Joseph's injury clouds Phillies' catching future

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Joseph's injury clouds Phillies' catching future

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The plan made perfect sense.

Top catching prospect Tommy Joseph was going to spend the 2013 season catching for Triple A Lehigh Valley and then if everything went well, the catcher would get a September call-up to the big leagues for a little dress rehearsal.

With Carlos Ruiz entering the last year of his contract with the Phillies, the veteran catcher could help tutor his successor. With 49 homers in his first three pro seasons, Joseph was clearly on the fast track to the big leagues.

But sometimes even the best-laid plans hit a snag.

Joseph had a concussion on May 4 when he took a foul ball off his mask and missed the next month of the season. He was activated and went to Single A Clearwater to get back into shape but lasted just five games before post-concussion symptoms put him back on the shelf.

“Right off the bat people were saying I could go down to Florida, I’ll be there a couple of weeks to get my feet under me and work my way back up,” Joseph said. “There were a lot of setbacks and it ended up taking a lot longer than people wanted it to.”

But it was Joseph’s third concussion of his pro career, and at age 22 with just four seasons under his belt, the catcher and the Phillies might need to reevaluate his future position. When he returned to Double A Reading in mid-July, Joseph was hopeful that the worst was behind him and was able to play with no limitations. However, that return lasted just a handful of games before he had another setback along with a shin injury. 

Finally, the Phillies decided the best plan for Joseph would be to give him the rest of the year off.

Joseph said he was hoping to play winter ball this year, but that depends on his recovery. 

In the interim, the Phillies will have to rethink their plans at catcher in 2014 and beyond. Ruiz has struggled in a season that began with him serving a 25-game suspension for a non-compliant use of the prescription drug, Adderall. Ruiz also had a nagging hamstring injury that forced him onto the disabled list. Meanwhile, veteran Erik Kratz also had injury issues this season and doesn’t figure to be the team’s everyday catcher.

That leaves Triple A catcher Cameron Rupp and Double A receiver Sebastian Valle as the viable in-house options. Rupp and Valle split time at Reading at the start of the season, which led to struggles for both catchers. According to Reading manager Dusty Wathan, Rupp and Valle needed as much playing time as possible.

“I think it’s difficult when you have two guys catching -- it’s difficult to have two leaders at one position,” Wathan said.

Valle has struggled at the plate for Reading this year, batting just .210 with a .242 on-base percentage and 12 homers in 76 games. Last year, Valle hit .261 for Reading with 13 homers and a .280 on-base percentage in 83 games.

As a result of Valle’s regression, Rupp has leapfrogged to Triple A and could get a look in the big leagues next month. However, even Rupp’s numbers have been rather pedestrian. In 79 games between the two levels, Rupp is batting .251 with a .313 on-base percentage and 12 homers. Plus, at 24, Rupp is the oldest of the three minor-league catchers. Rupp spent three years at the University of Texas before going in the third round of the 2010 draft.

So if Ruiz doesn’t return on a one- or two-year deal, the Phillies might have to look at the free-agent market for a catcher. There, the selection will be significant with the likes of Brian McCann, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, A.J. Pierzynski and John Buck expected to test the waters. But those veteran catchers likely will carry a hefty price tag with them.

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Zach Eflin, Phillies aim for first series win since April

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Zach Eflin, Phillies aim for first series win since April

Phillies (17-30) vs. Reds (23-25)
1:35 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App.

Tommy Joseph came through as the Phillies' hero on Saturday with his second walk-off single in three days. It was just the Phillies' sixth win in their last 27 games, but the victory allows the Phillies an opportunity to take the series with the Reds.

Zach Eflin will take the hill for Sunday afternoon's start and will oppose Scott Feldman, the 'ace' for the Reds this season.

Here are five things to know for Sunday's game:

1. What a relief
It may have crept up on you, but the Phillies' bullpen is hot right now -- to the tune of 19 2/3 straight scoreless innings hot.

The Phils' relief corps came through with 3 2/3 more scoreless on Saturday to back up starter Jerad Eickhoff and give the bats a chance to walk off. After Joaquin Benoit expressed public frustration with the lack of roles in the 'pen, the team has slowly but surely found a pecking order for its back-end. With Hector Neris entrenched as closer, Benoit now serves as the primary setup man while Pat Neshek and Edubray Ramos have also been in line for high-leverage innings.

Neris has allowed just one run over 10 2/3 this month after closing last month with that back-to-back-to-back home run implosion in Los Angeles. He's back to his bread and butter -- setting up hitters with his fastball before unleashing his nasty splitter, which he used to retire Joey Votto in Saturday's ninth inning.

