Phillies Notebook: Sandberg wants to see more of Rupp

Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp, show here earlier in the season trying to make a play on Miami’s Dee Gordon at the plate, appears to be in store for more of a regular role with the club.

PITTSBURGH >> The Phillies played an afternoon game Wednesday in Cincinnati before making a puddle-hop to Pittsburgh before sunset, then had a full day off Thursday before getting back to business Friday night at PNC Park for the start of a weekend series against the Pirates.

That’s a nice respite for the regulars as the dog days of summer start to crank up. That, however, didn’t make Ryne Sandberg hesitate to have Chase Utley and Ryan Howard out of the lineup against southpaw Jeff Locke.

“We have some right-handed guys in there,” Sandberg said before the game, “so we’ll see if that creates problems for Locke tonight.”

At least those lineup decisions came with a valid rationalization involving matchups. The one that really raised eyebrows was Cameron Rupp starting behind the plate.

Rupp started Wednesday’s game as well. In fact, this marked his fourth start in the last seven games. When Sandberg was asked if this was a sign that he wanted to see what Rupp could do with more playing time than mere backup duty to Carlos Ruiz typically offers, he hinted that this may well be more of a platoon situation behind the plate.

“The way that he has performed of late, I can see him getting more looks,” Sandberg said. “He has swung the bat well, has shown a very strong arm and he looks like he’s coming along behind the plate. So I can see mixing him in a little more going forward, especially with the heat of the summer. They can take a toll on a catcher. So I see him getting more time.”

The Phils could use some good news at catcher. Tommy Joseph’s concussion issues of the past few years have derailed the career of a prospect they thought could be starting every day by now when they acquired him in the Hunter Pence trade in 2012. Part of their Roy Halladay acquisition sacrifice more than five years ago was Travis d’Arnaud, who is emerging as a high-quality catcher with the Mets. Their most advanced catching prospect at the moment is Andrew Knapp. The second-round pick in 2013 is having a solid, but not spectacular season, at Class A Clearwater.

Ruiz, 36, signed a three-year, $26.5 million deal prior to 2014 that seems to be another contract full of organizational regret. He is hitting just .243 with no homers and a .603 OPS this season, and after years considered one of the better defensive catchers, even those numbers are waning badly.

So, if Rupp would like to emerge as someone who can provide even temporary stability to the position, that would be appreciated.

“No matter what day I’m out there, it’s a chance to prove myself,” Rupp said. “You want to play every day. That’s everyone’s goal, no matter what position you’re in. I take every day I’m out there or on the bench learning. It’s a day for me to get better. I’m going to do the same thing I do if I’m playing one day a week, or two, or every day. I’m excited for the opportunity, if (more playing time) is the case. But regardless of whether my name is in the lineup, I’m coming to work every day.”

Rupp, 26, was a third-round pick out of Texas in 2010 and after a nice 2013 in Double-A, Triple-A and the Arizona Fall League bumped him up the prospect list, he had a miserable showing for Lehigh Valley last year, batting .165 with a .555 OPS in 219 plate appearances.

The Phils never expected Rupp to be a .300 hitter, but the hope was that he could emerge as a backup catcher with a little extra-base pop, good defense and a great arm. This season he is showing some of that. He entered Friday batting .233 with five of his 14 hits going for extra bases. In his last nine starts prior to Friday, Rupp was 9-for-25 with four doubles.

Behind the plate he has thrown out nine of 19 would-be base stealers. Only the Dodgers’ A.J. Ellis has a better percentage among catchers with at least 10 attempts against them this season. That’s a weapon that can help pitchers avoid the feeling of being rushed when there is a stolen-base threat on first.

“That’s part of my game I’ve always been good at, going back to college and in the minors as well,” Rupp said. “When I’m given the chance to throw a guy out, I’ll make the best throw I possibly can and hopefully someone is there to put the tag on him.”

The last time Rupp caught against the Pirates in Philly last month, he threw out both Josh Harrison and Starling Marte attempting to steal and expected another night of challenges Friday.

“I know these guys like to run,” Rupp said. “I don’t think that’s going to matter to them. It’s part of their game. I know what I did last time against them, but I’m sure they will take their chances and I’ll have to be ready for it.”

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