PHILADELPHIA — The 2023 season has been all about adapting to the unfamiliar for Johan Rojas.
So faced Tuesday with his first playoff game – at any level, he said – Rojas did what he’s done all season. He went with the flow, and like it has in most of a breakthrough campaign, it worked out.
Rojas scored the first run of the game in the third inning, leading off with a single on an epic nine-pitch battle with Jesus Luzardo. He scored on Alec Bohm’s double, the first run in a 4-1 victory over the Marlins in Game 1 of their NL Wild Card series.
“I just said to myself, just go out there, step on the field, and enjoy,” Rojas said via a translator. “Have fun, do what you know how to do.”
Rojas has been doing that all year, and the 23-year-old hasn’t looked out of place yet. Promoted directly from Double-A in July, he came into Tuesday with no postseason experience – not in four minor league seasons since being signed out of the Dominican Republic at 18, not in a brief cameo in the Dominican Winter League. But he’s grown to such a stature with the Phillies that his place in the outfield was a given while manager Rob Thomson mulled changes in left. And even in a clubhouse known for bringing its younger members into the fold quickly, Rojas has integrated with uncommon speed, mostly with guys with whom he’d never played.
“He’s a gamer,” Nick Castellanos assessed. “And I think that he’s shown that no moment is too big for him. He does a phenomenal job of competing every single pitch and not trying to do too much, so that’s credit to him. He got us going.”
Rojas has earned the everyday center field role. His glove is already verging on elite, in his uncanny knack for tracking fly balls. But the fact that he hit .302 with two homers, 23 RBIs, a .771 OPS and a 111 OPS+ in 59 games answers the question of if his bat is major league caliber.
The proof was in his at-bat to lead off the third. He spit on a couple of borderline pitches before going into attack mode at 3-1. He ripped first a fastball and then a changeup down the line in left at near home-run distance. He fought off a 97.4 mph fastball by Luzardo before forcing the lefty to hang a slider that Rojas served into left for a single.
“I know he’s a pretty good starting pitcher,” Rojas said. “I’m going to look for something good to hit. I was just waiting for a good pitch to hit. I was trying to connect there. Every at-bat, that’s my mindset. I’m going to wait and get a pitch to hit.”
“He’s such an electric player and he can impact the game in so many ways,” Thomson said. “His poise level, since he’s been up here, has just been unbelievable for a young kid like he is that’s never been above Double-A.”
Both Rojas and Cristian Pache stepped up in the nine and eight holes in the order, respectively, on a night when every starting Phillie contributed to 11 hits. Pache, who started in left over Brandon Marsh against the lefty, repaid Thomson’s faith with an RBI single in the fourth to make it 3-0.
“They’re themselves. That’s the best part about them,” Bryce Harper said. “They go out there and play their game. We let them be themselves, and they know no moment is too great for them.
“Rojas has been great for us since he’s been up here. He deserves to be here. He understands what it’s like to be a big leaguer and he’s always willing to learn and always has questions. If we’re on the field, he’s always trying to learn and get better. In these moments, we have all the faith in the world in them, and I think they know that.”
Rojas provides another example of the on-field value of the clubhouse’s off-field warmth. He’s grown close to a number of players, no one more so than Marsh, whose locker is next to him.
That accelerates the willingness to learn that Harper praised, and it helps him settle into moments like Tuesday.
“It helps me relax because from the moment I came here in this clubhouse, they welcomed me with open arms,” Rojas said. “Everyone has told me to enjoy, to be myself. It’s hard not to play hard for a group of players that have embraced you and welcomed you that way. It’s a very special group that we have here.”
Source: Berkshire mont