Tight 40-man roster could impact Phillies' roster decisions as much as performance

Tight 40-man roster could impact Phillies' roster decisions as much as performance

TAMPA, Fla. -- Less than three weeks before opening day, Pete Mackanin is still evaluating candidates for his bench.

"It'll probably go right down till the end," the Phillies skipper said of the decisions that he and the front office must make.

Mackanin was in full evaluation mode Wednesday night as the Phillies made the short drive across the causeway to play the Yankees at Steinbrenner Field. The Phils' starting lineup included four candidates for reserve roles.

Chris Coghlan batted leadoff and got his first start at second base.

Brock Stassi started at first base.

Aaron Altherr started in center field.

And Andrew Knapp was the designated hitter.

Two of the five spots on the Phillies' bench appear to be accounted for. Andres Blanco, the team's top utility man, is a shoo-in, and Altherr, a standout defensive outfielder who, like Blanco, is already on the 40-man roster, is a good bet to make the 25-man roster.

Coghlan's versatility -- he plays the outfield as well as second and third base -- and major-league track record could help his chances, though nothing is certain.

"We have to come up with two spots, maybe three," Mackanin said before Wednesday night's game.

One of those spots will have to be a backup catcher.

Spring performance will certainly play a role in the Phillies' decisions, but there is more to it. The 40-man roster is tight after the club added 11 young players to it in November, and the front office would like to retain as much depth as possible. Nonetheless, the team is going to have to trade from its 40-man roster or expose one or more players to waivers in order to finalize its 25-man roster. In addition to possibly needing to clear spots to finalize the bench, the team may need to clear a spot to add a lefty reliever.

Coghlan, Stassi and Daniel Nava, all candidates to be a bat off the bench and play some outfield, are all on minor-league contracts. The Phils would have to clear a 40-man roster spot to carry any one of them. A roster move would also have to be made to carry Bryan Holaday or Ryan Hanigan as the backup catcher.

Being on the 40-man roster already is a boon to Altherr's and Knapp's chances to make the club.

Knapp is a catcher by trade and he can also play first base. He is also a switch-hitter, which would come in handy.

Knapp came into camp knowing there was an opportunity to win a job, and he expressed confidence he could do just that. However, he entered Wednesday night's game with just one hit in 18 at-bats. In an effort to get him going, the Phils had Knapp get at-bats in a minor-league game Wednesday afternoon.

"I like Knapp," Mackanin said. "He's definitely a top candidate for that backup catcher job.

"I know he's a better hitter than he's shown in the spring. He might be pressing a little. I had a talk with him about three days ago. I said, 'Look, don't overthink this thing. Just go out there and have fun. See it and hit it. Just relax.'

"Once again, you should never judge a player's performance in spring training or September. But I'm looking at the quality of the at-bats. In other words, let's look at Stassi, who is killing it. You have to be careful with getting too excited about that even though he's looked very good.

"By the same token, why would you get worried about a guy who's not hitting? I expect Howie Kendrick to hit during the season. He's not having a good spring. But that doesn't concern me because he's a proven guy. So it works both ways. At least you try to make it work both ways."

Knapp came to the plate three times in Wednesday night's game. He struck out in the third inning and grounded to second in the ninth. In between, he had a nice plate appearance against Aroldis Chapman in the sixth. Knapp worked a full-count walk against the fireballing lefty. It was the Phillies' only walk on a miserable offensive night that saw them produce just one hit and strike out 13 times.

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, Cardinals 1

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Instant Replay: Phillies 5, Cardinals 1

BOX SCORE

Aaron Nola had everything working Thursday in his most impressive start of the season,  allowing just one run on four hits over 7⅓ innings with a season-high eight strikeouts.

Nola had remarkable, Greg Maddux-like movement and command of his two-seam fastball, especially with two strikes. He fooled the Cardinals all afternoon by starting it outside to hitters from both sides of the plate and having it run back over the outside corner for called third strikes. Of his season-high eight strikeouts, five were looking.

He also had his good, tight curveball working. When Nola pitches like this, he looks like a legitimate No. 2 starter or perhaps even more.

Leaning on Nola, the Phillies beat the Cardinals, 5-1, to avoid a sweep. It was still a series loss, though, their 17th in 24 series this season.

The Phils are 23-48; the Cards are 33-38.

Starting pitching report
Nola consistently worked ahead and stayed ahead of Cardinals hitters, throwing 20 of 27 first-pitch strikes.

