For more than two months, Andrew Knapp was doing very little to help the cause of the 2018 Philadelphia Phillies. He was in his second big league season but had made the opening day roster for the first time.
Knapp was expected to be a solid backup to starting catcher Jorge Alfaro. However, as the club tried to rise up after five years at the bottom of the Major League Baseball standings, Knapp was struggling mightily.
He was hitting for just a .162/.276/.189 slash line over his first 87 plate appearances through June 10, playing in 30 games and making 20 starts.
At that point in the season, the Phillies had a 33-30 record, and were 3.5 games back in third place in the National League East Division standings. Perhaps even more tellingly for Knapp, the team had just a 13-17 record for games in which he took part.
It was during a Thursday afternoon game at Citizens Bank Park against the Colorado Rockies that things began to turn. Knapp got the start catching Vince Velasquez that day. He contributed two hits and scored a pair of runs in the Phillies 9-3 victory, while Velasquez went 6.2 solid innings to gain the victory.
Starting with that June 14 afternoon, Knapp has a .346/.404/.712 slash line in 57 plate appearances over 18 games, 12 of them starts. He has blasted four home runs and five doubles and scored eight runs. The Phillies have gone 20-11 since June 10, rising to a 1.5 game lead in the NL East.
Knapp provided one of the more thrilling moments for the Phillies over these last few weeks. On July 1 he was called upon to pinch-hit in the bottom of the 13th inning and delivered a walk-off three-run homer to beat the division-rival Washington Nationals.
On July 8, Knapp made some Phillies franchise history. Manager Gabe Kapler inserted him into the lineup that day as his leadoff hitter. It marked the first time in the live ball era dating back at least to 1920 that a catcher has batted leadoff for the Phillies.
Though Knapp went 0-4 that Sunday afternoon, Kapler still felt he had made the right decision. Todd Zolecki at MLB.com quoted Kapler on his reasoning for the move, and Knapp’s performance both in that game and in recent weeks:
“We wanted to put somebody at the top of the lineup that could control a count, give us a longer at-bat. He did exactly what we were hoping for…He saw five pitches. I thought he worked a good at-bat there…He’s been swinging the bat really well. He’s been hitting for power and working deep counts and getting on base and doing a really nice job.”
In Sunday’s series finale with the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park, Knapp will get his first start in four days. He has turned his season around, becoming a true asset as the team has risen to legitimate contending status. The Phillies would love to see him remain hot to close out the first half, and then to carry that over following the MLB All-Star Game break.