NL Notes: Knebel, Phillies, Cain, Garcia

Recently-minted Phillies manager Rob Thomson told Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia today that Corey Knebel is out as the team’s closer, for the time being. Signed to a one-year $10MM deal this past offseason, Knebel hasn’t demonstrated the same sharpness he did in last year’s campaign with the Dodgers. While this season’s 3.24 ERA through 25 innings is plenty respectable, his 20.7% strikeout rate is far from his career average while his 14.4% walk rate ranks amongst the worst in the league. Knebel’s four blown saves also stand as the highest mark in the league at the moment.

After a messy May, the Phillies have surged with an 11-2 record thus far in June, bringing their season record above .500 to 32-31. Despite the recent hot stretch, the Phillies remain eight and a half games back of the first place Mets in their division and three and a half games back of the last NL wild card spot. A closer-by-committee approach figures to help the team stay in their groove, with Seranthony Dominguez and Brad Hand representing steadier options than Knebel thus far.

Some other Wednesday items from the Senior Circuit…

  • After optioning Mickey Moniak on Tuesday, the Phillies appear set to roll with a platoon of Matt Vierling and Odúbel Herrera in center field. The Athletic’s Matt Gelb speculates how the team may upgrade that arrangement given the feeble production from the first two players thus far, plus the questions that have plagued Herrera dating back to his 2019 suspension. Gelb lists Michael A. Taylor, Ramón Laureano, and Victor Robles as realistic trade targets for the club should they seek to plug a defense-first option between corner outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos. The center field platoon’s production will be worth monitoring through the summer, as the Phillies have holes in the infield and bullpen as well but may not possess enough financial or prospect capital to address all three areas.
  • One center fielder who isn’t an option for the Phillies, or perhaps for any team much longer, is Lorenzo Cain. Speaking with Andy McCullough of The Athletic, the 36-year-old Brewer acknowledged the likelihood that this season may very well be his last in the major leagues. The two-time All-Star remains a strong defensive player and as affable a clubhouse personality as any, but admits to difficulties in elevating his offense at the ten-year mark of his career. To that end, a .168/.223/.226 showing through 41 games has already begun to cost him some playing time this season. For now though, President of Baseball Operations David Stearns remains in Cain’s corner, citing Cain’s defense and contributions to four straight years of playoff baseball in Milwaukee as reasons to exhibit patience.
  • Nationals manager Dave Martinez has an update on another 2015 World Series champ, stating that Opening Day shortstop Alcides Escobar will return in a utility role when he completes his current rehab assignment. 22-year-old Luis García will be given some leash at the position after his hot start to the year at the Triple-A (.899 OPS in 42 games) and Major League (.829 OPS in 13 games) levels. Neither player profiles as a defensively elite shortstop at this point in their careers, so Escobar’s current OPS of .552 figures to cut into the playing time of other slow-starting veterans’ around the infield (Maikel Franco, .669 OPS; Cesar Hernandez, .646 OPS) over the youngster looking to establish himself.

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