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Improved Phillies seeking to end 9-year postseason drought

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

By ROB MAADDI

AP Sports Writer

Joe Girardi held up the Philadelphia Phillies' roster on a sheet of paper and made it clear improvements in the offseason don't matter once players hit the field.

"This paper doesn't mean a lot, right? We have to go out and prove it and guys have to play up to their potential," Girardi said during a virtual session with reporters on Wednesday. "And that's what spring training is all about, getting guys in the best possible position to go out and compete starting April 1. And we will work very, very hard at that. But I like the improvements that we've made."

Pitchers and catchers reported to camp and the first full team workout is scheduled for Monday. The Phillies fell one win short of qualifying for the expanded postseason last year and haven't had a winning record since they last reached the playoffs in 2011.

The team suffered its third straight September collapse, going 1-7 in the final eight games. Their failure cost general manager Matt Klentak his job. David Dombrowski was hired to run baseball operations and Sam Fuld was promoted to GM.

Re-signing two-time All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto and shortstop Didi Gregorius were their biggest offseason moves. The Phillies also added several veteran relievers and starters to try to bolster a bullpen that was the worst in baseball last season.

"They're making a commitment to winning and telling the fans we're going for it," Girardi said of ownership. "I applaud them for that because obviously they had (revenue) losses last year. Everybody had losses last year, but they've really stepped up. And now it's our job to reward them."

With Realmuto and Gregorius back, scoring shouldn't be a problem for an offense that finished tied for fifth in runs last season. Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Rhys Hoskins and Alec Bohm make the lineup deep top to bottom.

Right-handers Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin form a solid trio atop the rotation. New arms Chase Anderson and Matt Moore will compete with veteran Vince Velasquez and prospect Spencer Howard for the final two spots.

The two guys who don't get starting jobs should add more depth to a bullpen that's been revamped. Phillies relievers had a 7.06 ERA in 2020. The team signed Brandon Kintzler, who was Miami's closer last season, Archie Bradley, who has closer experience, and lefty Tony Watson to join Hector Neris. The Phillies are counting on Jose Alvarado returning to his 2018 form with the Rays, and they're hoping non-roster pitchers like Neftali Feliz and Hector Rondon can do the same.

"We've done a lot to strengthen our pitching and to bring in power arms," Girardi said. "I think it was something that we lacked last year in the back end of our bullpen and we've done a really good job of bringing those arms in."

After coming close only to fall apart down the stretch, Girardi says the team has "a mind-set of determination to complete the task."

But they're in a tough NL East featuring the defending division champion Braves, Mets, Marlins and Nationals.

"We're in this to win it, right? That's why we're here," Girardi said. "So I really believe that we're going to try to formulate the best team possible now. ... We know the importance of game one, game two because our division is going to be really, really tough and we've got to make sure that we're prepared for that."

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Updated February 17, 2021

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