Phillies 4, Yankees 1: Don’t count out catcher Steven Lerud

Phillies 4, Yankees 1: Don’t count out catcher Steven Lerud

March 19, 2013, 5:45 pm
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Spring Training TV Schedule

Mar. 22, Braves at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN
Mar. 26 Rays at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN
Mar. 28 Blue Jays at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN
Mar. 29 Blue Jays at Phillies, 7 p.m., TCN

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Strong pitching was the theme for the Phillies on Tuesday. Four pitchers, all who are assured spots on the opening day roster, combined on a two-hitter in a 4-1 win over the New York Yankees at Bright House Field.
 
If Kyle Kendrick, Mike Adams, Jonathan Papelbon and Chad Durbin were the stars of the day, then Steven Lerud was best supporting actor. The 28-year-old catcher went the distance behind the plate and continued to impress with his game management.
 
“He did a great job,” Kendrick said. “I really like the way he sets up. He gives you a nice, low target and he calls a great game.”
 
Kendrick allowed two hits and an unearned run over six walk-free innings. He struck out three. His changeup was excellent. Lerud called it for back-to-back strikeouts on Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner with a runner in and a man on second to end the top of the fourth.
 
“He did a good job getting Kyle to establish three pitches, his sinker, cutter and changeup,” pitching coach Ruch Dubee said.
 
Lerud hasn’t gotten a whole lot of ink in this camp, but he has fans in high places -- most notably on the pitching staff. Less than two weeks before opening day, he has quietly played himself into serious contention to be this club’s backup catcher. Erik Kratz will enter the season as the No. 1 catcher while Carlos Ruiz serves a 25-game suspension. Major league veteran Humberto Quintero entered camp as the leading candidate for the backup job, but Lerud has closed the gap with his work behind the plate.
 
“It’s a battle,” Dubee said. “Q, Lerud, Kratz. They’re all in it. Our eyes are open.”
 
First and foremost, the Phils are looking for strong work behind the plate from their backup catcher. Quintero, with six years of big-league time, has experience and an excellent throwing arm. Lerud get high marks for his connection with pitchers.
 
Whoever gets the backup catcher’s job will be on temporary assignment. Ruiz is due back April 28. At that point, Kratz is expected to become the backup and the early-season backup will probably become minor-league depth.
 
So what are the Phillies looking for in the man who opens the season as the second catcher?
 
“Someone who can handle the staff,” Dubee said. “I’m not big on needing an offensive guy as the backup catcher. We want someone who can command the staff, call a game, follow a game plan, adjust the game plan and make timely trips to the mound.
 
“Lerud made a great trip to the mound today with Durbin. The timing was great.”
 
Phillies pitchers did not walk a batter until Durbin did so with one out in the ninth. Durbin was agitated with himself. Lerud made his way to the mound and refocused Durbin, who got a strikeout and a fly ball to end the game.
 
Though Lerud is not known for his bat, he had a good day at the plate. He had an RBI double, walked and scored a run. He is 3 for 14 on the spring with a homer and a double. Quintero has five singles and seven RBIs in 18 at-bats.
 
Lerud, in his 10th year of pro ball, was the backup catcher at Reading last season. Injuries hit the Phillies’ catching ranks hard late in the season and Lerud was called up from Double A when the team needed a backup catcher.
 
Dubee liked what he saw of Lerud last spring and again in September.
 
“He’s always opened my eyes,” Dubee said.
 
And he continues to do so.
 
The Phils have some interesting roster decisions over the next 11 days and backup catcher has become one of them.
 
The game
Adams, Papelbon and Durbin all pitched a hitless, scoreless inning.
 
Domonic Brown belted a liner over the rightfield wall for his sixth homer and Ryan Howard smashed his fifth off lefty Josh Spence in the seventh.
 
Chase Utley and Laynce Nix both had two hits.
 
Kendrick mixed sinkers and changeups well and said: “That was the best I’ve felt all spring with everything. It’s getting there.”
 
Up next
The Phillies have a day off Wednesday though John Lannan will stay on turn and pitch in a minor-league game.
 
Roy Halladay will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday and if all goes well will pitch on Saturday (see story).

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