Phillies

What was Sean Rodriguez thinking with those comments last night?

What was Sean Rodriguez thinking with those comments last night?

This might be the first walk-off win in Phillies history that made the fanbase dislike the hero more the next day. 

Sean Rodriguez, harshly criticized for a lack of production at the plate — albeit in irregular playing time — chose last night as the time to air his grievances. 

Some of what he said was understandable. The Phillies are six games over .500 amid myriad injuries and are somehow one game out of the second wild-card spot, yet many in this town have viewed the team through a negative lens for months. There tends to be silence or apathy after normal wins and vitriol after any loss. But you can’t exactly blame the fans for that. They’ve waited nearly eight years for a playoff run and thought this team was the one to break that drought. If that’s “entitled,” good luck convincing many fans they’re wrong for feeling it.

The response to Rhys Hoskins lately has shown how antsy this city is for its baseball team to win consistently. The Phillies have not yet gone on a run and the season is more than 80 percent complete. Hoskins’ second-half slump has affected the team’s ability to make a run, and on Monday night he was booed more loudly than ever before. 

Hoskins handled it well, though. He deflected when asked about it and focused more on the team win. 

Rodriguez’ comments did not sit well with the Phillies fanbase. The key word he used was “entitled,” though his message was a bit more nuanced than that. He was trying to make clear how difficult the role of a pinch-hitter is. And that guys struggle, and boos and harsh words don’t help. 

Look, any time a fanbase, and particularly this fanbase, feels like it is being told how to act, it does not go over well. 

Rodriguez did have a useful point about pinch-hitting, though most every baseball fan knows it is a difficult role. Rodriguez scoffed when a reporter asked Monday night whether the walk-off felt even better given his recent struggles. Rodriguez looked at the reporter like he had two heads, didn’t acknowledge the struggles and spoke about almost always facing a tough pitcher because the bulk of his pinch-hit appearances take place late in close games. 

Not really true, though — it’s not as if Rodriguez has been facing Aroldis Chapman the last five weeks. 

The two biggest reasons Rodriguez is here are to play all over the diamond and to hit lefties. Lately, he hasn’t hit lefties. (Monday’s walk-off was Rodriguez’ first home run against a righty since July 22, 2018.)

In his last 15 at-bats against lefties, he is 1 for 15 with 10 strikeouts. And while that list does include tough lefties Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith, there are more mediocre or worse arms on the list than aces or relief studs. 

Here is that list: Francisco Liriano, Jarlin Garcia, Wei-Yin Chen, Adam Conley, Joey Lucchesi twice, Jose Quintana, Connor Menez, Will Smith, Bumgarner twice, Aaron Bummer, T.J. McFarland and Ross Detwiler twice. 

Bumgarner, Smith, Quintana and maybe Lucchesi aside, not exactly a murderer’s row. That sample size of 15 ABs is small, but what matters right now is not the predictive nature of it but rather that those at-bats happened, and they have not helped a team in a playoff push win. Phillies fans have not been wrong to question lately what Rodriguez provides offensively that someone like Maikel Franco or Phil Gosselin cannot. 

Many this morning have gone the route of saying Rodriguez and players in general need a thicker skin. So, too, does the fanbase, because it’s pretty lame to not accept any return fire from the player(s) it buries the most. 

But last night was still such a strange time for Rodriguez to make that the story. It was a moment he could have built genuine goodwill and portrayed himself as accountable and understanding of the criticism while hopeful the fans could alter their approach a bit. He did not effectively convey that message, in large part because he conveyed it in a one-sided way, absolving himself of blame. 

It will be interesting to hear how Rodriguez is received tonight and the rest of the season. Monday night produced an exciting Phillies win, and here we are less than 12 hours later discussing a totally different topic. 

