ATLANTA – Hours before Spencer Strider threw his first pitch Sunday night at Truist Park, somebody asked Phillies manager Rob Thomson about his performance against them in Game 3 of the 2022 NLDS.
Strider got rocked that afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.
“He was hurt in the playoffs,” Thomson responded. “So I don’t take anything out of that because I don’t think he was right.”
Strider was right Sunday night in an 11-4 victory over the Phillies at Truist Park, striking out nine in six innings, but he hardly mattered after Dylan Covey became the first Phillies pitcher since 2007 and the eighth in franchise history to allow seven or more runs in less than an inning in a start. Covey’s early exit once again has the Phillies searching for answers about the No. 5 job in the rotation.
“We haven’t discussed anything yet,” Thomson said.
Kyle Schwarber has been searching for answers, too. He entered Sunday batting .166 with 12 home runs, 25 RBIs and a .712 OPS, including two hits in 22 at-bats over his last seven games. He almost hit a solo home run to center field in the second inning, but Braves center fielder Michael Harris II made a fantastic leaping catch at the wall. Schwarber barreled the ball at 104.2 mph.
“It sucked,” Schwarber said.
But then Schwarber crushed a two-run homer to center in the seventh. He barreled that one at 107.3 mph.
“Personally, I like where I’m going,” Schwarber said. “I think if the work keeps going there … there’s good at-bats in there where you’re working deep counts and getting on base. Still walking. The hits will come eventually.
“You can’t keep going out there chasing hits. If you’re going to chase hits, you’re not going to really have quality at-bats or get on base anymore. I think if you keep trying to have quality at-bats the hits will come.”
Historically, Schwarber is a slow starter. He batted .194 with a .764 OPS through 52 games last season. He batted .220 with a .731 OPS through 52 games in 2021. But his .166 batting average entering Sunday was his lowest through 52 games to start a season in his career.
“I wish I could change it,” Schwarber said. “But I can change it. That’s the thing you can always look forward to: There’s the next at-bat, there’s the next pitch, whatever it is. I’ve kind of played that roller-coaster game before where you ride the highs, you ride the lows. I’m not going to do that. I’m still going to be the same guy.”
Schwarber is striking out less and walking more than last season, but when he makes contact he is not hitting the ball as hard. He has the largest decrease in baseball in barrel rate from last season to this season at 7.3%.
He barreled 20.1% of the balls he put in play last year. He has barreled only 12.8% of balls in play this year.
“Wherever I’m at personally at the end of the year, is where I’ll be at,” Schwarber said. “But I want to worry about where we’re going to be at.”
To get where the Phillies want to go, they not only need Schwarber and the offense to live up to its potential, they need to find a viable solution with the No. 5 starter. The Phillies are 1-9 when that turn comes up.
The Phillies felt fortunate last weekend when they claimed Covey off waivers from the Dodgers. They needed him because they optioned Bailey Falter to Triple-A and they were searching for somebody to pitch multiple innings every five days.
The organization did not like its internal options more than it liked Covey.
“Everybody is looking,” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said recently. “To give you an example, we have people call us for our starting pitching.”
Ronald Acuña Jr. hit a first-pitch single against Covey to get things going in the first. Matt Olson crushed a 3-2 cutter over the heart of the plate to right-center field for a two-run homer. Austin Riley hit a 0-1 sweeper over the middle of the plate for a homer to make it 3-0. Covey lasted six more batters before Thomson removed him from the game.
“They were just on it,” Covey said.