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February 17, 2020

What they're saying: Things looking different for Phillies this year — and that's a good thing

Phillies MLB
Phillies-spring-training-Aaron-Nola-Joe-Girardi Jonathan Dyer /USA Today Sports

The Phillies have a new approach in spring training this spring.

It's been about a week since spring training officially started and a lot has happened down in Clearwater as the Phillies prepare to start playing in games soon to tune up (and figure out their 26-man roster) for the regular season.

Before we give you slices of what the Phillies-covering world is saying about the team right now, here's a quick recap of some of the noteworthy things that went down in camp:

• Top pitching prospect Spencer Howard was shut down, at least temporarily, due to a tweak to his right knee in an earlier workout. The setback is not serious, but the team says it will hold him back a bit — he won't pitch "until it matters." Don't be surprised if he remains in Clearwater after the Phillies break camp and starts in Triple-A now.

• A minor transaction that added a little outfield depth in camp went down this week, as the Phils traded for Dodgers outfielder Kyle Garlick (sending left handed pitcher Tyler Gilbert packing). Garlick has a power bat and is 28, but will likely be in the high minors to begin 2020.

• The Phillies are bringing back Ruben Amaro Jr., their former GM, to be a studio analyst for coverage of the team with NBC Sports Philly. No analysis here — just mentioning it. 

• J.T. Realmuto's arbitration hearing is Wednesday, and he is asking for $12.2 million. The Phillies offered him $10 million. Either way, he will set a record for arbitration earnings for a catcher the year before he becomes a free agent. There's a chance negotiations for a true extension resume after the appeal ruling is handed out. Reliever Hector Neris will also have his hearing Friday.

And now for some Phillies takes, it's the latest edition of What They're Saying:

Bryce's wifey

Jim Salisbury | NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Phillies were criticized by many for not being more aggressive. Were... okay... are being criticized. Even Bryce Harper's wife Kayla was wondering the same thing as many Phillies fans were during the offseason:

This winter, the Phillies made two significant free-agent additions in pitcher Zack Wheeler and shortstop Didi Gregorius. Both were on board by mid-December and the Phillies, despite holes in the pitching staff, made only minor roster tweaks the rest of the off-season. 
So, the natural question for Harper as he reported to his second Phillies camp Sunday morning was: Did the team do enough this off-season to win? 
“My wife actually asked me that question the other night,” Harper said. “She’s super into it and everything like that. “You know,” he added. “I believe we did.” 
Harper mentioned the addition of Wheeler and the potential upside of having a healthy Jake Arrieta in the rotation and a healthy Seranthony Dominguez in the bullpen. He mentioned the possibility of prospects Spencer Howard, Alec Bohm and Damon Jones having an impact in the rotation — clearly, Harper has done his homework — and of non-roster relievers Drew Storen and Bud Norris helping. He mentioned how good Aaron Nola and Hector Neris have been. 
“We’re going to score runs, we were able to do that last year, and if our bullpen can hold and our starters can, as well, I think we’ll be OK,” Harper said.  [NBCSP]

Price is right

Scott Lauber | Philadelphia Inquirer

Aaron Nola has had four pitching coaches in four seasons, with some different approaches to the game perhaps influencing some inconsistent play from the one-time Cy Young runner up. Nola seems to, like many other Phillies players, prefer a conventional approach as opposed to Chris Young's analytical approach a year ago. Here's more on the budding relationship between new pitching coach Bryan Price and the Phillies' ace:

Indeed, based on his early interaction with Price, Nola is confident that the one-style-fits-all tack will be scrapped. He recently had a long chat with Price about Moyer’s success with a fastball that barely cracked 80 mph and came away realizing that Price values diversity in pitching styles. 
“It’s so important because not everybody’s the same,” Nola said. “Not everybody can throw fastballs up and blow it by guys. I can [do it] maybe once, but if I do it again, [the hitter] will time it up. The whole point is to change eye levels, change speeds. 
“Ground balls still work. Balls down in the zone still work. I don’t think that’s ever going to get away from the game. As kids we all learned, ‘Throw the ball down, throw the ball at the knees, get ground balls early in the count. Don’t try to strike the guy out at the beginning of the at-bat when it’s an 0-0 count.’ That’s what Bryan stresses.”  []

What the Hector?

