Joe Girardi would stand by any Phillies player who decides not to stand for the national anthem this season.
“I support my players wholeheartedly,” the manager said Thursday.
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The issue arose one day after St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty told reporters it’s “absolutely possible” that some players won’t stand for the anthem in protest of racial injustice in the United States.
Flaherty is among 130 players who joined the Players Alliance, a group formed last month by Detroit Tigers outfielder Cameron Maybin after the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. Phillies left fielder Andrew McCutchen is among seven active players on the advisory board, according to the group’s website; Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard are on the former-player advisory board.
“I think that we will probably see some things,” Girardi said. “Because everyone has different feelings when it comes to what’s going on in our country. I think it’s important that we understand each other, and that we respect each other, and we respect each other’s point of view. Because it’s that why we live in this country? That’s what I’ve always thought. So whatever they do, I support what they do.”
Last month, McCutchen cowrote an op-ed in USA Today that called for systemic changes to American policing. He also recently appeared on “The Sports Bubble” podcast and discussed whether the Black Lives Matter movement will permeate Major League Baseball at a time when the population of Black players has dropped to about 8%.
“I feel that there will be some people that understand it, but I do feel that it needs to continue to be talked about,” McCutchen said. “And with the amount of African Americans that are in this game, if we don’t talk about it, it’ll easily be swept under a rug.
“There are some guys who feel they may want to say something or speak up or talk about it, but at the same time they don’t want to feel that they’re overstepping their boundaries or feel like they’re making people uncomfortable, considering that they’re one of maybe three African Americans in the clubhouse. If that.
“So it takes people like myself and others in this game to be able to speak up.”
As he caught Vince Velasquez in Thursday's intrasquad scrimmage at Citizens Bank Park, J.T. Realmuto noticed something different about the right-hander.
“He worked on a new pitch during the quarantine,” Realmuto said.
Indeed, Velasquez broke out a cutter to supplement his fastball, curveball, and a changeup that “he’s using a lot more than in the past,” Realmuto said. Velasquez mostly shelved his changeup last season, throwing it only 1.1% of the time, compared to 5.2% in 2018, 10.2% in 2017, and 12.8% in 2016, according to Fangraphs.
Perhaps it represents another attempt by Velasquez to diversify his repertoire.
“I was talking to [pitching coach] Bryan Price about it,” Realmuto said. “We’re not going to be so one-dimensional with him. We’re going to move the ball around the plate, pitch up, pitch down, mix the changeup in, mix that cutter in, and he’s always had the curveball. I expect big things from him.”
In spring training, Velasquez was competing for the fifth starter job with Nick Pivetta and lefty Ranger Suarez. Although that competition will pick up again over the next two weeks, Girardi noted the need to keep more than five starters stretched out because of the risk of illness and injury during a pandemic-shortened season.
“I wouldn’t go to a six-man rotation or seven-man rotation. I just think we have to have those guys built up as much as possible just because of if there was an outbreak in the clubhouse,” Girardi said. “We saw what happened with [Aaron] Nola. We had to sit him down because we thought he was exposed. Then if he sees two other guys and plays catch with his buddies, I mean, it could happen fast.”