J.T. Realmuto claims he did not hear general manager Matt Klentak’s post-trade deadline commentary about the Phillies needing their stars to be stars if the team was going to make a run at a playoff berth.
But Realmuto agrees with the idea.
“Yeah, absolutely, man,” the Phillies catcher said after leading a 10-2 win over the San Francisco Giants on Thursday (see observations).
“We feel like we've underperformed to this point in the season collectively as a team. We've had guys that have had stretches that were really good, but we haven't really clicked all together at the same time yet. We feel like we have the guys in this clubhouse to get it done. We just have to come together and play well together and get things rolling.”
Klentak made only modest additions to the team in the days leading up to Wednesday’s deadline.
“For this team to accomplish what it wants to accomplish, we're going to need the stars in that room to carry us,” he said moments after the deadline. “We have the talent. We had a very splashy offseason. We brought in a lot of talent and those guys are going to have to do what they do to push us into October.”
Realmuto was one of the splashy stars that Klentak added in the offseason. He was good enough to represent the Phillies in the All-Star Game last month, but even he would tell you he was capable of more than he delivered in the first half of the season. He might have been guilty of trying too hard — pressing — with a new team.
Lately, Realmuto has come alive at the plate. He is 9 for 20 over the last five games. Three of those hits are homers and two are doubles. He hit one of each, and added a single, to lead Thursday’s win over the Giants. The home run was a three-run shot to dead center in the fourth inning.
“One of the things that stands out to me is what Matt said yesterday,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “If we're going to be the team that we expect to be, our stars are going to carry us. J.T. is one of our stars. So we're certainly depending on that power stroke coming through like it did today.”
The Phillies’ inconsistent offense had a dozen hits, five for extra bases.
“That was big for us offensively as a group,” Realmuto said. “We had really good at-bats all day long. It's nice for us to get a little lead, a nice substantial lead for once. That was huge for our offense today."
Realmuto said he was driving the ball better recently. At first, he said there was no particular reason for that. But actually, there is.
“I'm honestly just trying to do less up there, not trying to do too much, get better pitches to hit, try not to chase out of the zone,” he said. “For me, when I get in trouble is when I go up there and try to do too much, try to hit for power. When I just let it come to me and feel a little more relaxed at the plate, it works out better for me.”
Cesar Hernandez also homered and added a two-run double. Roman Quinn belted a homer and Scott Kingery had three singles and two RBIs to show signs of coming alive at the plate.
The Phillies, who entered the day a half-game out of the second wild-card spot, took two of three from the Giants. The series win was the Phillies’ first against a team with a winning record in two months. The Phils took two of three from the San Diego Padres from June 3-5. The Padres entered that series with a winning record.
There was an area of concern in the game, however. Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta did not get an out in the fifth inning in a game that the Phils led 9-0 with him on the mound. Arrieta is pitching with a bone spur in his elbow and it began bothering him in the fourth inning.
“I was in a pretty tough spot in the bottom of the fourth before the top of the fifth,” he said. “It was basically hitter to hitter at that point.”
Arrieta spent time between innings working with an athletic trainer on some stretching exercises to create relief in the elbow.
The right-hander has averaged just 4 2/3 innings in his last five starts. Vince Velasquez is another pitcher on the staff who has trouble getting by the middle innings. Those two could eventually tax the bullpen.
“It's certainly our responsibility — and my responsibility specifically — to plan effectively for that,” Kapler said. “That's exactly what we'll do."
Arrieta said he has no plans to shut down. He wants to give the team whatever he has. The Phils recently sent starters Nick Pivetta and Zach Eflin to the bullpen. They are capable of giving the team innings behind Arrieta.
On Friday night, the Phillies will unveil veteran lefty Jason Vargas against the Chicago White Sox. Vargas was acquired from the Mets on Monday night. The White Sox have lost four in a row, three in a sweep by the streaking (seven wins in a row) Mets, to fall to 46-60. The schedule maker is being kind to the Phils. They must take advantage.
“Hopefully we can take some momentum into the next couple series, win a few in a row and get rolling,” Realmuto said.
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