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July 03, 2020

What they're saying about Phillies: Girardi the right man for the (unusual) job, injury list questions and Herrera's status

Plus, the battle for the fifth starter's job and confidence at third base

The Phillies are back together today for the first time since spring training was disbanded in March.

A total of 54 players, minus four recently placed on the injury list (more on that later) will begin getting ready for a 60-game regular season, spread out at Citizens Bank Park and in FDR Park across Broad Street.

Whether or not this is a good thing depends on your fandom of baseball, and your general feelings about playing sports during COVID-19. A steady stream of news is sure to begin rolling in from Phillies camp, as media members will be permitted to attend the workouts and eventual exhibition games.

In an effort to prep you for the sudden influx of "summer training" news, we've tossed together a look at what they're saying about the Phillies, as organized baseball activities commence once again:

New York minute

Rob Parent | The Times Herald

Let's begin with manager Joe Girardi, who spoke with local media members in a Zoom call Wednesday. The manager has had ample baseball experience as both a catcher and manager for the Yankees, whom he led to a World Series title in one of the few media markets bigger than Philadelphia. The 2020 season will be unlike any before it, but perhaps Girardi is uniquely qualified to succeed. At least that's what The Times Herald's Rob Parent argues:

Girardi always has been one of the game's nice guys, able to share a tear or two of joy over his many years in New York. There are some who may wonder, though, how he'll fare in his first Philadelphia assignment: To manage what last season was an underachieving team not only through this three-week "Summer Training" but then through a 60-game sprint and — maybe with a lot of silent prayers — an autumn playoff?

Yo, hello: He had to manage for a Steinbrenner in the Bronx for 10 years. Next question?

"I think the lessons that you learn when managing in New York is that, obviously, there's a lot of expectations every year, but there's a lot of things that come up on a daily basis that you have to handle," Girardi said. "That's kind of the same thing (as now). There is no handbook with this thing for managers. Managers aren't trained how to handle a pandemic. But I think some of the experiences that I went through in New York, expecting the unexpected, some of the rashes of injuries we went through, I think will help me prepare for this. But it's going to be some trial and error, because none of us have ever been through something like this."

That doesn't necessarily mean that Girardi's re-introduction this short summer will wind up in a spectacular pratfall. As he said, the daily distractions that are a part of New York might wind up helping.  [The Times Herald]

Take 5

Jim Salisbury | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Now we'll look at some of the things Girardi will need to manage through. In addition to the shortened season and the raging pandemic, the Phillies skipper needs to name a fifth starter. Here's more on how things stand — and stood through three weeks of spring training in Clearwater:

Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta were vying for the fifth spot in the rotation and the calendar dictated that a decision was getting close.

Ah, but a third candidate, lefty Ranger Suarez, was gaining some traction.

Will Suarez still be in the mix when camp reopens? Or will he return to the bullpen, where he was a late-season standout last year?

Starters will need a few starts before they're ready to pitch deep into games so bullpens will be more important than ever. Maybe Suarez works out of the 'pen. Or maybe the Phils use him in the rotation and try to add some needed power to the 'pen by using Pivetta and Velasquez as relievers. At least one of them will have to go to the 'pen anyway. Suarez, Velasquez and Pivetta all have the ability to go multiple innings and there will be great value in that over the first month of the season.  [NBCSP]

Will Odubel return?

Todd Zolecki |

Phillies fans probably noticed a glaring omission when the list of (now) 54 players eligible to play for the Phillies surfaced: the absence of Odubel Herrera. The Phils former All-Star outfielder was booted from the team last summer after he was charged with assaulting his girlfriend in Atlantic City. The dust has settled and Herrera, who can't be cut without a huge loss of cash and who has received no trade interest, opened the spring in minor league camp. If injuries or COVID cases mount for the Phillies, fans may need to prepare for Herrera being named an injury replacement at some point in 2020.

The Phillies said they considered placing Herrera on their 60-man player pool, which means he could rejoin the team at some point this season.

“He'll continue to gain consideration,” Klentak said. “The 53 that we named is not going to be the only 53 we see all year. Obviously, we have seven to work with right now. I mentioned some replacements that'll likely be coming this week, and I think as we get toward the end of Spring Training, there'll probably be a second wave of players that join that could include somebody like Odúbel. It could include more longer-term prospects to get some development time. But again, we didn't want to make those decisions three weeks before we have to because there's just so much that can happen in the next three weeks. It's really almost four weeks because we don't start until Friday. We just want to give ourselves some room to breathe and adjust if we need to before we make too many decisions that cannot be unwound.”  []

Third time's a charm

Scott Lauber |

Jean Segura has played second base (133 times) and shortstop (891 times), but never third base. Which is why some were surprised when the veteran infielder started practicing and eventually playing the position in spring training back in March. At 30, it's rare to ask an athlete to make such a substantial position change, but it seems as though Segura is really embracing the move — even if it is temporary (Alec Bohm could snatch third from him next year, moving him to shortstop again if Didi Gregorius leaves after one year). 

The Inquirer's Phillies beat writer Scott Lauber went into detail about the change, one that could wind up being stress free for Girardi — who has quite a bit on his plate to worry about this summer.

One of Segura's secrets, according to Bowa: Play deeper, a tip that he picked up by watching video of Oakland's Matt Chapman, the two-time defending Gold Glove-winner at third base in the American League.

Segura said in spring training that he isn’t concerned about having the arm strength to play third base. As a result, he felt comfortable playing deeper on the dirt against most hitters and giving himself more time to field a truer hop and still make a timely throw to first.

“Shortstop, you make your own hop, you read your own hop. At third base, it’s all instincts‚” Bowa said. “The ball gets down to you quick. Your first step is important, but other than that, it’s positioning. I thought that was going to be an adjustment that would take some time, but he fell right into place. Believe me, it was nice to watch.”

The bigger challenge for Segura will be deciding when to pursue balls that are hit to his left. As a natural shortstop, his instinct is to range for everything. He also showed up to spring training 14 pounds lighter than when the 2019 season ended, a physical transformation that might permit him to reach more balls.  []

Elephant in the room

Matt Gelb | The Athletic

And finally, as you can see just above, we get to the elephant in the room. Somehow, Major League Baseball is going to have to stem the tide of a virus that doesn't care about baseball. There have been several cases of coronavirus in the Phillies organization, and the league will be implementing a 10-day COVID list, one with slightly different rules than the regular injury lists. A player on the list can return only after he has had two negative tests 24 hours apart, in addition to being tested for antibodies and a fever. This is already getting complicated for the Phillies, and here's why:

Sometime Wednesday night, four transactions were inputted into Major League Baseball’s public database and posted for the world to see: Tommy Hunter, Scott Kingery, Héctor Neris and Ranger Suárez were placed on the injured list, according to the league’s website, without a specific injury, prompting speculation and confusion.
It was yet another step into the gray area pandemic baseball occupies.
The Athletic’s policy is not to report that a player has tested positive for COVID-19 unless the player, his representation, the team or league has announced it publicly. MLB has established a COVID-19 injured list for players who test positive or are exposed to someone who has, but teams are prohibited from announcing a placement on that list because the virus is not considered an employment-related injury and teams must adhere to health privacy laws.
The Phillies never announced the four transactions. They did not expect the league to post the transactions on a public website, according to a source. The team’s front office did not inform the agents of the four players about the roster moves. Everything about this is uncharted water. At least one of the players, according to two sources, could return to the active roster by this weekend.
“What I can tell you is they’re on the injured list, and that’s about all I can tell you,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said Thursday. “MLB has given protocols on how to handle it.”  [The Athletic]

If nothing else, it's going to be an extremely interesting summer for baseball fans. 

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