Erik Kratz ready to serve as starting catcher

Erik Kratz ready to serve as starting catcher
March 3, 2013, 5:00 pm
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Spring Training TV Schedule

Mar. 5, World Baseball Classic, 1 p.m., CSN
Mar. 6, Nationals at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN
Mar. 7, Twins at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN
Mar. 12, Tigers at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN
Mar. 14 Pirates at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN
Mar. 17 Orioles at Phillies, 1 p.m., CSN
Mar. 19, Yankees at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN
Mar. 22, Braves at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN
Mar. 26 Rays at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN
Mar. 28 Blue Jays at Phillies, 1 p.m., TCN
Mar. 29 Blue Jays at Phillies, 7 p.m., TCN

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Charlie Manuel says of all the players that turned up at training camp this spring, catcher Erik Kratz was in the best shape.

It’s a good thing, too, because when the season opens on April 1 in Atlanta, Kratz isn’t going to be the backup catcher.

He’s going to be the starter.

With Carlos Ruiz to serve a 25-game suspension for a failed drug test, the 32-year-old Kratz is going to shoulder the load behind the plate. If it works out that Kratz has to catch 23 or 25 games in the first month of the season, Manuel sees no problem with that.

“Kratz is one of the hard-workingest guys on our club. He’s in the best shape. There isn’t one guy on our team in as good of shape or as strong as Kratz,” Manuel said. “All you have to do is be in [the clubhouse] everyday at 5:30 in the morning and watch him workout. He’s been doing it for the last three years that I’ve known him.”

It’s made for a more relaxed camp for Kratz, the Lansdale, Pa. native. His spot on the roster all but assured, Kratz doesn’t have to worry about his spring batting average or his production behind the plate. In the past it had always been the other way around for Kratz who spent the first part of his career just trying to make the team out of spring training.

With the pressure off, Kratz can work on learning the pitching staff and fine-tuning his hitting stroke in time for opening day.

For a guy who spent the first 11 years of his playing career in the minors, the plan of attack this spring has taken some getting used to.

“It hasn’t changed my approach. I think maybe it’s changed how people see me,” Kratz said. “I think that’s necessarily because of what could happen, but probably with what has happened. I think people thought I was a good player before, but if you don’t do it in the big leagues, how good really are you?

“If anything has changed this spring it has to do with what I learned last year and to bring it into this year.”

The relaxed attitude has helped Kratz, though it has not changed his approach. Kratz still approaches the game like he has something to prove. Then again, he feels like he does. Though he got off to a hot start when he joined the Phillies from Triple-A Lehigh Valley last July and August (six homers and 15 RBIs in his first 25 games), Kratz faded badly.

During the late chase for the second wild-card spot, Kratz batted just .167 in September and struck out 13 times in 13 starts. However, he says he felt like he contributed to the Phillies’ late-season surge.

If he has one goal headed into this season, it’s to contribute to winning more ballgames.

“I made it to the big leagues in 2010 and in 2011 you can’t say I want to make it to the big leagues. You have to say I want to make it back to the big leagues,” Kratz said. “Last year the biggest thing was that I helped the team win when I was in there. We were winning some games when I was in there. For me, that does more for my confidence than going out there and getting some hits. I think if you just go out and get hits or you do something else individually, sure, you did good, but if you didn’t win you didn’t really do anything to help the team.”

The team-first attitude was evident to Manuel.

“It just goes to show you who he is and how much he has and determination,” Manuel said. “He stuck with it and he kept right on working.”

Kratz will get a chance to contribute, according to Manuel. If Kratz takes over the catching duties with Ruiz serving his suspension, that will be ideal for the manager.

“If he can handle that it’s fine with me,” Manuel said. “I wouldn’t have any problem with that.”
Just because he’s looking at an opening day start, Kratz isn’t taking it lightly. Given all he’s been through in his first 11 years on pro ball, Kratz knows only how to play hard.

To prove it, Kratz played six innings of Sunday’s split-squad outing against the Blue Jays at Bright House Field. This was a day after he homered in the ninth inning of the 11-6 loss to the Blue Jays in Dunedin. And yet Kratz says he focused on the bottom line in the games against the Jays.

“There is no more improvement,” Kratz said. “It’s time to improve while doing well. That’s going to be big for this year.”