Philadelphia — Slightly dressed but no less confident in his still-fresh look as a major league manager, Rob Thompson expects the Phillies to be in the championship mix again after last fall’s magical playoff run.
“I think it’s a private group,” Thompson said Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park. “The way they prepare, the way they compete; they have fun but they don’t mess around and they act like a pro. I really enjoy being around these guys.”
Thompson, a baseball player with dozens of spring training camps behind him, will begin his first training as a big-league coach on February 16. Success.
“I don’t feel like it, because we have a good ball club,” Thompson said when asked about the pressure to repeat after running into Game Six of the World Series. “If we stay healthy and do what we’re supposed to do, I think the results will be there.”
His optimism is fueled in part by the off-the-cuff moves made by club chairman Dave Dombrowski. The acquisition of Taijuan Walker from the Mets appears to be high on Thompson’s mind. In 29 starts last New York season, Walker went 12-5 with a 3.49 ERA and a 1.195 WHIP. At 30, the right-hand agent is clearly an upgrade over Kyle Gibson and/or Zac Evelyn.
“I really like Walker’s Taiguan,” said Thompson. “He’s big, strong, has good stuff, competitive and athletic. I think it improves our rotation and I think our office is better.”
That last note would mark the signing of an elite one-time closer Craig Kimbrel, who is believed to have plenty left at the age of 34. Last season, the Dodgers saved 22 games, posting a 3.75 ERA.
Without rookie Evelyn becoming Evelyn’s closer and Corey Knibel injured again to work the back of the game, Dombrowski didn’t stop there, trading man Matt Ferling and Nick Mattoon, and minor-league Donnie Sands to Detroit for two-time All-Star closer Gregory Soto.
Soto, 27, saved 30 games in 33 chances last season, spiced up runs with 60 strikeouts in 60.1 innings pitched. He and fellow freshman Jose Alvarado are powerful left fielders and are both among the top 3 players in the league for middle pace. Maybe Soto can control his performances with a better touch.
But while Thompson is pumped on his new starting and bull reinforcements, (including newcomer Matt Strahm), he’s unlikely to pick one of his star pitchers for consistent closing duties.
“We’re still mixing and matching in bowling unless someone steps in and completely dominates,” said Thompson. “You’re going to have to give the guys days off, so having them fit in this bullpen is really big.
“I kind of like floating closer, if you will. It just gives us a few more options.”
Of course, the Phillies’ most important new option comes at the top of the lineup. This is where top free agent grabbing Trea Turner, a man with a scintillating resume of speed, power, and flash shorts, is likely to land.
“I think it’s going to be great,” said Thompson. “I think he’ll fit in perfectly for this club and he’s a really good player who can do everything on the field, and he’s a high-base player.”
In the middle of this January day, there isn’t much that doesn’t look cool for Rob Thompson… himself included. We reported that a website called Gambling.com recently ranked him “the league’s second most handsome manager” — just shy of the Mets’ well-kept Buck Showalter — Thompson smiled broadly while acknowledging his … honor?
“I told my wife… Michelle, do you know how lucky you are? I’m the second most handsome man in baseball (among) managers,” Thompson said. “And she was cooking dinner and he didn’t miss a thing. She turned around and said, “Everyone else must have been tied up first.”
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Notes >> Thompson estimated that “five or six guys” would have to leave spring training early as part of the World Baseball Classic, which begins March 8 at two locations in Asia and two locations in the United States (Phoenix and Miami). The title match is scheduled for March 21 at Depot Park in Miami. … Bryce Harper is progressing as expected from Tommy John surgery, Thompson said, with hopes of his return around or after the All-Star break in July.