Whit Merrifield is ready to ‘pick up the slack’ during Trea Turner’s absence

Philadelphia Phillies

As the Phillies stack up wins like chips on the table at the World Series of Poker, their biggest issues qualify as first-world baseball problems.

  1. Can they get enough work for their No. 6 starter?

  2. Which backup shortstop should play most often?

  3. Is there a best fit among multiple options to bat second?

Whit Merrifield figures he can help in at least a couple of those areas.

» READ MORE: Homegrown Phillies Alec Bohm and Ranger Suárez don’t want to go anywhere. Here’s the extension case for each.

An everyday player for much of his career, and an All-Star as recently as last season, Merrifield signed with the Phillies in spring training without any guarantees of playing time. He will get more at-bats now that star shortstop Trea Turner is lost for at least six weeks with a hamstring strain.

“I’ve always felt my game shows itself when I’m in there every day and you can see the different things that I can do,” Merrifield said Tuesday before batting in Turner’s No. 2 spot against the Toronto Blue Jays at Citizens Bank Park. “I’m not a guy that’s going to pinch-hit and hit a 450-foot bomb and everybody’s going to ‘ooooh’ and ‘aaaaah.’ I’ve got to do some things.

“Just looking forward to pick up some slack that Trea left off.”

One scenario has Bryson Stott sliding over to shortstop and Merrifield filling in at second base. The Phillies went with that alignment Monday, and Merrifield punched an RBI single in a sweep-clinching victory over the Giants.

But manager Rob Thomson also values Stott’s defense at second base and wants to give Edmundo Sosa more playing time at shortstop. In that case, Merrifield can continue to fill a utility role. He played left field in the opener against the Jays, with Brandon Marsh moving to center in place of Johan Rojas against rough righty José Berríos.

Oh, and Merrifield texted Thomson a few days ago to remind him that he played some shortstop in college. As a refresher, Merrifield fielded grounders at short before Tuesday’s game.

» READ MORE: Is the Phillies’ dominant starting pitching sustainable all season? Their catcher thinks so.

Whatever the case, Merrifield expects to be ready. After a painfully slow 3-for-28 start to the season, he was riding a 10-for-24 wave entering the series with the Blue Jays, his former team.

Ask about the turnaround, and Merrifield points to his experience in Toronto.

The Jays traded for Merrifield at the deadline in 2022 to deepen their lineup, but not to displace Santiago Espinal at second base. He started 18 of his first 34 games after the trade, roughly once per series, marking the first time in his career that he got irregular playing time, and went 12-for-66 with one homer.

But Merrifield also started to develop a plan for staying ready, and he tapped into it early in the season with the Phillies. He thinks he has it down now. On Saturday night, after Alec Bohm left in the third inning with tightness in his quadriceps, Merrifield entered and homered in the seventh inning against Giants lefty Erik Miller.

“A couple years ago, I probably wouldn’t have been ready at all to get in that game,” Merrifield said. “But I learned over there [with the Jays], so I had that routine established when I got here and wasn’t in the lineup every day. I knew what to expect, when to get moving, how to treat the day-in, day-out.

“Just knowing that this game is crazy, it’s a long season, it taught me to stay ready.”

» READ MORE: Phillies pondering ways to keep Spencer Turnbull pitching in a multi-inning role

Indeed, Merrifield’s first everyday chance with the Blue Jays came when Espinal strained a muscle in his side in a September 2022 game against the Phillies. They installed Merrifield at second base, and he went on a 19-for-43 tear.

Could Merrifield be poised for a similar streak two years later in Turner’s absence?

It’s why he signed with the Phillies.

“I wanted to come in and initially be that 10th man but make it where we have the best 10-man group in baseball,” Merrifield said. “I’ve been a good player in this league for a long time, and I still feel like I’m a good player. I’d have had a hell of a year last year if it wasn’t for a tough September. I can still play this game at a high level.”

Second fiddle

J.T. Realmuto has been Thomson’s first choice to bat second since Turner got injured. It seemingly agrees with him. Realmuto is 6-for-12 with a double and a triple in three games out of the No. 2 spot.

“I like hitting second because I know I can take my [catching] gear off when the game starts,” Realmuto said. “I know I’m going to hit in the first inning, so I don’t have to wait around. That’s about the only difference for me. Other than that, when I step in the box, it’s all the same.”

After a rare day off, Realmuto will be back in the No. 2 spot Wednesday, according to Thomson.

» READ MORE: Bryce Harper vs. Mike Trout, 12 years in: What drives them to be great, and will they ever join forces?

Extra bases

The Phillies acquired lefty Tyler Gilbert from the Reds for cash considerations. Gilbert, originally a sixth-round pick of the Phillies, threw a no-hitter in 2021 for the Diamondbacks. He will report to triple A. … Bohm got a day off after starting 19 consecutive games. … The Phillies won 17 of 20 games through Monday, their first such stretch since 2010. Since 1901, they have had only 29 instances of 17 wins in 20 games. … Aaron Nola (4-1, 3.32 ERA) will start at 1:05 p.m. Wednesday against Blue Jays righty Chris Bassitt (2-5, 5.45).

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *