Phillips won't be playing -- he'll be coaching

Outfielder left off Rays' ALDS roster but still bringing energy, enthusiasm

October 7th, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays may have left outfielder off their American League Division Series roster, but that doesn’t mean they won’t still benefit from his presence.

Phillips emerged from the Rays’ dugout prior to Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Tropicana Field, sporting first-base coach Ozzie Timmons’ helmet and a stopwatch around his neck. He may not be seen doing an airplane impression around the field this series, but the one positive of leaving him off the roster is the return of Coach Phillips.

“Rodney [Linares] knows that I’m coaching third base tonight,” Phillips said, in his usual sarcastic (but convincingly serious) tone. “Clearly, I’ve got my stopwatch.”

Well, a stopwatch is usually used by first-base coaches, but Phillips clarified that he’s changing the game and using his in a way no one has ever thought of before.

“I like to time how long the ball gets hit in the air," Phillips said. "I think that’s a great way of evaluating talent is when they hit it and how far it stays in the air. And then obviously stop it when it comes down. … That’s how they evaluate punters. That’s how I evaluate baseball players.”

Coach Phillips went viral in 2020, when he was shown on camera holding up acronyms written out on a clipboard, including “Rakes All Night, Day, Year” for Randy Arozarena. When Phillips was asked if it would be back again this series, he sprinted toward the clubhouse and came back seconds later with a white board that already had the phrase, “Relentless, Awesome, Youthful, Savvy,” written on it as an acronym for “Rays.”

“It only took me about 13 hours to come up with it,” Phillips said. “It’s just the best way I can describe this team.”

Phillips' white board will be close to him in the dugout throughout the game, and he said he’ll be prepared to come up with new phrases on the spot depending on the status of the game. His energy is always welcomed on the bench, but Rays manager Kevin Cash explained it wasn’t an easy decision to leave the enthusiastic outfielder, who had the single in Game 4 of the 2020 World Series that led to a walk-off win on an error, off the first-round roster.

“He certainly has played well and is deserving,” Cash explained, “but given how I'm very confident we're going to be aggressive with our pitchers and in the bullpen, we wanted to make sure that we added the extra pitcher. And then also, that theoretically we're going to be facing three lefties, or the potential to face three left-handed starters in this series.”

How did Phillips take the news? Well, in typical Phillips fashion.

“It was bananas,” Phillips said. “I, at the very least, thought I should be starting on the mound this game. I know Shane [McClanahan] is really good at what he does, but when they told me I wasn’t, it was bananas. But it’s all good. I think Shane is gonna do a great job. And so I’m OK with the decision.”

But Phillips then took a rare minute to give his real reaction to the news:

“I told Cashy and [Rays president of baseball operations Erik] Neander, ‘Listen, I believe in you guys so much and I have so much confidence,'” Phillips said. “’I want to win the World Series, and if that means leaving me off the roster for this series because of matchups, I’m 100 percent OK with it.’”

In the few minutes Phillips met with the media in the Rays’ dugout, there wasn’t a teammate who passed by without smiling at his ridiculous answers. Tyler Glasnow stood to the side and laughed throughout the entire interview before Phillips wrapped up the conversation by demonstrating what his double windmill (yes, both arms circling in opposite directions) would look like sending runners home while hopping in place.

He might not be on the roster, but it’s clear Phillips will find a way to make an impact on his team.

“He comes up every day with energy, that intensity,” Rays slugger Nelson Cruz said. “It [doesn’t] matter if he is playing or not, he always comes with that smile. He is a really, really nice kid -- one of the best teammates I've ever had all around. He cares about each and every one out there.”

Around the horn

• Tampa Bay only carried one left-handed pitcher on its ALDS roster: starter-turned-reliever Josh Fleming. Cash said the Rays believe they have enough right-handers with reverse splits who can neutralize Boston’s tougher left-handed hitters. The only other top lefty option, Ryan Yarbrough, will remain stretched out for potential future series.

• Reliever Matt Wisler, who dealt with a right middle finger issue near the end of the season, made the ALDS roster. Cash said Wisler is in a “much better spot” after pitching in two games and facing hitters in live batting practice during Tuesday’s workout at Tropicana Field. Right-hander Nick Anderson, who ended the season on the 10-day IL due to a back issue, is feeling better but is not on the roster.

• Rookie shortstop Wander Franco, at 20 years and 220 days old on Thursday, was in the lineup batting second in Game 1. The only other player his age or younger to start in the No. 2 hole in a postseason game was 19-year-old Bryce Harper, who did so five times in the 2012 National League Division Series.

• Cruz wore special cleats for Thursday’s series opener. The shoes, designed by Stadium Custom Kicks, depicted Playa de Morro Beach in Montecristi, Dominican Republic, a short trip from his hometown of Las Matas de Santa Cruz. They will be auctioned off, with all proceeds benefiting More Than Baseball as well as Cruz’s Boomstick23 Foundation.