CLEVELAND — With their postseason hopes on life support, the Phillies need to be at their very best over the final 11 games to have a shot at the National League wild card.
That’s why it was a little surprising not to see J.T. Realmuto’s name in the starting lineup on Friday night.
After all, the All-Star catcher has probably been the club’s MVP this season.
Manager Gabe Kapler was armed with answers on his decision to rest Realmuto at the start of an important series against the Cleveland Indians.
“He’s totally fine,” Kapler said. “I think the most likely scenario has him catching the next two games and several after that in a row.
“Just to be completely clear — and this is really the only way to fairly and genuinely portray what I'm sharing — this is what is best for J.T. Realmuto, him going forward this season, and his career. He needs to be protected and shown the respect that most players around the league get. And that involves helping him recover.”
Realmuto has carried a heavy load all season and especially recently.
Entering Friday night, he had started 33 of the previous 36 games behind the plate, including 14 of the last 15 and nine in a row.
For the season, he leads all big-league catchers in games behind the plate (131), starts (128) and innings (1,123 1/3). He has caught 82 2/3 more innings than Yasmani Grandal, who ranks second in the majors.
On top of all this, Realmuto has struggled at the plate recently. He was 1 for 11 in the first three games of this 11-game trip and is 0 for his last 8.
Realmuto appeared particularly down after Thursday’s loss in Atlanta. He declined to speak with reporters after the game. He was not available before Friday night’s game.
“The likelihood is that we'll see him at some point during this game,” Kapler said. “But he has worked incredibly hard, and it is a grind mentally and physically. After doing a lot of homework on it, my decision was to give him the entire day off. And when I say 'entire day off,' I mean from the catching position and from having to prepare to get ready for the start of the game. Doesn't mean we won't use him during the game, but certainly the blow leading up to the game is huge, the mental refresher is enormous, and the physical blow from just grinding like he has for so many days in a row. This felt like the sensible and responsible play for J.T. and for the Phillies moving forward.”
It’s possible that Realmuto will play the rest of schedule — or as long as the Phillies remain in contention.
The Phillies are also cognizant of Realmuto’s long-term future. The club would like to sign him to a contract extension this winter. It will probably take at least a five-year deal worth $100 million or more to sign Realmuto.
Being in an American League city and having an extra bat as designated hitter made resting Realmuto against All-Star right-hander Shane Bieber a little more palatable. Jay Bruce was the DH and Andrew Knapp started behind the plate.
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