CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Nobody loved to hit the pitcher eighth in a lineup more than Tony La Russa. Joe Maddon continued that love affair the past three seasons, hitting the pitcher eighth 204 times.
Gabe Kapler might be following Maddon's lead this season.
The Phillies hit the pitcher eighth in Saturday afternoon's 5-3 loss to the Rays in a Grapefruit League game at Spectrum Field. In what very well could be a preview of the Phillies' Opening Day lineup, Kapler had Vince Velasquez hitting eighth and J.P. Crawford hitting ninth. Aaron Nola will be the Opening Day starter, but one gets the idea.
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"We want more runners on base at the top of the lineup," Kapler said. "We're utilizing J.P.'s superior on-base skills. That's the intent there. It's possible that we use a similar kind of lineup during the season. We don't want to do anything for the first time in the season that we didn't do in practice here."
It is unclear how much value there is hitting the pitcher eighth -- past analytical research shows it could be negligible -- but Kapler said the idea is mostly about his personnel.
"If you think about where we can do a lot of damage, it's right at the top of our lineup," Kapler said.
He said if Carlos Santana or Rhys Hoskins is hitting second, which is likely, "it makes sense that we'd like J.P. standing on second or third base when those guys come up in the order. But it's not just J.P. It's going to be a personnel decision. Any edge that we can get to score more runs, we're going to go after it, even if it's just a minor edge."
Interestingly, the Phillies hit the pitcher eighth 35 times in 2016 to lead MLB.
No hard feelings for Hoskins
Hoskins is cool, everybody.
The Phillies announced Saturday they renewed his contract, while signing 31 other pre-arbitration players to deals.
The renewal means Hoskins was the only Phillies player unable to reach a contract agreement with the club. He will make a reported $552,500, which is $7,500 above the league minimum. Hoskins hit 18 home runs in 50 games last season, but he has only 53 days of service time. It is unclear how much Hoskins requested.
"I think there was just an agreement to disagree," Hoskins said. "There's no hard feelings at all. It's the business of baseball. They reiterated they were completely happy with everything. No, there's no hard feelings at all between either party. It's a business. I get it."
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Renewals are relatively common for franchise-type players early in their careers. The Phillies most notably renewed Ryan Howard in 2007 after he won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2006 (he received a then-record $900,000 for a player with his service time) and Cole Hamels in 2008 following the team's first of five consecutive NL East titles in 2007.
Both players expressed frustration and disappointment at the time, but none more than Hamels. He called the renewal a "low blow" and indicated he would remember the perceived slight in future negotiations.
But money talks. Howard signed a $125 million extension with the Phillies in April 2010. Hamels signed a $144 million extension in July 2012.
More recently, the Angels renewed Michael Trout and the Marlins renewed Giancarlo Stanton in 2013. Trout signed a $144 million extension in March 2014, and Stanton signed a $324 million extension in Nov. 2014.
Phillies right-hander Mark Leiter allowed three hits, two runs, one walk and struck out four in 2 2/3 innings on Saturday. They were the first runs he had allowed in a combined 9 2/3 innings this spring. He is a good candidate to be the team's No. 5 starter.
Left-hander Zac Curtis pitched two-thirds of an inning and kept the Rays scoreless. He is competing with left-handers Hoby Milner and non-roster invitee Fernando Abad to be the second left-hander in the 'pen alongside Adam Morgan. Abad, however, has not pitched since March 3 because of a hamstring injury.
Don't run on Vinny
Velasquez allowed three hits and struck out two in four scoreless innings, but he was most impressed with his pickoff in the second, when he got Jake Bauers at first base. Velasquez said it was the first time he picked off a baserunner in his professional career.
"Ever, ever," he said. "Look it up. Ever."
The Phillies optioned right-hander Ricardo Pinto to Minor League camp. They also reassigned right-hander Enyel De Los Santos; left-handers Cole Irvin and Brandon Leibrandt; infielder Heiker Meneses and catcher/first baseman Nick Rickles to Minors camp.
Pinto allowed seven hits and three runs in four spring innings, striking out three. He had been an outside candidate to make the bullpen.
The Phillies travel to Sarasota, Fla., on Sunday to play an Orioles split-squad at Ed Smith Stadium. Nick Pivetta will get the start in the 6:05 p.m. ET Grapefruit League contest, which is available on MLB.TV and Gameday Audio.