Phillies Takeaways Gregory Soto Gets the Grip Trea Turner Opens

Phillies Takeaways: Gregory Soto Gets the Grip, Trea Turner Opens, Bailey Falter Finds a Way – The Athletic

When the Tigers called the Phillies in the first week of January to see if they were still interested in Gregory Soto, it was tempting to imagine Soto forming a tandem of the sport’s two hardest-to-pitch lefties with Jose Alvarado would. But the Phillies’ pitching people were keen on Soto because they thought he was less able to throw his fastball.

“It’s really interesting,” Soto said through a team interpreter earlier this month.

Soto pitched 22 pitches in consecutive games on Tuesday and Wednesday; 13 were pushers. He recorded all five of his outs with the slider. Four of those outs were strikeouts. He’s throwing a higher rate of sliders — 47 percent — than ever before. He believes in the idea.

The Phillies wanted more time in spring training to convince Soto, whose arrival has been delayed by visa issues, of the plan. His slider was so bad in Detroit last season. He lost confidence in it. But Soto had thought of his slider in winter. He tried a new grip. Coincidentally, the Phillies suggested the same hold after trading for him. And when they sold the plan, they pointed to Alvarado as proof. His career changed last season when he started throwing his fastball less and his cutter more.

Alvarado and Soto have combined two earned runs in 16 2/3 innings with 30 strikeouts and four walks since April 1st. The formula that the Phillies envisioned over the winter materialized in a series of wins against the White Sox because the Phillies were leading and able to be protected by left-wing helpers.

It’s a long way to count this tandem as a success. But it’s tempting. Alvarado is looking as dominant as a helper can look right now. He has yet to go a hitter. Soto didn’t retire a batsman on opening day. Since then he has found his footing, but these command problems will always come up. Alvarado faces challenging tracks this season, but now he has so many reasons to know he can reach the other side. The Phillies hope Soto can reach that mental state as well.

Both pitchers will still throw their high 90s fastballs, but they gain even more power when it’s a coin toss which pitch the hitter will see. It’s not a bad view from where the Phillies stand.

Turner’s power outage

Trea Turner circles the bases after hitting his first home run. (Matt Marton / USA Today)

Trea Turner had an unusual start before hitting his first home run as a Phillie in Wednesday’s 5-2 win. He averaged an exit speed of 86.6 mph through the team’s first 18 games — a number that would have been ranked as his second-lowest rate in a month since his rookie season. (Only August 2022, 85.6 mph, was worse.) It’s ironic because everything Turner did in the spring was starting balls for Team USA and the Phillies.

But while Turner has improved his power stroke over the years, he’s prone to failure, as he’s experienced in the first three weeks.

The Phillies kicked off Wednesday with the second most extra base hits in baseball. Notably, this ranked Turner 114th out of 184 qualified hitters in terms of slugging percentage; JT Realmuto finished 65th; Kyle Schwarber was 76th and Nick Castellanos 89th.

While the Phillies are expecting some regression to the mean from their recent hot-start hitters — Alec Bohm, Brandon Marsh and Bryson Stott — there should be some improvement from the lineup’s mainstays.

And maybe there won’t be too much regression from Bohm or Stott on their power swings. On Wednesday, Bohm placed 12th in the majors with 29 balls hit at 95 mph or harder. Stott finished 16th. This is a decent indicator of a hitter’s performance potential. Look at the company they shared.

do moths right

The first Phillies starter to pitch in the seventh inning this season was Bailey Falter. Naturally. Falter has done his job as a fifth starter — five innings in three of his four games — but he’s essentially No. 4 in the rotation right now. That shouldn’t change anything about the assessment of how he is positioned.

There will always be limitations on what Falter can do because he lacks an out pitch against righties, and almost everyone knows it. Consider this: Falter has dealt with 88 racquets this season, 80 of which were right-handed.

So it’s interesting to follow how the Phillies have tried to sidestep this. They talked in the spring about Falter developing a change to show right-handers. He threw a heap on his start in Cincinnati last week and it didn’t go well. He pitched exactly one in seven innings against the White Sox.

Right now, the plan for attacking right-handers looks like four-seam top-of-the-zone fastballs and down-curveballs. The slider, which is rarely used by right-handers, has proven itself. This four-seam fastball averages just 90 mph and right-handers hit .302 against it. He threw a center cut 92 mph fastball to Jake Burger and Burger destroyed it. That was the difference in a 0-3 defeat. It didn’t derail Falter’s outing.

If he spots the fastball over the zone, he even plays at 89 mph. He made faint contact and a few puffs.

It never gets nice for Falter when teams stack right-handers against him. But against a battering White Sox team, he proved there are ways to survive.

this and that

Bryson Stott leads the majors with 31 hits. (Kyle Ross / USA Today)

• Zack Wheeler told reporters after his start on Tuesday that he felt some tension in his lower back during the game. If the Phillies stay in the rotation, he could play Colorado on Sunday. But it’s just as easy to postpone his next start until Tuesday against Seattle and take a regular break on Falter Pitch Sunday. (The Phillies have Monday off.)

• In the first 15 games of the season, the Phillies batted .218/.283/.345 in the first inning. They scored four first-inning runs; only Detroit had less. They were 28th in the first inning OPS.

They have hit first inning runs in three of their last four games, including breaking out nine runs in the series finals in Cincinnati. Not a bad shot.

• Stott has 20 Two Strike hits this season. That’s six more than anyone else in baseball. He had 38 two-strike hits in 2022. Most two-strike hits for any Phillies batsman from 1988 when the data was first recorded: Jayson Werth at 85 in 2010.

• Another sign that Marsh’s simplified approach is helping him be more on time: He hits .357 with a .643 slugging percentage against fastballs at 95 mph or harder. Last season he hit .179 with a batting percentage of .393 against these courts.

• Cristopher Sánchez will start Saturday, manager Rob Thomson told reporters, and it will be interesting to see if the Phillies keep him as a long back-up in the majors after that spot start. Luis Ortiz would be the underdog; He has thrown strikes in his short stint with the Phillies.

(Top Photo by Gregory Soto: Joe Robbins / Icon Sportswire / Associated Press)