Young Phillies back to basics with unusual mandatory workout

Phillies Padres Baseball
The Padres’ Wil Myers steals third base Wednesday as third baseman Maikel Franco motions. Myers stole three bases in a row.

SAN FRANCISCO — It was 2:20 p.m. here, about five hours until first pitch Thursday, when the Phillies trickled onto the AT&T Park field. Mandatory workouts are not common in August, not before Game 119 in the middle of another West Coast slog. The players wore their game pants. They convened in right field, clapped their hands, and started to stretch.

For 30 minutes, the Phillies’ coaches drilled the youngest roster in baseball. The infielders re-ran a botched double-steal play, with Matt Stairs and Larry Bowa as pretend runners. The pitchers practiced their pickoff moves. The outfielders shagged balls.

“When you have the worst record in baseball, you have to work on something,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “You can’t just go about your business like you’re the L.A. Dodgers.”

The Phillies are in an atypical situation. They are attempting to develop players while they play against the highest level of competition. That requires patience; the Phillies cannot expect proficient play. No player is a finished product when he graduates from the minors.

But the Phillies are teeming with unfinished products, and they do not want bad habits to spread. So, the message was sent with the workout — which was done in addition to a full batting practice later in the afternoon.

“I hope so,” Mackanin said.

This is very much a learning environment. The average age of the Phillies’ current 25-man roster is 26.7 years old. The number of established big-league players can be counted on one hand.

After Wednesday’s sloppy loss to a subpar team in San Diego, Mackanin had one of his coaches post notices throughout the clubhouse that notified the team of the mandatory workout in San Francisco. Teams will hold optional workouts on the first day in a new city, usually some kind of informal batting practice

This was not that.

“I felt it was necessary to have a workout to clean things up,” Mackanin said. “Remind them that the fundamentals are important.”

The players noticed.

“I’m sure it was unusual for a lot of teams in the major leagues,” first baseman Tommy Joseph said. “But we’re not like other teams. A lot of us are at the point in our career where it’s a pretty pivotal point. It’s at the beginning. A lot of us have to make moves. You always have to strive to be better and to bring the best out of your teammates.”

The infielders gathered around Bowa, the team’s bench coach, and he held a lecture. They simulated the double-steal play, with runners on first and third. Catcher Andrew Knapp, wearing a splint on his right hand, was the runner on first. Stairs, the hitting coach, dashed from third. The first two practice attempts did not go well.

“This is the run we don’t want to score,” Bowa said, as he stood on third base.

They did it right on the next attempt.

The 30-minute session just reinforced how far the Phillies are from contention. The basics are a problem right now. Mackanin led a discussion from the mound with the pitchers about how to improve the team’s inability to hold opposing runners. Near the dugout, third-base coach and outfield instructor Juan Samuel worked with Rhys Hoskins on his footing as the rookie learns a new position.

“The hard part about it is if you watch replays and other games, you see so many baserunning mistakes and overthrows and bad baseball,” Mackanin said. “When you’re in first place or competing for a wild card, it goes unnoticed. But when you’re losing all the time, every little thing is under a microscope.”

So the Phillies will try to solve one issue at a time. The roster could look different next season. The little things matter in deciding who belongs and who does not.

“If anybody in here is just comfortable with being in the major leagues, they’re in here for the wrong reason,” Joseph said. “Everybody needs to have reasons to have fire under them every day. Just being in the major leagues is not good enough. That’s not how you win games. That’s not how you become the best player you can be.”

Extra bases

Odubel Herrera remained out of the lineup for the third straight game. His sore left hamstring has not yet improved. “He might have to go on the DL,” Mackanin said. “We’re thinking a lot about it.” … The Phillies purchased veteran infielder Pedro Florimon’s contract and added him to the active roster. Florimon will provide some insurance for what was a short bench. Reliever Pedro Beato, who threw 10 pitches before injuring his hamstring, was designated for assignment. … Mackanin said he will continue to pair Cameron Rupp with the team’s two more experienced starters, Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff. Rookie Jorge Alfaro will not always catch the other three pitchers, but that is when he will play. … Joe Rauch, the Phillies’ minor-league athletic-training coordinator, was named coordinator of the year by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society. … Zach Eflin starts Friday against Giants lefthander Matt Moore.