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.

Today's Lineup: Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp back in vs. Dodgers lefty Ryu

Today's Lineup: Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp back in vs. Dodgers lefty Ryu

Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, both of whom have been scuffling at the plate and sat out Saturday's crushing loss to the Dodgers, will return to the Phillies' lineup for Sunday afternoon's series finale in Los Angeles (see game notes).

Both right-handed batters could have favorable matchups Sunday against Dodgers' lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has a 4.64 era and has lost all four his starts thus far this season. Those four losses are the most in MLB.

Joseph, who will be at first base and bat seventh today, is hitting just .190 so far this year with one homer and 7 RBI. Perhaps even more troubling is the fact he's batting just .071 against lefties so far this year. Joseph hit .281 against southpaws last season.

Rupp's numbers this season are even less spectacular. He's batting at .180 clip with just a single homer and 3 RBI. Much like Joseph, Rupp has struggles mightily against lefties this season. He's just 1 for 12 (.083) against southpaws this season. Rupp will bat eighth today against Ryu.

With a lefty on the mound for Los Angeles, Odubel Herrera will have the afternoon off. Daniel Nava will stay in left while Aaron Altherr will move over to center in place of Herrera.

Phillies rookie starter Nick Pivetta could be catching a break in his MLB debut as the Dodgers will sit star shortstop Corey Seager on Sunday.

Both teams' lineups can be found below:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez 2B
2. Freddy Galvis SS
3. Daniel Nava LF
4. Maikel Franco 3B
5. Aaron Altherr CF
6. Michael Saunders RF
7. Tommy Joseph 1B
8. Cameron Rupp C
9. Nick Pivetta SP

Dodgers
1. Andrew Toles CF
2. Cody Bellinger LF
3. Justin Turner 3B
4. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
5. Yasiel Puig RF
6. Yasmani Grandal C
7. Chris Taylor 2B
8. Kiké Hernandez SS
9. Hyun-Jin Ryu SP

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Nick Pivetta set to debut with Phils reeling

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Nick Pivetta set to debut with Phils reeling

Phillies (11-11) at Dodgers (13-12)
4:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies suffered what may end up as their most bitter defeat of the season Saturday night. Already with a tenuous hold on the closer spot, Hector Neris gave up back-to-back-to-back homers and took his first loss of the season as the Dodgers scored four in the ninth to upend the Phils.

How will the Phillies respond? They'll send Nick Pivetta to the mound to make his major league debut while the Dodgers toss out veteran LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Here are five things to know for the series finale.

1. O Canada
The 2015 trade of Jonathan Papelbon is about to begin paying off for the Phillies.

Pivetta, a 24-year-old right-hander, will make his MLB debut when he steps on the mound in Sunday's West Coast matinee. Originally from British Columbia, Canada, Pivetta was drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 MLB draft by the Nationals and was traded two years later to the Phillies in exchange for Papelbon, who struggled as the Nationals' closer.

Since the trade, Pivetta has shoved his way quickly through the Phillies' system. In 2016, his first full season with the Phillies' organization, he threw 148 2/3 innings between Double and Triple A and had a 3.27 ERA, limiting hitters to just 7.7 hits per nine innings while fanning 138 batters. He was even more impressive in three starts this season — Pivetta has a 0.95 ERA and three wins in as many starts for Lehigh Valley and has allowed just 15 baserunners in 19 innings. He's struck out 24. His most impressive start was his last appearance, when he threw six innings and struck out 11 on April 20.

Beyond simply performing well, Pivetta earned a call-up thanks to Aaron Nola's injury. Nola's lower-back strain created a need for the Phillies in their rotation and they called upon the 24-year-old Canadian, who was added to the 40-man roster this offseason.

Pivetta was a part of Team Canada in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, starting a game against Colombia in pool play. He lasted four innings and gave up just one run. He earned significant bragging rights within the Phils organization despite Canada losing the game. How? By getting his Triple A battery mate, Jorge Alfaro, out twice in two at-bats. Considering they don't face each other in any other setting, he could hold that over Alfaro for a while.

