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De George: With Trea Turner out, pressure is on Nick Castellanos to produce

PHILADELPHIA — Trea Turner’s hamstring strain, Rob Thomson knew, would create a cascade of decisions for the manager.

The first tough one came Monday with Thomson uprooting Gold Glove finalist second baseman Bryson Stott to play shortstop. A second will arrive Tuesday when J.T. Realmuto, promoted to Turner’s No. 2 spot in the batting order, will get his first day off since the injury.

But looming behind all of it is another question that so far the MLB-leading Phillies have dodged: How long can they wait on Nick Castellanos to get right?

If Castellanos was carrying anything above the .185 average he toted into Monday’s series finale with the Giants, he’d be the logical option at No. 2. Alec Bohm has been so effective in the cleanup spot that Thomson won’t budge the third baseman. Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper entrenched in the first and third spots, respectively, made Turner such a great fit and makes right-handed hitting mandatory.

The form of Turner and Bohm has allowed the Phillies to withstand Castellanos’ wretched start. But half of that safety net is gone, making it tougher to afford a $20 million player hitting like a fringe big leaguer.

Monday offered a look at how long a lineup with a hot Castellanos can look.

Batting sixth, he reached base four times, including the RBI double that chased San Francisco starter Mason Black in the fifth inning of a 6-1 win over the Giants. He also walked twice, scoring the first run of the game in the fourth on Whit Merrifield’s single after working a free pass with two outs and none on.

Every glimmer of good news at the plate with Castellanos this year has been a false dawn. He was the last qualified hitter in baseball to collect an extra base hit. He hit his first home run in San Diego on April 26, part of a three-game hitting streak, and went 3-for-4 with a game-tying home run against the Angels on April 30 … then struck out four times the next game.

Sunday night brought his hardest-hit ball of the season (111 miles per hour) for a single, his seventh-hardest hit ball since 2015. He struck out the other three times.

“He’s going to strike out,” Thomson said. “But he’s going to get hot, too. He’s a guy that can carry a club like he did for us last year in the playoffs. Just waiting on it.”

Castellanos is doubling down on his bad pitch-selection habits. Among qualified hitters, he has the seventh-highest rate of swinging at pitches outside the zone (40.5 percent), and he makes contact on those pitches at the seventh-lowest rate (40.6 percent).

He’s not making solid contact, with his barrels percentage and hard-hit rate about half of what they were last year.

His walk rate of 7.1, while high for him historically, remains well below league average, leaving little reason for pitchers to challenge Castellanos in the zone. More pitches out of the zone, more chasing … rinse and repeat.

Add it all up and he’s the sixth-most prolific swinger in MLB at 57.9 percent and its fifth-most frequent whiffer (35.5). It might actually be overperformance that he’s only 40th in MLB in strikeout rate.

The void left by Turner’s .343 average won’t be filled by one individual and Castellanos isn’t alone in needing to step up.

Realmuto had three hits Sunday in his first day in the two-hole, then two more Monday. But he’s a perplexing 3-for-30 this year with runners in scoring position.

Normally a solid clutch hitter — he’s got a career .255 average with RISP — he hit just .205 in those situations last year. Four stolen bases Sunday night, against the third different starting catcher in as many days for an injury-riddled Giants unit, shows the Phillies leaning toward opportunism on the base paths.

“It’s tough to lose a player like that, of Trea’s caliber and the type of teammate he is,” Realmuto said. “Hopefully we can play well when he’s gone, keep this pace up and get him healthy.”

Castellanos is obviously capable of carrying an offense. Thomson is fond of saying that he’ll eventually resemble the stats on the back of his baseball card, a promise that only occurred over his first two seasons if you averaged them out.

To the skipper, it’s not a question of if but when, though the when has become more pressing after Turner’s injury.

On this date last year, Castellanos entered hitting .315. He hit .312 into July, then cratered to .226 in the last 76 games of the season. His 2023 postseason — starting 10-for-25 with five homers and seven extra-base hits; finishing 0-for-23 — illustrates the duality that is Castellanos pretty perfectly.

The all-or-nothing tendencies that made Castellanos an eight-figure ballplayer are unlikely to change overnight, and the onus isn’t entirely on him. But Castellanos awakening from his funk is the fastest way to cushioning the blow of Turner’s absence.

Contact Matthew De George at mdegeorge@delcotimes.com.


Source: Berkshire mont

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