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Now a roster lock, Walker confident in value

@ToddZolecki
July 19, 2020

PHILADELPHIA -- Neil Walker has learned and seen a few things in his 11-year big league career. A former top prospect who became an everyday second baseman on a postseason contender in Pittsburgh, he spent the past couple seasons playing everywhere on the field with the Yankees and Marlins. It

PHILADELPHIA -- Neil Walker has learned and seen a few things in his 11-year big league career. A former top prospect who became an everyday second baseman on a postseason contender in Pittsburgh, he spent the past couple seasons playing everywhere on the field with the Yankees and Marlins.

It led him to this weekend’s news that he made the Phillies' Opening Day roster as a utility player. He is just fine with that.

“My value really is in my versatility. My value is, at this point, being a really good insurance policy for this team,” Walker said before Sunday night’s exhibition game against the Orioles at Citizens Bank Park.

Walker entered camp as a non-roster invitee, the first time in forever that he entered Spring Training without a job.

“I knew I was going to have to come in and show my versatility, but also perform,” he said. “I felt like I started to play a lot better later in the first Spring Training, but I was also able to bounce around -- first, second, third, some left field -- so I knew that was going to important. And then when the second one kicked off I had done enough -- I was in Pittsburgh for the quarantine -- and I just knew that if I was healthy and I was given the opportunity that I was going to have a good opportunity to make this team, and that’s what happened.”

The Phillies could have asked Walker to go their alternate training site Allentown, Pa., once the season started and continue to train with other Phils in the event he is needed. It was never an option. Walker said in the spring that he had no interest playing in Triple-A.

It was big leagues with the Phillies or someplace else.

“I’m at the point in my career now where I feel like I don’t have really much to prove at the lower levels,” Walker said. “I’m not 25, 26 years old anymore. I’m working on 35 and felt like if for some reason it didn’t work here, I was probably not going to go to Lehigh Valley, and obviously that’s not the case. I’m willing to be a third catcher. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help this team. Obviously, it’s a very, very talented group. But I feel like from an insurance policy standpoint as a player. I feel like my value is pretty high. Hopefully I’ll be used accordingly, I guess.”

Walker has made more than $51 million in his career, according to Baseball-Reference. He could have just walked away when no big league contracts came this winter, but he still wants to play. He expressed pride in the fact that he needs just six more days in the big leagues to have 10 years of service time, fulling vesting his pension with the league.

“I kind of feel like I'm playing with house money now. That is a freeing feeling,” he said. “I love this game. When I was coming up, I had a brother who was playing in the Minor Leagues with the Tigers. I had another brother who was playing at George Mason University. My brother-in-law [Don Kelly] is the bench coach for the Pirates now. My dad played for several years. My uncle played for several years. So it's been ingrained in me since I was really young. I'm going to play until that passion's gone. I'm nowhere near that.”

Harper hitting second
Phillies manager Joe Girardi talked in the spring about hitting Bryce Harper second or third in the lineup this season. During Sunday's exhibition against the Orioles, Harper hit second, between Andrew McCutchen and J.T. Realmuto.

If it happens or not during the season, it sounds like Girardi at least wants to stick with a steady lineup throughout much of the year.

“I’m going to play with a few more things as we move forward here the last few days to try to get something that’s consistent,” Girardi said. “I’d like some consistency in the lineup.”

Oh, Buffalo?
The Blue Jays will not play in Toronto this season following a recent ruling by its government because of its concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. The Phillies were scheduled to play in Toronto from July 31-Aug. 2.

Buffalo, N.Y., and Dunedin, Fla., have been mentioned as potential alternative home sites for the Blue Jays. They also are reportedly exploring big league ballparks as options.

“Do they play on the road for a while?” Girardi asked. “Does that become three home games for us? I think we’re all a little bit curious about what’s going to happen in that situation. Maybe we get three more days at home.”

What would Girardi think about the Blue Jays maybe playing a few “home” games in Philly?

“I think we all know that we have to do whatever it takes to get these 60 games in,” he said. “We knew there’d be some hurdles that we’d have to clear. Whatever we’ve got to do, we’ve got to do. You still have to play baseball.”

Extra bases
• The Phillies may open their alternate training site in Allentown, Pa., on Wednesday.

Up next
The Phillies play their third and final exhibition game Monday, this one against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, live on MLB.TV and MLB Network. Vince Velasquez, a potential candidate to take Zack Wheeler's rotation spot should he land on the paternity list, gets the ball opposite Deivi García, with a 6:05 p.m. ET first pitch.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .