MIAMI — Fifteen hours after catching for the first time in eight days, J.T. Realmuto was back behind the plate for the Phillies here Sunday.
A sign that his sore right shoulder may be on the mend?
“Yeah, the shoulder feels good,” Realmuto said before the game. “I really don’t know how much I’ll catch, how much I’ll play first, but I’m good to go behind the plate.”
Realmuto hadn’t started back-to-back games behind the plate since a run of four in a row from Aug. 24-27. It marked the first time he started a day game after a night game since Aug. 18-19 in Arizona.
Manager Joe Girardi said last weekend that Realmuto will get time at first base with Rhys Hoskins out after season-ending surgery to repair a lower-abdominal tear. The Phillies’ plan didn’t change even after vaccinated Andrew Knapp tested positive for a breakthrough case of COVID-19, leaving 22-year-old rookie Rafael Marchan as the only other catcher on the roster.
It appears the allocation of Realmuto’s playing time will be tied more to matchups with opposing pitchers than the status of his shoulder. Realmuto said he expects to play first base against left-handed starters and catch against righties, although he caught Saturday night against Marlins lefty Trevor Rogers.
Regardless, the Phillies showed great confidence in Marchan by recently having him catch six consecutive games in the midst of a playoff race. Girardi, a former catcher, has long been impressed with Marchan’s defense. Realmuto is a fan, too.
“He’s ready. You could just tell,” Realmuto said. “He has that confidence in what he does and how he goes about the game. At 22 years old, that’s pretty special, especially at catcher. When you’re that young, it’s really hard to catch in the big leagues just because there’s so much pressure on you to manage the game, not just the physical stuff but working with pitchers.
“When I was 22, I was sitting in double A not even thinking about catching in the big leagues yet. He just seems ready. There’s nothing that fazes him. The game slows down for him behind the plate. That’s special.”
If anything, Realmuto said Marchan often asks for pointers about improving as a hitter. He has batted .265 with no homers and a .645 OPS in 1,074 plate appearances over five minor league seasons, but .302 with two homers and an .834 OPS in 58 plate appearances in the majors.
“Last year when he was up with us, he came up to me and asked, ‘Hey, with your hitting, what do you do, how do you get better? I want to work on my catching, but my biggest area of growth is hitting right now,’” Realmuto said. “I just kind of told some offseason stuff to do, and I could tell his at-bats this year, he’s so much more confident in the box.”
Girardi had a good reason for lifting starter Ranger Suárez after five scoreless innings Saturday night. The young lefty is dealing with triceps tightness, a byproduct of pitching a lot this season after throwing barely at all last year.
Suárez checked out fine after the game, according to president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, who said the Phillies aren’t concerned about the 25-year-old missing his scheduled start Thursday night at home against the Colorado Rockies.
“His [situation] is nothing unusual,” Dombrowski said. “It’s just the normal, end-of-the-season, being careful with a guy who hasn’t started a lot. He’s fine.”
Suárez has pitched 72 innings this season after throwing only four innings for the Phillies last season following his recovery from COVID-19. He also missed most of spring training after being delayed by visa problems. He was a reliever for most of the season before joining the rotation last month and pitching as a starter in the majors for the first time since 2018.
“For sure it’s something I take into account that I hadn’t started a game in two years,” Suárez said of a “tired arm” condition that some pitchers experience late in spring training. “I think that has something to do with it.”
Second baseman Jean Segura wasn’t in the lineup Sunday, but he did pinch hit in the seventh, grounding out to shortstop. It was just a day off, according to Girardi, although Segura appeared to be hobbled after legging out an infield single in the fifth inning Saturday night. ... Could the Phillies carry three catchers once Knapp is cleared to return from COVID-19? It’s possible, Dombrowski said, although the Phillies will send Knapp on a minor league rehab assignment first. ... Left fielder Andrew McCutchen’s 1.098 OPS against left-handed pitchers leads the majors among hitters with at least 165 plate appearances against lefties. Since 1974, Mike Schmidt is the only Phillies hitter with a better OPS against lefties in a season (1.152 in 1974 and 1.181 in 1986). ... Zack Wheeler (11-9, 3.01 ERA) and Brewers ace Brandon Woodruff (9-7, 2.35) will square off Monday in Milwaukee. The Cy Young Award hopefuls dueled on May 6 at Citizens Bank Park, with Wheeler tossing a three-hit shutout in a 2-0 victory.