Nola improved to 4-5 on the season with a 4.32 ERA. It's been an up-and-down season for him but this was the kind of start that can really get a starting pitcher into a groove.

His most impressive sequences came against Cardinals leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter, who may be the most selective hitter in the majors after Joey Votto. In Carpenter's second at-bat, Nola froze him with a two-seam fastball that darted back over the plate at the last second. The next time up, Nola struck out Carpenter swinging on one of his best, sharpest curveballs of the day.

Nola was on his way to potentially the first complete game of his career before running into some trouble in the eighth inning. He allowed a leadoff homer to second baseman Paul DeJong and walked Carpenter with one out before being lifted for Pat Neshek.

Cardinals ace Carlos Martinez had just an OK afternoon by his standards. He allowed three runs (two earned) over six innings with four strikeouts. Both earned runs came on solo home runs. Martinez was also a victim of poor infield defense in the fifth inning when the Phils scored an unearned run.

Martinez is 6-6 with a 2.87 ERA. He entered Thursday with the fifth-highest strikeout rate among NL starting pitchers.

Bullpen report
Neshek has been money in the bank all season, even if there are frustrating restrictions with his usage. He entered for Nola in the eighth inning and needed just five pitches to induce an inning-ending double play from Tommy Pham. 

In 31 appearances, Neshek has a 0.63 ERA. He's one of only two pitchers in baseball this season to allow two runs or fewer in 20-plus innings. Neshek has allowed two in 28⅔ innings. Dominant Yankees setup man Dellin Betances has allowed two in 22⅔.

Luis Garcia got the final three outs in a non-save situation, but he was set to enter even before the Phillies tacked on their final two runs in the eighth.

Garcia on June 7 in Atlanta allowed five runs in two-thirds of an inning in a 14-1 Phillies loss. Aside from that game, he has a 1.65 ERA in 24 appearances. He might be the Phils' closer for a little while with Hector Neris scuffling.

At the plate
Freddy Galvis (7) and Tommy Joseph (11) each hit solo home runs. 

Galvis' homer was his 21st of the last calendar year. The only National League shortstop with more over that span is MVP candidate Corey Seager (23).

Joseph added a two-run single for insurance with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the eighth. It was the kind of hit he needed — entering that at-bat, Joseph was hitting .204 in 122 chances this season with men on base.

In the field
Cardinals second baseman DeJong had a rough fourth inning. He dropped a throw from Martinez which could have started a double play but instead placed runners on first and second with no outs.

Three batters later, DeJong couldn't handle a flip from shortstop Aledmys Diaz which would have resulted in an inning-ending forceout. Instead, everyone was safe, and the dropped ball allowed a heads-up Andres Blanco to score all the way from second. The error on the play was charged to Diaz.

On the bases
Odubel Herrera committed a baserunning gaffe for the second straight game. He was picked off of third base with one out in the fourth inning, erasing an RBI opportunity for Daniel Nava.

This just 17 hours after Herrera ran through Juan Samuel's stop sign and was thrown out at the plate by about 30 feet in the ninth inning of a tie game.

Up next
The Phillies head out West for four games in Arizona followed by two in Seattle.

They will face left-handers Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray, and then right-handers Zack Greinke and Taijuan Walker. 

The Phillies haven't yet named a starter for Friday's game.

Phillies promote outfielder Andrew Pullin to Triple A after strong run with Reading

Phillies promote outfielder Andrew Pullin to Triple A after strong run with Reading

Cameron Perkins' call-up to the majors opened up an outfield spot at Triple A Lehigh Valley and Andrew Pullin was the beneficiary, earning a promotion Thursday.

Pullin's success at Double A Reading has been somewhat overshadowed by Scott Kingery's eye-popping first three months but Pullin has nearly kept pace with the second baseman all season. In 67 games with Reading, the 23-year-old Pullin hit .308/.368/.556 with 22 doubles, 14 home runs and 46 RBIs.

The left-handed hitting Pullin has been locked in for the better part of the last two years. He hit .322 with an .885 OPS last season, splitting time between Clearwater and Reading.

Pullin is not on the 40-man roster and in December was exposed in the Rule 5 draft. For whatever reason, he went unclaimed. It's difficult to imagine that happening again this winter if he's not protected on the 40.

As for Kingery, expect his promotion to come soon. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said last week that the next challenge for Kingery is looming. Don't be surprised if that promotion from Double A to Triple A occurs Monday when the IronPigs return to Lehigh Valley. With Reading home this weekend, it would be just a short trip for Kingery.