Skip to content
Sports
Link copied to clipboard

Phillies' Rupp is mashing the ball, but defense behind the plate is lacking

SAN FRANCISCO - When Cameron Rupp smashed a double - his 14th - to right field Friday night, he matched his career total before this season in 201 fewer plate appearances. He entered Saturday with a .773 OPS, a number eclipsed by just four other catchers in baseball.

SAN FRANCISCO - When Cameron Rupp smashed a double - his 14th - to right field Friday night, he matched his career total before this season in 201 fewer plate appearances. He entered Saturday with a .773 OPS, a number eclipsed by just four other catchers in baseball.

The 27-year-old Rupp, with more frequent playing time, has discovered a power stroke he lacked for much of his time in the minors.

"For me, if I get on first base, it takes at least two hits to score me," Rupp said, with a smile. "That's the nature of it. Hitting doubles and hitting homers, for a guy like me, that's what I need to do at the plate."

Still, the Phillies face a dilemma because they have acknowledged that Rupp's game-calling skills do not match those of Carlos Ruiz. This season, team officials have often said, is about developing the franchise's young pitchers. Jerad Eickhoff has found recent success when paired with Ruiz, and the veteran will catch Aaron Nola on Sunday for the first time.

Is there a brewing catcher controversy?

"Possibly," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "That's the hard part of about this job. You have to give up something to get something, and right now we need offense. At least right now, Cam offers more offense. However, is it more important to guide the young pitcher and bring him along with some veteran experience?"

Mackanin has plans to play Ruiz more, at least in the near future. But there must be some openness among the pitchers, too, the manager said.

"Pitchers have to understand," Mackanin said. "If a guy can hit, you better learn to pitch to him."

Mackanin admitted that Ruiz is ahead of Rupp when it comes to calling a game, but that is to be expected. Ruiz has immense experience with frontline pitchers, who have praised his decision-making skills for years. But is Rupp so far behind defensively that his bat cannot compensate?

There is consternation about how pregame strategy has been applied in certain cases.

"They have meetings. They have charts," Mackanin said. "Sometimes it surprises you. You go over it in a meeting, and there's input back and forth, and you get in a game and it's: 'What are you doing? Pitch according to the book we have here.' Sometimes guys don't do that."

Rupp said the first half of the season, as he oversaw a young pitching staff, has taught him one lesson above all: "You can't fall into any patterns," he said.

Rupp, who started 100 games in his first three seasons, said experience is the best tool for improvement as a game-caller.

"You get to know hitters as you get to play against them more and more," Rupp said. "It becomes a little bit more natural. You know how to pitch them. You know his weaknesses and your pitcher's strengths."

The Phillies have two potential catchers of the future in the minors, with Andrew Knapp at triple-A Lehigh Valley and Jorge Alfaro at double-A Reading. Both of those prospects have well-regarded bats but questions about their defense. It could be that Rupp will split time with one of those catchers in 2017. Mackanin identified catcher as a "defensive position."

But Rupp's hitting has impressed, and there is something to be said for that. His slugging percentage was 94 points higher entering Saturday than it was a season ago. Only Wilson Ramos, Salvador Perez, Jonathan Lucroy, and Buster Posey had higher OPS figures.

"When you get a pitch in the zone, it's being more aggressive with it," Rupp said. "It's swinging with authority and trusting yourself instead of just throwing the bat out there and hoping it hits it."

But, for a catcher, that is just half of the equation.

mgelb@philly.com

@MattGelb

Published