January 30, 2023

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Let the kids play: Phillies' resurgence fueled by youth

4 min read
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PHILADELPHIA — Bryce Harper is unafraid to make a point.

It could be anything from re-signing J.T. Realmuto to signing a big bat in March to the direction of the franchise.

So it was worth listening on Sunday when he was asked about the Phillies’ sweep of the Angels and what it told him about the team. He recapped each game of the series, including Sunday’s 9-7 walk-off victory. He praised the pitching. And then he praised Bryson Stott, who hit the walk-off three-run homer in the ninth.

“I’m so happy for the kid,” Harper said. “What an at-bat. What a situation for him. Being able to put our trust in our young guys the past couple days and really let them just play. It’s been great. It paid off.”

Phillies interim manager Rob Thomson was asked many, many times this weekend about the Phillies playing with more energy. Was it a byproduct of Friday’s managerial change, when he replaced Joe Girardi? Was it a byproduct of the offense coming to life? Or was it something else? Each time, Thomson cited the team’s youngest players as the source of the energy boost.

Stott is one of those players. He is batting .333 (6-for-18) with one double, two home runs, six RBIs and a 1.122 OPS in his past five games. He looks like the guy who dominated in Spring Training and earned a spot on the Opening Day roster.

“I feel a lot more like myself, a lot more relaxed,” Stott said.

Maybe because he has played five consecutive games for only the second time this season.

“The thing about Bryson is he’s got to play,” Harper said. “He’s used to playing every day. He’s used to playing from high school to college to Minor League baseball to now. He’s used to playing every day, and that’s what we’ve got to do for our young guys. Our young guys got to play. When you want your young guys to have success, they’ve got to play every day. When they have those opportunities, I think they’re going to take full advantage of that.

“If that’s Bryson, if that’s [Nick] Maton, if that’s Alec Bohm or anybody else, we need our young guys to come in each day and be ready to play — and knowing that we have the faith in them to go out there and do their job and have fun doing it.”

Girardi leaned on his veterans. He played Stott and Bohm, but they got benched if they struggled. Bohm struggled in August 2021, and Girardi benched him for the light-hitting Ronald Torreyes. Bohm was eventually optioned to Triple-A Lehigh. Stott struggled early this season; he got benched and optioned to Triple-A. Though he was recalled in May, he played infrequently and did not find his footing.

Thomson played Stott, Bohm, Maton and Mickey Moniak this weekend. Didi Gregorius rejoined the team Sunday, so it will be worth watching how Thomson handles shortstop. At the very least, Stott could play second base with Jean Segura sidelined until September.

But in general, it will be interesting to see how Thomson balances production vs. development on a team built to win.

The kids played well over the weekend. Maton had an excellent couple of games before he got hurt Friday. Stott hit his first career homer Friday, then hit the walk-off homer Sunday. Bohm broke out of a 1-for-28 slump with three hits and a walk Sunday.

“As a group of young guys, we know that we aren’t the stars of the show,” Bohm said. “We have tons of great players around us. That really takes a lot of pressure off us to just go play and have fun, to play loose and to bring the energy. … We have a lot of freedom, I think. That shows, and I think that a guy like Stott getting to play a couple days in a row now, getting to really start playing now, you’re seeing the guy you saw in Spring Training.

“The kid can control an at-bat with the best of them, just like he did at the end of the game. He just waited and waited and waited. And wasn’t trying to do too much and then — boom — he wins the game. That’s just really cool to see.

“His first homer, it’s me and Maton on the bases and he’s coming around and it’s like one of those Minor League games on the backfields. It’s a really cool moment. As far as the energy part, it gets back to just playing ball with your boys. That’s kind of the feel that we’ve had, and it’s productive.”

“It’s good to bring energy, but it’s also good to bring performance, too,” Thomson said. “They’re doing that, and that’s huge.”

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