Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The pathway for Andrew Knapp to make the Phillies' opening day roster as the backup catcher was cleared way back in November when he was added to the 40-man roster.

The job all but became Knapp's on Monday when the team released two veteran catchers who were not on the 40-man roster. When Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday were let go, Knapp became one of just two catchers in camp, the other being starter Cameron Rupp (see story).

So it's pretty obvious that the 25-year-old Knapp will open the season with the big club -- even though nothing will become official until rosters are filed with the commissioner's office this weekend.

"Obviously there are four or five days left," Knapp said. "I'm just going to keep trying to make good impressions and try to win a job. I'm keeping my head down, trying not to think about it too much."

Knapp was the Phillies' second-round draft pick of Cal-Berkeley in 2013. He has never played in the majors.

"It would be a dream come true," he said. "Everyone hopes to get called up at some point but to make a team on opening day would be pretty special and it would be the best moment in my career so far."

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged that Knapp would probably make the club.

Mackanin would like to have the rest of his roster in order over the next day or two.

"As soon as possible," he said. "Because the last four or five games I'd like to play almost as if it were a season -- using the bullpen that way, using the bench in a certain way, seeing what it looks like, our bench guys, all our hitters. We just don't want to make a bad decision so we're just going to string it out as long as we can."

Roster questions must still be answered on the bench and in the bullpen.

How does the bench shape up? Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr and Knapp are set. The Phils are expected to go with a five-man bench so that leaves two openings. There are four players vying for those spots: Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi and Jesmuel Valentin. Valentin has impressed, but at 22 years old, he would benefit from playing every day at Triple A.

Mackanin praised Stassi's work on Monday. If Stassi makes the club, the final spot would come down to Coghlan and Nava.

"Stassi has obviously made a great impression, mainly because, not necessarily because of his results, but the fact that he had a lot of quality at-bats," Mackanin said. "It looks like he can handle making adjustments to the different pitchers and different situations. He seemed to handle left-handers well. He made a good impression, as has Coughlan. Nava has also been consistent throughout the spring."

Stassi, Coghlan and Nava are all non-roster players so the Phils would have to clear 40-man roster space to add any of them.

Two spots remain open in the bullpen. Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez, Luis Garcia, Alec Asher and Cesar Ramos are the candidates. All but Ramos is on the 40-man roster.

How will this all shake out?

More answers are probably coming Tuesday.

Instant Replay: Phillies 6, Diamondbacks 1

Instant Replay: Phillies 6, Diamondbacks 1

BOX SCORE

PHOENIX — Mark Leiter Jr.'s first big-league start was a memorable one. The 26-year-old right-hander from Tom's River, New Jersey, pitched six shutout innings to lead the Phillies to a 6-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Friday night.

The win was the Phillies' second in a row and just their third in the last 16 games. It came against an Arizona club that entered the day in second place in the NL West. The D-backs are 46-28 and have the best home offense in the majors, averaging 6.48 runs per game in their ballpark.

But Leiter, called up to replace injured Jerad Eickhoff, held off that lineup for his first big-league win. He also had his first big-league hit.

The Phillies are 24-48, worst in the majors.

Starting pitching report
Leiter held one of baseball's best offenses scoreless for six innings. He gave up three hits, walked just one and struck out five. The right-hander had one trouble spot. It came in the fourth when he allowed a one-out double to David Peralta then walked Paul Goldschmidt to put runners on first and second. Leiter then retired Jake Lamb and Chris Owings to get out of the inning. He punched his glove with excitement as he left the field. Leiter retired the final six batters he faced and left with a 1-0 lead.

Arizona's Patrick Corbin pitched one-run ball over 6 2/3 innings.

Bullpen report
Pat Neshek pitched a scoreless seventh inning to protect a one-run lead. Neshek, the subject of some controversy in recent days (see story), has allowed just two runs in 29 2/3 innings this season.

Joaquin Benoit allowed a run in the eighth, but got the final two outs with the tying run at third.

Hector Neris pitched a scoreless ninth inning.

Arizona's bullpen gave up five runs in the final two innings.

At the plate
Freddy Galvis tripled with one out in the first inning and scored on a groundout.

Maikel Franco put the Phils up, 2-0, on a solo homer in the top of the eighth. He got the green light on 3-0 and hammered a liner over the right-field wall.

