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April 26, 2023

What they're saying: How Bryce Harper recruited Trea Turner to the Phillies

What started as joking (sort of) from Bryce Harper that Trea Turner would join the Phillies one day eventually became reality.

It took Trea Turner almost zero time to get acclimated to Philadelphia. In fact, had you not known any better, you would've thought he had already been here for years. 

It speaks volumes to the type of player he is and how good of a fit he is for this city, the strength of the Phillies' clubhouse, and in a way, their long-term planning – well, maybe more Bryce Harper's in particular. 

Here's another edition of what they're saying about the Phils:

'You'd look great in a Phillies uniform'

Jesse Rogers | ESPN

The rumors of Turner to the Phillies started early last summer when the start shortstop, then a Dodger, was looking at free agency at the end of the season. 

The logic was sound. Philly had a competitive lineup – okay, not at the time, but they pulled through – there was familiarity and comfort with Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber going back to their time spent in Washington, and team president Dave Dombrowski and owner John Middleton were never shy about having money to spend. 

The Phillies were an obvious favorite to land him and eventually did, but as it turns out, the gears on that signing started turning way, way before. 

And it was Harper who got the ball rolling. 

Wrote Jesse Rogers in an in-depth feature on Turner:

"For the last three years, he kept telling me, 'We're going to get you over here, we're going to get you over here,'" Turner told ESPN in March. "It started as a joke, then as it got closer and [the Phillies] were in win-now mode, everything lined up. He was a big factor, for sure."

Harper remembers the chatter on the basepaths. "Every time I'd see him at shortstop, I'd mess with him: 'You'd look great in a Phillies uniform,'" the two-time National League MVP said.

Whether or not those whisperings were the difference-maker -- Harper said he left Turner alone once his free agency actually started -- the strategy paid off. Turner signed an 11-year, $300 million contract with the Phillies in December, reuniting with Harper. The two have yet to take the field together; Harper is still working his way back from offseason Tommy John surgery. But as Harper zooms through his recovery, it could happen sooner than later.

When he does, he'll join a lineup that despite a slow start leads the majors in hits; Turner's 29, good for second-best on the squad, show how quickly he has settled in in Philadelphia. [ESPN]

Sorry, Lehigh

Matt Gelb | The Athletic ($)

Speaking of Harper, on Monday we highlighted The Inquirer's story about an advanced AI pitching machine and how it was helping to speed up his rehab from Tommy John surgery. 

In it, the story noted that the machine's tech was accurate enough in recreating major-league pitching that the thought of a rehab assignment in Lehigh Valley before returning to the Phillies might not even be necessary. 

Matt Gelb over at The Athletic, in a story published Tuesday, spoke to Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long about plans for a Harper rehab assignment with the IronPigs and learned that, yeah, they don't intend to send him there when the time comes. 

Wrote Gelb:

No one has spent more time at the ballpark with Harper during this process than Kevin Long. And, when Harper, who had surgery Nov. 23, began to question whether he needed actual games before returning to the Phillies, Long listened.

Soon, he was convinced. The Phillies hitting coach drafted a new plan.

“Here’s what I look for,” Long said. “Harp’s had how many spring trainings at this point in his life?”

It’s 12. This, whatever it is, is the 13th.

“He’s had no games ever, up to that point — up to playing in a spring training game, which is major-league-caliber pitching,” Long said. “It’s the major leagues. Now, everybody is getting started. But, in essence, it’s kind of the same.

“So I don’t think it’s as crazy and as absurd as it may look. I think it’s more like, ‘OK, I may be on. I may be a little rough.’ I don’t know. I don’t really know what to expect. And that’s more or less what you get with spring training. You don’t know whether guys are coming out on fire or struggling a little bit.” [The Athletic, $]

For reference, when he was coming back from a broken thumb last summer, Harper crushed minor-league hitting for all of two games before he and the Phillies both realized he didn't need to be there anymore. 

Lehigh Valley sure did enjoy having him while he was there though. 

Nola, Wheeler turning a corner?

Scott Lauber | The Philadelphia Inquirer ($)

The Phillies' rough start to 2023 was accentuated by bad outings from Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola at the top of the rotation. 

Coming off the shortest offseason they've ever known, and with a brand new pitch clock to keep pace with, the two starters just didn't have their best stuff out of the gate and were struggling to pitch deep into games, which in turn, put a strain on a struggling bullpen (though that's steadily getting better).

But the Colorado series brought encouraging signs. Nola and Wheeler both put up solid performances in their respective starts, which lends hope that maybe they're starting to settle into a rhythm again. 

They need to if the Phillies hope to go anywhere come the fall.

Wrote Scott Lauber

Wheeler missed 23 bats against the Rockies, including six with his newly minted sweeper, a sign that he may be closer to dominating. But his walk rate is also up to 8.5% from 5.5% over the last three seasons, which indicates that he isn’t razor sharp.

For Nola, the issue is familiar: Finding the right pitch mix to augment a fastball that doesn’t overpower. But the average velocity on Nola’s heater is down a tick to 91.7 mph from 92.8 mph over the last three years. He leaned more on his signature curveball against the Rockies, but also has thrown fewer sinkers than usual.


The Phillies’ fate rests more on their two best starting pitchers than their sluggers’ launch angle and exit velocity. So, they’ll take the improvement that Nola and Wheeler showed against the Rockies and hope it continues Friday and Saturday in a World Series rematch in Houston. [The Inquirer, $]

Time heals

Tim Kelly | Just Baseball

Marked by a two-home run game against the Rockies last weekend, Nick Castellanos' second year in Philadelphia has so far looked dramatically better than the first, back when he was at the onset of a five-year, $100 million contract. 

What made the difference? 

For Castellanos, a big part of it was simply time. 

Wrote Tim Kelly of the 31-year old slugger's bounce back: 

Is Castellanos’ feeling more like himself in his second year in Philadelphia just a matter of time passing or is there something more to it?

“I would say time is No. 1. As much as I want to be 100% comfortable in my surroundings immediately at all times, I struggle with that. But I feel good now, I’ll tell you that,” Castellanos said with a smile.

So far, all the hitters who were major question marks for the Phillies coming into the season are thriving. Castellanos has re-emerged as a doubles machine. Brandon Marsh is currently the MLB leader in OPS with a staggering 1.212 mark. Bryson Stott looks like an All-Star candidate at second base. And Alec Bohm is hitting over .300.

It burns for the Phillies that Rhys Hoskins was likely lost for the season when he tore his left ACL just days before the regular season began. But Bryce Harper is going to return, probably sooner than later. And if Castellanos, J.T. Realmuto and Trea Turner can all perform close to their career averages, the Phillies will have a chance to make noise in the NL playoffs for the second consecutive year. Perhaps this time, it will be Castellanos who authors some notable hits in October for the Phillies. [Just Baseball]

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