How Brad Miller's absence shakes up Phillies' season-opening bench

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Brad Miller’s oblique strain, which it sounds like will keep him out for opening day, affects more than just his own status. It also changes the complexion of the Phillies’ early-season bench.

Phillies manager Joe Girardi said Monday that Miller is not yet ready for game action and did not sound too confident when asked about his chances of being good to go on April 1.

With Miller healthy, the Phillies could have opened with a five-man bench of Miller, corner outfielder Matt Joyce, backup catcher Andrew Knapp, and two from the group of Scott Kingery, Roman Quinn and Odubel Herrera, with the other starting in center field.

But with Miller out, the need increases for another player to back up at infield spots. You can’t enter the season with only Kingery able to fill in at second, short and third, especially on days he starts in center.

Miller’s absence would seem to pretty much guarantee Kingery a spot on the opening day roster rather than a trip to the minors to work out his kinks at the plate.

It also could create a big-league spot for Ronald Torreyes, in camp with the Phillies for the second straight year. Torreyes is a former Yankee who played for Girardi in 2016 and 2017. He can play all over the diamond — second, short, third and all three outfield spots if needed. He is not a strong offensive player but is here for his defense and versatility.

A big issue with Torreyes is that he’s not on the Phillies’ 40-man roster, which is full. The Phils will need to remove players from their 40 to make room for Joyce, Brandon Kintzler, Tony Watson and Herrera if any of them make the team. Joyce appears to be a lock, and so too might be Kintzler and Watson. Both have long track records of pitching well late in games, and the 2021 Phillies seem determined to put the best 26 players on their roster.

There are a few players on the Phils’ 40-man roster they could lose and not miss a ton, but five spots? That’s going to be tricky.

The only other infielders on the Phillies’ 40-man roster are Nick Maton and C.J. Chatham, who were both optioned to the minor leagues on March 16, three days after Miller was scratched with his oblique strain. You’d think the Phils would have kept Maton and Chatham around if either had a good chance to make the opening day roster.

The Phillies will also monitor other teams’ cuts. Every year, we see players opt out or get released late in camp and latch on with another club. For as much depth as the Phillies added this offseason, they do not have much thump off the bench with Miller out, nor do they have a strong right-handed-hitting option.

That matters a lot more this season than it did last. The Phillies averaged 0.77 pinch-hit plate appearances per game in 2020 when the designated hitter was universal, compared to 1.91 per game in 2019.

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