With the news that Andrew McCutchen will not be ready for opening day in Miami has come a discussion about who should bat leadoff in his absence. It was a real problem for the Phillies last season after McCutchen tore his left ACL in early June and missed the remainder of the season.
All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto was not one of the seven players who attempted to replace McCutchen a year ago at the top of the batting order, but his candidacy for that role is picking up steam. Matt Breen wrote all about it and even provided a history lesson about catchers batting first for the Phillies. You don’t want to miss the part where Frank Roth hit the second pitch of a game in Brooklyn in 1904 before being handcuffed and escorted off the field by New York City police.
Anyway, the Phillies won another Grapefruit League game yesterday, beating the Toronto Blue Jays, 5-3, with the help of a two-run homer by Bryce Harper, who has three homers and eight RBIs in his last two games. The Phillies and Miami Marlins share the best record in the Grapefruit League at 9-4.
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Zack Wheeler, the Phillies’ most expensive free-agent addition in the offseason, surrendered two runs on three hits, walked a batter and threw a wild pitch during his 2 1/3 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays yesterday. That left his ERA at 8.31 through his first two Grapefruit League starts.
How concerned should the Phillies be by this?
Not at all.
“The whole time I was wanting to get ahead because I knew I was falling behind every hitter,” Wheeler told reporters afterward. “But I think that comes with just getting more reps and everything. That’s always been my big thing and that’s sort of what turned the page for me the past couple years — getting ahead and attacking the strike zone early. Obviously, I fell behind a lot today and I only went 2 1/3 innings.”
Some of the best power pitchers in baseball history were notoriously bad in spring training, and that’s the script that Wheeler followed for most of his five seasons with the New York Mets. His Grapefruit League ERA with the Mets was 4.97, and he allowed 65 hits, including 11 home runs, and 20 walks in 58 exhibition innings.
His worst spring training was two years ago when he posted an 8.10 ERA after giving up 22 hits in 10 innings. He followed that up with his best season, going 12-7 with a 3.31 ERA in 29 starts for the Mets.
Andrew McCutchen wasn’t the only player the Phillies lost for the season early last June in San Diego. Reliever Seranthony Dominguez also went down during that series at Petco Park, and it was one of many severe injury losses for the bullpen. Dominguez was back on a big-league mound yesterday against the Blue Jays and declared himself “ready right now” after working a scoreless seventh inning.
The best news in Phillies camp yesterday was that the late, great David Montgomery will be honored in Cooperstown this summer as the fifth recipient of the John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. The presentation will take place July 25 during Hall of Fame weekend.
Phillies manager Joe Girardi returned to his former spring-training home in Tampa on Wednesday night when his new team played an exhibition game against the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field. He didn’t have time to get too emotional, however, because he got stuck in traffic on the Courtney Campbell Causeway after managing the Phillies’ home exhibition game against Pittsburgh earlier in the day.
Tommy Hunter won’t be able to make it to the starting line on time again this season, but the veteran reliever believes his recovery from last season’s flexor tendon surgery is going well. It’s the third straight time and fourth time in five years that Hunter has not been ready for opening day.
Breen, Scott Lauber and I provide the copy for the Extra Innings newsletter, and once a week, we get together for the Extra Innings podcast. In this week’s episode, we discuss who will hit leadoff during the absence of Andrew McCutchen and the battle between Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta for the job as the fifth starter. Yes, we talk about Ranger Suarez, too.
Yong Kim continued to bat 1.000 with his brilliant photography during the Phillies’ 5-3 exhibition win over the Blue Jays yesterday at Spectrum Field.
Speaking of the fifth-starter race, Pivetta was pleased with his latest outing Wednesday night against the Yankees even though he encountered some turbulence in his first inning.
Today: Jake Arrieta, on his 34th birthday, goes against Detroit in Lakeland, 1:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Zach Eflin faces Boston at Spectrum Field, 1:05 p.m.
March 23: Phillies wrap up spring training vs. Tampa Bay, 1:05 p.m.
March 26: Opening day vs. Marlins in Miami, 4:10 p.m.
April 2: : Home opener against Milwaukee, 3:05 p.m.
After signing on the final day of February last season, Bryce Harper had a limited spring training, and perhaps that contributed to his slow start. He hit just .224 through his first 48 games. Harper is off to a scorching hot start in his second spring training with the Phillies. His 10 RBIs in just five games are the second most among all MLB hitters.
Harper has had some great springs in the past, with his best coming in 2017 when he hit eight home runs and drove in 16 runs in 58 at-bats. Overall, Harper is a .283 hitter with 27 home runs and 81 RBIs in 378 spring-training at-bats. He also has a .967 OPS in spring training, 70 points higher than his regular-season OPS.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: Are we going to get a Phillies show on TV similar to the 5:00 show with [Michael] Barkann and the crew as in the past. ... There doesn’t seem to be anything on TV — no spring-training news, interviews etc. Can you help? Thanks, looking for something re the Phillies. — Bob in Northeast Pa., via email
Answer: Bob, you are not alone in your frustration. NBC Sports Philadelphia has cut back significantly on its spring-training coverage this year, and the hardcore baseball fans have noticed. I’m guessing there are two things to blame. One is the Phillies’ long playoff drought, which has reduced fan interest, and another is that overall baseball interest is also down, especially among the younger demographics. It doesn’t cost much to show infomercials, especially when compared to putting together the production of a baseball game.