Nick Castellanos hits first homers of 2023, Phillies top Rockies originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
It was pointed out to Phillies manager Rob Thomson before Saturday’s game against the Rockies at Citizens Bank Park, that his team hadn’t hit many home runs yet this season. As if he didn’t know.
It was further brought to his attention that right fielder Nick Castellanos had yet to show off his home run trot this season. This was not breaking news to the manager, either.
“As long as he’s seeing the ball and swinging at strikes, swinging at his strikes, swinging at the strikes he likes to hit, then I’m good,” Thomson said with a shrug. “Just based on his history. He’s hit some home runs in the past and I expect him to do it again.”
Funny you should mention it. . .
Right on cue, Castellanos homered in his first at bat against Rockies starter Kyle Freeland in the second. Then he went yard again off Freeman with one out in the sixth.
Throw in left fielder Cristian Pache’s two-run home in the fourth and the Phillies had just enough offense to edge the Rockies, 4-3, before a near-sellout crowd of 41,939. The three homers in a game matched the team’s season-high set against the Marlins on April 10.
Castellanos has had a curious start to his Phillies career. After hitting .34 homers and batting .309 for the Reds in 2021, he signed a 5-year, $100 million free agent contract with the Phillies last year in spring training.
It didn’t go over well with fans when he batted .263 with 13 homers his first year in red pinstripes. He was booed at times. On one memorable night, he snapped at a reporter who asked him about the reception he was getting.
He’s now hitting .310. In addition to his two homers, he had his MLB-leading 10th double. But the focus remained on the fact that he hadn’t hit a ball over the fence until finally checking that box, twice, on Saturday. That snapped a 31-game homerless streak.
There are two reasons Castellanos may be positioned to have a better 2023. The first is he’s improved his approach at the plate. “Completely different than last year,” Thomson said. “He’s staying back on the ball and letting it travel. That gives you a chance to see the ball and use your legs. Use all your strength.”
Castellanos said that’s largely a function of learning to hit down in the order. With the Reds in 2021, he batted second or third in all but two games. With the Phillies, he has more normally hit fourth or fifth.
“When you’re in the front of the lineup, as soon as you fall behind there’s a little bit more of an urgency to see pitches over the plate,” he explained. “Being a swing-first guy, that’s when I would do a lot of my damage. But the beautiful thing about baseball is that you continue to learn and adjust and find new ways to have success.”
Even more important, he indicated, is that he feels more settled than he did last year, joining a new team shortly before Opening Day, facing the expectations generated by a big contract.
“I’d say that with me everything is connected. The more I feel at peace with myself in a situation – my surroundings, my environment – the more my natural self is going to be able to come through,” he said. “As much as I want to be 100 percent comfortable in my surroundings immediately at all times, I struggle with that. But I feel good now, I’ll tell you that.”
The Phillies are 9-5 this season when they belt at least one homer and 1-7 when they don’t. They are, of course, hopeful that their power production will heat up along with the weather and that what happened Saturday is a harbinger of what’s to come.
Another reason for optimism is that Bryce Harper, recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery just five months ago, continues to show remarkable progress in his rehab. Improvement.
The two-time MVP had six simulated at bats in live batting practice against Ranger Suarez Saturday morning and also continued to throw and take grounders at first. He’ll be re-examined when the Phillies play the Dodgers in Los Angeles next week and it would be a shock if he could return to the lineup as the designated hitter soon after.
After detonating 205 bombs on their way to the World Series in 2022, sixth most in all of baseball, the Phils had just 19 going into play Saturday. Only eight MLB teams had less. And that helped explain why a team among the league leaders in batting average and OPS have struggled to score runs much of the season.
Thomson insisted he isn’t concerned. “It’ll come,” he said. “It’ll come.”