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Gabe Kapler: Third base is an “open competition” & pitcher injuries

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Two pitchers are facing injury issues, and the third base job is not being handed to Franco.

New York Mets v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Spring training is just getting underway and, for the first of what will be many engagements with reporters, manager Gabe Kapler held court with the media and revealed a couple of eye-opening nuggets down in Clearwater.

JAKE ARRIETA GETS SURGERY

Kapler’s first tiny bombshell was that the team’s No. 2 starter, Jake Arrieta, had recently has surgery following an off-season workout injury.

Evidently, the surgery does not appear to be serious and the team says he should be ready to go by the time the bell rings in late March. But this is the second straight season Arrieta will not be getting off to a normal start in the spring.

Arrieta isn’t the only starting pitcher dealing with injury woes.

JERAD EICKHOFF SETBACK

Eickhoff has been dealing with this injury since the 2017 season, when he made 24 starts and had an ERA of 4.71 in 128 innings. Last year, he worked the entire season to make his way back and got a start on the final day of the season against the Braves. He struck out eight batters in five innings of work, and the hope was he could come back and be an effective starter for Philadelphia once again.

However, while this doesn’t appear to be a major setback for Eickhoff, it certainly is not the best way for him to start down his comeback trail.

The Phils are well positioned to deal with these setbacks. Should Arrieta and/or Eickhoff’s injury issues linger longer than expected, the team has a number of options in AAA to fill the void: Enyel de los Santos, Ranger Suarez, Drew Anderson and Cole Irvin to name a few. Also, with a number of off-days in the first two weeks, the team won’t need a five-man rotation until well into the second week of the season.

Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez are also free agent options still on the open market.

THIRD BASE BATTLE

Rumors had persisted all off-season that Maikel Franco, who batted .270/.314.467 in 465 plate appearances last year with 22 home runs and a wRC+ of 105, was a candidate to be traded. But it appears that if the Phillies do not sign Manny Machado to play third base, the incumbent may not be the Opening Day starter at the hot corner after all.

Kingery was terrible in his rookie season last year, playing most of the season at shortstop, a position wholly unfamiliar to him. In 484 PAs he batted .226/.267/.338 with a wRC+ of just 62. A natural second baseman, the team appears determined to keep Kingery on the big league roster after signing him to a six-year, $24 million big league contract, and it could come at the expense of Franco, who batted .294/.339/.517 with an OPS of .855 from June 17 through the end of the year (although he missed most of September with various injuries).

Though he’s just 26 years old, he enters 2019 with 2,111 PAs under his belt and a career slash line of .252/.303/.435. Either the Phillies feel they know what they have in Franco and are curious about whether Kingery has the arm strength to play the position, or they are using Kingery as a way to push Franco to reach a level of play he has yet to consistently achieve so far.

NEW SLOGAN

Last year, Kapler said his message to the team was #BeBold. This year, they’re doing something different.

On Episode 251 of Hittin’ Season, Kapler talked to me about what he hopes to pass along to his players as part of playing “Shoulder to Shoulder.” (10:53 mark)

“Last year we asked our club for every individual to take a small step forward, and if we did that we would win baseball games, and I think we were able to accomplish that as individuals.”

“This year we’re gonna pay an equal amount of attention to helping the people next to us, focusing our attention on him, makes our team a tighter unit, a stronger team with a better chance of winning baseball games. That’s a major paradigm shift that we intend to implement in 2019.”

Kapler echoed those comments in his news conference today, and also said the clubhouse won’t be quite as loosey-goosey (my words) as it was last year.

How that will actually manifest itself remains to be seen.