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Phillies Notebook: Less chasing has equaled more success for Trea Turner

PHILADELPHIA — For all the attention that he got in 2023, between the scuffling midseason stretch and the August post-ovation rejuvenation, it seems Trea Turner has flown under the radar at times in 2024.

It’s not because of his play. Quietly, with far less drama, Turner has just raked.

And so for the first 20 games of the season, the owner of a battling title and a Silver Slugger Award toted a career-best .350 average into Saturday’s game with the Chicago White Sox. Even if his scorcher of a week isn’t sustainable, Turner is doing a lot of things in the batter’s box that he didn’t figure out until deep into last season, a big reason why the Phillies stand four games over .500.

Over his last six games, Turner was batting .520 with five doubles, two homers, three RBIs and nine runs scored. He added two hits, including a seventh straight game with an extra-base hit, two RBIs and a run scored in Saturday’s 9-5 win over Chicago.

Turner entered last year’s Aug. 4 standing ovation with a slash line of .236/.289/.367. In 68 games since, he’s at .341/.393/.624 with an OPS of 1.015.

How Turner has done it this year is clear: He’s barreling up more balls and chasing fewer pitches.

Part of the 2023 struggles was that Turner was chasing a career-high 35.3% of pitches out of the zone. He had only topped 30% chase rate twice: in his first full season of 2016 and in 2022.

With that figure falling, Rob Thomson sees the entire chain of cause and effect of a more selective Turner.

“If you’re chasing, it means you’re committing early,” Thomson said Saturday. “He’s not chasing, and he’s not committing early. He’s backing the ball up, so he sees the ball longer, which eliminates some chase. And he gets the ball on the barrel of the bat, so I think it all plays into it.”

Waiting longer means using all fields. Waiting longer means getting better pitches to hit. His zone contact percentage is up 5 points, from a career-low 82.8 last year to what would be a career-best 87.3. He’s swinging at more first pitches (43.7) than ever, but he’s whiffing almost a third less than last season (from 29.6% to 20.9%).

There is one note of caution, though. Turner’s .350 average is his highest mark through 20 games.

Second is .321 to start 2016, when he was chasing a lot. But his average in his first 20 games as a Phillie in 2023? It was .314. From Game No. 21 to the ovation, a stretch of 88 games and nearly 400 plate appearances, Turner had just 28 extra-base hits and batted .217.

The hope is that this year’s fast start is on a more sustainable ground.

“When Trea is in a bad spot, he’s usually running out of bat and he’s smothering balls,” Thomson said. “So now he’s backing the ball up, he’s hitting the ball up in the air, and he’s not chasing. That’s a good thing. That’s Trea.”

• • •

The last turn through the Phillies’ rotation has looked like this:

Aaron Nola, 7.1 innings of one-run ball on Monday

A Ranger Suarez complete-game shutout on Tuesday

Six innings without allowing an earned run by Cristopher Sanchez on Wednesday.

Seven innings of one-hit shutout ball from Spencer Turnbull on Friday.

That’s a 0.31 ERA this week for Phillies starters before Zack Wheeler even toed the rubber, as he did on Saturday. Good week to be Thomson, huh?

“It’s pretty impressive. It really is,” Thomson said. “I think I’ve been really impressed with not only Turnbull, but Sanchez has really thrown the ball well and Ranger has really thrown it well. It makes for a good problem to have.”

Wheeler turned in 7.1 innings of shutout ball, leaving after Korey Lee’s hit bled through the infield, the first safety of the day for the White Sox. Wheeler didn’t allow a ball out of the infield for five innings, making it one run allowed in 36.1 innings for the starters this week. That’s a 0.25 ERA

The Phillies entered Saturday having not given up an extra-base hit in three games, something that has only happened seven times in franchise history and not since 1982. Their WHIP through 20 games is the best in franchise history since 1900 at 1.026.

• • •

Rob Thomson figured it was a matter of time with Nick Castellanos. He saw a long fly out and a lineout Friday night as progress in how the struggling outfielder was starting to get under the ball. Perhaps a night after Whit Merrifield got off the schneid, the last qualified hitter in MLB without an extra-base hit would follow suit Saturday against the at-best-Quad-A White Sox.

In the second inning, Castellanos delivered his first extra-base hit (and just 12th any-base hit) of the season, a triple off the top of the wall in right.

“I think he’s starting to loft some balls in the last week, and that’s always a good sign for me from power hitters,” a prescient Thomson had said. “And we just keep running him out there.”

Castellanos finished 3-for-3 with a walk, scoring twice and driving in two.

• • •

NOTES >> Kyle Schwarber played his 1,000th game Saturday night. He’s one of three active players with 250 home runs in his first 1,000 games, joining Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. … Aaron Nola (2-1, 3.47 ERA) will take the mound in Sunday’s finale at 1:35. He’s opposed by Nick Nastrini (0-1, 3.60).

Source: Berkshire mont

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