Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Phillies have completed the signing of veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit to a one-year, $7.5 million contract (see story). The deal could be announced Tuesday and will require the club removing a player from the already-full 40-man roster.

Benoit is one of three additions that the Phils have made to their bullpen this offseason — the club traded for veteran right-hander Pat Neshek and picked up lefty David Rollins on waivers — and more will likely come, probably on minor-league contracts, before the team reports to spring training.

Now that the bullpen has been addressed, let’s take a look at what could be next for the Phillies this winter.

• The addition of Benoit could create enough back-end bullpen depth that GM Matt Klentak could look to trade either Jeanmar Gomez or Hector Neris. Gomez saved 37 games in 2016, but struggled down the stretch. Neris showed great promise in recording a 2.58 ERA and striking out 11.4 batters per nine innings in 79 games in 2016. The hard-throwing righty is young (27), talented and inexpensive so the Phils would have to be overwhelmed by an offer to move him. Last year, Klentak moved a young closer in Ken Giles for a significant return from Houston, so he has history in making these types of moves.

• In addition to more potential comings and goings in the bullpen, the Phils will look to add a backup infielder and maybe a backup catcher in the coming weeks. Andres Blanco could return as that extra infielder. A.J. Ellis could return as the catcher. But nothing is firm. In fact, Klentak hinted Monday that he’d be comfortable bringing Andrew Knapp up from Triple A to be the backup catcher next season.

“I don’t think we need a veteran backup catcher,” Klentak said. “If it works out, we’re open-minded to that. But Andrew Knapp just finished his age 25 season in Triple A. He has a full year of at-bats in Triple A. At some point for both he and (Jorge) Alfaro, we’re going to have to find out what those guys can do at the big-league level. During the 2017 season, we’ll have to find out — not just about those two guys — but others.”

• One of the biggest remaining issues facing Phillies management this winter centers around the outfield and the offense. Basically, Klentak and his advisers are weighing the merits of adding another veteran hitter — the club already traded for Howie Kendrick — to improve the offense or giving a significant playing opportunity to a promising youngster and potential future core piece such as Roman Quinn in what currently projects to be one opening in the outfield.

“That topic is the one that we have spent the most time discussing, not just here but this offseason, about striking the right balance between adding a veteran bat or veteran free agent to this team to make our team better, but again, not taking playing time away from players that need the playing time.

“That’s part of the dynamic that we have to consider there. Roman Quinn came up at the end of the year and, at times, looked like a legitimate major-league contributor. But we also have to be mindful of the fact that he hasn’t logged a single at-bat at Triple A yet.

“This doesn’t have an obvious answer. We are continuing to talk about trade acquisitions and talk to agents for free agents to see if the right opportunity exists to blend all those factors together. But what we do not want to do is bring in so many veterans that we are denying opportunities to our young players.”

This brings us to a situation that could potentially satisfy the team’s desire to improve the offense without taking away a playing opportunity from Quinn.

J.D. Martinez of the Detroit Tigers is an outfield bat that the Phillies like. They like his production and the fact that he’s signed for just 2017. In other words, he wouldn’t block a young prospect’s pathway to the majors, at least for long.

Martinez, owed $11.75 million, which is very affordable for the Phillies, is a serious trade candidate for the cost-cutting Tigers and the Phillies have spoken to Tigers officials, dating to the early part of the offseason.

According to sources, the Phillies and Tigers could be a trade fit if the Tigers were to deal second baseman Ian Kinsler. If the Tigers move Kinsler, they could look to move Martinez to the Phillies for second baseman Cesar Hernandez. Phillies officials have said they are in no hurry to deal Hernandez, but the team does have depth at second with a pair of prospects (Scott Kingery and Jesmuel Valentin) on the way and a ready-made stopgap in Kendrick at the position. 

So keep an eye on Kinsler. If he moves, the Phillies could pursue the veteran bat that would make their offense better. And it would not cost Quinn an opportunity as he could play left field with Kendrick moving to second.

Vince Velasquez done for season with blood flow issue — and other Philies pitching matters

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USA Today Images/AP Images

Vince Velasquez done for season with blood flow issue — and other Philies pitching matters

A busy day for the Phillies on Tuesday — a doubleheader against the Marlins, preceded by a series of pitching moves

Roll call:

Right-hander Vince Velasquez was placed on the 60-day disabled list after tests revealed a blood flow issue in his pitching arm that has caused numbness and bruising in his right middle finger. He will have a surgical procedure this week and is expected to make a full recovery in time for spring training.

Right-hander Zach Eflin was placed on the 10-day disabled list with shoulder soreness.

