There’s no place like home, right?
Well, maybe not for Cesar Hernandez.
Hernandez figures to receive a few boos tonight at Citizens Bank Park after getting caught gazing at a ball that he thought was going to be a home run yesterday in Miami. Instead, the ball hit off the right-field wall, and Hernandez settled for a single. It didn’t matter that Rhys Hoskins followed with a homer. It looked bad, and Hernandez, a seven-year veteran, knows better.
Gabe Kapler called Hernandez’s transgression “totally unacceptable” after the Phillies’ 3-2 loss to the woeful Marlins (talk about things that are unacceptable), but didn’t bench him, adding fuel for the manager’s sizable club of haters who believe he isn’t tough enough on his players. Hey, maybe they’re right.
But before you add to that chorus, ask this: Who should Kapler have put in Hernandez’s place? Sean Rodriguez? Brad Miller? There aren’t exactly a lot of desirable options, and at this point, the Phillies need every win they can get, especially when Aaron Nola pitches.
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A few days ago, during a discussion of Spencer Howard’s latest impressive start at double-A Reading, Gabe Kapler said this:
"I think everyone is kind of dreaming of what he can be, whether that happens at some point late this season or it happens next year. I think it’s inevitable that Spencer Howard is going to be on a big-league mound and I don’t think it will take very long.”
OK, let’s get this out of the way: It would hardly be unprecedented for a team to call up a prized young pitcher for the final month of the season in the midst of a playoff push. And it’s true that nothing energizes a fan base, and sometimes even a team, like the big-league debut of a top prospect.
But before you begin dreaming that Howard could be Marty Bystrom circa 1980 -- and clearly, the Phillies have had internal discussions about it -- a reality check.
Howard has made a total of five -- count ‘em, five -- starts at the double-A level. He missed nearly two months earlier in the season because of shoulder soreness. He has a spot on the Scottsdale Scorpions’ roster in the Arizona Fall League, a finishing school of sorts for top prospects that begins in mid-September.
And if all of those things weren’t true, there’s also the matter of starting the clock on the 23-year-old right-hander’s major-league service time. Calling up Howard now rather than at some point next season would make him eligible for free agency in 2024 rather than 2025,a although that should never be a deciding factor for a big-market team such as the Phillies.
But there is another, more practical consideration: The baseballs at the double-A level are different than the ones that are being used in triple A and the majors. Kapler noted that several pitchers, including touted lefty Damon Jones, have struggled to adjust to the ball after being promoted to triple A. There’s no telling whether Howard would adapt.
“One thing we’ve seen,” Kapler said, "is the adjustment to the baseball is real.”
Look, the goal here isn’t to be Debbie Downer. Sportswriters, after all, root for compelling stories, and it would be a good one if the Phillies called up Howard and he turned into the next Bystrom, who went 5-0 with a 1.50 ERA in five starts down the stretch in 1980.
It just feels more realistic that Howard would get a chance to make the team out of spring training rather than be thrust into the middle of a playoff race. Either way, September is fast approaching. Howard is lined up to pitch again Tuesday. It’s worth paying attention.
The Marlins are 9-7 against the Phillies and 38-75 against everyone else. “That’s baseball,” Aaron Nola said after giving up three runs in a loss yesterday. It’s also not nearly good enough if you’re trying to make the playoffs.
Poignant story from Matt Breen about Phillies reliever Mike Morin, who used Players Weekend as a chance to pay tribute to late friend and Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs.
In case you missed it, Nick Pivetta got demoted to triple-A over the weekend and Kapler had some strong parting words.
Entering the weekend, J.T. Realmuto led the majors by catching 46.7 percent of runners who attempted to steal. I asked a few coaches, including Phillies catching instructor Craig Driver, to break down what makes Realmuto so good at nabbing runners.
Tonight: Jason Vargas starts the series opener vs. Pirates, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Drew Smyly vs. Steven Brault in a matchup of lefties, 7:05 p.m.
Wednesday: Vince Velasquez starts the finale vs. Pirates, 6:05 p.m.
Thursday: Off-day for Phillies
Friday: Aaron Nola likely gets the start vs. Mets’ Zack Wheeler, 7:05 p.m.
Even by Rhys Hoskins’ standards, it was impressive plate discipline.
In six plate appearances Saturday against the Marlins, Hoskins saw 41 pitches, the most by a Phillies hitter in a nine-inning game since Stats Inc. began tracking the statistic in 1988. They were the most pitches seen by any batter in a nine-inning game since Reds first baseman Joey Votto saw 41 on Aug. 27, 2017.
Hoskins, who leads the majors with 4.65 pitches per plate appearance, finished 0-for-3 with three walks and one strikeout in Saturday night’s 9-3 victory.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: Nice article on J.T. Realmuto. One interesting part of his game I have not heard mentioned is, how well does he call a game? Reason I ask is that Phillies pitchers outside of Aaron Nola are not all that good. Quality is quality and I am not sure how much difference a great catcher can make on a so-so pitcher. FWIW, despite never winning a Gold Glove I thought Carlos Ruiz’s biggest asset was in calling a game.
--Richard G., via email
Answer: Hey, Richard. Thanks for the kind words and for the question. It’s fair, considering the struggles of the Phillies’ pitching staff, to wonder about Realmuto’s game-calling. The impression that I have gotten, from coaches and pitchers, is that Realmuto calls a perfectly good game. You might even recall that the Phillies were ticked at Vince Velasquez for not following Realmuto’s lead more directly during a start in St. Louis back in May.