Could J.T. Realmuto's changed approach benefit other key Phillies hitters?

Could J.T. Realmuto's changed approach benefit other key Phillies hitters?

The Phillies did not come out swinging Tuesday night, literally or figuratively. Bryce Harper's 11-pitch plate appearance to begin the bottom of the first ended with a strikeout looking. Same for Rhys Hoskins one batter later. 

It took 35 pitches before the Phillies finally put a ball in play.

When Cubs left-hander Jose Quintana exited after six innings, he did so with a career-high 14 strikeouts and the game tied.

Then J.T. Realmuto's two-out RBI double in the seventh inning did a few things. 

It prevented another bad, bad Phillies loss. They struck out 15 times as a team Tuesday night against non-strikeout pitchers, which would have stuck out in a loss.

It also helped ease the frustration of a weird day at the ballpark. Hitting coach John Mallee was fired Tuesday morning. For six innings, this was definitely one of those games that would have prompted fans to rush to social media with the "Fire Mallee" pleas that had become all too common in recent weeks.

Instead, the Phillies won, 4-2, a night before Charlie Manuel arrived to assume the role of hitting coach for the final 43 games (see story). They got a quality start from Jason Vargas, solid setup work from Blake Parker and Mike Morin and a save from Hector Neris (see observations).

The pitching was good enough, which the Phillies have been able to say in about only 35 games all season. The pitching staff is what it is. The Phillies know as much. To win, they need to score runs. Four runs won't win you every game but it will win you many, as evidenced by the Phillies' 53-16 record when reaching that threshold.

"We need contributions from every corner of the organization and every portion of our major-league team," manager Gabe Kapler said. "At the same time, if we are going to make the kind of run that we think we're capable of, it's going to be because we score runs.

"The strength of our team right now is our offense. It hasn't been where it's needed to be thus far this season. But we certainly have the talent and guys with the track record and a bench that's deeper now than it has been."

Harper and Hoskins did not have good nights atop the Phillies' order. They were a combined 0 for 8 with six strikeouts, four looking. Realmuto and Jean Segura have been OK batting third and fourth but one wonders how much longer Kapler will go with Harper and Hoskins batting first and second. 

Hoskins, who wore a Golden Sombrero Tuesday night, is in a rut right now in which he can't buy a knock. Over his last 25 games, he has made an out in 80 of 95 at-bats and struck out 28 times.

Realmuto, on the other hand, has provided the offense lately Phillies fans were expecting. Since June 29, he has hit .310 with an .889 OPS. He has 17 extra-base hits in 145 plate appearances. Realmuto finds himself on pace to surpass his career high of 21 home runs, and if the season ended today he'd have the second-highest OPS of his career.

"My approach has changed a little bit just trying to be early in the count, be earlier, see the ball better and not chase as much," Realmuto said.

"I think what we see with J.T. is really good timing right now," Kapler added. "He has a pretty pronounced leg kick. We see the knee coming up at the right time kind of when the pitcher's hands break and it's not something he is necessarily thinking about, but it's something we see in the dugout. Everything is happening on time, so he has a chance to see the ball. 

"You're seeing him take pitches with more confidence, pitches that are just off the plate. He is getting into hitter's counts. We saw that tonight. He really looked comfortable at the plate and has been looking comfortable at the plate for some time."

The organization's hope is that when Manuel arrives and has a chance to be Charlie, a few more guys will feel comfortable at the plate, notably Hoskins. The Phillies need more than one or two hitters per night seeing the ball well. 

If not, the only way to win will be with the kind of individual heroics Realmuto provided Tuesday. That happens only occasionally, and the Phillies will need to win more than occasionally to make a real wild-card push.

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The OG Phillie Phanatic wants Major League Baseball to lighten up

The OG Phillie Phanatic wants Major League Baseball to lighten up

Dave Raymond, the OG Phillie Phanatic, was alarmed when he read the news earlier this week.

No Mascots!

Has Major League Baseball lost its mind?

Or worse, its sense of humor?

Don’t misunderstand, Raymond, the man who breathed life into that big ball of green fur from the time it debuted in 1978 until 1993, is all for ridding the world of this nasty coronavirus beast. He’s all for social distancing, frequent handwashing and everything else that goes with protecting folks from getting sick. He knows how serious this thing is.

And that’s why he’s hoping that MLB won’t follow through on its plan to ban mascots from games when and if the sport comes back with a proposed 82-game schedule in July.

“I understand that only essential personnel can physically be at the games,” Raymond said Friday. “But I would argue that in these serious times mascots are more essential than ever.”

After shedding the Phanatic’s fur and handing the keys to the ATV to the equally brilliant Tom Burgoyne 26 years ago, Raymond dedicated his professional life to the concept of fun. It’s serious business. Raymond has owned and operated companies that help professional teams and college sports programs develop mascots/brands. He has trained mascots and helped found a mascot Hall of Fame. His current focus is motivational speaking. Everything is centered around the Power of Fun — which just so happens to be the title of his book — and how it can make a difference in people’s lives.

In these trying times when lives have been lost, when people have gotten sick and when the world has wrapped a mask around its face and gone into quarantine, Raymond is preaching louder than ever about the importance of a little fun and the respite it can offer in difficult times.

“It’s a scientific fact that laughing helps a person emotionally and physically,” he said.

That’s why he believes mascots need to have their place in baseball’s return.

“Mascots are a reflection of the fans’ heart and soul and part of the reason fans get emotionally connected to their teams,” he said. “During this time, we need the connection they provide more than ever. I understand that fans can’t be in the stadiums, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still engage them through mascots and character brands. Baseball needs to be creative and carve out space for entertainment.”

Raymond proposes that mascots be featured on television broadcasts when the game returns. It would be kind of funny to see a camera pan over to the Phanatic sitting all alone in section 305. Maybe even have Bobby Vinton’s Mr. Lonely play in the background.

If the Phanatic absolutely, positively cannot be in the ballpark, then he could be featured through technology and social media. Raymond proposed live streaming the Phanatic, wherever he might be, watching the game. Run it across social media platforms and have fans follow along. Raymond also proposed prerecording videos that could feature fans playing catch with the final throw landing in the Phanatic’s glove as he stands on the field. Another idea: Replace the Phanatic’s middle-of-the-fifth-inning dance skit with a live Zoom call on Phanavision and let fans log in. He’d like to see this stuff in every major league city.

“I understand it’s safety first, but there’s still room to lighten things up a little,” Raymond said.

Raymond is sharing this message with mascots who have been sidelined all over the country, from the major leagues to the minor leagues to the colleges. He has personally tutored many of them. They are his friends. Some have been furloughed from their jobs.

“It’s really devastating,” he said.

On Tuesday, Raymond will host a Zoom webinar for mascots and officials from teams, leagues and colleges that he has worked with over the years. It’s titled What The Heck Should My Mascot Do Now?

For Dave Raymond, the answer is simple:

Follow the rules, but by all means, be creative, embrace technology and mascot on.

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Phillies Talk podcast: Locations, opponents, details on Spring Training II


Phillies Talk podcast: Locations, opponents, details on Spring Training II

On today's Phillies Talk podcast, Jim Salisbury and I discussed what Spring Training II could look like amid Jim's report that the Phillies will likely get to stay home and train in South Philadelphia.

• Benefits of having camp at home.

• Who could Phillies play in Spring Training II?

• What happens to the minor-leaguers? Will there even be a minor-league season?

• Just how big could regular-season rosters get?

• Spencer Howard will likely put pressure on Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez.

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