September 21, 2023
It was a packed week in Phillies baseball with the playoff race coming down to the wire on top of a medical incident involving one of its only two World Series-winning managers and most beloved franchise alumni.
Here's the latest rundown:
Johan Rojas is getting increasingly more comfortable in the big leagues and only seems to be making a stronger and stronger case to be one of the outfielders on the postseason roster.
He's one of the most athletic gloves the Phils have, and at the plate, he's holding up with a .301 average and a .783 OPS through 123 at-bats.
Right now, when he's in, he's confident, and there's a visible sign of that as Alex Coffey writes:
Recently, Rojas has started to undo those top buttons again. His mentor in right field, Nick Castellanos, who also wears the top of his jersey unbuttoned, encouraged it. One day in late August, as they were jogging to the outfield together, Castellanos stopped Rojas, unfastened the top of his jersey, and sent him on his way.
The message, according to Castellanos, was to “loosen up and chill out.” Rojas has taken it to heart. He is comfortable here. It’s obvious not just in how he plays center field, but in how he takes his at-bats. As a prospect, his defense was never a question, but the same couldn’t be said about his offense. When Rojas hit .346 in scattered at-bats through his first 11 games, some wondered if it was a fluke.
But Rojas has kept hitting. He hit second career home run on Monday night (and his first home run off a non-position player) in the Phillies’ 7-1 victory over the Braves. He’s hit .300/.344/.442 over his last 50 games. That, combined with the Gold Glove-caliber defense, makes it easy to forget he’s 23.
“I’m not surprised by it,” Castellanos said. “The talent is definitely there. He’s a smart kid. He asks all the right questions. Goes about his business the right way, he’s electric with his work, he takes pride in it, and I think right now he’s reaping the benefit of his process.” [The Inquirer]
Shifting gears to another new Phillie that, unfortunately, went in the opposite direction: What on earth happened to Michael Lorenzen?
He looked like a brilliant acquisition right after the trade deadline, but ever since his no-hitter against Washington, he's struggled immensely.
The Phillies moved back to a five-man starting rotation last week, keeping Cristopher Sánchez in the No. 5 spot while moving Lorenzen into the bullpen to see if the switch would generate any sort of spark, and...well...
Making his first appearance as a piggyback reliever for starter Cristopher Sanchez, Lorenzen was knocked around in Tuesday's 9-3 loss.
He entered in the fifth inning with the Phillies down three runs. He faced seven batters. Six reached base. Three scored. He recorded one out but it took 37 pitches and that's where his night ended, a night he and manager Rob Thomson hoped Lorenzen could pitch four innings.
"I was hoping to definitely go more than an out," he said. "I was hoping to bridge it to go four innings.
"Sometimes this game's really easy for you and sometimes it's just really hard. Every single guy in here has been through it, where you think, 'Oh, I could do this for the rest of my life, no biggie.' And then it flips, just like that. You've got to maintain that confidence but you're like, 'There's nothing I can do right out here.' You've just got to keep going." [NBCSP]
Hopefully, he can figure something out in this final run of games before the postseason.
On Saturday, the Phillies announced that former manager and franchise legend Charlie Manuel had suffered a stroke while undergoing a medical procedure at a Florida hospital. Doctors were able to attend to Manuel immediately, the club said, but added at the time that the next 24 hours were going to be crucial to his recovery.
On Sunday, the Phillies received an update from Manuel's wife, Missy, that he was making encouraging progress, and then during the Monday night broadcast down in Atlanta, play-by-play commentator Tom McCarthy revealed that Manuel had been moved out of the ICU and was reading texts.
I want to thank all the people who are pulling for me. I am touched that you are showing me love. And I want to thank @LKLDRegional Critical Care team for hustling and being on time. You have kept me in the game. Charlie Manuel 🧠❤️— Charlie Manuel (@CMBaseball41) September 19, 2023
It wasn't pretty, and often frustrating – that's Phillies baseball for you – but with Wednesday's 6-5 win in extras over the Braves down in Atlanta, the Phillies took a crucial two of three in the final series against their NL East foe, and in the process, cut their magic number to a playoff berth down to seven.
They have 10 games left, a 3.5-game cushion built up in the NL Wild Card race, and are returning home with the ever-fumbling Mets on deck.
Red October could be on the doorstep by the beginning of next week.
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