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Whit Merrifield ready to ‘take over’ in Trea Turner’s absence

While the Phillies pile up wins like chips on the table at the World Series of Poker, their biggest problems are seen as baseball’s first-ever problems.

  1. Can they find enough work for their No. 6 starter?

  2. Which backup shortstop should play most often?

  3. Is there the best solution among several options to bat second?

Whit Merrifield thinks he can help in at least a few of those areas.

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An everyday player for much of his career and an All-Star as recently as last season, Merrifield signed with the Phillies during spring training with no guarantee of playing time. He will get more at-bats now that star shortstop Trea Turner has been lost for at least six weeks with a hamstring strain.

“I’ve always felt like my game shows when I’m out there every day and you can see the different things I can do,” Merrifield said Tuesday before taking Turner’s No. 2 spot against the Toronto Blue Jays at Citizens Bank. Park. “I’m not the type to hit a 450-foot bomb and go ‘ooooh’ and ‘aaaaah’. I have to do certain things.

“I just can’t wait to pick up the slack that Trea left behind.”

In one scenario, Bryson Stott slides to shortstop and Merrifield replaces second base. The Phillies opted for that alignment Monday, and Merrifield hit an RBI single in a blowout win over the Giants.

But manager Rob Thomson also likes Stott’s defense at second base and wants to give Edmundo Sosa more playing time at shortstop. In this case, Merrifield can continue to serve a utility role. He played left field in the first game against the Jays, with Brandon Marsh moving to center in place of Johan Rojas against raw right-hander José Berríos.

Oh, and Merrifield texted Thomson a few days ago to remind him that he played shortstop in college. As a reminder, Merrifield lined up players on the ground shortly before Tuesday’s game.

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Either way, Merrifield expects to be ready. After a painfully slow 3-for-28 start to the season, he was riding a 10-for-24 wave entering the series with the Blue Jays, his former team.

Ask about the turnaround and Merrifield highlights his experience in Toronto.

The Jays traded for Merrifield at the deadline in 2022 to deepen their roster, but not to move Santiago Espinal to second base. He started 18 of his first 34 games after the trade, about once per series, marking the first time in his career that he had inconsistent playing time and went 12 for 66 with a home run.

But Merrifield also began to develop a plan to stay ready, and he exploited it early in the season with the Phillies. He thinks he has it figured out now. On Saturday night, after Alec Bohm left in the third inning due to strain in his quads, Merrifield came in and homered in the seventh inning off Giants left-hander Erik Miller.

“A few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have been ready to go into this game at all,” Merrifield said. “But I learned there (with the Jays), so I had that routine established when I got here and I wasn’t in the lineup every day. I knew what to expect, when to move, how to manage everyday life.

“Just knowing this game is crazy, it’s a long season, it taught me to stay ready.”

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Indeed, Merrifield’s first day-to-day chance with the Blue Jays came when Espinal strained a muscle in his side during a September 2022 game against the Phillies. They set up Merrifield at second base, and he went on a 19-for-43 tear.

Could Merrifield be poised for a similar streak two years later in Turner’s absence?

That’s why he signed with the Phillies.

“I wanted to come in and initially be that 10th man, but get to where we have the best 10-man group in baseball,” Merrifield said. “I’ve been a good player in this league for a long time and I still feel like I’m a good player. I would have had a hell of a year last year if not for a rough September. I can still play this game at a high level.

Second violin

JT Realmuto was Thomson’s first choice to bat second since Turner got injured. Apparently that suits him. Realmuto is 6 for 12 with a double and a triple in three games out of second place.

“I like to hit second because I know I can take my (catching) gear off when the game starts,” Realmuto said. “I know I’m going to hit in the first inning, so I don’t have to wait. That’s about the only difference for me. Other than that, when I enter the club, it’s the same.

After a rare day off, Realmuto will be back in second place on Wednesday, according to Thomson.

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Additional bases

The Phillies acquired left-hander Tyler Gilbert from the Reds for cash. Gilbert, originally a sixth-round pick of the Phillies, pitched a no-hitter in 2021 for the Diamondbacks. He will report to Triple-A. … Bohm was given the day off after starting 19 consecutive games. … The Phillies have won 17 of 20 games through Monday, their first such streak since 2010. Since 1901, they have had just 29 instances of 17 wins in 20 games. …Aaron Nola (4-1, 3.32 ERA) will start Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. against Blue Jays right-hander Chris Bassitt (2-5, 5.45).