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Phillies Notes: Brandon Marsh’s approach leading to fast start at plate

PHILADELPHIA — Brandon Marsh is 39 plate appearances into the 2024 season, so take all that follows with a grain of salt.

Those 39 plate appearances, however, have included 12 hits, a team-high three home runs and an OPS+ of 157. They’ve featured Marsh getting on base safely in nine of 10 starts. And maybe, given the difficult circumstances of the first two weeks, they include a consistent approach that could apply for a 162-game marathon.

Marsh is in the 98th percentile for hard-hit percentage in MLB, per statcast. He’s in the 91st for average exit velocity and 79th for barrel percentage. Those numbers last year: 87th, 81st and 56th, respectively.

The approach to get there is equally impressive to his manager.

“He grinds,” Rob Thomson said Thursday. “He sees a lot of pitches. He understands the strike zone and he can use the field. Those are all the tools for a good hitter.”

Marsh is hitting .333, on an expected batting average of .266. Expect the truth to be somewhere in the middle before buying the “Brandon Marsh for Batting Title” domain, once his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) descends from an unsustainably high .450.

But there are a number of things in Marsh’s control that he’s doing well. He’s using all fields: his opposite field percentage is 43.5, up from 30.9 percent last year. He’s batting .300 on breaking balls and off-speed pitches. His chase rate is down and his contact rate on pitches in the zone is up.

He’s doing it for a team whose power is down across the board. The Phillies entered Monday 24th in slugging percentage in the bigs. They didn’t have an extra-base hit in either of the last two games in St. Louis, a string of 16 straight hits going for singles ahead of Thursday’s game with Pittsburgh.

“We haven’t hit yet, and that’s the biggest thing,” Thomson said. “We haven’t slugged yet. I think our approach has been decent, but we just haven’t slugged. But this team is going to slug at some point.”

Marsh has, though. And he’s done so under somewhat inhospitable conditions as the lefty in a three-for-two platoon in the outfield.

By Saturday, the Phillies will have faced seven left-handed starters in their first 15 games. Marsh is a lifetime .221 hitter against lefties, young enough for Thomson to not shield him from lefties but at least be judicious in when he gets his at-bats.

Yet despite what could be some up and down lineup-wise, Marsh has gotten into a rhythm and earned his right to hold onto it.

“He always stays ready,” Thomson said. “I don’t worry about that.”

• • •

Sometime soon, the Phillies may have to make a decision on their rotation. And the most obvious guy going into the season to remove has been arguably its best performer.

Spencer Turnbull is the obvious target once Taijuan Walker is healthy. But Turnbull hasn’t given up a run in 11 innings to start the season.

“If he keeps putting up zeroes, it’s tough to take him out of the rotation,” Thomson said. “But we’ll see.”

The decision remains a little ways down the road. Walker’s rehab shifted to Clearwater on Thursday to throw 60-65 pitches. If his shoulder remains un-sore, he’s still at least a couple of weeks from being built back up fully, after logging a career high 172.2 innings last year.

Turnbull’s history is as important. The righty didn’t pitch in 2022 after Tommy John surgery the previous June. He returned last year for 31 innings in the big leagues after 26 in the minors, a total of 15 starts.

Thomson said Thursday that keeping within “45 or 50” of his innings total from last year, which would put him in the 90-110 inning ballpark.

If the Phillies get to the point of six healthy starters available, Thomson said they could go to a piggyback situation or a six-man rotation, as they did last year, though probably not for long stretches.

“At times, like we did last year, I would think so,” he said. “Once we get deeper into the season and when you don’t have an off day and you get into a long stretch like we do now, but we can’t afford to have a six-man right now. But that’s always in there.”

• • •

Orion Kerkering’s rehab was also transferred to Clearwater, where he’ll throw an inning Thursday. The Phillies will make a decision on next steps once he returns to town. It won’t come before Sunday, Thomson giving the fireballer at least two days off.

The Phillies have only one off day (April 18) until May 2. The stretch of 25 games in 26 days may behoove them to keep two long men. Either of them, Nick Nelson or Ricardo Pinto, would most likely be demoted for Kerkering. Thomson is likely to be cautious in using the 23-year-old.

• • •

NOTES >> The Phillies are coming off a 4-2 road trip through Washington and St. Louis. It’s the first time they’ve won their first trip of the season since 2011. … New everyday first baseman Bryce Harper is tied for first in outs above average among MLB first basemen (with San Diego’s Jake Cronenworth) and second among all players. He added a diving stab of an Oneil Cruz would-be double to end the second inning. … An old face returns to Citizens Bank Park on Friday, when Bailey Falter (0-0, 5.40 ERA) takes the mound. He’s opposed by the guy who more or less took his spot in the rotation and occasioned his trade to Pittsburgh, Cristopher Sanchez (0-1, 4.82). First pitch is at 6:40. Turnbull takes on lefty Marco Gonalez (0-0, 2.45) on Saturday at 4:05.

Source: Berkshire mont

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