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April 27, 2023

Five thoughts on Phillies-Mariners: Castellanos and the daycare keep rolling

Nick Castellanos is driving, the daycare is thriving, and the bullpen is locking it down.

In a matchup between two of last season's upstart postseason contenders, with both still trying to find their footing in this one, something had to give, and the Phillies weren't intent to let their momentum slip. 

It took a steady comeback in one game and a 1-0 pitching duel in the next, but the Phils pulled off both to take two of three from the visiting Seattle Mariners. 

After a rough start to the year, they're back at the .500 mark, have won seven of their last 10, and have a few notable names on a roll as they move on to a World Series rematch with the Astros next. 

Here are a few thoughts from the Phils' series win over the Mariners:

Castellanos and a matter of survival

In Wednesday night's comeback, Nick Castellanos hit a two-run shot in the first, knocked in a run that cut the Mariners' lead down to one in the fifth, then notched the single in the eighth that set up the Phillies' rally to tie it and then take the lead.

For the night, he went 3-for-4 with three runs batted in and two runs scored.

The night before, Castellanos singled twice to go 2-for-4.

Then on Thursday, he looped a base hit right up the middle in his first at-bat and hustled all the way home from first on Kody Clemens' two-out knock, scoring the afternoon's only run. 

Castellanos is on an eight-game hit streak, and entering Thursday, was in a stretch that has seen him bat .429 with three homers, a double, six runs batted in, six runs scored, and a 1.214 OPS.

So far, 2023 has been a bounce-back year for Castellanos, which is a huge boost to the Phillies' lineup since Bryce Harper is still sidelined (though maybe not for much longer) and Rhys Hoskins is out entirely.

He's seeing the ball well and just generally looks a lot more comfortable at the plate – something he admitted he wasn't for much of last season – and his performance in turn is helping to keep the Phillies moving as they continue to recover from a bad start.

Castellanos said recently that he attributes his growing comfort and resulting turnaround largely to time. A new city and team, and signing so quickly after a lockout ate into last year's spring training, that all took him a while to get used to.

But baseball is also a matter of survival for him, as he said when he signed his five-year, $100 million contract with Philadelphia last spring: "I don't have a college degree. I hit baseballs."

Maybe last year he was trying to just get by, but now? He sure is hitting baseballs right now.

The bullpen keeps it together

Bailey Falter was looking good on Tuesday night until the Mariners started tagging him in the fifth and sixth innings. The Phillies were down, and the offense ultimately couldn't close the gap, but when Rob Thomson reached into the bullpen – first for Connor Brogdon, then Yunior Marte and Andrew Vasquez – they locked things down and at least gave the Phils a shot.

On Wednesday night, after Taijuan Walker gave up a grand slam to J.P. Crawford and then a solo shot to Julio Rodríguez before exiting with forearm tightness after the fourth, Thomson called on the bullpen again. They locked it down again, and this time, the bats did climb back.

Luis Ortiz, Seranthony Domínguez, and Craig Kimbrel combined over the next four innings to fan six. Then, after the Phillies took the lead to head into the ninth, José Alvarado slammed the door shut and did it emphatically.

Strike 1. Strike 2. And good luck.

On Thursday, after Matt Strahm mowed through his two looks at Seattle's batting order, the relievers held it down one more time, with Domínguez, Brogdon, Gregory Soto (with help from a clutch sliding catch by Castellanos), and Kimbrel keeping the Mariners off the board entirely. 

Going back to the Colorado series, the Phillies' bullpen has allowed only a single run over the past six games.

It's been key in the club's steady climb back to .500 and will continue to be as a season with World Series aspirations pushes on.

Suárez and the rotation depth

Lefthander Ranger Suárez making his way back from an elbow strain that has kept him out since the spring was already important to the Phillies' rotation depth, but may have become even more so with Walker's injury. 

Thomson said postgame Wednesday night that the club doesn't believe Walker's injury is serious. He was examined by a doctor on Thursday, didn't require an MRI, and was able to have a catch, per The Inquirer's Scott Lauber. For now, he should be able to make his next start Monday out in Los Angeles.

Thursday is also when Suárez is slated to begin his rehab assignment in Double-A Reading. He's expected to make 3-4 starts in the minors to ramp up before rejoining the big-league club later in May.

The Phillies will definitely benefit from having Suárez back no matter what. He'll be a solid lefty for the middle of the rotation and allow for Strahm to return to the bullpen. Plus, his return could be a spark for the starters just as Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler look to be finding a rhythm again.

The daycare's A-O-K

During the Phillies' rally in the eighth Wednesday night, Brandon Marsh singled up the middle to push Castellanos to third and reach base safely for a 21st consecutive game.

Then, after J.T. Realmuto's base hit tied it, Alec Bohm hit one through the hole on the left-field side to drive in Marsh for the winning run.

Bryson Stott went 2-for-4 with a walk – a nine-pitch plate appearance from the jump – in the leadoff spot and, if you can believe it, has just two games without a hit across the Phillies' first 26 contests.

And all three continue to be chaos postgame.

Marsh continues to lead the majors in OPS, Bohm leads the Phillies in runs batted in, and Stott is batting .339 at the top.

The daycare is doing A-O, A-O-K.

On-deck: The Astros

Up next is a World Series rematch down in Houston that the Phillies will want to have their best for.

The rotation will reset with Nola expected to go Friday, and waiting for Philly's bats will be Framber Valdez, who they largely failed to figure out last October/November. 

Minute Maid Park has become a venue that carries a lot of significance for this era of Phillies baseball. It's where they clinched the final NL Wild Card spot late last season to end an 11-year playoff drought and set up for what would become the postseason run of a lifetime, but it's also where that run ended in heartbreak

There's no going back and fixing that last part, but seeing the Astros again should be a good test of seeing where the Phillies are really at right now, not to mention the start of a tough stretch that will bring on the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Blue Jays right after. 

Here are the Houston series' probable starters:

 DateTime  PhilliesAstros 
Fri., 4/288:10 p.m. ET RH Aaron Nola
(1-2, 5.40) 
LH Framber Valdez
(2-2, 2.25) 
Sat., 4/29 5:10 p.m. ET RH Zack Wheeler
(2-1, 4.73) 
RH Cristian Javier
(2-0, 3.21) 
Sun., 4/30 7:10 p.m. ET LH Bailey Falter
(0-4, 4.50) 
Jose Urquidy
(1-2, 5.64) 


Kevin Millwood threw out the first pitch Thursday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his 2003 no-hitter at the Vet. I was nine when that happened and it's one of my earliest memories from when I started really getting into baseball. 

Andrew Painter, the Phillies' prized pitching prospect, was born just 17 days before Millwood's gem.

Citizens Bank Park is just shy of two-thirds of the way to the Vet's entire lifespan.

Time is without mercy. 

• The Phillies introduced Major, their service pup-in-training, on Wednesday. Give him all the treats. 

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