One week into exhibition games, Phillies manager Joe Girardi said Sunday that the opening-day center-field job is “up for grabs,” good news for upstart contenders Mickey Moniak and Odúbel Herrera.
For Roman Quinn, it isn’t as ideal.
Quinn began spring training as the co-incumbent after having started 28 of 60 games in center field last season. Adam Haseley, Quinn’s platoon partner, won’t play for at least four weeks after straining his left groin last week. Scott Kingery is also in position to win the job, although the Phillies may decide his greatest value is his versatility.
But Quinn hasn’t seized control of the competition for a familiar reason: He isn’t making enough contact at the plate to leverage his track-star speed on the bases.
In his first at-bat of Sunday’s 4-0 loss to the New York Yankees in Tampa, Fla., Quinn reached base by beating out a 30-foot dribbler in front of the mound. He was the second-fastest runner in the majors last season based on sprint speed (30.5 feet per second, as measured by Statcast), leaving Yankees pitcher Jordan Montgomery no chance to make a play.
But in his next at-bat, Quinn struck out for the fifth time in 10 spring-training plate appearances. It was a continuation of a trend for Quinn, who struck out 39 times in 116 plate appearances last season. His strikeout rate has risen in each of the last three years, from 24.5% in 2018 to 27.9% in 2019 and 33.6% in 2020.
Girardi said the Phillies are working with Quinn on trying to shorten his swing to get the barrel of the bat on the ball more often.
“When you look at Roman, he has a tool that most people don’t possess and that’s outstanding speed,” Girardi said. “When he gets on base, it becomes a problem for the other team. The big thing is just make sure you’re making contact, whatever you have to do. I don’t want to call it being a slap hitter, but it’s finding a way to put the ball in play consistently.”
Veteran lefty Tony Watson began his quest to win a bullpen spot by tossing a scoreless eighth inning in his spring debut.
Watson, who signed a minor-league contract last month, struck out the first two batters, then issued a two-out walk before getting Jay Bruce to fly out to left field. He will receive a $3 million base salary if he earns a spot on the opening-day roster, and given his track record -- 2.80 ERA in 627 career appearances and a 2.50 mark in 21 games last season for the San Francisco Giants -- he stands a decent chance.
“Watty, he’s kind of a three-quarter lefty. He’s different than a [Jose] Alvarado, he’s different than a JoJo [Romero],” Girardi said, comparing the Phillies’ lefty relievers. “It’s a different look for a hitter. I do like different looks.”
One potential reason why teams shied away from signing Watson this winter was a drop in his average fastball velocity from 93 mph in 2019 to 89.9 mph last season. Radar readings don’t typically mean much early in spring training, especially for veteran pitchers, but the 35-year-old topped out at 90.4 mph and averaged 89.1.
Facing most of the Yankees’ projected opening-day lineup, Zack Wheeler allowed four hits, two walks, and a grand slam to Brett Gardner in his second start of the spring. He faced 12 batters and recorded six outs. ... Moniak came off the bench, worked a seven-pitch at-bat, and hit a line-drive single to right field in the seventh inning. He’s 4-for-8 with a double and two homers this spring. ... Veteran outfielder Matt Joyce, vying for a spot on the bench, notched two hits. ... The Phillies are off Monday, but Zach Eflin will stay on his regular turn in the rotation by throwing three innings in a simulated game. ... Vince Velasquez and Spencer Howard will start Tuesday in Dunedin against the Blue Jays and Wednesday in Clearwater against the Tigers, respectively, with Matt Moore and Chase Anderson following them into those games. The order was reversed in the last turn through the rotation.