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.

MLB Notes: Tigers star Miguel Cabrera could return soon from back stiffness

MLB Notes: Tigers star Miguel Cabrera could return soon from back stiffness

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera could soon return to the lineup after being sidelined by back stiffness.

Cabrera has been out since leaving the Dominican Republic's game last Saturday in the World Baseball Classic.

Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said Cabrera might play Friday against Atlanta.

"Just not going to rush it," Ausmus said before Wednesday's game against Toronto. "There's no reason to rush it. He's got plenty of at-bats. We'll see how he is on Friday."

Cabrera hit .316 with 38 homers and 108 RBIs last season.

Outfielder J.D. Martinez, who sprained his right foot making a shoestring catch Saturday, is scheduled to be re-examined Friday.

Martinez hit .307 last year with 22 home runs and 68 RBIs.

Blue Jays: Bautista says he is over lower back stiffness
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista says the lower back stiffness that prevented him from playing for the Dominican Republic at the World Baseball Classic last weekend is no longer an issue.

Bautista was in the original lineup for Wednesday's spring training game against Detroit. But with an off-day Thursday, it was determined to have him play Friday instead.

"I'm feeling great," Bautista said. "I talked to the staff and it makes no sense to just kind of crank it up. Just take a day off."

Bautista is hopeful that his strong start, hitting .563 with two homers and six RBIs in six games before leaving for the WBC, will continue.

"I'm seeing the ball well and feeling good at the plate," Bautista said. "Just excited to be back in the swing of things with the guys, and looking forward to getting ready for the season” (see full story).

Twins: May has Tommy John surgery
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Minnesota Twins right-hander Trevor May has undergone Tommy John elbow surgery that will keep him off the mound this season.

The Twins announced on Wednesday that the replacement of May's torn ulnar collateral ligament was successful. The 27-year-old was transitioning back to starting, following a move to the bullpen halfway through the 2015 season.

With May's injury and their release on Tuesday of veteran right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, the Twins are down to Jose Berrios, Tyler Duffey and Adalberto Mejia in the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation.

May was placed on the 60-day disabled list, making room for the Twins to add left-hander Craig Breslow to the 40-man roster. The 36-year-old Breslow is among the finalists for a middle relief role.

Cardinals: Martinez to pitch on opening night
JUPITER, Fla. -- The St. Louis Cardinals have picked Carlos Martinez to start on opening night against the World Series champion Chicago Cubs.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told Martinez about the choice before he pitched Wednesday in an exhibition game against Washington.

The Cardinals host the NL Central rival Cubs on April 2.

Adam Wainwright had started the past four openers for the Cardinals. Matheny said Wainwright took the news well about Martinez getting the assignment this year.

The 25-year-old Martinez was an All-Star in 2015. He went 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA last year.

Yankees 7, Phillies 3: Long balls hurt Vince Velasquez; Daniel Nava auditions at first base

Yankees 7, Phillies 3: Long balls hurt Vince Velasquez; Daniel Nava auditions at first base

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Pete Mackanin got right to the point after this one.

"Well, I wish Joe Girardi didn't bring Bird along," he said after the Phillies' 7-3 loss to the Yankees. "It would have been a different ballgame if he didn't show up."

Mackanin was referring to Greg Bird, the Yankees first baseman and owner of a sweet lefty swing that has produced six home runs this spring, including a pair on Wednesday.

Both of the home runs came on down-and-in fastballs from Vince Velasquez. On one of them, Velasquez missed his spot badly.

"Velasquez pitched better than what he gave up," Mackanin said. "He had a good fastball. He got his pitch count up and he got through six innings. We're happy about that."

Velasquez lines up to pitch the home opener on April 7.

Nava auditions at first 
Daniel Nava, fighting to make the club as a non-roster player, played the entire game at first base. He had a walk, drove in a run and made a nifty play with the glove at first.

The Phillies have a serious roster crunch. If Andrew Knapp makes the club as the backup catcher -- a strong possibility because he is already on the 40-man roster -- then Nava could be battling with Chris Coghlan and Brock Stassi for one of the final two spots on the bench. Nava and Stassi are similar in that they both play first base and outfield, so it could come down to one or the other. Both have swung the bat well this spring (see 25-man roster projection).

"I could go out there and do everything right and they could go in a different direction, and I could do everything wrong and they could want me," Nava said. "I've been in this spot numerous times so I'm just trying to control things that I can control. That's a classic cliché or phrase, but there's a reason it's a phrase because there's a lot of truth to it. I just don't look into that stuff because it's out of my control.

"They could go a lot of different ways and that's actually good because it's so far out of your control you can't worry about it.

"We have a bunch of guys here who are good players. We'll see what happens."

Up next
The Phillies host the Twins on Thursday (1:05 p.m./TCN). Aaron Nola will start.