ATLANTA — In a season that has been filled with injuries, catcher J.T. Realmuto stands out as the player the Phillies can least afford to lose.
For at least a few innings here Saturday night, they lost him.
Starting his 14th consecutive game behind the plate in the continuation of a series against the Braves, Realmuto took a foul ball squarely between the legs in the bottom of the fifth inning. He initially stayed in the game but was replaced by backup catcher Andrew Knapp before the bottom of the sixth.
Realmuto, who has started every game this month for the Phillies, is on pace to start 138 games this season. Before the game, manager Gabe Kapler was asked where on his radar Realmuto’s workload ranks.
"Blinking brightly," Kapler said. "It's a conversation that I have with him frequently."
Realmuto is scheduled to play Sunday, too, depending on the severity of his injury Saturday night. But with the Phillies in the midst of 17 games without a day off, he will get a rest at some point in the coming series in Washington, according to Kapler.
The Phillies are always reluctant to take Realmuto out of the lineup. He’s uniquely athletic for a catcher, as evidenced by his blocking and throwing skills, and pitchers swear by his game-calling ability. Add it up and Realmuto influences a game in so many ways that it’s difficult to give him a rest.
But the Phillies also must be careful to not burn him out before the All-Star break. It’s a delicate balance.
It’s increasingly rare for catchers to carry such a heavy load. Since 2000, Brad Ausmus, Jason Kendall, Russell Martin, Yadier Molina, and Salvador Perez are the only catchers to start at least 140 games in a season.
“This level of athleticism [behind the plate], you can’t appreciate it until you see it on a daily basis,” Kapler said. “It’s as good as I’ve ever seen, and I played with Pudge [Rodriguez]. I think J.T’s athleticism coupled with his experience and his savvy make him more unique.”