Meghan Montemurro | The Athletic

The Phillies bullpen may end up being a strength in 2020, with the return of many talented hurlers coming off injury-plagued seasons healthy for this campaign. Those returnees can only add to the value of Hector Neris — who as we mentioned previously is awaiting word on what his salary will be this coming year. Here's a look, more in depth, at why Neris is such an under-the-radar and valuable piece:

Neris has been one of the most consistent major-league relievers over the past four seasons. He has amassed the eighth-most bWAR (6.1) among relievers, right behind Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen (6.4). Neris’ 274 appearances are tied for fourth during that span, while his 133 ERA+ ranks 17th and his 1.162 WHIP is 16th (minimum of 240 games). The numbers include his awful three-month stretch to start 2018, which prompted a demotion to Triple A. Neris finished with an ERA+ of at least 143 in the other three seasons. 
The 30-year-old right-hander is the type of reliever a team can build around, and that’s how Girardi views him. Neris’ ability to strike out hitters is part of the foundation that makes him an ideal reliever. Only six relievers have posted a better strikeout-per-nine-innings rate than Neris’ 11.75 since 2016. 
“He’s obviously got a great split, but he’s also a leader in that bullpen, and I think that is really important,” Girardi said. “The attitude that he brings every day and the love of the game, guys love to be around him.” In the immediate future, Neris’ attention will turn to his arbitration hearing, which is scheduled for this week. The Phillies filed at $4.25 million. Neris submitted at $5.2 million. He understands the arbitration process is part of the business and said “it’s nothing personal.” 
Regardless of the arbiter’s decision and how Neris is viewed compared to other relievers around the league, he said he’s focused on the big picture.  [The Athletic]

Whiskey rebellion

Bob Wankel | Crossing Broad

Jean Segura under performed last year — by his standards at least — and he'll be expected to return to form as a .300 hitter as he assumes a new role, playing second base (with Gregorius at shortstop). In an interview with Phillies media members, Segura showed his commitment to excellence as he arrived in Clearwater slimmed down and making some (serious) sacrifices for 2020:

But there are reasons for hope amid the many questions facing the Phillies this season, and in an attempt to keep things positive as the team begins full-team workouts this morning, let’s talk a little bit about Jean Segura. Segura, who was somewhat underwhelming in his first season with the Phillies, got off to a fast start but finished with a thud. 
After hitting .329 with an .872 OPS through the month of April, Segura struggled with consistency and was particularly bad (.586 OPS) in September when the Phillies fizzled to a 12-16 finish. Certainly, the fan perception of Segura wasn’t aided by his lack of hustle on a play that cost Andrew McCutchen his season.  

And that, in part, is why a guy who has posted a stellar .294 average and .758 OPS since the start of the 2017 season has come to Clearwater with something to prove. Segura, who will play second or third base this season with newcomer Didi Gregorius at shortstop, told reporters earlier this morning that he stopped drinking whiskey and is down 14 pounds:

[Crossing Broad]

Health assurance

Tal Venada | Fansided

The Phillies were decimated by injuries last year, en route to a mediocre 81-81 record. And while there is no way to really know how things may have played out had Andrew McCutchen not torn his ACL and had the team not sent more than a dozen pitchers to the injury list, fansided's blog "Call to the Pen," attempts to examine exactly what kind of impact it ultimately had. And not surprisingly, the Phillies lost nearly 10 times as many games to injury as the top two NL East finishers in Atlanta and Washington. Is avoiding injury the key for Philly in 2020?

The Fightins were 33-26 before Andrew McCutchen‘s season-ending injury and 48-55 thereafter. And even though the left fielder missed four months, he averaged .256 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs, which is a third of 30 home runs and 87 RBIs. 

Klentak had acquired Jay Bruce to be the left-handed bat off the bench, but he lost 1.5 of four months. However, he batted .221 with 12 bombs and 31 RBIs during his roughly 10 weeks here. And his replacement Dickerson was also on the IL for two of his eight weeks, plus Herrera’s suspension absence was four months. ...

Many fans were unhappy with the pen, but David Robertson, Tommy Hunter and Arano pitched a total of 16 2/3 innings combined. Basically, they lost the entire summer, but all three may be back in ’20. And while Hunter and Arano will open the 162 with the Phils, Robertson is a stretch-drive possibility. 

To sum up, the Braves lost four months to the Nationals’ five months and the Mets’ 19 months for a tally of 28, while the red pinstripes missed 40.5 months. But what are poor substitutes for a managing partner, a president, a GM, a skipper, his coaching staff, or other scapegoats? Injuries! [Fansided]

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