad he picked out a pitch he liked and jumped on it.”
Starting pitcher Zach Eflin displayed power stuff, a fastball up to 96 mph. More than a year removed from double knee surgery, he has regained leg strength and it shows in the pop on his fastball. A year ago, the 6-6 right-hander was 200 pounds. Now, he’s 220 with hopes of adding more strength.
“I feel amazing,” he said. “My legs have never felt better in my life. I’m able to put more pressure on my legs to where I don’t even feel my arm when I throw.”
Eflin, who turns 24 in April, is a candidate for a job at the back end of the rotation.
Aaron Nola, likely to be the Phillies’ opening day starter, makes his spring debut Sunday against the Yankees in Clearwater.