Phillies 6, Pirates 3: Andrew Knapp's big day comes at the right time

Phillies 6, Pirates 3: Andrew Knapp's big day comes at the right time

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ever since Andrew Knapp earned his way onto the Phillies' 40-man roster back in November, it seemed to be a fait accompli that he would end up as the team's backup catcher on opening day.

But that's not to say he didn't have to shine just a little bit in spring training to validate his standing.

Knapp got off to a slow start in Grapefruit League play -- one hit in his first 22 at-bats -- but he began the final week of camp with his best game on Sunday. He went 2 for 4 with a two-run home run and threw out two runners on the bases.

"It's been nice to get some games back-to-back," Knapp said. "I struggled a little bit early just taking a lot of time off in between at-bats and behind the plate. But this past week, I've been able to get in there a lot and start to get in the flow of the game a little bit. I think I was trying to do too much early on."

The increased playing time is likely a sign that Knapp will end up on the 25-man roster. The Phils have two non-roster veteran catchers -- Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan -- in camp. Both can opt out of their minor-league contracts in the coming days if they aren't going to make the club.

Phillies officials are looking to make as few subtractions from the 40-man roster as they can in constructing their bench and bullpen (see story). That's why things are looking good for Knapp.

But he's taking nothing for granted. Though Phillies officials were scheduled to meet Sunday evening "to try to get as close to the finalization as we can," in manager Pete Mackanin's words, opening day rosters don't have to be officially submitted until next Sunday, a day before the season opener.

"I'm just trying to keep my head down and not think about it that much," Knapp said. "The playing helps a lot. When you're just sitting on the bench, you're thinking about a million things. But when you're in the game, you get away from that a little bit. Just go out there, play, and enjoy the game. It's helped a lot."

The rest of the bench
Andres Blanco and Aaron Altherr are both set on the bench. Knapp looks good. That leaves two open spots, presuming the Phillies go with a five-man bench.

Chris Coghlan and Daniel Nava, both non-roster veterans, have played extensively in recent days. That suggests they could be the lead candidates. If that's the case, Brock Stassi, who has not played the last two days, could be on the outside. Infielder Jesmuel Valentin is also still in camp and he has played well. He's also on the 40-man roster and that would play in his favor. However, at 22, he might be better served to get regular playing time in Triple A.

Neither Coghlan nor Nava is on the 40-man roster so the Phils would have to clear spots to carry them.

Coghlan made an excellent running catch against the wall in left field Sunday.

The game
The Phillies had 15 hits and six of them were for extra bases, including homers by Knapp and Maikel Franco, in their 6-3 win over the Pirates.

Clay Buchholz, who had not pitched in 10 days after traveling home for the birth of his son, was rusty. He gave up five hits and three runs in 3 1/3 innings. He walked four and struck out four.

"Four walks is definitely subpar, but, you know, it's still spring training," Buchholz said.

The right-hander has allowed 11 runs over his last 14 2/3 innings.

"You can't honestly say he's had a good spring, but he was up close to 90 pitches today so pitch-count-wise he's doing fine," Mackanin said. "He hadn't pitched in 10 days so I can understand his lack of command. Once he's into a rhythm I think he'll be fine."

Venditte shines
Ambidextrous reliever Pat Venditte pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings.

"It's fun to watch Venditte pitch," Mackanin said. "If I'm up in the stands and I see him throw four pitches from the right side and I reach over to get my Coke or beer and I look back up and he's throwing from the left side I will start wondering how many beers I had. He's fun to watch."

Up next
The Phillies play the Blue Jays in Dunedin on Monday night. Vince Velasquez will start against Toronto's Aaron Sanchez.

The Phils could have several roster moves during the day as the 25-man roster continues to come into focus.

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

The Phillies are a lifeless team right now.

For a while the starting pitching was the biggest issue, then it was the bullpen, now it's the offense. The Phils have hit .224 since May 12, which was when their 2-7 road trip began. 

Their .268 on-base percentage over that span is worst in the majors and their .613 OPS is better than only the Mariners.

Players up and down the lineup are slumping. Odubel Herrera has hit .207 with a .246 OBP since the ninth game of the season. Michael Saunders hasn't given them much at any point. Maikel Franco had an eight-game hit streak snapped Monday, but even still is hitting .221 with a .281 on-base percentage. 

At this point, why not bring up Roman Quinn and play him every day? It makes too much sense right now.

Daniel Nava went on the 10-day DL Monday with a hamstring strain suffered Friday in Pittsburgh. It doesn't seem to be a serious injury, but why not use the open space as an excuse to bring Quinn up for at least a few days and see what he's got?

Quinn could infuse some energy and life to the top of a sputtering lineup. Bat him second, play him in the corner outfield and see what happens. At the very least, he'd be a defensive upgrade over Saunders. At the most, Quinn's hunger to stick in the majors could result in a hot streak that sparks the top of the order the way Herrera does when he's hot.

Quinn is hitting lately at Triple A, batting .333 with a .424 OBP over his last 15 games. He showed last September that he can be an offensive catalyst with his ability to beat out infield singles, bunt for hits and spray the ball. Yes, he strikes out too much for a leadoff-type hitter, but it's just hard to see the downside of a call-up right now.

The argument against bringing Quinn up now is that it's too early to sour on Saunders, a player the Phillies signed in hopes of trading at some point. But think about how much Saunders would have to do to have worthwhile trade value. Yeah, you could flip him somewhere for a negligible return or some salary relief, but he'd have to be extremely productive for at least a month to get a team interested in trading a minor-leaguer of any value for him.

