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May 15, 2017

#PhilsQuestions: You ask, we answer on Harper, Hoskins, relief for bullpen and more

The Phillies split a doubleheader on Sunday before hitting the road for Arlington, Texas, and Pittsburgh on their current nine-game road trip this week. There was some good this weekend and some bad, too.

But enough of that. You've watched enough games six weeks into the season to have serious questions concerning the Phillies. We have serious answers.


We asked you to chime in on Twitter in the last 24 hours with the hashtag #PhilsQuestions. Let's get to them.

@jhilton32 asks: Should the squad just walk (Bryce) Harper every time up? Do I get extra points for the use of "squad?" #PhilsQuestions

Bryce Harper looks once again like the guy who was a unanimous National League MVP two years ago. He has a .500 OBP through 154 plate appearances.

He has five home runs and a 1.184 OPS in nine games against this Phillies this year. He’s slashed .282/.384/.532 with 20 home runs in 89 career games against the Phillies. He went 6-for-12 with two home runs, a double, and five RBI against the Phillies this weekend.

So, yes, I see your point. I even asked a similar question to Pete Mackanin last month, since Harper has looked particularly comfortable at Citizens Bank Park in his career (12 home runs in 38 games).

“What it boils down to is this: if you make your pitches, we certainly have a game plan and we know how to get him out. … But it’s up to the pitcher to make pitches.If a pitcher makes quality pitches, you will get guys out,” Mackanin said. “If you make mistakes, the good hitters like Harper, with poorly located pitches, they don’t miss them. You may get lucky once in a while, but you have to think about who is coming up after him and he’s a damn good hitter. If you make pitches, you’ll get them. If you don’t, you won’t. We’re talking about wanting to pitch him any differently? We have the right game plan, but you have to execute.”

The executing has been a problem, obviously. But the Phillies simply can’t afford to walk Harper every time he comes up because the guy who hits immediately behind him is currently a serious Triple Crown candidate (Ryan Zimmerman) and the guy who hits behind the guy who hits behind Harper was the runner-up in NL MVP voting last year and is posting similarly sizzling numbers this year (Daniel Murphy).

So, you can’t walk Harper every time. You must pitch more carefully. And you should bust him in more often, make him feel a lot more uncomfortable at the plate, since he almost makes hitting against the Phillies look like pregame batting practice.

@therealcjhood asks: Why not use some AAA pitchers for bullpen relief? #PhilsQuestions

The Phillies have done this, in a way. They’ve called on Ben Lively and Jake Thompson for bullpen protection, particularly because the Phils’ relief corps has been asked to work a lot this year (Phillies starters have logged the fourth-fewest innings in baseball) and the young starters have been asked to ease that burden in emergency-type situations.

But that’s probably not what you’re getting at. You’d like to see actual relievers from Triple-A Lehigh Valley get an opportunity since the major league ‘pen hasn’t been cutting it for the majority of the season’s first six weeks.

Here’s the problem: the Phillies have a 40-man roster crunch. Luis Garcia has been the one summoned up most often because he’s on that 40-man roster, as is left-hander Adam Morgan. Beyond that, the 40-man is populated by starting pitching prospects, like Lively, Thompson, Pivetta, Mark Appel, Drew Anderson, etc.

The Phillies could work their way around this by creating a spot on that currently filled-to-brim 40-man roster. For example, when Howie Kendrick returns they could DFA Ty Kelly (although he’s been an adequate bench piece, so perhaps not). They could also designate either Garcia or Morgan (or both) for assignment.

This would clear the way for the likes of lefty Hoby Milner, right-hander Pedro Beato, or switch-pitcher Pat Venditte. Of that trio, the 26-year-old Milner looks most deserving of a major league spot: he’s sporting a 0.00 ERA and 0.568 WHIP, with 10 strikeouts and no walks in 10 appearances (12 1/3 innings) at Triple-A.

So, yes, I see your point. And, if the pen struggles continue into Memorial Day weekend, calling on a new, bullpen arm from Lehigh Valley makes a lot of sense.

OK, I decided to answer a lot of your questions in the first edition of #PhilsQuestions and, per usual, I’ve been long-winded. So I’m going to attempt to play a little speed round with the final six for the sake of brevity.