Right-hander Nick Pivetta was added from Triple A as the 26th man for the doubleheader. He will start the nightcap (see game notes).

Right-handed reliever Yacksel Rios was brought up from Triple A to help in the bullpen.

Right-hander Mark Leiter Jr., who has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen, is back in the rotation and will start on Wednesday.

And finally, right-hander Jack Thompson is expected to come up from Triple A to pitch on Thursday, allowing Jerad Eickhoff, whose fastball velocity has been down a tick, an extra day between starts.

The big news here is Velasquez and his condition. The hard-throwing pitcher came to the Phillies in general manager Matt Klentak's first significant trade and was pegged as a staff building block. However, his two seasons with the Phillies have been plagued by inconsistency and injury. He missed time last year with a biceps strain and again this season with an elbow strain before exiting his start on Aug. 10 with numbness in his right middle finger.

According the Klentak, the discomfort is caused by an issue in the area of Velasquez' armpit, and the pitcher will have a "small procedure that will alleviate the issue," and allow "the blood flow to be normal again to his fingers."

Velasquez, 25, does not have thoracic outlet syndrome, a problem that has affected some pitchers.

The recuperation time for Velasquez will be six to eight weeks and he will continue to work as a starting pitcher in spring training.

"We do still think that Vince possesses all the ingredients to be a top-notch major league starter," Klentak said. "We have to see how the rest of the organization aligns around him. We’ll see what the offseason brings us as far as additional acquisitions are concerned but the hope would be that Vince would still be a starter.

"Every time he pitches we see that big fastball that generates swings and misses at an elite rate particularly when it’s up in the zone. As long as we keep seeing that, we know this guy can be an impact major league pitcher. He’s had his fair share of setbacks throughout the year and throughout his professional career, but we still believe really strongly in his future."

Eflin exited his last start with discomfort behind his right shoulder. It is his second trip to the DL this season. He missed time earlier with an elbow issue. As ominous as two trips to the DL with arm problems sounds, the Phils don't sound overly concerned.

"He’s feeling better every day," Klentak said. "We’re hoping that this will be a minimal DL stint."

Klentak emphasized that Eickhoff is healthy, despite the drop in velocity.

"Definitely healthy and he’s learning to mix pitches and change speeds," Klentak said. "Eickhoff, even throwing a few miles an hour less, when he’s locating and changing speeds is still very effective. So that’s what he’s learning right now."

Klentak said Eickhoff's extra day between starts had nothing to do with health or workload.

"It had a lot to do with coming out of a doubleheader and where we would slot Thompson in," he said. "Thompson’s day is actually (Wednesday) and rather than pushing him back two, or pushing him to Friday, we want to push him back one and push Eick back one. It was kind of cleaner that way."

Today's lineup: Tommy Joseph returns to lineup for Game 1

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Today's lineup: Tommy Joseph returns to lineup for Game 1

The Phillies' return from the West Coast will also include the return of Tommy Joseph to the lineup in Game 1 of their doubleheader against the Marlins.

Joseph, mired in a 5 for 56 slump, will be in the lineup after sitting the last two games against the Giants. For some strange reason, the right-handed Joseph has struggled mightily against left-handed pitching. He's hitting just .185 against southpaws this season vs. .254 against righties. Joseph will play first and bat fifth.

What will excite Phillies fans tonight is the three and four hitters. Rookies Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins will bat in the three-hole and cleanup spot, respectively. Williams has struggled a little bit since his torrid start. He has just one extra-base hit in his last 42 at-bats. He'll start in center field while Odubel Herrera continues to nurse a hamstring injury.

Hoskins returns from his native California red hot. After getting just one hit in his first big league series against the Mets, Hoskins did some serious damage out west. The 24-year-old went 8 for 25 (.320) with five homers and eight RBIs during the seven-game swing. He'll get the nod yet again left.

Newcomer Hyun Soo Kim will fill out the outfield, playing right and batting sixth. Kim is just 5 for 33 since coming over from Baltimore in the Jeremy Hellickson trade.

Here is the rest of the lineup for Game 1:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, CF
4. Rhys Hoskins, LF
5. Tommy Joseph, 1B
6. Hyun Soo Kim, RF
7. Maikel Franco, 3B
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Aaron Nola, P

And here's how the Marlins will line up against Nola:
1. Dee Gordon, 2B
2. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
3. Christian Yelich, CF
4. Marcell Ozuna, LF
5. J.T. Realmuto, C
6. Derek Dietrich, 3B
7. Tomas Telis, 1B
8. Miguel Rojas, SS
9. Dan Straily, P