Pete Mackanin has tried many things to spark the Phils' lineup, moving Herrera and Franco down, sitting guys, challenging guys. The best solution, perhaps the only solution right now, might be a move made over his head to promote the Phils' speedy, switch-hitting outfielder who has a future with them so long as he stays on the field, which he has this season.

As for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro, who have also hit very well at Triple A, they just happen to play the same positions as Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, who have been the Phillies' most reliable bats the last few weeks.

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Phils turn to Zach Eflin to stop the bleeding

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Phils turn to Zach Eflin to stop the bleeding

Phillies (15-27) vs. Rockies (29-17)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies were supposed to take a step forward in 2017. Pete Mackanin went out on a limb when he said before the season that he thought they could be close to a .500 team, and so far they've fallen well short of that expectation.

At 15-27, the Phillies are on pace to go 58-104, an even worse record than 2015, the year of Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams, etc.

They hope to stop the profuse bleeding tonight against the Rockies, who can't lose on the road lately.

1. Franco and Saunders sit
Looking for some more offense, or just a different approach, Mackanin is sitting Maikel Franco and Michael Saunders tonight in favor of Andres Blanco and Ty Kelly (see lineup).

Franco has actually been hitting a bit more in May, picking up a hit in nine straight games before going 0 for 3 with two strikeouts Monday. Still, he's hitting just .221 with a .281 on-base percentage, and his .657 OPS is 27 percent below the league average.

Saunders just hasn't done much with the Phillies. He's hitting .227/.273/.383 with four homers and 15 RBIs, and he's struck out 35 times in 150 plate appearances. Two of those four homers came in games that were already decided.

It's a rare start for Blanco, just his fifth of the season. Coming mostly off the bench the last four seasons, he's been a consistent hitter for the Phillies, batting .270/.333/.449 with 43 doubles, four triples and 13 home runs in 559 plate appearances, essentially a full season's worth.

2. Eflin's turn
Mackanin's hope is that with Aaron Nola back from the DL, Jeremy Hellickson appearing to turn a corner and Zach Eflin giving the Phils some consistent innings, the starting rotation can get into a groove, thus helping out the bullpen and giving the Phillies a chance to win more close games the way they did in 2016.

Jerad Eickhoff was just OK last night, allowing four runs in six innings as he dropped to 0-5 with a 4.70 ERA. A quality start tonight from Eflin against a strong Rockies lineup would go a long way because the Phillies really need more than half of their rotation to be clicking right now.

Eflin was rocked his last start in Texas, allowing seven runs on 11 hits and two walks over four innings. It caused his ERA to rise from 2.81 to 4.25 and his WHIP from 1.00 to 1.25.

As is usually the case when Eflin doesn't pitch well, he just wasn't getting his sinker low enough in the zone. He had induced 40 groundballs over his previous three starts before picking up just eight against the Rangers. 

An interesting note on Eflin is that he's struck out just five of the 70 right-handed hitters he's faced compared to 13 of the 85 lefties he's seen. Righties have hit .323 off him with a .798 OPS compared to .250 with a .715 OPS from lefties.

Current Rockies are 3 for 16 off Eflin with just one extra-base hit. He faced Colorado last season at Coors Field and gave up just two runs over six innings.

3. An unlikely start
Unlike most seasons, the Rockies are pitching well and winning on the road. Colorado has gotten off to hot starts almost every year the last five, but it's usually fueled by an unsustainably hot offense. 

Hasn't been the case in 2017. The Rockies are middle of the pack with a 4.29 ERA, a half-run lower than the Phillies. And away from Coors Field, they have a 3.45 ERA, the second-lowest road ERA for any team behind the Diamondbacks.

The run has been credited to a young starting staff that has been missing projected No. 1 Jon Gray. We saw former first-round pick Jeff Hoffman dominate the Phillies last night (seven innings, three hits, one run, seven strikeouts) and tonight the Phils face 22-year-old German Marquez (2-2, 4.34).

One of the biggest difference-makers for the Rockies in 2017 has been closer Greg Holland, who signed a prove-it deal with Colorado coming off a major injury. He has 19 saves and a 0.96 ERA in 20 appearances and has earned himself a whole of money this winter.

4. The book on Marquez 
The Rockies acquired Marquez along with left-handed reliever Jake McGee in the January 2016 trade that sent Corey Dickerson to the Rays, where he's thrived.

Marquez made just a handful of appearances in the majors last season but has been solid for the Rockies in five starts so far this year. 

He throws pretty much all four-seam fastballs (65 percent) and curveballs (24 percent), with his heater averaging 95.1 mph. He'll also mix in a few changeups to lefties and cutters.

In two starts away from Coors Field, Marquez has allowed just one run in 11 innings with 11 strikeouts. He's kept the ball in the park in four of five starts.

5. This and that
• Good to see Aaron Altherr pick up two doubles last night. He was 6 for his previous 33.

• Tommy Joseph in May: .345/.418/.707, six doubles, five homers, 13 RBIs. 

• Since beginning the season on an eight-game hitting streak, Odubel Herrera has hit .207 with a .246 OBP, six walks and 35 strikeouts.

• Daniel Nava was placed on the 10-day DL with a hamstring strain suffered Friday in Pittsburgh. LHP Adam Morgan was recalled again from Triple A to take his place on the active roster.