CLEVELAND -- Enough, Gabe Kapler said, was finally enough.
Never mind that the Phillies are dangling by their fingernails in the National League wild-card chase. Or that they need to win as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their faint hopes alive. Or that they were playing Friday night in an American League ballpark where they could make use of the designated hitter.
J.T. Realmuto, Kapler claimed as adamantly as he has about anything all season, needed a rest, even though the Phillies insisted the All-Star catcher isn’t injured.
“A catcher playing as much as J.T. has played to date and going through a stretch like this without a blow would be absolutely unprecedented,” Kapler said before the Phillies opened a three-game series against the Cleveland Indians. “This is what is best for J.T. Realmuto, him going forward this season, and his career. He needs to be protected and shown the respect that most players around the league get, and that involves allowing him, helping him recover.”
Realmuto had started nine consecutive games, 14 of 15, and 33 of 36 behind the plate since Aug. 9. He has played more games (131), made more starts (128) and caught more innings (1,123 1/3) than any catcher in baseball. Milwaukee’s Yasmani Grandal was second with 1,040⅔ innings entering play Friday.
Still, given the Phillies’ predicament, it was a curious decision to rest Realmuto now. Through a team official, Realmuto declined to comment, saying there was nothing to talk about.
The Phillies could have elected to use Realmuto as the DH against the Indians to keep his bat in the lineup. But while Kapler said Realmuto was available off the bench and conceded that he likely would be used in a pinch-hitting situation, the manager was determined to give him as much of a full day off as possible, including not having him take batting practice on the field or go through any pregame catching drills.
The Phillies don’t have a day off before the end of the season. Including Friday night, they play 11 games in 10 days, including a day-night doubleheader Tuesday in Washington. Kapler said he “informed” Realmuto of his decision. He declined to say if Realmuto tried to talk him out of it.
“He has worked incredibly hard, and it is a grind mentally and physically,” Kapler said. “After doing a lot of homework on it, my decision was to give him the entire day off. The blow leading up to the game is huge, the mental refresher is enormous, and the physical blow from just grinding like he has for so many days in a row. [It] felt like the sensible and responsible play for J.T. and for the Phillies moving forward.”
Backup catcher Andrew Knapp has started only 24 games and was batting .194 with one homer and a .585 on-base plus slugging percentage entering Friday night. Among 422 non-pitchers with at least 125 plate appearances this season, Knapp ranked 415th with a .259 slugging percentage.
Asked if the Phillies need to acquire a better backup to help give Realmuto more rest throughout the season, Kapler defended Knapp.
"I feel like Andrew Knapp has done a good job recently in his opportunities," he said. "I feel a level of confidence in Andrew Knapp to call a good game, to lead our pitching staff."
Kapler said the "most likely scenario" has Realmuto behind the plate on Saturday and Sunday nights against the Indians.
Shortstop Jean Segura was in the initial lineup, but after taking batting practice, he was scratched due to a balky right ankle that has been hampering him, according to Kapler. Segura left Thursday’s game in Atlanta with a left hamstring cramp.
Scott Kingery moved to shortstop, while Maikel Franco was inserted to the lineup at third base.