Phillies notes: Mets thoughts, Zach Eflin officiating case, change in tactics and perspective for the pen?
NEW YORK — The Phillies and Mets will play 13 times in the first 49 games of the season, and by the end of Game 6 there was a hint of animosity. Maybe Yoan López intentionally kicked Kyle Schwarber in the ninth inning of a 10-6 loss to the Phillies. Manager Joe Girardi thought so. Schwarber was less sure. López probably didn’t want to hit Alec Bohm, the next hitter, with a change.
“That’s why I didn’t raise a stink,” Girardi said.
The Mets, so far, appear to be the leader in the National League East. And, with the unusual schedule, the Phillies often have to face them as they play outstanding baseball. The director would prefer otherwise. The Phillies have seven games left with the Mets in May and won’t see them again until August 12.
“You would like to distribute them,” Girardi said. “But that’s just the way the calendar falls.”
The Phillies were outscored by eight points in six games against the Mets. Outside of a five-point Phillies outburst in Game 1 last month, it’s been lopsided. The Mets didn’t hit the Phillies in Game 4. Then the Phillies hit three home runs against Max Scherzer on Sunday night and still faced a big deficit in the final innings. They will see Scherzer again on Friday night at Citizens Bank Park.
“I think they’re a really good team,” Bryce Harper said. “They’re playing really good baseball right now. It’s gonna be a battle. We know it’s going to be a battle. … We wouldn’t expect anything less from what they’ve been able to do. I don’t see them going anywhere. I think it’s a very good team. They have a great pitching staff.
The Phillies will choose not to pass judgment on how they compare to the Mets. At least not yet.
“When we played them at home, we didn’t necessarily swing the sticks well,” Girardi said. “But we are playing better. I think we pitch better. We lose a tough game on Friday night. It was a tight game and it kind of got away from us. But I feel good with our guys.
The Unusual Case of Eflin
At the end of May, Zach Eflin will tune into a Zoom call before a Phillies game and listen to opposing cases on how much he should be paid this season. Eflin is the Phillies’ only unsettled arbitration case, and the impasse will require a hearing. The Phillies want to pay Eflin $5.15 million. Eflin asked for $6.9 million.
He is a free agent at the end of the season.
“I think it’s important because I know my worth,” Eflin said a day before a rocky start against the Mets. “I know my job. Obviously I’ve been injured and so on, but I know what I bring to this club every five days. And I see my true worth more than what their offer was. That’s really all I have to say. I’m curious to see what they have to say in a courtroom. So, it will be interesting, but I can’t wait to get there.
Eflin said there was never a legitimate attempt to bridge the $1.75 million gap and settle.
Eflin earned $4.45 million in 2021. With a strong 2022 season, he could land a lucrative open market contract. That’s not Eflin’s goal right now, but the arbitration hearing will distract him, at least temporarily.
“Win or lose,” Eflin said, “I stand up for myself and I feel good about it.”
In 2018, Eflin lost nine days of big league pay when the Phillies drafted him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley after trading for Justin Bour. The front office, at the time, viewed it as a transaction that added value at the margin while trying to squeeze as much as they could from an overspending list. But that decision angered Eflin and his teammates as he had a 3.57 ERA in 16 starts. Eflin spent less than 20 days in miners and his lost service time was restored. But a small part of the salary was not.
“The players don’t forget that,” Eflin said. “So we will see what happens. I mean, I can’t wait to get to the hearing and see what they have to say about me. I feel like I’m going to learn a lot about the business side of the game.”
The Phillies moved their infield less in 2021 than any other baseball team. They’re changing more in 2022 – around league average – and it’s been more successful than not. The positioning model the Phillies are using this season has more input from Ani Kilambi, the assistant general manager they hired from the Rays to lead their analytics arm. Field coach Bobby Dickerson is a proponent of aggressive positioning. And that includes a wrinkle: Alec Bohm playing on the right side of the infield.
“I take my steps,” Bohm said.
Last season, Bohm said he might have changed positions two or three times. Typically, he was the only infielder left of second base whenever the Phillies moved. The Phillies only moved left-handed hitters 26% of the time in 2021. That’s 55% in 2022.
The Phillies quarterback defense had three defensive runs saved, according to Sports Info Solutions, going into Sunday’s game. This ranked 11th in MLB.
“We like to keep our shortstop at shortstop,” Dickerson said. “And then we like having Segura in the middle there for potential double plays. So that leaves Bohm in the slot. He played at first base. This is basically the position of the first baseman against a right-handed batter. It’s offline, in the same place.
