7 Takeaways From Joe Girardi as Phillies Start Spring Training

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Wearing a Phillies pullover, red gym shorts and red turf shoes, Joe Girardi finally looked like he wasn't a Yankee on Tuesday. He looked like what he is - the new Phillies manager, thrilled to be back in uniform after two years on the sidelines and in the broadcast booth.

"The one thing I realized these last two years is how much I missed it, how much I love it," said Girardi, who managed the Yankees from 2008-17. "I think sometimes when you're in the midst of managing every day and you come back year after year, maybe you take it a little for granted that you put the uniform on. So, for me, just cherishing every day is really important because I don't know how long I'm going to do it. Hopefully I'm here a long time."

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On the eve of his first spring training with his new club, Girardi met with reporters at Spectrum Field and discussed a number of topics. The notables:

Joe believes

The Phillies have not had a winning season since 2011. They finished 81-81 last season. Two of the teams above them in the NL East both made the playoffs last season and one of them won the World Series. General manager Matt Klentak is on record as saying, "It's time to win right now." Girardi believes the club can win.

Why?

"Because I think there's a ton of talent," he said. "I really do. I thought this team changed a lot when Andrew McCutchen went down and we're going to get Andrew back. I think that's really important. And we added some players to make the team stronger than it was last year. But the biggest thing is, I believe in the guys in that room and how hungry they are, and they want to win so, to me, I think that's a good formula for success."

Speaking of McCutchen

He has recovered from surgery to fix a torn ACL and is in camp early, but that doesn't mean he's all the way back. He's 33. Caution will be exercised before he's turned loose.

"Don't be surprised if we take it slow with him in spring training," Girardi said. "I've always felt that players can probably play three weeks of games and be ready. When he's ready, he's ready. But we're happy with where he's at, too."

Girardi was right about how much the Phillies missed McCutchen in the leadoff spot last season.

McCutchen had a .378 on-base percentage, second-best in the majors among leadoff men, when he went down on June 3. Phillies leadoff men had a .295 on-base percentage the rest of the season. That ranked 29th in MLB over that span.

Starting pitching

At the end of last season, the Phillies looked like a team that needed to add two starting pitchers. It added one - hard-throwing right-hander Zack Wheeler on a five-year, $118 million contract. He will join Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, Jake Arrieta and either Vince Velasquez or Nick Pivetta in the starting rotation.

Does Girardi believe there's enough starting pitching depth?

"Oh, I do," he said. "But in saying that, you never have enough starters. You could have 10 and you'd want 11. You could have 11 and you'd want 12. You could have 22 and it's still not enough. I mean, it's the way that an organization thinks. It's the way that a manager thinks. But I think that we have a really good number of starting pitchers here that are going to compete for the spots and then some of those guys are going to go to the bullpen."

What about Spencer Howard?

The organization's top starting pitching prospect is in big-league camp, but there are no plans to have him open with the big team. He's pitched 100 innings in a season just once in his pro career and team officials will be watching his innings closely as he opens the season in Triple A.

"Spencer has an innings limit so we have to think about this because we believe at some point he's going to play a role for us," Girardi said. "We can't go wear him out by June so we have to think about that."

Potential 'pickups' in the bullpen

Hard-throwing reliever Seranthony Dominguez missed four months with a strained ligament in his pitching elbow last season. He is healthy and raring to go. In fact, the biggest challenge right now for the Phillies is holding him back so he doesn't overdo it early in camp. 

"You get a Seranthony Dominguez that can stay healthy for the whole year, that's a huge addition," Girardi said.

Girardi said he believes reliever David Robertson can make it back in the second half of the season. He had Tommy John surgery in August.

"You get a David Robertson back sometime in the second half, that's a deadline trade that can be a difference maker," Girardi said. "So to me, the players that we're getting back after injuries are big additions, too."

Lefty reliever Adam Morgan is also healthy and the team plans to re-sign Tommy Hunter to a big-league contract if he passes a physical exam. He had elbow surgery last year.

Bullpen usage

Girardi is a guy who believes in having defined roles in a bullpen, but he will be flexible based on workload.

"I'm not a guy who uses relievers three days in a row," he said. 

By staying true to this practice, Girardi believes he will have a fresher bullpen in September and October, where he might have to occasionally ask a reliever to go a third straight day.

"That's where the prize is," he said of October.

Philly passion

Girardi played and managed in a cauldron in New York. Philadelphia can also be intense. He'd have it no other way.

"I think it's the best when you play in front of passionate fans that have a huge expectation and hold you accountable to the work you do and then want you to really do well," he said. "I mean, who doesn't want to play in front of a ballpark that's loud and has high expectations? I think it's the best.

"I was on the other side, managing against the Phillies in 2009 (World Series) and I know what a tough place this is to play and I want it to be even tougher. I encourage our fans to make it even tougher - in the right way. But Philly is a great sports town. I love it."

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