Phillies to begin pennant defense with plenty of swagger

March 28th, 2023

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies walked off their 2023 Grapefruit League campaign Tuesday at BayCare Ballpark, getting a one-out RBI double in the bottom of the ninth inning from to defeat the Blue Jays, 6-5. Hall flew around the bases, stopping at third to spike his batting helmet, flex, then catch a jubilant Garrett Stubbs, who dived into Hall’s arms in celebration.

What did it mean? Actually, not much. The Phillies (16-15-1 in Spring Training) got in their work and weathered more than their fair share of injuries before boarding their charter flight for Texas, where they will begin the regular season Thursday afternoon against the Rangers at Globe Life Field.

Now comes the task of defending the National League championship. Phillies manager Rob Thomson is optimistic.

“I always think we’re the best team in baseball,’’ Thomson said with a smile. “I just do. It doesn’t matter what team we've got. I’m always confident in the people that we have.

“But I feel really good about this club. We’re talented. And we really play together. They enjoy each other. They pull for each other. They fight for each other. It’s a good group.’’

The Phillies will begin without first baseman Rhys Hoskins, who is out for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee, and outfielder Bryce Harper, who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and isn’t expected back until June (although the door was left open for an earlier return).

Hoskins was scheduled for reconstructive surgery Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas.

“I think we have the same outlook that we had coming into camp,’’ Phillies catcher said. “We know injuries are part of baseball, but we feel we’ve built a team here that can withstand those things. Our confidence has not wavered.

“I still think we’re deep as far as the pitching staff goes. I know our bullpen from top to bottom is very good. Obviously, it stinks not having a couple of our pitchers [lefty and righty ], but we have tremendous quality at the top end and enough depth to carry us through.’’

Suárez (left elbow inflammation) threw hard on flat ground Monday and is expected to begin mound work soon. Painter (right UCL sprain), the club’s No. 1 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is near the end of four idle weeks and is expected to start a throwing program in April.

Cave’s standout spring
All-time Grapefruit League records are elusive. But Phillies outfielder , claimed off waivers from the Orioles in December, turned in one of the best springs anyone could remember by hitting .462 with three home runs, 14 RBIs and a 1.327 OPS in 52 at-bats.

Cave, 30, made his third Opening Day roster.

“All I know is I had three homers, because that’s easy to remember,’’ Cave said. “Throughout the season, I will do everything I can to not look at the scoreboard. I don’t want to see my [batting] average or my OPS. I know if I’ve had a good or bad day.

“All spring, I feel like I’ve had a lot of good days. I’ve felt calm in the box. I felt like I knew when to take pitches and when to swing. When you feel like that, things happen and the numbers usually play out. Of course, there are times when you get robbed or times when you get lucky, but it evens out. I’ve been in the situation where I’ve played every day, and I’ve been in the situation where I haven’t. I’m ready for both. But obviously, I want to be out there contributing.’’

Turner’s impact
Phillies shortstop was limited to eight Grapefruit League games because of the World Baseball Classic, where he was a star for Team USA. He hit safely in six of them and batted .478 with two homers in 23 at-bats.

“It’s incredible,’’ Thomson said. “It seems like he never makes an out. I just want to box that up and take it right to Texas.’’

“We’ve seen what Trea is when he’s cooking,’’ Realmuto said. “He’s such a dynamic player. He affects the game from so many angles. It’s amazing to have a guy like that as the spark plug to get us going.’’

Falter’s control falters
Phillies left-hander , known for his pinpoint control, walked three consecutive Blue Jays with one out in the first inning Tuesday, throwing 12 balls during a 13-pitch sequence. It was an odd look for Falter, Philadelphia’s No. 3 starter to begin the season. Falter once faced 119 consecutive batters without issuing a walk, and after June 17 last season, he had the NL’s third-lowest walk percentage (4.3) behind Max Scherzer (3.5) and Aaron Nola (3.9).

“I honestly can’t tell you the last time I had three walks in a game,’’ Falter said. “I feel like I got squeezed [with a small strike zone] on a couple of pitches there. But I mean, it’s a Spring Training game at 12 o’clock in the afternoon. I’m healthy. Everything feels good. It’s fine.’’

Falter will throw a bullpen session Thursday, then face the Rangers in a nationally televised game on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET Sunday.

“I believe I’ll be fired up,’’ Falter said.