“Now it’s deeper. To the right? The pitch eventually has to come into play and it’s a much shorter pitch than third base. A bit more time. For me, it’s more about keeping Didi (Gregorius) at shortstop. You’re trying to use what you have, aren’t you? »
There are two ways to look at it: the most balls hit in the shift are likely to be on the fielder playing in the gap between the first and second basemen. He’s Bohm, and he’s not the Phillies’ best defenseman. But he likes this place in the shift.
“Working on these double-play flips is something I have to keep doing,” Bohm said. “But other than that, I find it quite comfortable there.”
By keeping Gregorius alone on the left side, the Phillies have a little more range there if the left-handed hitter slaps him on that side.
“If I get a deuce, I have to play my deuce,” Dickerson said. “If I have aces, I have to play aces, right? If you have a fast team, you run. If you have a slug team, you slug. You try to put guys in situations they can have the most success in. We like Didi on that side.
It is possible that the change will be prohibited, or at least limited, next season. Dickerson has a suggestion as the league considers rule changes.
“They better put the right wording,” he said, “because I can see a situation where you’re playing on the left side of second base and as soon as a pitcher breaks his hands, you’re sprinting across the field.”
Jeurys Familia saved 124 games with a 3.29 ERA in 10 seasons with the Mets, and when he ran to the Citi Field mound as a first-time visitor on Saturday night, he was greeted by a chorus of boos.
Familia’s teammates teased him after the game. It closed for a pennant winning team in 2015. They must have really liked it here.
“Me? Surprised?” Familia says a day later. “No chance.”
Familia threw a throw that pushed Eduardo Escobar back and the boos were even louder. The 32-year-old right-hander had a funny response. He put his right hand to his ear.
“I’m just playing,” Familia said. ” I do not hear anything. Go on!”
“Ten years,” Familia said. “You know how it is here. I am not surprised at anything. I was here a long time, I know how the fans are.
A reliever’s journey
Andrew Bellatti returned to the majors for three games last season with Miami, and it was validation for the time spent achieving that goal. The Phillies offered him a minor league contract last winter and Bellatti liked what pitching coach Caleb Cotham said on a Zoom call. Bellatti knew Phillies general manager Sam Fuld from their timeshare in the Rays organization.
He has since been rewarded with a decent look this season as a middle reliever.
“I love the game,” Bellatti, 30, said. “I know I’m good at it. I feel good at the clubhouse. I know it’s a lot of work. It’s just staying dedicated.
Bellatti spent 90 days in prison for manslaughter by a vehicle following a speeding ticket in 2010 that killed a 50-year-old man. Tampa Bay backed Bellatti, who made 17 appearances for them in 2015, until he became a minor league free agent after the 2016 season. an elbow injury that ultimately required Tommy John surgery.
He didn’t have a job while in rehab. Thus, he worked as a salesman at Bloomingdale’s at the Fashion Valley Mall in San Diego.
“I sold suits,” Bellatti said.
How did he do it?
“I was very good at it,” Bellatti said.
His work was commission-based. He did it for about a year. There have been lean months, but the holiday rush has helped. “I had to find something to do,” Bellatti said. So far, he’s found a spot in the Phillies bullpen with a 1.80 ERA and eight strikeouts in five innings.
“They highlighted a lot of my strengths,” he said. “They pointed out some things I could do that could make me 1% better. So it all kind of lined up.
A rising outlook?
Francisco Morales continued his rise as a bullpen prospect with four more strikeouts in 1 2/3 scoreless innings Sunday for Double-A Reading. Morales, converted to reliever this season, struck out 22, walked five and allowed just two hits in 13 1/3 innings.
He could be promoted to Triple A-Lehigh Valley soon – possibly this week.
The Phillies removed two pitchers from the big league roster after Sunday’s game to drop to 26 active players. Cristopher Sánchez will join the Lehigh Valley rotation. Damon Jones was also demoted; the Phillies kept Nick Nelson in the majors as a longman.
These additions to Triple A will bring cuts to an already heavy IronPigs roster. The Phillies could be looking to open up a spot there for Morales. It’s clear he’s in the summer plans for a major league role. The Phillies have eliminated an inconsistent change from his repertoire and he’s using a fastball-slider combination.
No one in the Phillies system has had a better week than smashing first baseman Darick Hall, who hit five home runs and two doubles in six games at Triple A. Hall, 26, is the annual leader of the system in average exit speed, but there have been lingering doubts about its ability to hit higher caliber breaking balls. But Hall is making his case as a potential bench-beater in the majors.
Editor’s note: Matt Gelb went on personal leave this week and will be out until mid-June. Athleticism will have dedicated Phillies coverage from other writers in the meantime.
(Top photo by Kyle Schwarber: Wendell Cruz/USA Today)