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April 22, 2017

How Kendrick's injury affects Phillies roster (and other updates from GM Matt Klentak)

Earlier this week, Howie Kendrick said he believed the injury he suffered last weekend in Washington was a minor one and he was fairly certain it wasn’t an oblique injury.

A couple of hours later, Kendrick was placed on the 10-day disabled list. After a recent MRI, it was confirmed that Kendrick’s injury was in fact an oblique injury (a Grade 1 strain, to be exact) and on Saturday, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said his veteran left fielder would likely be sidelined for another 2-3 weeks.

“It could be plus or minus giving the nature of oblique injuries,” Klentak said Saturday, when the Phillies hit indoors as rain feel outside Citizens Bank Park prior to their game with the Braves. “But I think sometime in the early to mid part of May would be our best guess at this point.”

The fallout of Kendrick’s injury is two-fold.

Instead of getting by with a short bench and extra pitcher in the bullpen, as they planned to do with Mark Leiter Jr. on the roster and the expectation initially that Kendrick could return when eligible on Wednesday, the Phillies changed course and are ready to add a utility player to the roster. The Phillies acquired 28-year-old infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly from the Toronto Blue Jays for cash considerations.

Kelly, who was on the Mets’ Opening Day roster and hit .328 with a .409 on-base percentage and .435 slugging percentage at Triple-A Las Vegas last season, is expected to join the team on Tuesday, following Monday’s day off in the team’s schedule.

“Kelly is a guy who was on waivers twice in the last few months, and both times that he was passing through waivers we were intrigued by him and would have liked to have placed a claim but our roster was in a position where he couldn’t do it,” Klentak said. “But now with the ability to transfer (Clay) Buchholz to the (60-day DL) and free up a spot, we were able to acquire him.”

The Phils front office may have promoted infielder Jesmuel Valentin had Kelly not been made available. Valentin, the last cut in camp prior to the end of Spring Training, is hitting .333 with a .391 OBP in 13 games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

“We’re constantly trying to balance what is the right thing for the major league bench with what is the right thing for a player’s development,” Klentak said. “And in (Valentin’s) case, he’s off to a real good start, and the more we can do to allow him to keep that going, the better.”

The other domino effect of Kendrick’s injury keeping him out longer than initially expected: Aaron Altherr is likely to get the bulk of the playing time in the next 2-3 weeks.

Despite playing sparingly since spring training, Altherr is hitting .412 with three doubles in his last five games and also has a stolen base and an assist from right field during that span. He had two hits, including an RBI double, in Friday night’s 4-3 win over the Braves.

“A lot of work in the cage,” Altherr said of how he kept his bat fresh in the last three weeks. “When I work in the cage I almost treat that like a game, having the mindset of I’m in the game, I’m taking an actual at-bat, it keeps me fresh and mentally ready to go.”

Altherr was in line to have a regular starting job in the Phillies outfield going into the 2016 season, but broke his left wrist during the first week of Spring Training games. He struggled to get his bat going upon returning in late July, but perhaps that was to be expected for a hitter who went three months without swinging a bat last summer while recovering from surgery.

Altherr opened the 2017 season as the team’s fourth outfielder and it looked like his chances for playing time would be slim and that the window of opportunity was closing with a trio of outfield prospects at Triple-A, too.

“I like that he hit a ball 111-MPH yesterday into the left-center field gap,” Klentak said of his impressions of Altherr. “A lot of us talked about this through the offseason, we like Aaron a lot. And we want to see him play. The opportunity existed for us to add the veterans that we did. But all along, we hope that we’d still be able to find time for Aaron to play. With Howie being down for a few weeks, this is an opportunity. And from what we’ve seen in the last few days, Aaron is making the most of it."

Here are a few other notes from Klentak’s press availability on Saturday afternoon:

• Mickey Moniak, the top pick in the 2016 draft, exited his game Thursday in Lakewood after hurting a finger sliding into home plate. He was out of the lineup for Low-A Lakewood again Friday, but Klentak, who was at Moniak’s game on Thursday, said there wasn’t any fractures and that the 18-year-old outfielder should be fine.

“It sounded like last night he took (batting practice on Friday) and was able to play but they gave him one more day,” Klentak said. “I think he’s going to be in the lineup (Saturday night), but I can’t promise.” Update: that game in Lakewood has been postponed by rain.

 • Right-handed pitcher Victor Arano, who was shut down early in spring training with a UCL sprain in his right elbow, is coming along slowly while rehabbing in Clearwater. “Right now we’re hopeful,” Klentak said of Arano’s up-and-down progressions. “He’s doing pretty well.”

• Clay Buchholz was transferred to the 60-day DL to make room for Kelly, and Klentak, like manager Pete Mackanin, doesn’t expect the veteran pitcher to return to the rotation in 2017. Klentak doesn’t have any regrets acquiring Buchholz, who is earning $13.5 million this year, and just said that acquiring pitchers, in general, is always a risky proposition.

“The fact that Boston exercised the option themselves (prior to the trade) would seem to suggest that they didn’t have concerns for his health and neither did we when we conducted our own medical review, and frankly neither did we in spring training – he wasn’t in the training room all that often,” Klentak said. “Sometimes this happens with pitching. Once again it underscores the importance of starting pitching depth and developing it from within. We’re very fortunate right now that while we have to play Clay Buchholz on the DL (that) Zach Eflin can come up and fill right in, without missing a beat. I think that’ll continue to be a priory for us moving forward.”

• Top prospect J.P. Crawford is hitting .098 after 12 games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Klentak: “What are they, two weeks into their season? I think at this stage of the game we have to look (and realize) you’re always going to have players that are going through ups and always going to have players going through downs. That’s true of this team at the major league level and it’s true in our minor leagues. … We have some players that are off to great starts, and others like J.P. that are struggling. But I think we want to give it a little time before we put too much stock in an early season slump.”

We examined Crawford's early-seaosn slump (and whether or not you should worry) a little more yesterday in a notes column addressing several other issues, too.

• While Crawford has struggled, right-handed prospect Nick Pivetta (acquiring for Jonathan Papelbon two summers ago) is 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He’s struck out 24 batters and walked only two in 19 innings.

Klentak on the scouting report: “Very crisp breaking ball, location has been really good. He’s growing up as a pitcher. He’s been pretty outstanding so far through three starts. We’re pretty pleased with that.”

• If you're wondering how Mackanin would work a short bench in an emergency situation, like who would play shortstop if he used Andres Blanco as a pinch hitter in a game early and Freddy Galvis had to leave with an injury late, here's your answer: Tommy Joseph could play third base. Mackanin said Joseph has taken ground balls at third for such a scenario (remember that time Carlos Ruiz played an inning at third base?). If the above scenario unfolded, Joseph could play third with Maikel Franco shifting to second or shortstop. The Phils shouldn't need to worry about this once Kelly joins the roster, though. 

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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