PHILADELPHIA — The Phillies began the season’s final 45 games with a new look Tuesday night.
Philadelphia manager Gabe Kapler shook up the lineup before they hosted the Boston Red Sox in the first of a two-game series Tuesday night.
The biggest changes saw Rhys Hoskins move from second in the order to the cleanup spot. Nick Williams batted second, while Odubel Herrera dropped to No. 7.
“The first thing I’d say is it is not some sort of major shakeup,” Kapler said. “I think it’s just, ‘Let’s take a fresh look at this.’ And another factor that comes in is rewarding Nick and giving Rhys a different look.”
No matter what Kapler says, change was needed.
The Phillies were 5 for 41 with runners in scoring position on their recently completed West Coast trip in which they lost four of six games. Philadelphia (65-52) began Tuesday one game behind the first-place Atlanta Braves (66-51) in the National League East.
The lineup wasn’t the only thing different Tuesday. The Phillies optioned infielder J.P. Crawford to Triple-A and recalled reliever Hector Neris, but much of the pregame focus was on the lineup.
Williams had never batted second for the Phillies before Tuesday’s game. He’s been one of the team’s top hitters, batting .317 with five home runs since the All-Star break. Meanwhile, Hoskins was a career .275 hitter (68 for 247) with 19 home runs in the cleanup spot.
“I think there are guys excited,” Hoskins said. “It’s a little bit of a different look. Obviously, we’ve scuffled a little bit lately as an offense, so anything new I think would be good. “
No matter what the lineup was, it was not going to be easy to shake out of the doldrums against the vaunted Red Sox (85-35), who began Tuesday on pace to win 115 games.
Still, the Phillies had to do something.
The baseball season has reached a point where every game is important. The Phillies play the Braves seven times in late September, but it’s the results of August games that will determine how meaningful those contests are.
“I can remember back to being in pennant races and feeling like every game was Game 7 of the World Series and if you came back in after a loss it was crushing,” Kapler said. “You had to remind yourself that you’ve got 45 games or whatever left to play, and you’re probably going to lose a couple of them, so you try to keep that in perspective. But every one of them feels critically important.”
Some fans might question why the Phillies sent Crawford down and not infielder Scott Kingery, who had a .266 on-base percentage. Crawford has been considered one of the team’s top prospects the past few seasons, but he’s missed most of 2018 with a broken left hand, batting .194 in just 34 games.
“Given the way our bench is set up right now, it’s more than likely that (Justin Bour) is going to be the first left-handed pinch hitter off the bench,” Kapler said. “For J.P., as tough as it is, his role on the club is not a clear one. We thought it made the most sense to continue J.P.’s development for the next couple of weeks by getting him into a rhythm by allowing him to play regularly.”
Neris, who began the season as the Phillies’ closer, appeared to regain his form in Triple-A. He struck out 31 and allowed just nine hits 18 2/3 innings for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
“We will use (Neris) in important situations going forward,” Kapler said.
More tough roster decisions could be ahead for the Phillies. Catcher Wilson Ramos, whom the Phillies acquired in a trade last month, will be healthy soon. That probably means another player who has been on the major league roster all season will have to be sent to Lehigh Valley.
But there’s no room for emotion in a pennant race.
“It’s always challenging balancing the very important human element with trying to put together the best roster,” Kapler said. “We always know that there are going to be hurt feelings when a roster decision is made that doesn’t come out in favor of a specific player.
“On the flip side, it is our obligation to make the best decision for a collective 25 men. And not just us, but the entire organization, the entire city of Philadelphia.”