In Triple A, Pivetta has a small platoon split with lefties hitting him slightly better than righties. However, he struck out lefties at a smaller rate with an inconsistent changeup. Instead, he lives off a mid-90s fastball to pair with his slider and curveball. 

2. Recent Phillies MLB debuts
Pivetta is the first Phillies starter to make his MLB debut this season, just two days after Mark Leiter Jr. became the 18,955th player in MLB history to make his debut. Sunday's game is a bit of uncharted territory for Pivetta, but it's not for the Phillies or even Pete Mackanin. How have some recent debuts played out?

Aaron Nola: Nola had one of the better MLB debuts for a Phillies starter, going six quality innings while allowing just one run in a July 2015 game vs. Tampa Bay. He showed his stuff from the very start and wasn't intimidated by the moment. However, he picked up the loss because the one run he allowed — a home run by the opposing pitcher — was the only run of the game.

Jerad Eickhoff: A month after Nola's debut in 2015, Eickhoff one-upped his new teammate with six shutout innings in Miami. He earned a win while striking out six and allowing just six baserunners. Not bad and a sign of things to come.

Zach Eflin: Eflin had more of a classic MLB debut, a pitcher with the deer in the headlights look. He gave up eight runs and got just eight outs in Toronto last June. He was wiped out of the game after his third home run allowed.

Jake Thompson: Thompson, the most recent of the Phillies' prospects to make his MLB debut, took the hill last August against the Padres. The Friars had his number. He didn't give up any long balls but he surrendered seven hits and two walks over 4 1/3. Thompson garnered just one strikeout in the road loss.

3. Hitting off Ryu
Wins and losses aren't all that indicative of a pitcher's performance. However, it's never a good sign when you lead all of baseball in losses. 

In his age 30 season, Ryu is 0-4 through four starts. The lefty was a stalwart for Hanwha in the Korean Baseball Organization, the top league in his native Korea, and came over to the majors in 2013. He was the No. 2 starter to Clayton Kershaw for two seasons, but things went awry in 2015. He dealt with shoulder issues and missed the entire season, having the labrum repaired in his left shoulder.

It got even worse for Ryu in 2016. He rehabbed the injury and made it back in early July, only to last 4 2/3 innings before dealing with elbow discomfort. He didn't make another start last season and ended with surgery on his left elbow. 

So his early performance is concerning. His velocity is down to barely an average of 90 mph on his fastball. His changeup, slider and curveball have all elicited solid results this season, but his fastball has been obliterated by opposing hitters. All six home runs he's given up in 2017 have been on that fastball, which simply hasn't been fooling hitters and is often in the high 80s.

In total, Ryu has a 4.64 ERA in 21 1/3 innings. He's given up 24 hits and has walked five batters, although he does have 20 strikeouts. Only Freddy Galvis and Jeanmar Gomez have faced Ryu among current Phillies. Galvis is 0 for 3 while, in a shocking twist, Gomez is 1 for 1 with a single. Howie Kendrick, currently on the DL, was Ryu's teammate last season in L.A. 

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Maikel Franco has hit the Dodgers well in his early career (two home runs) and represents a righty-power threat against a soft-tossing lefty. Five of the six home runs Ryu has allowed this season have been to right-handers.

Dodgers: Shortstop Corey Seager was held hitless on Friday, but he has hits in all but six of his 25 starts this year as he carries the Dodgers' offense in the early going. He had a key single on Saturday during the Dodgers' 9th-inning rally.

5. This and that
• Phillies closers have five saves this year and have blown four saves in the ninth inning. The Phillies' five total blown saves are tied for second-most in the majors behind the Blue Jays' eight. Neris' blown save on Saturday night mostly came down to poor pitch location against some powerful hitters. Simply can't afford to make those kinds of mistakes against the Dodgers' lineup.

• After winning five of their first seven road series in 2016, the Phillies have lost three of their first four in 2017. 

• The Phillies won six straight games once last season — April 26-May 1. They proceeded to lose three of four directly following the streak.

• Lefty starters have given the Phillies some trouble this season. Southpaws starting games have limited the Phillies to a .244/.297/.370 batting line with more strikeouts (36) than hits (33) in four games this year.