CLEARWATER, Fla. - Andrew Knapp reported to spring training with a job pretty much secured. The Phillies all but named him the team's backup catcher before camp opened. No pressure.
Knapp, who has yet to reach the majors, responded with two hits in his first 25 Grapefruit League at-bats. It was a rough start. But the 25-year-old is starting to find his footing. Knapp homered Sunday in a 6-3 win over Pittsburgh and played well behind the plate, throwing out two runners.
The Phillies' decision makers met Sunday evening to discuss the opening-day roster and Knapp made a strong push to keep his spot secure. Veterans Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan remain in the mix to back up Cameron Rupp.
"It was in the back of my mind a little bit, but I was trying not to think about it as much," Knapp said. "Realistically, it was just a timing issue with the game. [Hitting coach Matt] Stairs and I got in the cage and worked hard on getting back into the swing of the game. It was probably a little bit of that. Trying to make the team, trying to do too much."
Sunday was Knapp's first multi-hit game of spring and he now has five hits in his last 13 at-bats. He struggled to find his swing with irregular playing time at the start of camp but has hit a groove by starting three of the team's last four games. The playing time also helps Knapp not think about the pending roster decisions, which should be finalized sometime this week.
"When you're just sitting on the bench, you're thinking about a million things," Knapp said. "But when you're in the game, you get away from that a little bit. Just go out there, play, and enjoy the game. It's helped a lot."
Knapp met last week with manager Pete Mackanin, wanting to tell him that he was still confident despite his spring struggles. They had a good talk, Knapp said. He told the manager to keep using him and he would figure his way out of his slump. The catcher has seemed to do that and could be a week away from starting his rookie season.
"I know he hasn't had a good spring, but I know he can hit. All the minor-league people tell me he can hit, and he's coming around," Mackanin said. "As long as he's catching well - he made a couple of nice throws. Knapp is holding his own right now. Given more at-bats, he's going to start showing that he's a better hitter."
The competition for the final two spots in the Phillies bullpen became a bit thinner Sunday morning when lefthander Sean Burnett was granted his release. Burnett, who has twice had Tommy John surgery, allowed two earned runs in nine innings this spring. He had no strikeouts and two walks in seven outings. The 34-year-old returned to the majors in September with Washington after having his second Tommy John surgery in May 2014.
Brock Stassi did not play Sunday, marking the third time in five games that he did not hit in a game. The bench hopeful has just three at-bats in the last five days. . . . Second baseman Jesmuel Valentin raised his spring OPS to 1.006 with three more hits. He'll play shortstop Monday. . . . Pat Venditte, the non-roster switch-pitcher, had a good outing. He induced a double-play ball to escape a jam started by Clay Buchholz. "It's fun to watch Venditte pitch," Mackanin said. "If I'm up in the stands and I see him throw four pitches from the right side and I reach over to get my Coke or beer and I look back up and he's throwing from the left side, I will start wondering how many beers I had."