The Phillies finished off a nice spring-training weekend Sunday with a 6-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton, Fla. The win was their third straight, giving them a 7-6-1 Grapefruit League record with 14 exhibition games left before the April 1 season opener against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park.
So what does manager Joe Girardi want to see from his club in the final two weeks of spring training?
“Just quality of at-bats and quality of pitches,” Girardi said. “We’ve given the guys a couple of weeks to kind of get their bodies going and get acclimated to what they need to do. You might see some guys run a little bit more now. Not a lot more, but some more. You’re going to see guys playing more regularly back to back — three out of four and four out of five. Those are the things we have to start doing with our guys.”
The competition in center field also must be resolved, and Odubel Herrera continued to make a great case for his candidacy Sunday with a bunt single, a solo home run and two runs scored, improving his spring-training average to .300 with two homers and six runs scored.
Girardi declined to call Herrera the front-runner, but admitted the native Venzuelan has made a positive impression.
“He’s definitely a big part of the conversation with the way he has played,” Girardi said. “He’s hit a couple home runs, he’s done a couple of different things, and he has played some really good defense. He has played all over the place — mostly center and right — but his at-bats have been pretty darn good and, like I said, he has seen mostly left-handed pitching when he played, so he’s definitely in the mix.”
Dark-horse candidate Mickey Moniak also continued his outstanding spring training, contributing another double to push his Grapefruit League average to .429 (6-for-14) and his OPS to a team-high 1.143.
With regulars playing for all teams over the final two weeks, the Phillies should be well tested as they prepare for the brutal first two weeks of the regular season against Atlanta and the New York Mets. Ten of the Phillies’ final 14 exhibition games are against the Yankees and Blue Jays. So far this spring, they are 1-5 against those two teams and 6-1-1 against the Pirates, Orioles and Tigers.
You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every Monday, Wednesday and Friday during spring training. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @brookob. Thank you for reading.
— Bob Brookover (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Could the Phillies bullpen actually be a strength?
After how bad the Phillies bullpen was a year ago, the idea that Girardi’s relief corps could actually be a strength in 2021 is difficult to fathom. It is not a stretch at all, however, to say that the relievers have been dominant through the first two weeks of spring training.
If you had to pick nine relievers heading into camp who had a good shot at making the team, the list would have included Jose Alvarado, Archie Bradley, Hector Neris, Brandon Kintzler, Tony Watson, Connor Brogdon, JoJo Romero, David Hale and Sam Coonrod.
After 14 Grapefruit League games, those nine guys have a combined ERA of 1.15. They’ve allowed just four earned runs and 19 hits in 31 1/3 innings, striking out 31 and walking nine. Alvarado, Bradley, Brogdon, Kintzler, Romero and Watson all have 0.00 ERAs and have allowed just 10 hits and struck out 21 in 20 1/3 innings.
“I don’t care if it’s spring or whatever — I have been blown away with the stuff on the mound,” reserve free-agent addition Brad Miller said Sunday. “I know this lineup and the position-player group, and I know it’s deep. We’ve obviously got some frontline starting pitching, but [the bullpen] has been the talk of camp honestly. It has just been a lot of firepower.”
Girardi is understandably pleased with the work of his relievers, but his greater focus is on picking the eight guys likely to head north for the season opener.
“We’re going to have to make some tough decisions down the road,” the manager said. “I think that’s probably what I focus more on. We have about 10 guys for seven or eight spots, and it’s going to be really difficult to pick those seven or eight spots. That’s really a good problem to have, but it weighs on my mind.”
In addition to the nine pitchers mentioned, the Phillies also have decisions to make about the two guys who do not win jobs in the starting rotation. At the moment, it appears as if those two pitchers will be Spencer Howard and Vince Velasquez, but that could change in the final two weeks.
The Phillies have also been impressed by Enyel De Los Santos, who has struck out nine in 3 1/3 innings.
“He is way ahead of where he was last year,” Girardi said. “He has gotten his velocity back and it has made a difference, and his breaking ball has been better probably because he has more arm speed. He has definitely been really interesting in camp for us.”
De Los Santos, acquired from Cincinnati for Freddy Galvis in December 2017, was removed from the 40-man roster last August.
Matt Moore continued his impressive spring training Sunday by allowing just a single run on one hit over four innings. His Grapefruit League ERA is 1.13.
The Phillies have a terrific backup catcher in Andrew Knapp, but their bench overall needs to be much better in 2021 and Scott Kingery could hold the key.
The Phillies’ need for that improved bench could be hindered at the start of the season if the rib-cage injury Miller suffered Saturday is serious. Miller is awaiting the results of the MRI examination he underwent Sunday.
Opening day is just 17 days away, so this is a good time to take a look at some of the positional battles that still need to be resolved, including the center-field competition.
Today: Chase Anderson starts against the New York Yankees in Tampa, 1:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Phils host Toronto in Clearwater, 1:05 p.m.
March 29: End of exhibition schedule.
April 1: Season opener at Citizens Bank Park vs. Atlanta, 3:05 p.m.
April 5: Start of three-game series at home vs. New York Mets, 7:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
With double-A teams experimenting with playing the game without the shift this season, it’s a good time to look at the Phillies’ shift numbers from a season ago. In their first year under Girardi, the team increased its usage of the shift from 17.1% in 2019 to 28.3% in 2020, according to Statcast. That is a little bit deceiving, however, because the use of the shift increased all over baseball last season, so the Phillies actually slipped from 22nd to 23rd in the overall usage of the shift.
What did not change much was the Phillies’ lack of success in using the shift. The Phillies used the shift 34.8% of the time against left-handed hitters last season and allowed a .397 wOBA (weighted on-base average), the worst in baseball. The team used the shift against right-handed batters 22.7% of the time and allowed a .362 wOBA, which was the eighth worst.
In 2019, the Phillies used the shift 31.4% of the time against left-handed hitters and allowed a .379 wOBA, also the worst in baseball. The Phillies used the shift only 7.4% of the time against right-handed hitters in 2019 and allowed a .430 wOBA, third worst in baseball.
The natural conclusion here is that the Phillies’ analytical department needs to do a better job. The world-champion Los Angeles Dodgers are proof that the shift does indeed work when properly implemented. The Dodgers used the shift a major-league leading 55.8% of the time last season and held left-handed hitters to a league-best .259 wOBA. Right-handed hitters had a .305 wOBA against the L.A. shift, which ranked seventh in baseball.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Answer: Matt Breen and I are taking turns fielding questions that went unanswered by our great colleague Scott Lauber on Twitter, and after another good day at the plate for Odubel Herrera on Sunday, I figured it would be a good time to tackle this one.
There are still two weeks left in spring training, so it’s not a slam dunk that Herrera is going to win the center-field competition, but it is obvious based on performance that he is the leader in the socially distanced clubhouse right now. As for mitigating the fallout that would come from Herrera’s rejoining the team, I think that is mostly up to Herrera. By that, I mean he needs to be humble if he gets a second chance and he needs to earn the trust of his teammates, the organization and the fans by his actions on a daily basis.
If he proves he is truly sorry and works to show he is a good person, I think most people will forgive him. The person he needs to prove that to the most, however, remains his girlfriend, Melany Martinez-Angulo.