By Lewis Gould

Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp had a great 2016:

He ranked fourth out of 19 qualified catchers in OPS (.752) and fourth in slugging percentage (.448). Compare that to 2013-15, when he had a combined .645 OPS and a .353 slugging percentage in 377 plate appearances.

“It was being aggressive when I got a pitch to hit,” Rupp told MLB.com before yesterday’s 6-4 loss to the Orioles. “You’ve got to be ready for it. When you put a good swing on the ball and you don’t miss it, you’re going to hit the ball hard. I felt like I did that consistently all year.

“I remember getting a chance to talk with Jim Thome,” Rupp said, referring to a rehab assignment Thome made in Clearwater in 2012, when Rupp played for the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers. “I asked him a question and he said, ‘Always stick with your plan. Don’t come off it.’ Because when you come off it, that’s when things go wrong and you give away an at-bat.”

Rupp enters this spring as the Phillies’ No. 1 catcher. He split time last season with Carlos Ruiz, until the Phillies traded Ruiz to the Dodgers in August. This is Rupp’s opportunity to make a case for himself as a frontline catcher.

“I’m probably going to play a few more games, so the numbers can be better because I’ll have more opportunities,” Rupp said.

How many games does he think he can start?

“162,” he said. “That’s what I’m preparing for.”

One hundred forty would be a heck of an accomplishment. That has happened only 40 times behind the plate this century.

But if Rupp keeps hitting he will be tough to keep out of the lineup, particularly against lefties. Rupp had a .993 OPS against lefties last season, compared to a .699 OPS against righties. Over the past two seasons, Rupp’s .955 OPS against lefties ranks 15th among all batters (minimum 125 plate appearances). Miguel Cabrera(.958) and Kris Bryant (.943) sit just ahead and behind him, respectively.

But Rupp also knows he needs to improve defensively.

“You just need to be better at those tough pitches,” Rupp said. “They want to call strikes. You just need to give them the best look possible at those close pitches. That’s the best bet.”

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