@brianros1 (Brian Rosenwald) asks: What would you do w/the impending positional crunch at 1B & 2B & when? #PhilsQuestions

Rhys Hoskins (.345/.432/.655) is undoubtedly putting on a show as Triple-A Lehigh Valley’s power-hitting first baseman (as he did last year as Double-A Reading’s power-hitting first baseman) and top second base prospect Scott Kingery (.287/.371/.607) has posted similarly strong numbers at Double-A this year. They recently turned 24 and 23-years old, respectively.

But unlike the last two seasons, when older veterans on expiring contracts (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley) were playing their positions in the big leagues, the Phillies have young, still-developing players at their positions in 2017. So, there’s no rush. A rebuilding team can afford to let Tommy Joseph (who is having the best month, so far, among a ridiculously talented group of NL first baseman) prove his worth at the big league level.

So, let’s revisit this in 2-3 months. There is zero harm in letting both the prospects and the big leaguers increase their respective value, to both the Phillies and other organizations. It’s not like calling up Hoskins now is going to be the difference between the Phillies making a wild-card run or not in 2017.

@ChrisFried78 (Chris Fried) asks: (J.P.) Crawford is batting .150 with a .273 OBP at Lehigh. Is it time to go to Defcon 1 in worrying over Crawford's future?

Two weeks ago, I would have told you to chill.

But through 11 games, Crawford’s May isn’t going that much better than his dreadful April: he’s currently in an 0-for-11 funk and slashing .150/.273/.177 overall in 32 games. And he’s hit .220 with a .597 OPS in 119 games since his promotion to Triple-A last summer.

Crawford is just 22, however. He isn’t on the 40-man roster. There is no harm in letting him play the entirety of 2017 at Triple-A, especially since Freddy Galvis has been more than adequate on both sides of the ball for the Phillies.

Worry about Crawford? Maybe a little. But I wouldn’t go full Defcon until July-ish. Let’s see if his bat gets going as the weather warms.

@HOF_for_Charlie (Scott) asks: Odds (Jeremy) Hellickson gets traded vs signed to a multi-year deal? #PhilsQuestions

The Phillies do need a solid anchor atop their rotation if they hope to be a contending team in the coming years. But I still tend to believe they’ll send Hellickson to an actual 2017 contender in the coming months, simply because it’ll be a seller’s market and they should do quite well in such a trade.

When they’re ready to contend (2019-20?) they can go get a younger version of Hellickson (since he’d be 32-33 by then). I’m not sure giving him another $15-18 million in 2018 and 2019, when you still not be ready to contend, is the best allocation of your resources.

@danmaal (Dan May) asks: Will the Phillies be sellers or buyers this trade deadline or maybe a combination of both? #PhilsQuestions

Sellers. Sellers. Sellers. (Under-the-radar buyers this winter, perhaps).

@GMiddleberg asks: How many games will the Phillies win this year? More or less than you thought in April? #PhilsQuestions

Let’s break out the season preview and my trusty calculator. I had the Phillies in line to finish 74-88 (a .457 winning percentage). The Phillies are currently 14-21 (a .400 winning percentage).

I honestly believe the bullpen will get better in the next 4 1/2 months. Really. So, I’ll stick with my 74-win total, which means they should play a bit better in the next 4 1/2 months than they have in the season's first month and a half.

@dochammy (Brian) asks: Who is the first position player call-up from the IronPigs likely to be?

Wouldn’t it be fun if the Phillies called up Hoskins to act as the designated hitter tomorrow night in Texas? He’s not on the 40-man roster, and it is just three games, so, yeah, probably not.

The boring answer would be to tell you that it’ll be whoever is needed because of an injury. For example, if Joseph gets hurt, Hoskins; if Odubel Herrera goes on the DL, Roman Quinn.

Aaron Altherr’s emergence also muddles this picture a bit. This may contradict some of the stuff I wrote above (or perhaps not, since you didn’t put a date on when the call-up will be), but I’ll just go with one of the top two hitters in Allentown, either Jorge Alfaro or Hoskins.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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