To prepare for what he anticipated would be a three- or even four-way competition for the Phillies’ center-field job, Adam Haseley built a home gym in his garage last fall. He put on 15 pounds of muscle. And he recommitted to giving maximum effort and intensity on every play, no matter how routine.
Then, in his third spring-training game, he strained his groin.
“Right when it happened I was pretty beat up about it,” Haseley said Wednesday. “I was pretty shaken up.”
That’s about as much emotion as you’ll get from the Phillies’ 2017 first-round pick. Haseley is super-serious, reserved to the point of seeming almost robotic. After making a leaping catch to rob a home run in Cincinnati two years ago, he matter-of-factly took a few steps in from the warning track, flipped the ball from his glove to his left hand, and heaved it back to the infield, prompting wisecracking teammate Brad Miller to quip, “He’s a showman.”
More like a classic introvert. But now, after gearing up for months to claim the only vacancy in the Phillies’ lineup, Haseley was being told he probably would miss four weeks, almost certainly removing him from consideration.
“[Manager] Joe [Girardi] and I had a conversation with all the trainers, and I’m explaining the aggressive nature that I wanted to have to get back, just for obvious reasons,” Haseley said. “I tried to push it as fast as I could without taking any risks.”
And so it was Wednesday, 20 days after first feeling a “burning sensation” while running the bases — and with neither Roman Quinn, nor Scott Kingery, nor Odúbel Herrera having seized control of the job — that Haseley led off and played center field against the Detroit Tigers.
Haseley went 0-for-3 in the Phillies’ 4-1 loss, but if the game had been played almost anywhere other than Lakeland, Fla., his 408-foot drive in the first inning might have been a home run rather than a flyout to center field.
“He’s had four at-bats and he’s squared up two balls. That’s a pretty good percentage,” Girardi said, referencing Haseley’s pinch-hit single Tuesday night in his first game back. “Considering he had all that time off, those two at-bats were pretty good.”
But is there enough time, with the Phillies breaking camp Monday, for Haseley to claim a spot on the opening-day roster?
“I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that,” Girardi said. “I know there’s not a lot of time, but we’re still in the competition. I value that it’s still a competition.”
If there’s a front-runner, it’s probably Quinn, who has cut down on his strikeouts over the last few weeks and focused on putting his sprinter speed to use by reaching base more often. Kingery is 5-for-36 with 15 strikeouts. Herrera has had his moments, specifically three home runs. But he also has only three hits in his last 20 at-bats. And as the only candidate who isn’t on the 40-man roster, he needed to outperform all the others.
The path remains clear, then, for Haseley if he’s able to make up for lost time. He realizes the urgency. It’s one of the reasons why he pushed to beat the Phillies’ initial four-week timeline. He reminded the trainers that he suffered a similar injury after making his major-league debut in 2019 and was back playing in 19 days.
Haseley, 24, batted .266 with five homers and a .720 OPS two years ago, and played well enough that former general manager Matt Klentak declared him the prohibitive favorite to be the Phillies’ primary center fielder last season. But Haseley struggled early and lapsed into a platoon with Quinn.
The Phillies ranked 26th in the majors last season with a .637 OPS from the center-field position. Thus, the open competition in spring training.
Haseley has 14 plate appearances in exhibition games compared to 41 for Herrera, 40 for Kingery, and 35 for Quinn. But that isn’t counting Haseley’s at-bats in simulated games alongside catchers J.T. Realmuto and Rafael Marchan over the last few weeks.
The Phillies have little doubt that Realmuto will be on the opening-day roster despite not playing in an exhibition game until Tuesday night because of a broken right thumb. If the star catcher will have enough at-bats to be considered ready, surely Haseley will, too.
“Up to a couple days ago, I think I had 10 at-bats every day,” Haseley said. “It felt like I didn’t miss too much time from a swinging and throwing perspective. Just running.”
Haseley tested his groin by going from first to third Tuesday night. He chased down Jeimer Candelario’s triple in the first inning on Wednesday and a fly ball in the third, then said everything felt “normal for this time of year.”
“In my head, it’s a competition,” Haseley said. “It’s always been a competition against myself of how much I can give effort and intensity. I think it still is. A lot of it is out of my control, but certain things I can control is how hard I run or how I approach the game.
“I’m going to take whatever chances that I have left. I’m just going to see how hard I can play and how much effort I can give.”
Kingery went 1-for-3 with a walk; Herrera finished 1-for-4 with two strikeouts. ... Lefty reliever JoJo Romero solidified his standing for a bullpen spot by tossing 1 ⅔ scoreless innings. Hard-throwing Sam Coonrod also continued his solid spring with a scoreless eighth inning. ... Left-hander Matt Moore is scheduled to start at 6:05 p.m. Thursday against the Yankees in Clearwater, Fla. The game will air on NBC Sports Philadelphia and WIP-FM (94.1).