Nick Williams stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning of Sunday afternoon’s 5-1 Philadelphia Phillies victory over the Miami Marlins with runners on the corners and a chance to extend a four-run lead. Williams smoked a ball to the right of second baseman Starlin Castro, only for Castro to get to the ball and prevent Williams from driving a run in.
Williams’ at-bat was indicative of what’s not only been a frustrating start to the season for him, but for all of the Phillies extra outfield options.
Williams, who started in left field Sunday, has had a slow start to his second full major league season. The 25-year-old did make a game-saving outfield assist in Thursday’s eventual extra-innings loss to the Marlins, but he’s hitting just .182 through his first 33 at-bats of the 2019 season. 33 at-bats, of course, is a small sample size, but with an outfield that includes Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen, there aren’t a ton of regular at-bats to go around for Williams.
In 2018, Williams’ aggressive offensive approach allowed him to thrive as a pinch-hitter. In 36 at-bats off the bench a year ago, Williams hit .333 with three home runs and eight RBIs. In 2019, he has a .136 batting average in 22 pinch hit at-bats.
Williams and Aaron Altherr made up two-thirds of the Phillies Opening Day outfield in 2018. With two major offseason additions in the outfield – and Odubel Herrera’s continued presence on the roster – the duo has been asked to round out the Phillies bench. For as difficult of a start to the 2019 season as Williams has had, Altherr has struggled even more.
Now 28, Altherr has just one hit in his first 27 at-bats of 2019. Though Altherr has gotten a chance to start in center field with Herrera on the injured list, his lack of success off of the bench in 2019 is even more concerning than Williams. Altherr has just a .167 career batting average as a pinch-hitter. Some have suggested that he needs more at-bats to have success, but this is the role he’s now in.
The Phillies would have preferred for Altherr to win the starting right fielder’s job in 2018, after he hit 19 home runs and drove in 65 runs in 372 at-bats in 2017. That didn’t happen, though, as Altherr hit just .181 in 243 at-bats in a 2018 season that included a detour to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. The Phillies like that Altherr can play all three outfield positions, which can be valuable with Herrera’s tendency to be streaky. But they liked it a lot more in 2017 when he was hitting like a major league starter. Right now, Altherr, who is out of minor league options, looks like he could benefit from a change of scenery. Such a change, of course, wouldn’t help the Phillies in any way.
Also out of options is Roman Quinn, who is again on the injured list, this time with a Grade 2 groin strain. When healthy, Quinn could be quite the weapon – he has world-class speed and covers ground extremely well in the outfield. What he is as an offensive player in the major leagues isn’t quite clear – certainly, he’s better than the .120 batting average that he posted in his first 25 at-bats of the 2019 season. But he’s already been injured twice in 2019 and it’s not May yet. You could spend paragraphs discussing the 25-year-old’s injury history, which makes you wonder how much longer the Phillies will continue to wait on his health.
Scott Kingery did play some games in left and right field a year ago, and the Phillies did plan to give him a chance to play center field when they returned home from Colorado. The problem is that Kingery suffered a hamstring strain in Colorado. By the time he returns from the injured list, Herrera will be back in center field. It also will be interesting to monitor how quickly of a trigger Gabe Kapler and the Phillies have on Cesar Hernandez – who has had a run of inexplicable defensive lapses at Kingery’s natural position of second base.
It may be that the Phillies simply don’t have as much outfield depth as they thought they did at the outset of the season.
If Phillies general manager Matt Klentak makes a major addition before the July 31 trade deadline, it will likely be in the starting rotation. The possibility exists with Craig Kimbrel still on the free-agent market and injuries to David Robertson, Tommy Hunter and Victor Arano, that the Phillies make a major addition to the bullpen in hopes of returning to the postseason for the first time since 2011. But if the first month of the 2019 season is any indication, the Phillies could find themselves in the market this summer for a fourth outfielder that has a track record of success as a pinch-hitter and can play all three outfield positions.
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