Given that the Phillies need every ounce of offense they can get in the final playoff push, and the availability of the designated hitter slot, the move was a bit of a surprise. But Realmuto had caught nine games in a row and 34 of the last 36, and manager Gabe Kapler, who was pressed on the issue several times in his pregame scrum with reporters, said it was time to give his backstop a break, with Andrew Knapp getting the start instead. Knapp went 1-for-3 with a double and allowed a pair of stolen bases.
“This is what is best for J.T. Realmuto going forward this season and in his career,” Kapler said. “He needs to be protected and shown the respect that most players around the league get. And that involves allowing him, and helping him, recover.”
Realmuto’s 128 games started behind the plate are the most in the Majors by a comfortable margin. Entering Friday, the Brewers’ Yasmani Grandal was second with 116 starts. Realmuto had caught 1,123 1/3 innings to Grandal’s 1,040 2/3.
Why not use Realmuto as the DH? For one, Kapler was adamant about giving him a full break. He also cited Indians starter Shane Bieber’s strong numbers against right-handed hitters (.631 opponents’ OPS) as a good reason to do this Friday (although, for full disclosure, lefties had just a .689 OPS against Bieber, so that wasn’t much better). The left-handed hitting Jay Bruce got the start at DH.
The Realmuto move was only a story because of the Phillies’ precarious position in the NL Wild Card standings. But Kapler insisted he wanted to do right by the player.
“A catcher playing as much as J.T. has played, to date, and going through a stretch like this without a blow, would be absolutely unprecedented,” Kapler said.
One day after he exited Friday's game early with an apparent leg injury, Jean Segura was temporarily back in the Phillies’ starting lineup Friday, only to be scratched an hour before the game due to left ankle soreness.
Kapler had said Segura was still feeling some soreness, but hoped the shortstop could get through pregame workouts without any issues. Ultimately, the club made the decision to pull Segura from the lineup during batting practice, with Scott Kingery moving from third to short and Maikel Franco taking over at the hot corner. Kingery went 1-for-4, while Franco went 1-for-3 with a two-run double that accounted for Philadelphia's only runs.
“We talked to him after his batting practice session, and his issue was moving laterally and taking ground balls at shortstop,” Kapler said. “We couldn’t really put him out there and risk that. And the other thing was we needed him to be able to range at shortstop. It didn’t make much sense to put him out there. We’ll see how he’s doing [Saturday] and try to get him in the lineup then.”
Pitching plan not finalized
The Phillies know Aaron Nola will start one of the Phillies’ two games in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, though they haven’t finalized which one. Nor have they decided who will start the other game of the doubleheader, but regardless of who gets the call, it will be an all-hands-on-deck bullpen affair.
Though Nick Pivetta could conceivably give the Phillies some length under ordinary circumstances, he’s been dealing with what Kapler termed “mild” right shoulder soreness over the past week, and the Phillies want to protect him. Kapler said starting Cole Irvin or Ranger Suarez would “make sense,” because both have starting experience.
Phils face Santana
Less than two years ago, Carlos Santana was the Phillies’ shiny new prize in free agency, a focal point of their attempt to rise up the standings.
On Friday, he was in the other dugout, in the midst of a resurgent, All-Star season with the Indians.
Kapler said the Phillies have studied why Santana, who had a difficult 2018 season in Philadelphia (.766 OPS, 105 OPS+), has surged in his return to Cleveland (.924 OPS, 138 OPS+) this year.
“One of the most interesting things is he’s actually hitting balls outside the strike zone as well as he is hitting balls inside the strike zone,” Kapler said. “It makes it really difficult for us to pitch to him. He’s also more upright in his stance, more fluid with his swing.”