Disappointed Kratz out of lineup for Halladay's latest start

slideshow-040813-phillies-halladay-kratz-ap.jpg

Disappointed Kratz out of lineup for Halladay's latest start

Erik Kratz was disappointed when he saw the lineup for Monday’s game posted near the clubhouse door and his name wasn’t on it.

Then again, Kratz says he’s always disappointed when his name isn’t on the lineup card. A player's career is short, the Phils catcher says, and he’s not interested in wasting his on the bench.

But with Roy Halladay scheduled to pitch against the Mets at Citizens Bank Park, manager Charlie Manuel decided to use catcher Humberto Quintero instead of Kratz. That may be because Halladay alluded to communication problems with Kratz in his first outing of the season last Wednesday in Atlanta. Though Halladay had nine strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings, he gave up five runs on six hits and three walks and was gone after throwing 95 pitches.

One of those pitches was a home run hit by Justin Upton that Halladay was particularly chafed about, saying he wasn’t committed to throwing the pitch. However, at no point did Halladay approach Kratz or Manuel to ask that he work specifically with Quintero until Carlos Ruiz returns from his 25-game suspension.

Manuel just decided to go with Quintero against the Mets on Monday night.

“I don’t know if they had issues,” Manuel explained. “Doesn’t mean that he didn’t shake him off, stuff like that. The issue part, I don’t know about. I think sometimes there will be times when the pitcher don’t like what the catcher is putting down at times or whatever. But he can always shake him off.”

Kratz said he thought Halladay seemed to run into some bad luck in his first start of the year, but the pitcher never voiced displeasure to him about his work.

“The last time out his stuff was good. He just wasn’t able to get ahead,” Kratz said. “He got hurt on one pitch he left up to [Justin Upton]. But other than that it was just pitches, it wasn’t his stuff. They were battling and he wasn’t able to relax. He was able to get a lot of strikeouts, but he wasn’t able to get in good counts. But that’s something that’s easy to take care of.”

One way to take care of it is to go with Quintero, who did not catch Halladay during spring training. Halladay is known to have a particularly close relationship with suspended catcher Carlos Ruiz, but it is notable that Halladay’s statistics last season were much better while working Kratz over Ruiz.

In 17 games with Ruiz, Halladay had a 5.42 ERA with 7.89 strikeouts per nine innings. With Kratz, Halladay posted a 3.00 ERA with 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings in seven games.

Those numbers don’t matter now, though, says Kratz. The Phillies’ pitching -- especially the bullpen -- has struggled in the first six game of the season. Kratz says the poor performance by the pitching staff reflects poorly on him.

“There’s one thing that’s consistent out there and it’s me,” Kratz said. “I have to look at myself and look at how we’re doing back there and if I can’t help the team improve, then put [Quintero] back there. And I have to do a better job.”

As far as the communication problems, Manuel says he doesn’t see any issues with Kratz, per se.

“I think it’s been OK. I think that Kratzy, he is kind of new to our pitchers,” Manuel said. “But at the same time, you go back and check on how much he caught last year and who he caught and what he did, look and see and compare it, and basically how much he caught some of those guys. That oughta say something.”

Overall, the pitching staff had a 3.36 ERA in 41 games with Kratz behind the plate compared to a 4.11 ERA in 106 games with Ruiz. Cliff Lee averaged 18.3 strikeouts per walk with Kratz behind the plate and just 7.1 strikeouts per each walk with Ruiz back there.

Regardless, how much difference does the catcher really make? The pitcher throws the pitch and if he doesn’t want to throw a pitch a catcher calls for, he can shake it off. Isn’t it all up to the pitcher to make pitches?

Well, yes and no.

“I think there is a backbone of the team and when you’re not hitting it’s all nine guys. Pitching-wise, the catcher has to get everybody back into the zone,” Kratz explained. “The catcher has to get everybody throwing strikes and through the times when you’re struggling. Anybody can sit back there when a guy is dotting up -- you could put a cardboard cutout back there. Right now, I’m not doing it and so that could be why I’m not in there.”

Kratz says the catcher is like a coach on the field.

“[A catcher has to] lead [the pitcher] to that spot. It’s an extension of the coaches out there,” Kratz said. “The catcher is an extra coach that gets to be out there. He gets the team’s energy up and he gets the pitcher to throw the best pitches he can throw and when that’s not happening, you have to figure it out.”

The problem will work itself out. Kratz will be back in the lineup on Tuesday night, Manuel said. But when Ruiz is finished with his suspension -- 19 games remain entering Monday -- he is going to do almost all of the catching.

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.

Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens honored with Joe Bauman Award

Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens honored with Joe Bauman Award

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens stopped by the winter meetings on Monday and left with a little something extra in his wallet.

Cozens was honored with the Joe Bauman Award, given annually to minor league baseball’s home run king. The award came with an $8,000 check — $200 for each homer he hit in 2016.

“That will make shopping this holiday season a lot easier,” Cozens joked.

Cozens, a left-handed-hitting rightfielder, hit .276 with 40 home runs and 125 RBIs for the Double A Reading Fightin Phils. He was named Eastern League MVP. During his acceptance speech at Monday’s awards luncheon, Cozens thanked his Reading teammate, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, for pushing him to his power heights. Hoskins also had a huge season with the bat. He hit 38 homers and had 116 RBIs on his way to becoming the Eastern League’s Rookie of the Year. Night after night in Reading, Cozens and Hoskins staged a friendly power competition. At the end of the season, they shared the Paul Owens Award, given annually to the Phillies’ minor-league player of the year.

Cozens, 22, recently finished a 25-game hitch in the Dominican winter league. Despite hitting just .165 for the Aguilas club, he had four home runs — all against lefty pitching, which has been a nemesis.

Cozens, a 6-6, 250-pound behemoth, made some off-the-field news in the DR when he was involved in a pregame fight with teammate Boog Powell, a Seattle Mariners prospect. Cozens downplayed the incident.

“Just a little boys-being-boys type thing,” he said. “I feel like it was blown out of proportion like almost everything is these days. But, after it happened we became good friends. It was more the level of respect there and I’d say we’re still friends, so it’s good.”

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said the incident was in the past and would have no long-range ramifications for Cozens.

“There is no concern,” Klentak said. “Dylan is an intense kid and he plays the game really hard. That is a good thing. If you’ve watched that, you can see that in his at-bats and when he runs the bases and is running around in the outfield. That’s just his style of play. That aggressive nature at times can boil over. You hope that it doesn’t boil over into altercations with teammates. But we have no long-term concerns with that at all.”

Cozens was recently added to the 40-man roster and will be in big-league spring training camp. Though he projects to open the 2017 season at Triple A, he’s conceding nothing.

“I’m just going to go out there and try to get better, turn some heads and make people notice and hopefully get called up as soon as possible,” he said. 

Plate discipline and strike-zone management are the areas in which Cozens needs the most improvement. He struck out 186 times and walked 61 times in 134 games in 2016. Phillies officials would like to see the strikeouts come down.
 
“I’m learning how to take my walks more often, having better strike-zone judgment, maybe not chase after as many pitches,” Cozens said. “I want to be aggressive, but if they don’t want to pitch to me, just take a walk. I feel like I did not do a good job of that and it’s something I can improve on next year.”