The Phillies were clinging to a 2-1 lead when they erupted for four runs in the top of the ninth, highlighted by Tommy Joseph's two-run homer. Cameron Rupp and Howie Kendrick (pinch-hitter) also had important hits in the ninth.

The D-backs got on the board on an infield single by Rey Fuentes and a triple by Daniel Descalso in the eighth.

In the field
Odubel Herrera had an adventurous night in center field. He misplayed a ball into a double in the third inning then promptly gunned down the runner at third as he tried to advance on a fly ball.

Galvis made a tremendous snag on a hard liner by Peralta for the second out of the eighth inning. Galvis made the play up on the grass with the potential tying run on third.

Health check
Kendrick was scratched from the starting lineup with left hamstring tightness. Andres Blanco started at second base. Kendrick had a pinch-hit double in the ninth.

Up next
The series continues Saturday night with Ben Lively (1-1, 3.33) pitching against Arizona lefty Robbie Ray (7-3, 2.87).

For Pat Neshek and Pete Mackanin, goal is same: Contribute without risking injury

For Pat Neshek and Pete Mackanin, goal is same: Contribute without risking injury

PHOENIX -- Pete Mackanin and Pat Neshek talked on Friday.

"We're good," Mackanin said. "If there was some miscommunication, I'll put it on me."

"Yeah," Neshek confirmed. "I think it's just miscommunication. There's really no story. We laughed about it. We were like, 'This is kind of a stupid issue.' There's really nothing."

A mini-drama evolved over Neshek's availability to pitch the last few days. On Wednesday, the right-handed reliever was a no-go in a close game. Afterward Mackanin said he checked in with Neshek before the game and the pitcher had indicated he was sore. Neshek took some issue with that, saying he was told by Mackanin that he was getting a day off even before his condition was discussed.

In Thursday's 5-1 win over St. Louis, Neshek got two outs on five pitches in the eighth inning. It was his seventh appearance in 11 games. After the game, reporters asked Mackanin if he considered having Neshek, the team's best reliever, stay on for the ninth inning. Mackanin said he had but Neshek told him after the inning that he'd had enough. After the game, Neshek said the conversation never occurred, which was technically true because he had spoken to pitching coach Bob McClure, not Mackanin.

While the events of the last few days have been kind of silly, they have underscored something everyone already knew: The Phillies are going to be careful with Neshek and watch his workload closely. And Neshek is going to do the same. As he said Friday, he's a Tommy John surgery survivor and will protect himself.

Entering Friday, Neshek had allowed just 18 hits and two runs in 28 2/3 innings, many in high-leverage situations. That excellent work could make him an attractive trade chip for the Phillies in the coming weeks. This has put Mackanin on a tightrope as he looks to get contributions from Neshek without jeopardizing the 36-year-old pitcher's health and trade value.

Does that make Neshek just a one-inning reliever?

"I wouldn’t say he is," Mackanin said. "You know what? Let’s put it this way: I don’t want to upset or lose something that’s really working for us. If I push him, I’d hate for him to come up with something wrong with his arm. Last year, I don’t think he pitched a lot of full innings. He was pretty much a situational right-hander. I’m more cautious with him than he would be with himself."

Neshek pitched just 47 innings with Houston last year, mostly in medium- and low-leverage situations. The Astros were a contending team with a good bullpen. These Phillies are the worst team in the majors with a poor bullpen. Because of that, Neshek has been asked to pitch in more high-leverage situations and there could be a temptation to overextend him, to ask him to go more than an inning.

"I could do that," Neshek said Friday.

"I don't know about tonight," he added with a laugh.

"When you have a good bullpen, you usually don't need guys to do that kind of stuff," Neshek added. "I mean, a lot of guys, you know, kind of have been struggling here, so you're going to have to pick it up if that’s the case. But I mean, when you have a bullpen that's fully functional you'll never see that. In Houston we never had that problem, so I never did that. In St. Louis, a couple times we had that problem. But, I mean when you’re pitching middle relief you'll see a lot of 1 1/3 and stuff like that. … It's not an issue, man. If it's the playoffs, yeah, you're going out two innings. When you're down 30 games in the standings and I'm tired. … Yeah, I've been through Tommy John surgery. It's not any fun and I don't ever want to have to go through that again, so I'm going to protect myself."