How many hurdles does Realmuto need to clear to be ready for opening day?


J.T. Realmuto has maintained throughout spring training that he believes he’ll be ready for opening day, but with eight Grapefruit League games remaining, you have to begin to wonder.

Manager Joe Girardi has said he’ll need to see Realmuto behind the plate before deeming him ready to catch the season opener on April 1. And, of course, there is no designated hitter in the National League this season. Had it carried over from 2020, the Phillies could have had a soft landing spot for Realmuto in early April.

Realmuto was supposed to be the DH Sunday but was scratched with overall body soreness after an active day Saturday. He took “7 to 10 at-bats” in a simulated game Saturday, caught and threw to bases.

“Just a recovery day because he’s been going so hard,” Girardi said.

It’s possible that Realmuto will be in the lineup Monday as the DH but Girardi was non-committal. The Phillies want to see him DH in at least one game before putting him behind the plate, and it’s not as if he’d catch a complete game his first time out. It stands to reason that the Phillies would build him up — perhaps five innings, then seven, then nine, though there’s no concrete formula.

In a perfect world, Girardi would like to see Realmuto catch two games in a row. 

“I’d like to make sure he can catch seven innings in one game. Back-to-back, we’d probably try to do that as well,” he said. “We’ll have to wait and see. You can’t go too fast or you could hurt him again, not necessarily his thumb, but you could hurt something else. We’ll have to go day by day with that, but we’d like to catch him back-to-back days for sure.”

Realmuto has been out since mid-February with a small fracture in the base of his right thumb. He suffered the injury while catching a bullpen session from lefty reliever Jose Alvarado, who has been maybe the Phillies’ biggest standout of spring training.

Eflin and Howard

Zach Eflin and Spencer Howard, the two Phillies pitchers dealing with back issues, threw bullpen sessions Sunday. There was no immediate word about how either one went, but Girardi said during the game broadcast that he’d likely have been informed if there was a problem.

Eflin’s back flared up while he threw additional pitches in the bullpen after his most recent start last Saturday. He only went to the ‘pen that afternoon because his day was so breezy with 39 pitches over four scoreless innings against the Tigers and he needed to get the pitch count up a bit.

More should be known Monday about Eflin's status. He has been sharp in spring training and looks ready to take another leap for the Phillies if he can stay healthy. Eflin spent time on the injured list in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, including a 10-day stint with mid-back tightness in ‘19.

At 27, he is entering his prime with the best arsenal of pitches and most confidence he’s had as a big-leaguer. The guy who was once a contact-based sinkerballer striking out a batter every two innings can now miss bats at a decent rate with all three of his curveball, changeup and 95 mph four-seam fastball. Eflin struck out 28.6% of the hitters he faced last season compared to 17.6% the four years prior.

Howard’s situation is different because the Phillies don’t appear to need him as much in the season’s first few days or weeks. If Eflin is ready for his first turn in the rotation, the Phillies have their five with Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Eflin, Matt Moore and Chase Anderson. Howard could fit in this season as a weapon out of the bullpen or as a replacement to a starter who is injured or ineffective.

The Phillies played the Tigers again Sunday, their sixth meeting of the spring. They lost the game, 5-3. Anderson started and allowed home runs to Akil Baddoo and Niko Goodrum on misplaced fastballs at 92 and 94 mph.

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