Just a few hours before the Phillies’ spring-training clash on Sunday afternoon with the Detroit Tigers, manager Joe Girardi scratched star catcher JT Realmuto from the lineup where he was supposed to be the designated hitter.
The decision obviously presented initial concerns about the health of the 30-year-old backstop at the start of his new contract with the Phillies, but Girardi downplayed reasons for Philadelphia fanatics to panic.
“When I walked in this morning, he had some general soreness in his body,” Girardi said. “He had probably 7-to-10 at-bats yesterday [in a simulated game], he threw to bases, he caught.
“I just said, ‘Hey, it’s cooler today, you have general soreness. I’m not going to play you for three at-bats, I don’t think it’s worth it. Let’s just see how it goes tomorrow and we’ll try to get you in.'”
Realmuto had fractured his thumb while catching a bullpen session when pitchers and catchers initially reported to spring training last month. While he is expected to be ready for Opening Day, he has yet to make an appearance in a live spring training game.
The plan has long been to get Realmuto some at-bats in spring as a designated hitter, allowing him to stay fresh and fully recover for the start of the regular season.
“He understood,” Girardi said. “He even said the important day is April 1. The important day is not today, even though we want to get him as many at-bats and get him behind the plate as soon as we can.
“We need to make sure he’s completely healthy and we don’t jeopardize anything else by trying to rush this.”
Realmuto is beginning a five-year, $115.5 million deal with the Phillies where his health and availability will be just as vital to his team’s chances of competing in a stacked National League East as a Bryce Harper or Aaron Nola.
With no designated hitter in the National League this season, there aren’t as many opportunities to preserve Realmuto if he is feeling the wear and tear of playing the toughest position in baseball. Hence why Girardi and Co. are practicing extreme caution with less than two weeks remaining until Opening Day.