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De George: Phillies have started 2024 in better shape than last two seasons

PHILADELPHIA — The flight time on Bryce Harper’s grand slam Tuesday night was sufficiently lengthy to permit reflection.

With the win over Cincinnati and the profound hope that weather would allow the Phillies a chance to even their season record Wednesday with Zack Wheeler on the mound, enough of the season had elapsed for a decent ponder. One homestand is just one homestand. But given that the last two Phillies seasons were limited by disastrous Aprils, taking stock five games in would be more than a frivolous, premature worry.

They had been eventful ones, too. Two losses to Atlanta, a very different measuring stick in April than in recent Octobers. A comeback win over the Braves. Then an up-and-down first two against the Reds.

With every caveat about the early juncture of the season, the findings would remain preliminary. But there would be plenty to like over the opening stretch.

To start, well, the starters.

Save for Aaron Nola’s rough go against Atlanta, the other four Phillies starters had allowed five runs in 21 innings, none failing to get through five innings. Wheeler’s masterpiece on Opening Day was squandered by the bullpen. Cristopher Sanchez left with a lead Monday that didn’t hold up. But otherwise, the rotation’s first turn has looked as the Phillies would’ve envisioned.

Manager Rob Thomson was adamant about one aspect: Control. The four non-Nolas walked two and struck out 27 in their 21 innings.

“No walks,” he said. “Strike-throwing ability, because the stuff’s there. Just a matter of throwing strikes and getting soft contact, early contact, and they’ve been able to do that. And they’ve been able to get some whiff when they’ve needed it.”

There isn’t much in the way of liabilities glaring through the lineup quite yet.

Kyle Schwarber is hitting for average and with pop while moving light-years better on the bases than last year. Trea Turner, J.T. Realmuto and Bryson Stott are hitting the ball and setting the tone for taking extra bases. Alec Bohm won Sunday’s game with a clutch two-out hit. Brandon Marsh is scalding in an effort to burn the platoon label off. Harper awakened from a tough start with Saturday’s three-homer game.

It largely looks like an order that is settled in town and has played together for multiple years.

All but Nick Castellanos seems to warming up to the season, and Castellanos’ hot-or-cold tendency means he’s one swing away from a stretch where he carries the team for a week. Johan Rojas and his enduring oh-for are another matter, though there is sufficient cover and Rojas is young enough that it won’t derail an otherwise productive order.

The bullpen has been stress tested, and the one failing structural component has been replaced, in Connor Brogdon’s designation for assignment on Tuesday. But even that brought a silver lining, Ricardo Pinto belatedly arriving from Rochester and working four stalwart innings to spare the bullpen and earn a save against Cincy.

From Thomson’s perspective, the most controllable aspect of the lineup so far is rest. The Phillies have two scheduled off days between the start of the Reds series and May 1. Thomson has made a conscious effort to rest guys before they look like they need a spell.

Wednesday was planned as Bohm’s first off day of the year. Only Turner, Castellanos and Schwarber had played all five, though Schwarber had been the designated hitter in each.

“You have to respect what they want to do, but at the same time, you’ve got to take the game away from them,” Thomson said. “Although I haven’t been managing for a long time, I have been looking at whatever you want to call it, load management or whatever. Especially early in the year, you have to be careful with how many days in a row guys play, how many times they’re on the bases. All those things factor in.”

The quest to hit .500 isn’t just semantics. The Phillies didn’t reach parity last year until game No. 26. It didn’t leave that barrier behind for good until game 69.

In 2022, they were 10-10 before a slide cost Joe Girardi his job. They wouldn’t cross the threshold for good until a mid-June streak dashed them past 31-31.

A season is not made in April, ask the 2022 New York Mets. But it can be unmade in the season’s first month.

The Phillies’ hopes of winning the National League East haven’t survived either of the last two Aprils — and many more Aprils before that, if we want to nitpick. For the last two at least, the flat first month belied the talent present in the clubhouse, making it all the more exasperating.

So far in 2024, the offseason mantra of stopping slow starts is pointing in the right direction.

Contact Matthew De George at mdegeorge@delcotimes.com.


Source: Berkshire mont

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