Going into Tuesday’s doubleheader in Washington, the “J.T.” in J.T. Realmuto stood for “just try.”
Realmuto made his anticipated return from a hip injury by catching Phillies starter Aaron Nola in the first game against the Nationals. He wasn’t scheduled to play the second game, but after a 5-1 loss in the opener, Realmuto was back in as the designated hitter.
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“I feel pretty good," Realmuto said. “I’m definitely not 100 percent, but we kind of knew once the injury happened that I wouldn’t be able to get to 100 percent before the season was over. But it feels good enough. For me it was a no-brainer to try and come back and try to help the team."
Realmuto went 1-for-3 in the first game, then went 2-for-5 in the finale, including legging out an infield single with the bases loaded to tie the game in the sixth inning. The Phillies lost, 8-7, on a walk-off homer by Yadiel Hernandez in the eighth.
The Phillies have been cautious with Realmuto, who strained his left hip flexor while running to first base on Sept. 12 in Miami. Despite not being placed on the injured list, he missed 11 games out of concern that he could aggravate the injury while running at full speed.
It was a good sign, then, that Realmuto was able to get back in the lineup for the nightcap. He appeared hobbled after beating out the infield hit and said his hip was “throbbing.” But he also told manager Joe Girardi that he would be available to play Wednesday night in the series finale.
“I don’t feel like I went backwards any, and that’s the most important thing," Realmuto said. "As long as I can stay where I’m at and not take any steps back, should be good to go the rest of the year.”
A free agent after the season, Realmuto figures to be the best position player on the market. The Phillies have repeatedly said they want to re-sign him.
But they were unable to work out a contract extension before the season, and general manager Matt Klentak didn’t set an optimistic tone Monday in claiming the team doesn’t feel added pressure to sign Realmuto after acquiring him 19 months ago a package that included right-hander Sixto Sanchez, who is having a terrific rookie season for the Miami Marlins.
“Everybody would love to have J.T.,” said Girardi, a former catcher with a particular appreciation for Realmuto. “That’s how good he is. That’s how good he is in our clubhouse, and that’s how good of a person he is. But those are things for me to worry about later. I’m praying that J.T. gets through today and he’s fine. That’s what I’m worried about, because he’s so important to our team, he’s so important to our lineup.”
First baseman Rhys Hoskins was expected to take a few “dry swings” without a ball to gauge the grip strength in his left arm. He has been sidelined since Sept. 12 with a strained ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow.
It’s far from certain that Hoskins will be able to return for the final series of the season or any potential playoff games. Even if he does, he might need Tommy John elbow surgery in the offseason.
The Phillies nevertheless included Hoskins in their 40-man pool of players who are eligible for the postseason. Although teams aren’t allowed to replace players on that list, the Phillies believed the potential of getting back Hoskins outweighed any replacements.
“We don’t know exactly what Rhys’ timeframe is,” Klentak said. “He’s making good progress and he is tough as nails, so I believe if anybody can return and beat the expectation, it’ll be him. You figure if he can get back, that’s a guy we’re going to want on our team.”