The catcher who has played more than any other in the majors this year will end his season with surgery.
J.T. Realmuto will most likely undergo a procedure Friday to repair the meniscus in his right knee, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said Wednesday. Realmuto hasn’t played since Sunday night, when he felt a “pop” in the back of his knee while running out a double-play grounder in the fifth inning of a loss in Cleveland.
The surgery is considered to be minor and similar to a procedure that pitcher Jake Arrieta underwent in January, Kapler said. Arrieta was ready for the start of spring training.
“We don’t have any long-term concerns about this for J.T.,” Kapler said.
Realmuto returned to Philadelphia on Wednesday to be examined by doctors.
Acquired from the Miami Marlins in a Feb. 7 trade, Realmuto batted .275 with 25 homers and an .820 on-base plus slugging percentage and set a club record for a catcher with 36 doubles. Behind the plate, he cut down 37 baserunners attempting to steal, most in the majors and most by a Phillies catcher since Darren Daulton threw out 40 in 1993.
And Realmuto did it by playing almost every day. Despite missing the final week of the season, he will lead all catchers with 130 starts and 1,139 1/3 innings.
The Phillies intend to discuss a long-term contract extension with Realmuto, who is under club control through the end of next season. And, as good as Realmuto is, Kapler believes he can improve by hitting the ball in the air more often to the left side of the field.
“There’s actually some reason for optimism for J.T. to get even better,” Kapler said. “I think the area that we might see the most improvement going forward is the offensive production. I think he’s a very, very minor adjustment away from getting a lot of those crisp ground balls that we see hit to the left side becoming line drives. He had the highest slugging percentage of his career this year (.493), but I still think there’s an even-better season in there.”
In Realmuto’s absence, backup catcher Andrew Knapp was behind the plate Wednesday night at Nationals Park and is expected to play most of the remaining four games. Deivy Grullon will likely get at least one more start, after making his major-league debut in the first game of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader. Kapler praised Grullon for working with seven pitchers in that game.
“It’s tough enough for a catcher to prepare to help one pitcher or two pitchers or three, but to have your first major-league experience be like this rotating, inning-to-inning, various relievers [game] is very difficult,” Kapler said. “We talked about him at length today, and people are really bullish on the work that he did and think that he’s more ready than we may have even thought.”
Kapler was planning to meet with Aaron Nola to discuss whether the ace will start Sunday in the season finale at Citizens Bank Park. Nola has already reached two personal milestones, topping the 200-inning mark and racking up a career-high 229 strikeouts. “I think a lot of it has to do with where he is currently in his season, and does he feel like [starting] will help him,” Kapler said. “Or would it just make sense for somebody else to take down that start in the best interest of getting Nola into the offseason and starting to prepare for 2020?” … Jason Vargas (7-8, 4.40 ERA) will make his last start of the season Thursday in the series finale against Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg (17-6, 3.37). Vargas is one win shy of becoming the 11th active left-hander with 100 career victories.