CLEARWATER, Fla. -- When the Phillies held their first workout at the Carpenter Complex on Feb. 12, Bryce Harper wasn’t with them. Upon leaving Monday, they had Harper in tow.
By itself, that made spring training successful.
The most highly anticipated Phillies season since at least 2012 will begin at approximately 3:05 p.m. Thursday when Aaron Nola throws his first pitch against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Before that, though, it's worth looking back at a 42-day camp that included three news conferences, 31 games, lots of mileage on owner John Middleton's private jet, and one whopper of a 13-year, $330 million signing.
Let's begin with three things that the Phillies accomplished over the past seven weeks:
It took a dramatic, cross-country flight by Middleton -- a move straight out of the Steinbrenner playbook -- and furious last-minute negotiating by general manager Matt Klentak on Feb. 28, but the Phillies finally reeled in their superstar.
And then they watched the mania ensue.
The Phillies sold 100,000 tickets on the afternoon that the Harper news broke. Harper jerseys flew off the shelves at a record pace. As Harper got up to speed by going 4-for-17 with two homers and eight walks, attendance at the Phillies’ home spring-training games spiked from an average of 4,805 fans prior to the signing to 8,669 fans in the 12 games that followed.
The hype is real. Now all Harper has to do is live up to it.
Veteran right-hander Tommy Hunter (flexor strain) and reserve outfielder Roman Quinn (oblique strain) will open the season on the injured list. Otherwise, the Phillies broke camp with the opening-day roster that they intended despite minor issues early in camp for center fielder Odubel Herrera (hamstring) and second baseman Cesar Hernandez (hip).
One situation to watch: Rhys Hoskins returned to the lineup and got two plate appearances Monday after not playing for a week because of soreness in his left shoulder. He’s set to play on opening day, but the Phillies can’t afford a lingering problem with their cleanup-hitting first baseman.
At the suggestion of pitching coach Chris Young, right-hander Drew Anderson replaced his slider with a cutter to make him more effective against left-handed hitters. Anderson was a spring standout, posting a 0.71 ERA in four starts.
Right-hander Jerad Eickhoff had a strong camp after an early setback from carpal tunnel surgery. And hard-throwing reliever Yacksel Rios was one of the final cuts after posting a 0.82 ERA in nine appearances.
Anderson, Eickhoff and Rios will begin the season in triple-A, though they almost certainly will be with the Phillies at some point this season.
But spring training, by its nature, isn’t particularly revelatory. Here are three questions that can only be answered once the games begin to count:
For as much as the Phillies overhauled the roster, they didn’t touch the rotation. It was a calculated gamble. After getting outbid for lefties Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ, they didn’t view other free agents as upgrades.
With a surgically repaired knee and restored arm slot, Jake Arrieta thinks he will rebound from a rotten August and September. He got 20 swings and misses over six solid innings in the spring-training finale, a 3-2 walkoff victory over the Rays. Nick Pivetta, who struck out 10 batters on the minor-league side in his final tune-up, has the stuff to be a breakout candidate. Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez have flashed potential.
But Velasquez, in particular, struggled in spring training and likely will be skipped in the first turn through the rotation. The Phillies have the flexibility to make a trade before the July 31 deadline. There's at least a chance that they will need to.
Twelve years ago, the Phillies won the first of five consecutive division titles with a juggernaut offense. Powered by Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, Aaron Rowand and Shane Victorino, they led the league in runs and overcame a pitching staff that had the third-worst ERA.
These Phillies possess similar offensive potential. With Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, Harper, Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto in the top five spots in the lineup, there’s no shortage of firepower, especially in their homer-friendly ballpark.
The Phillies added five all-stars, including two former National League MVPs. They traded for a catcher that many believe is the best in baseball and signed perhaps the game’s most recognizable superstar.
Until Monday, though, they hadn’t all been together on the field in a game.
It isn’t atypical to not play the entire opening-day lineup until the end of spring training. But with so many new faces, it will be manager Gabe Kapler’s biggest challenge to bring the Phillies together.
“It’s easy to say that we got to where we want to be, but spring training is for optimism,” Kapler said. “What I want to convey is that we have a lot of work to do. We are prepared to do that work. We’ve made personnel changes that really brought our group together. We’re not all the way there yet, but we made a ton of progress this spring training.”
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