There was only one question to ask after this one.
Will Tommy Joseph start at first base again on Wednesday?
Joseph came up huge in just his third big-league game Tuesday night. He had three hits, including a solo homer in the second inning, out of the cleanup spot and made a nice diving stop with runners on base in assisting on the final out in the Phillies’ 3-1 win over the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay).
So, tell us, Pete Mackanin, will Joseph be back in there Wednesdayafternoon or will you stick with the first-base platoon and go with Ryan Howard against Marlins’ right-hander Tom Koehler.
“I’m going to play Howie,” Mackanin said. “I’m committed to what we’re doing. Howie’s a big part of the team. We’ve got to get him going.”
With few middle-of-the-order options on a team that entered the day averaging just 3.31 runs per game, the second-lowest total in the majors, Mackanin decided to use the recently promoted Joseph as his cleanup hitter. When asked for his reasoning before the game, Mackanin was succinct.
“Why not?” he said.
Mackanin’s reasoning came down to production. Phillies cleanup hitters were hitting just .190 with a .347 slugging percentage and a .589 OPS, all major-league lows, entering the day. At the time of his promotion last week, Joseph was leading the International League in hitting (.347) and OPS (.981). He was second in slugging (.611) and fifth in extra-base hits with 13.
So, with a lefty on the mound, Joseph became the sixth different cleanup man used by Mackanin in 40 games.
Imagine the feeling Joseph had when he walked through the clubhouse door and saw he was hitting cleanup? Remember, this is a guy who has admitted that he would not have been surprised if he had been released by the team last fall. A series of concussions and a wrist injury had turned him into what he called “not a very reliable player,” the last few years. He said it would have been easy for the team “to throw him to the curb.” The Phillies did run the 24-year-old catcher-turned-first baseman through waivers, but Joseph remained in the organization, made a good showing in minor-league spring training camp, had six big weeks at Triple A, and now … well, there he was Tuesday night, a cleanup hitter in the majors.
“It was pretty neat,” he said. “I didn’t expect that.
“In this game, a lot of it is trying to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations, so to hit cleanup for this team that is playing really well right now is pretty awesome. Any time the manager believes in you and puts you in that situation, there’s no reason not to have confidence.”
The win was the surprising Phillies’ 23rd in 40 games this season.
Starting pitcher Vince Velasquez fought poor command and threw 103 pitches while lasting just five innings. He did manage to strike out 10 during his time in the game. Phillies pitching had 17 strikeouts for the night, one shy of the club record.
“Velasquez was spraying the ball all over the place,” Mackanin said. “He didn’t have his command. To win a game when your starter throws over 100 pitches in five innings is a bonus.
“We really like him and he’s going to be special. There are bumps along the road and this was one of them.”
Velasquez is averaging 10.99 strikeouts (59 Ks in 48 1/3 innings) per nine innings.
Velasquez didn’t make excuses for his poor command.
“You might think with 10 strikeouts I was being competitive,” he said. “But I was beating around the bush and could have been more competitive.”
Five relievers combined on four innings of one-run ball to close it out.
“Tonight was all about Tommy Joseph and the bullpen,” Mackanin said. “Fantastic job. It was nice to see Tommy get his first home run. He made a great play to end the game. Not much more you can ask for from him.
“I like his swing. Nice level swing. He’s aggressive. It looks like he’s a good hitter.”
Joseph’s home run against lefty Wei-Yin Chen came on a 1-2 fastball. It was a liner off the left-field foul pole. Joseph’s parents, who came in from Arizona for his big-league debut on Friday, were still in town and got to see their son’s first big-league homer before leaving town on Wednesday.
“It’s nice that they could be here,” Joseph said. “They’ve put a lot of work and effort into getting me to this situation.
“This game is really tough so you have to enjoy the games like this.”
Joseph will enjoy Wednesday’s game from the bench. At least at the start.
Howard is hitting just .174, but has a team-high eight homers. Mackanin is not ready to give up on him.
“Howie is still part of the team,” Mackanin said. “He’s a big part of the team. We all know what he’s capable of doing.”
Mackanin did concede, however, that he hopes to get Joseph some time here and there against righties when Howard gets a day off. Phillies officials are fond of saying the players will dictate who plays by their performance. If Joseph has more nights like he did Tuesday and hits on those days he gets a start against righties when Howard rests, it will be tough to keep him out of the lineup.
But for now, he’ll always have his first cleanup assignment and his first big-league home run, both big highlights of another win for these surprising Phillies.