David Dahl stepped to the plate with the tying runs on base in the bottom of the ninth against the New York Yankees Monday. Usually, when you get to the ninth inning of a Grapefruit League game, you aren’t seeing many guys who are in the conversation for an opening day job.

But for Dahl, every plate appearance this spring is important, and especially those late in a game, because they tell a different story.

While they’re swings against pitchers who are usually ticketed for the minors, for Dahl it’s a chance to show the Phillies that he can grab a bat after sitting on the bench for an entire game and make a difference.

After all, the guys who fill the bench spots are only going to see time in a game when one of the regulars needs a day off or when a pinch hitter is needed in a key spot. It’s not an easy job to play sparingly, and yet when you are called upon to simply produce.

Dahl figures if he can show he can do that, it could make him stand out against the competition.

“It’s something I’ve always been good at in my career in the big leagues,” Dahl said. “I take it very seriously. I try to treat it like a regular season game and show that I can do it.”

Dahl has only been called upon to pinch hit 38 times in his career, but he’s been productive in those opportunities, slashing .273/.368/.515 for an .884 OPS.

So far this Spring he has appeared in nine of the Phillies’ 16 games. He started four and came in as a reserve in five. He’s had 23 plate appearances. He’s 5-21 (.238) with a walk, two homers and six RBIs, which is second most for the Phillies in Grapefruit League action.

However, in the games he has entered as a sub – which would be equivalent to pinch hitting, he’s hit two home runs and drove in another run – as he did Monday – with a sacrifice fly, scoring the only run in a 2-1 Phillies loss.

Dahl just missed hitting his third home run of the spring, which would have gotten everyone talking, as it would have been a walk-off dinger, but the sac fly was a job well done also.

Dahl, 29, is six days short of having accrued five full big league seasons, so he doesn’t have an opt out of the contract he signed with the Phillies, and he’s hoping to do enough to win the last bench job, but if not, he’s willing to go to Triple A to bide his time and come up to the majors if the Phillies need him.

“If you look at my Triple A numbers they’ve been good – especially against righties,” he said. “When you get the opportunity you got to make the most of it. Last year I ended up making the team (San Diego) out of camp but I got hurt right away and never had a chance to take that opportunity and run with it. I want to be with this team, whether it’s the start of the year, or during the season.”

Dahl’s chief competition this Spring is Jake Cave and, to a lesser extent, Cristian Pache.

Mostly because you split these guys into two buckets – Pache, like Johan Rojas, is an elite defensive outfielder, with good speed, but has never been a consistent right-handed hitter, while Dahl and Cave are more geared for the corners (although both have seen a little time in center this spring) who can provide a left-handed punch off the bench.

Cave has some additional versatility in the fact that he can play first base, but the Phillies aren’t in as dire a situation when it comes to first base as they were a season ago, with Bryce Harper slated to get the bulk of the work there during the season. When he needs an off day, Alec Bohm can slide over from third. Super Utility guy Whit Merrifield has also played some first base, and if they need a callup, Weston Wilson can fill that bill too.

Between Dahl and Cave, it comes down to who hits more.

Cave has played in seven games and although he has a higher batting average (.294) in 17 plate appearances, he has just one extra base hit – a double – and has one RBI.

As for Pache, he’s had a solid spring, and it continued Monday.

Although he missed a few games with an illness, Pache is hitting .294 with two homers and three RBI and has walked once in 18 plate appearances. He went 1-for-2 batting in the No. 9 spot of a lineup that looked eerily familiar to something you might see the Phillies use against a left-handed starter, with Merrifield in left and Pache in center.

Except the Yankees were starting a righty.

In Pache’s first at bat, he kept his hands back and laced an opposite field single to right field.

“We saw it a little bit last year before he got hurt, especially against left-handed pitching,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “Now he’s starting to hit right-handed pitching. I’m really happy with what (hitting coach) Kevin (Long) and the guys have been doing with him. He’s made good progress.”

The thing with Pache, like Cave, is they are out of options. That means they must either make the team or be DFA’d. Both would likely be claimed by another team if they were.

Pache doesn’t mind the competition. In fact, he thrives on it.

“I think I’m doing well and the things I am doing in the batting cage are paying off,” Pache said through a team interpreter. “It’s all about continuing to make the adjustments to get the results. “I just am trying to do things right for the team to notice. I am familiar with this from when I was in this situation in Oakland, so I’m just putting in the work and showing what I can do.”

It would make sense that it would be one of the lefties, since the Phillies could use a lefty bat off the bench, but what if they decide to start Rojas in the minors? He has options remaining, and he’s had a difficult spring at the plate so far.

Rojas has played in nine games and is 5 for 31 (.161), hasn’t walked, and has an OPS of .419. Even most of his outs are weak contact. He’s sensational in the field, but Pache provides similar elite defense and has shown a better bat.

Can there be a world where Pache and Dahl make the team and Rojas and Cave do not?

“It’s a good problem to have,” Thomson said. “We’ll keep battling it out to the end and figure out what we need to do.”

News and Notes

  • Zack Wheeler threw his new pitch, the splitter, five times in three innings of work and used it to strike out two batter – including Juan Soto. He didn’t allow a hit and walked two batters throwing 47 pitches.
  • Before the game, the Phillies re-assigned pitching prospect Griff McGarry to minor league camp. This wasn’t unexpected. But there was some news attached to that move that could catch a few people by surprise. “We’re going to move him to the bullpen in Triple A and get him to power the ball through the zone,” Thomson said. “When he does that, he’s going to get people out because his stuff is very good.” Thomson added that McGarry took the news well and that this isn’t necessarily permanent. But the Phillies need to get him right, because it’s been a while since he had some sustained success.
  • Michael Mercado was optioned to Triple A, where he will start the season with Lehigh Valley, but remember the name, because Thomson said he’s going to help the Phillies this year. “High velo, really good stuff,” Thomson said. “He throws strikes, has a really good mound presence and really good poise. I really like this guy.”