CLEARWATER, Fla. – Andrew Knapp pointed toward J.P. Crawford and gave him a thumbs up after the shortstop tagged out a would-be base stealer Monday. But the credit belonged to Knapp, who made such a strong throw that Crawford simply had to catch the ball and let the runner slide into his glove.
Knapp has worked this spring on his footwork as he tries to improve his throwing. That was evident Monday as he threw out two runners during a 4-3 Phillies win over the Twins. Knapp realized he was stepping backward on his throws, causing him to lose speed and momentum.
"You have to redo that muscle memory because once the game is moving, you're going to do what you do naturally," Knapp said. "It's a lot of just focusing on it. Like even when you're playing catch, just focus on the footwork. It becomes monotonous a little bit, but once the muscle memory takes over, then you have nothing to worry about."
All signs point to Knapp's starting the season paired with Jorge Alfaro. Knapp stayed in the majors all season last year and threw out 20 percent of base stealers, right around the league average. Knapp knew he could improve. He has a strong arm but had a feeling he was fading on his throws. Dusty Wathan, who managed Knapp in the minors and is helping oversee the catchers as the new third base coach, confirmed it.
Knapp worked on his footwork in the offseason and they focused on it when he reported to camp. He spent time on the back fields with Wathan and catching coaches Craig Driver and Bob Stumpo. Monday offered some validation.
"We've seen improvement in Andrew's all-around game, but what stands out the most is how he's able to keep pitches in the zone right now," manager Gabe Kapler said. "He's done a tremendous job of working on his framing. He stayed very consistent in the bullpen with focusing on every pith. Dust, Stump, and Drives have done an exceptional job for the games. We've seen noticeable improvements at the bottom of the zone with Knappy. He's a really good receiver and we're seeing him continuously improve."
Rhys Hoskins hit a full-count homer, something he made a habit of doing last season. Hoskins homered 10 times last season with two strikes and three times with a full count. Hoskins has long been lauded for his plate discipline.
"To have a young player who is so calmly passive early in the count and then when he gets into a hitter's count is so fiercely aggressive is really impressive," Kapler said. "One of the things I've noticed about Rhys is the relaxed nature. Nothing seems to get him off of his plan, and as it gets deeper into an at-bat, it seems like the pitcher is in more and more trouble."