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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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Vince Velasquez 'disappointed' by Astros’ scandal, ready to 'click' in Phillies’ rotation

Vince Velasquez 'disappointed' by Astros’ scandal, ready to 'click' in Phillies’ rotation

Vince Velasquez broke into the majors with the Houston Astros in 2015. His manager was A.J. Hinch. Jeff Luhnow was the general manager.

You know where this is going.

“I never saw anything,” Velasquez said Monday. “A lot of people have asked me, but I wasn’t there when it happened.

“It was shocking to hear about. And a little bit disappointing.”

The Astros were found to have used an illicit sign stealing scheme during their 2017 World Series championship season. Major League Baseball last week suspended Hinch and Luhnow for the 2020 season and Houston ownership followed up by firing both men. The explosive issue also cost Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran their jobs as managers of the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets, respectively. Cora was the Astros’ bench coach, and a mastermind of the scheme, in 2017, and Beltran was a player on the team.

Velasquez pitched in just 19 games for the Astros in 2015. He was traded to the Phillies in December of that year.

Pitchers and catchers have always been cognizant of changing their signs and varying their sequences in running through signs, especially when there is a runner on second base, to combat sign stealing. Velasquez predicted that pitchers and catchers will be even more diligent in light of the Astros' scandal.

“Now, we have to be more observant of what we’re doing,” he said. “I think it’s going to be part of the discussion [in spring training.] You have to learn to protect yourself.”

Velasquez is spending the week in Philadelphia helping the team with some promotional work. (He even plans to throw a couple of bullpen sessions in the cages at Citizens Bank Park.) On Monday, Velasquez and teammate Roman Quinn joined former Phillies Milt Thompson and Mickey Morandini at a youth instructional clinic at the Ryan Howard Training Center in South Philadelphia. Forty-five young players affiliated with the Phillies/MLB Urban Youth Academy and RBI program showed up a cold January day to get a head start on the season and some tips from the Phillies players past and present.

Quinn missed significant time last season with a torn groin muscle, the latest in a series of injuries that has robbed the exciting outfielder of playing time in his career. He has made changes to his offseason conditioning program and believes he can stay healthy in 2020 and make a run at the Phillies’ starting centerfield job. As it stands right now, he will battle Adam Haseley for the job in camp.

“I trust my abilities and I know if I’m healthy then it’s hard to keep me out of the lineup,” Quinn said.

Like Quinn, Velasquez will be in a spring-training battle.

The top four spots in the Phillies’ rotation are set with Aaron Nola, Zach Wheeler, Zach Eflin and Jake Arrieta. Velasquez will compete with Nick Pivetta for the fifth spot in the rotation. The loser of the competition will not necessarily be out of a job as the Phillies need bullpen help and one of the two could end up there.

Velasquez knows where he wants to be.

“I can play any role, but I want to start,” the 27-year-old right-hander said. “I want to be in the rotation. I want to be in that playoff run and I want to be that guy for that game.

“I know I have a job to earn. That’s my main focus. Battling.”

Velasquez, as Phillies fans know by now, is blessed with a tremendous arm. However, he has struggled to put his talents together and arrive at that place known as consistency. He runs high pitch counts and fails to get through the middle of games. He averaged just 4 2/3 innings in his 23 starts last season.

Velasquez knows it’s time for him to pitch deeper into games and he says, “I want that bad.” He has already established a telephone/text/video relationship with new pitching coach Bryan Price in hopes of picking up some keys to doing that.

“We’re in communication,” Velasquez said. “I’ve spoken to him a number of times and sent him videos of some of my bullpens.”

Velasquez avoided salary arbitration and will make $3.6 million this season. As his price tag goes up, so do expectations and the impatience of team officials. He might not be around at this time next season if he doesn’t produce in 2020.

“I’m very optimistic this is the year it clicks,” Velasquez said. “I know I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but I feel like I’m starting to figure a lot of things out. A lot of people tend to figure things out after two or three years in the major leagues and I think this is that time for me to put all the pieces together.

“My time is due. It’s really come down to that point where I need to plug in all the pieces.”

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