Phillies Spring Training 2024

Merrifield plays 3B, Castellanos launches one, Walker throws

MLB: MAR 02 Spring Training - Twins at Phillies

CLEARWATER, FL – MARCH 02: Philadelphia Phillies Outfielder Nick Castellanos (8) drives this pitch over the fence for a home run during the spring training game between the Minnesota Twins and the Philadelphia Phillies on March 02, 2024 at BayCare Ballpark in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies used four of their key relievers and Nick Castellanos hit one of the swaggiest 408-foot dingers you'll see Saturday afternoon in front of another five-digit crowd at BayCare Ballpark.

Six Phillies regulars started and Castellanos was the only one who touched 6-foot-9 Twins right-hander Bailey Ober, who broke out last season with a 3.43 ERA and excellent command numbers. Ober's fastball was up from the 91-92 range to 95 mph. Castellanos' homer was their only baserunner in his three innings.

Bryce Harper gave Ober a confidence boost that he heard about in the visiting clubhouse shortly thereafter.

"If he's gonna be 95-96," Harper said, "good luck to everyone in the (AL) Central."

Jose Alvarado was his typical 98-99. He didn't quite have command of his cutter in his third spring outing, uncharacteristically allowing a homer and a double with two outs and nobody on in his inning of work.

Matt Strahm, Gregory Soto and Jeff Hoffman each worked a scoreless inning. So did Andrew Bellatti, who is out of options and fighting for the final non-long-man spot in the bullpen. Bellatti's allowed one baserunner in three scoreless innings.

Whit Merrifield started the game at third base, where he's played one inning in the last eight years. The ball, of course, immediately found him. The first play of the game was a popup over his shoulder and the third play was a soft groundball he charged. In the second inning, he made a backhand play and fired a chest-high strike to Bryce Harper at first base.

Merrifield at third base gives the Phillies another option. Maybe there's a time during the season when Alec Bohm is out for a day or two and they go with Merrifield at third over Edmundo Sosa, who hasn't been quite as sure-handed at the hot corner as he is at shortstop.

"It can be really good," Merrifield said earlier in the week of his third base defense. "I played there in college and some early on. As far as the footwork and the fielding, there's no problem there, it's just needing a couple days of a lot of reps over there to get familiar with that throw again."

So far, so good.

The Phils make a 90-mile trip to North Port Sunday to play the Braves, who are crossing their fingers that superstar Ronald Acuña Jr.'s knee injury is nothing major.

Cristopher Sanchez was initially listed as the Phillies' probable starter Sunday after pitching two innings Tuesday, but it depends on how he feels. There's a bug going through the Phillies' clubhouse and Mick Abel was scratched Saturday with an illness.

Other updates

• Zack Wheeler was back in camp Saturday. He was away for three days on paternity leave after he and his wife Dominique welcomed their third child.

• Taijuan Walker played catch on Saturday. He had experienced right knee soreness after throwing batting practice on Thursday. He doesn't seem concerned but is a bit behind schedule.

• Dylan Covey is dealing with tightness in his right shoulder and the Phillies will take it easy with him for a few days. He's in the mix as a long man in the bullpen with Spencer Turnbull, Kolby Allard, Nick Nelson and David Buchanan. Turnbull has looked like the best of the bunch early on. Buchanan started Saturday and his command was better than it was Monday when he was dealing with a blister and allowed four hits with a walk.

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