If you were hoping to see Nick Castellanos bust out of the gate this spring and reassert himself as the offensive force he was in the five years prior to signing with the Phillies, it hasn't quite happened yet. He's 4 for 27 in camp, hitting .148 with two homers and six RBI.
But more than spring training stats, Castellanos is focused on improving his plate selection and he's taken some important and promising steps. Over-aggressive chasing of pitches outside the strike zone was a major problem for Castellanos last season from opening day until Game 6 of the World Series. He had his moments, most of them in April, but by midseason, nearly every pitcher was attacking him the same way, by trying to get ahead in the count or induce a weak groundball with a low-and-away slider Castellanos couldn't lay off.
Castellanos saw a breaking ball away off the plate 256 times last season and swung at 71 of them (28 percent). Of those 71 swings, 39 resulted in outs, 53 were swinging strikes and just four were hits. He hit .043 on low-and-away breaking balls.
Castellanos hit an opposite-field, two-run homer Tuesday and stayed hot Wednesday. He singled in a run in the Phillies' seven-run first inning and walked in the second against Luis Severino. On a 1-1 count, often viewed as the swing pitch of an at-bat, Castellanos laid off a well-executed low-and-away slider from Severino and eventually worked the free pass.
Castellanos has already walked eight times this spring. It has clearly been his point of emphasis, as he walked a combined seven times in his five previous camps from 2018-22.
"Whenever you put the work in and you want to build on something and it translates, it's always a good feeling," he said Tuesday. "The biggest thing for me is just getting back to a relaxed place in the box. It doesn't matter how good your swing is, if you're not getting anything to hit, you're not going to hit the ball hard. Being able to get in good counts, swinging at the pitches I want to swing at and taking first when they give it to me is everything that I'm focused on right now."
Castellanos has played a lot this spring. His 33 plate appearances are second-most on the team behind Alec Bohm. He was the only Phillies regular to appear in their first road spring training game, and he was in the lineup Wednesday for the sixth time in the last seven games. He's been hitting third and fourth over the last week with Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner and J.T. Realmuto away from the team for the World Baseball Classic.
Entering the second season of a five-year, $100 million contract, Castellanos is trying to regain the muscle memory of spitting on pitches he can't handle. He's moved closer to the plate and closer to the pitcher. It could make certain pitches on the inside corner harder to handle but it should also help with his coldest zone low-and-away.
"He's seeing the ball, he's not jumping, his head's not moving," manager Rob Thomson said Tuesday. "He's halfway through his walks total of last year. I think he's had good at-bats all spring and they're really coming."