Phillies

Why Phillies felt tonight was the right time to sit Bryce Harper for the first time

Why Phillies felt tonight was the right time to sit Bryce Harper for the first time

It took 68 games before the Phillies picked what they felt was the right spot to sit Bryce Harper.

Harper had started all 67 games this season — 66 in right field, one as the designated hitter — before manager Gabe Kapler made the call Wednesday to sit him. 

Harper, like J.T. Realmuto, never wants to come out of the lineup, whether it's during a slump, a short turnaround or a stretch of weeks without an off-day. The reason the decision was made Wednesday is because it gives Harper two full days off his feet before the Phillies begin a big three-game series in Atlanta.

Another option would have been resting Harper Friday to give him the two full days, but given the importance of the head-to-head matchups with the Braves, Kapler liked the idea better of resting him against the Diamondbacks. 

After Thursday, the Phillies are not off again until July 1.

"With the upcoming Atlanta and Washington series, we felt like we were not going to be able to get him that back-to-back blow and we felt like that back-to-back was very important," Kapler said. 

"We're thinking about the long-term prospects of Bryce and his health and I think all Phillies fans would agree that we want him to be at his strongest through the middle of the summer."

Harper will be available off the bench to pinch-hit.

Without him, the lineup looks like this:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Jean Segura, SS
3. Jay Bruce, LF
4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5. J.T. Realmuto, C
6. Scott Kingery, CF
7. Nick Williams, RF
8. Maikel Franco, 3B
9. Zach Eflin, P

On the mend

• Right-handed reliever Edubray Ramos (shoulder) is back after missing a month and will be a factor at the back-end of the Phillies' bullpen, especially with all of the injuries to key relievers. Ramos has a 4.66 ERA in 12 appearances this season after a successful 2018 in which he posted a 2.32 ERA in 52 games.

• Centerfielder Roman Quinn and reliever Pat Neshek are both nearing their returns. It is possible that one or both could be activated this weekend in Atlanta.

Quinn, out since April 24 with a groin injury suffered on a bunt single, is 4 for 8 during his rehab assignment in Clearwater.

Neshek has been on the IL since May 25 with rotator cuff inflammation. Neshek initially feared the worst but avoided serious injury. While most pitchers make a rehab outing or two before being activated, Neshek may not require any.

Adam Morgan is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Thursday and again Sunday. If all goes well, he could be activated in 8-to-10 days.

• Fellow right-handed reliever Tommy Hunter continues to throw in Florida and isn't far away from returning himself.

• David Robertson, out since April 15 with a Grade 1 flexor strain, threw Tuesday for the first time since the injury, which represents progress.

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Ray of light

The Phillies are again showing interest in Robbie Ray, according to Jon Morosi. We have mentioned Ray frequently here as a Phillies trade target dating back to last summer.

Ray would help any contender. He’s a 27-year-old lefty with an extremely high strikeout rate. He experiences bouts of wildness and does lead the National League with 56 walks, but he has also settled in to a mid-3.00s ERA the last three seasons.

The left-handedness and legit swing-and-miss stuff make Ray the type of pitcher the Phillies do not have.

Ray turns 28 on Oct. 1. Based on his age and remaining contract — 2020 is his final arbitration year before he becomes a free agent — he would be a great fit for the Phillies, even if they do continue to fall out of the playoff race. Ray would help them now and next season and would be a prime extension candidate if he pitches well.

The competition for his services via trade will be intense. The Astros (more on them below) are also in on Ray, and plenty of other clubs have expressed interest in the past. The Phillies would have to trade a player or two they don’t want to trade to acquire him.

Speedsters available

The Royals have made lightning-fast outfielders Billy Hamilton and Terrance Gore available. Neither is much of a fit for the Phillies, who already have Roman Quinn in that role.

Hamilton and Gore could both help a contender in need of a late-inning defensive replacement/pinch-runner. They are both impactful defenders and baserunners who can't hit.

As for Whit Merrifield, it seems unlikely Kansas City would move him despite being 30 games under .500. Merrifield is such a good, multi-dimensional player that the Royals deserve a huge score for him. At 30 years old, he is enjoying by far his best season, hitting .309/.361/.500 with 26 doubles, eight triples, 11 homers, 45 RBI and 14 stolen bases. Merrifield's .861 OPS is 55 points higher than his previous career-high.

Merrifield's dynamic offense and positional versatility make him a fit anywhere. The Cubs would make a ton of sense. 

Astros after a starter?

The Astros have gotten huge production from their top three starters, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley. But the back of the rotation remains a question mark. Collin McHugh is pitching in a mop-up role, Brad Peacock is dealing with a sore shoulder, Framber Valdez has been lit up three starts in a row, and Corbin Martin underwent Tommy John surgery the first week of July.

The Astros are still maybe the deepest team in baseball. Anything less than a World Series win would represent disappointment in 2019. Madison Bumgarner would make a whole lot of sense for Houston, which is still rich in prospects after all of their graduations to the majors.

Trade season begins

A pair of solid but unspectacular starting pitchers were moved this past weekend to kick off trade deadline activity.

Remember, these next two weeks figure to be even more frenzied than usual in July because there is now a hard trade deadline of July 31. No more August trades, except those involving a swap of minor-leaguers.

The Orioles sent Andrew Cashner to the Red Sox for a pair of 17-year-old position player prospects who had been playing for Boston's Dominican Summer League team. 

The soon-to-be 33-year-old Cashner went 9-3 with a 3.83 ERA in 17 starts with the Orioles. Baltimore went 11-6 in his starts and 17-59 in all other games.

The Red Sox needed another starting pitcher with the Nate Eovaldi experiment going sideways. Eovaldi has missed much of the season and will shift to the bullpen upon his return later this month. 

As of Monday afternoon, the Red Sox were 2½ games out of the second AL wild-card spot.

The Royals, meanwhile, traded Homer Bailey to the A's for a fringy Double A infielder. Bailey has been just OK this season, with a 4.80 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. 

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Watch the video above for comments from Phillies decision-makers and players.

Should they buy? Should they sell? These four tough games against the Dodgers could provide some more clarity. Another ugly series loss could be the determining factor.

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More on the Phillies