Benoit has seven consecutive scoreless one-inning performances. He's looking more and more like the reliever the Phillies thought they were getting when they signed him in the offseason. Neshek has five straight scoreless appearances since giving up his first runs of the season two weeks ago during the doubleheader with the Nationals. Both setup men are in line for possible trades this season and could get the Phillies something in return.

And if the rotation continues to stumble (averaging 5.38 innings per start with an ERA above 6.00 in May), the bullpen could be a backbone to keep the team respectable.

2. Needing a better effort from Eflin
One starter who is certainly struggling is Eflin, who needs to rebound after a couple poor starts.

His last two starts have been nothing short of disasters. In 10 innings, he's allowed 15 runs on 21 hits while surrendering three home runs. The appearances -- losses to the Rangers and Rockies -- account for the worst two-start stretch of his career.

Through seven starts, Eflin has an ERA of 5.36. He was coming off a string of four consecutive quality starts before this late-May swoon and had an ERA of 2.81 while averaging 6.4 innings per start.

The 6-foot-5 righty relies heavily on his sinker, so he's going to have a lot of balls put in play. However, he simply can't survive with home runs. He needs to keep the ball on the ground, especially against the slugging Reds, who have four batters with at least 10 home runs.

There's no doubt that Eflin could pitch his way out of the rotation if he can't turn things around. He's only 23 and has made just 18 MLB starts. However, pitching through his struggles in the majors is the right way to go. This is a pitcher who had a 2.81 ERA just two weeks ago and two bad starts aren't worth an overreaction.

None of his 18 career starts came against the Reds and he has not faced anyone currently on Cincy's roster.

3. The Reds' ace?
Believe or not, the Phillies don't have the worst rotation ERA in baseball. That belongs to the Reds, whose starters sport a combined 5.74 heading into Sunday's rubber match in South Philly.

In 48 games, they've allowed 53 home runs and 154 earned runs. They've walked 109 batters and have the third fewest strikeouts (185) of any staff.

So with an only OK ERA of 3.99, Scott Feldman is actually the staff ace. At 34 years old, he's played for six different teams and had middling results at each stop. For his career, he is 74-81 with a 4.38 ERA.

This season, he has a career-worst walk rate, but has limited hits and home runs to keep teams off the board. On May 7, he threw a four-hit shutout against the Giants and is coming off a six-inning, one-run start against the Indians. He struck out a season-high nine in that game.

The Phillies are more than familiar with the righty as they faced him on opening day in Cincinnati. Feldman lasted just 4 2/3 innings and gave up three runs, including home runs to both Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis. It was his only ever start against the Phillies as he's spent the majority of his career in the American League.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Joseph has been the Phillies' saving grace recently. In both games he finished with walk-off singles, he also hit a home run and he's looking more and more like the hitter that took the Phils' lineup by storm last summer.

Reds: Votto is undoubtedly one of the best hitters in baseball. The 33-year-old Canadian is 0 for 7 with a walk in this series but has a .413 OBP this season with more walks (36) than strikeouts (26).

5. This and that
• Howie Kendrick made his fourth rehab appearance on Saturday with Triple A Lehigh Valley. He went 1 for 5 and played the full game at third base.

• The Phillies have not won consecutive games since their six-game win streak concluded on April 27.

• The Phils lost their last eight series, beginning in Los Angeles against the Dodgers on April 28-30.

• The Phillies are 9-11 in one-run games. They were 28-23 in those contests last year.

Howie Kendrick makes 4th rehab appearance in Lehigh Valley

Howie Kendrick makes 4th rehab appearance in Lehigh Valley

Howie Kendrick on Saturday night made his fourth rehab appearance in Triple A during Lehigh Valley's 13-1 rout of the Louisville Bats in Allentown.

Kendrick went 1 for 5 with a run scored and three strikeouts. He also grounded into a double play and left two runners in scoring position.

It was his second rehab game playing third base. He played third during his appearance in the IronPigs' 8-4 loss Thursday to the Indianapolis Indians. He was 0 for 1 in three plate appearances with a run scored and was hit by a pitch twice (see story).

The Phillies' plan for Kendrick was to have him play a minimum four games at Lehigh Valley. He played left field in two games and third base twice. Pete Mackanin said Wednesday that Kendrick would also get a game at first base but he hasn't gotten a game at first yet.

There is a chance Kendrick could be recalled Sunday before the Phillies’ series finale against the Cincinnati Reds depending on how he feels.

Kendrick has been sidelined since April 15 with an oblique strain. In 10 games before the injury, Kendrick went 13 for 39 (.333) with five extra-base hits and four walks while exclusively playing left field.