ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — This is what $250 million buys you.
The Phillies finally spent “stupid money” this offseason to compete with the World Series champion Atlanta Braves and lavish New York Mets in the National League East. In their spring finale Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays, they finally unveiled the lineup they’ll post Friday on their opening day. Man, did they unveil it.
They hit five homers and scored eight runs before they made a fifth out.
Was this a spring-training mic drop for the rest of baseball?
“I think it is,” said Rhys Hoskins, who broke a 2-for-21 skid with his third homer of the spring.
Reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper hit a homer in the each of the first two innings, his seventh and eighth, all in his last eight games, then exited like a boss. Gilded prospect Mickey Moniak hit his sixth of the spring, and bench player Johan Comargo hit his first. The Phillies’ 32 homers ranked third in the Grapefruit League, in which they finished 10-7.
With five healthy starters, blossoming youth, and an opening-day lineup full of crushers, the men who run the Phillies were giddy before the team’s spring training finale Wednesday.
“We’ve had a good spring,” said Phillies president Dave Dombrowski, casually rumpled in a blue traveling suit. “We like the way the chemistry fits together. I like the way it looks.”
It looked like this: DH Kyle Schwarber, catcher J.T. Realmuto, Harper in right field, left fielder Nick Castellanos, Hoskins at first base, shortstop Didi Gregorius, second baseman Jean Segura, third baseman Bryson Stott, and Moniak in center field. This potency is a preview of what lies in store for 2022.
“It really could be,” manager Joe Girardi said, grinning like a Cheshire cat. “I like our lineup. It’s deep. It’s got power. We have hitters who will work counts. I’m pretty excited about it.”
Stott, the team’s top prospect and a shortstop by nature, and Moniak, the No. 1 overall pick in 2016, were the stories of the spring. Both rode hot starts to roster spots, but both hit left-handed, and they’ll have to share.
Second-year center fielder Matt Vierling will fill a straight platoon with Moniak. Third-year third baseman Alec Bohm will play plenty, too. At any rate, the foursome has just 165 starts combined, but they’re expected to lock down two key positions for a team that spent like sailors to break its 10-year playoff drought.
“I always like a club that has veteran guys and young guys,” Dombrowski said.
One remarkable aspect is Realmuto, who will hit second instead of Segura. Realmuto spent his career hitting all over the first seven slots, but he is a career .260 hitter when hitting second, worst among those slots. Meanwhile, Segura has hit first or second 71% of the time in his 10 seasons at a .291 clip.
It is even more remarkable that all five starters will appear in the first five games. Zack Wheeler, who finished second in the NL Cy Young Award voting, fell behind due to offseason shoulder issues and a springtime bout with the flu, but he’ll throw about 50 pitches against minor-leaguers Thursday, then fly to Philadelphia and start the fifth game of the season Tuesday against the Mets. Zach Eflin rebounded as quickly as possible from knee surgery in 2021 and will fill the No. 4 spot.
Aaron Nola will start his fifth straight opener, followed by Kyle Gibson, Eflin, and Ranger Suárez.
“If the Big Five can stay healthy for us, starting-wise, we have a chance to have a really good season,” Dombrowski said.
For the moment, it looks like the Big Five will have lots of room for error.
Moniak hit, hurting
Moniak was hit by a pitch on the outside of his right hand, the meaty part below the pinkie, in the fourth inning. He left the game. X-rays were negative. After the game, the hand was wrapped tight in black compression tape as he received electric stimulation therapy.
“It swelled up a little bit,” Moniak said. “I’m confident I’ll be good to go pretty soon.”
The Phillies begin their season at 3:05 p.m. Friday against the Oakland A’s at Citizens Bank Park. Moniak is expected to start in center field.
Suárez’s arrival was delayed by visa issues, so he started just two big-league games this spring. He pitched 3 ⅔ scoreless innings and reached 43 pitches Wednesday, seven fewer than his maximum, but the fact that he pitched into the fourth curtailed his count. He’ll be limited to 60 when he starts Monday against the Mets. The shutout was a sidelight to Suarez’s most exciting moment.
Yandy Diaz ripped a 104.7 mph line drive up the middle that knocked the glove off Suárez’s right hand. Suarez recovered, scrambled, and threw out Diaz to end the third. Suárez was not injured — he returned in the fourth — but he was relieved, and proud of his athleticism.
“Luckily, it got all glove,” said Suárez, a languid, laconic sort whose quickness was startling. “I’m always in the gym doing agility drills. That helps, for sure.”
The most important spring performance that was generally ignored belonged to closer Corey Knebel. Wednesday, he retired the only batter he faced. In seven spring games, he gave up one run — a homer — and four hits in total, with six strikeouts and zero walks in 6⅓ innings. ... Due to the abbreviated spring training caused by the lockout, Girardi did not use any relievers on back-to-back days. However, he did not rule out using relievers on back-to-back days when the season starts. ... Controversial outfielder Odúbel Herrera entered camp penciled in to be the left-handed bat opposite Vierling in center field, but a strained oblique sidelined him three weeks ago. The prognosis of a 4-6 weeks recovery is on schedule, and he’ll begin live batting practice Saturday. ... José Alvarado, who has hit 100 mph this spring, hit 99 mph three times in his 1-2-3 sixth inning, when he struck out two. ... The Phillies need to make a move by noon Thursday to put Stott on the 40-man roster.