BOSTON -- It was Feb. 12, five days after J.T. Realmuto got traded to the Phillies, and the All-Star catcher was holding an introductory news conference upon reporting for spring training in Clearwater, Fla. At one point, he was asked how many games he expected to play behind the plate this season.
"I want to catch 162," Realmuto said. "But I know that's probably not going to happen."
No, but he's going to get pretty darned close.
Realmuto was back at his familiar position Wednesday night at Fenway Park after playing nine innings at first base one night earlier in the opener of a two-game series against the Boston Red Sox. That’s what qualifies as a “breather” these days for Realmuto, who is as close to the literal definition of “everyday player” as any catcher in baseball.
The Phillies have played 126 games. Realmuto has started 108 of them, 105 as a catcher (plus two at first base and one as the designated hitter). He's on pace to make 135 starts behind the plate, which would be the most since Yadier Molina started 142 games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016. It would be the highest total of starts for a Phillies catcher since Mike Lieberthal made 138 in 1999.
“I got a chance to play with Jason Kendall in 2008 [with the Milwaukee Brewers], and they’re similar kind of mind-sets -- ‘Don’t take me out of the lineup. I’m an everyday player,’ ” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said Wednesday. “I think J.T. is as durable physically, mentally as anybody.”
Kapler said this week that the Phillies will try to start ace Aaron Nola every fifth day for the rest of the season regardless of days off. He wasn't willing to outline a similarly specific schedule for Realmuto, mostly because he prefers to base the catcher's playing time on how he's feeling.
But if Realmuto's history is any indication, he figures to start nearly all of the remaining 36 games with the possible exception of a game or two during a Sept. 20-22 interleague series in Cleveland when he could play first base and Rhys Hoskins could be the designated hitter.
"I don't think there's a dependable road map for this," Kapler said. "I think we have to really pay close attention to how his body's responding, how he's recovering, what do his at-bats look like, how's his arm feeling. I do think the first-base day matters to him a lot. I think it's a real blow for his body. Whenever we can get that first-base day or DH day, we'll try to get it."
Realmuto hasn’t been adversely affected by the workload. Entering Wednesday night, he was seventh among all National League position players with 4.6 wins above replacement, according to Fangraphs. He also had thrown out 28 attempted base stealers, 11 more than any other catcher in baseball and the most by a Phillies catcher since Lieberthal threw out 35 base stealers in 1997.