October 5, 2022

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Realmuto stars with bat, legs: 'Can't do any more than he did'

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MIAMI — When J.T. Realmuto has games like these, they shouldn’t be swept under the rug. Because when the sluggers around him start rolling, it’ll be impossible to miss how big of a competitive advantage he provides. 

Arguably the best all-around catcher in the game, and almost certainly the most athletic, Realmuto was the best player on the field for the Phillies in Thursday’s series-opening 4-3 loss against the Marlins at loanDepot park. His 4-for-4 game — with a walk, a stolen base and a run scored — was a display of the glue-like value he provides to Philadelphia’s lineup. 

Realmuto is getting hot. Starting with his big home run against the Mets on Monday, he has eight hits, including a double and the homer, in the past four games. Even though he didn’t quite make the difference on the scoreboard in this game — as some of their other big bats were mostly quiet — he came close … and his all-around play might well make the difference in the next one.

“He was fantastic tonight,” manager Joe Girardi said. “You can’t do any more than what he did.”

Here are three different ways Realmuto impacted the game in Miami, and can impact a lot more moving forward:

Realmuto didn’t make an out against his former team, and four of those five trips to the plate resulted in a hit. He’s batting .360 on the season with a .429 on-base percentage and a .520 slugging percentage.

Realmuto’s first hit of the game, a sharp single to left in the top of the first, set up the Phillies to take an early 1-0 lead on a Bryce Harper sacrifice fly. And his last hit — an opposite-field single just inside the first-base line off a 99 mph fastball from Marlins closer Anthony Bender — put the tying run on base with two outs in the ninth for Harper, who flied out to end it.

Realmuto’s bat gave the Phillies a chance when the game was on the line, and if he keeps giving the reigning MVP chances, Harper is going to start coming through.

Realmuto has always been baseball’s fastest catcher — he’s not just fast for a catcher, he’s faster than most of the league — and his speed was a big part of his performance Thursday.

Realmuto stole his first base of the season in the third inning, after stealing 13 in 2021, reaching a sprint speed of 28.8 feet per second (27 is the Major League average). Then, he beat out an infield hit in the fifth, getting up to 29.5 ft/sec to just beat shortstop Miguel Rojas’ throw. That’s not just fast, it’s near-elite speed (30 ft/sec is the “elite” threshold).

And there was one more: Realmuto ramped up to 28.3 ft/sec to score from first on Harper’s two-out double in the seventh, pulling the Phillies within a run.

Realmuto’s average sprint speed of 28.7 ft/sec since Statcast started tracking in 2015 is the best of any catcher, and he’s the only catcher to reach the elite 30 ft/sec mark with any regularity. That speed turns outs into hits and creates extra runs on the bases. It did Thursday, and it will keep doing that throughout the season.

Before scoring on Harper’s double, Realmuto also set the stage for it by drawing a key walk with two outs in the seventh, prolonging the inning for the Phillies’ best player.

Realmuto won a seven-pitch at-bat against Marlins reliever Steven Okert, in which the catcher saw only one fastball — on the first pitch — before Okert threw him six sliders in a row. Realmuto stayed patient, taking two close pitches and fouling off the one he needed to with two strikes before taking a helicopter up-and-away to get on base for Harper.

Now, keep in mind that two of Realmuto’s standout tools at the catcher position didn’t even come up Thursday — his power and his arm behind the plate. Those can come into play in any given game, too. His tools still matter in a close loss like this one; they could just as easily have been the spark for a win.

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