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Phillies Strategy Report Card: Relax with Topper, Worry about the Bullpen

The Phillies sit 3-6 through three series with some positive takeaways and some extremely frustrating.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Texas Rangers Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Every couple of series it’s good to look into what certain players are doing, adjustments in game plans, or whatever is changing long term.

Let’s call this a Phillies’ Strategy Report Card. We’ll check in every two weeks or so and see where the team is succeeding and what they need to work on. (Thank you for the name Brian)

Bailey Falter’s Adjustments

From July through the rest of the 2022 season, Falter looked the part of a competent backend starting pitcher. The Phillies were comfortable letting him take the ball every fifth day in 2023 if injuries become an issue.

Andrew Painter was sidelined early in spring and all of a sudden Falter became a lock to make the roster. They didn’t panic but knew adjustments had to be made.

In that same stretch of 2022, Falter’s game plan was limited. 64.5% of his pitches were either four-seam fastballs or sinkers with the occasional curveball to righties and attacking lefties with a slider.

When you only have to make 13 starts, it’s a lot easier to get by with a very simple game plan. However, he will probably start 25 games and be tasked with eating plenty of innings for the rest of the season. Falter needed to make adjustments and has.

Falter’s 99th-percentile extension has always made his fastball look harder to opposing hitters the first time they see it. The first time through an order, Falter allowed just a .558 OPS but ballooned to 1.011 the second time through.

Against the Rangers, Falter had a near-even split between four-seam fastballs and curveballs. Opposing hitters weren’t always able to just sit fastball and it helped Falter put up a good enough to give the offense a chance.

The Reds squared up his fastball early, Tyler Stephenson hit a 103.8 mph single, Kevin Newman with a 102.3 single, and Stuart Fairchild with a 104.2 single.

Falter adjusted, throwing changeups to change eye levels and offer a different look to righties. Falter retired the last nine batters he faced and helped the Phillies win a tough series against the Reds.

Through two starts, Falter leads the team in innings, starters’ ERA, and is sixth on the team in FIP. The pitch mix changes are working.

Relax with Rob Thomson

Managers tend to get plenty of hate from fans but the reactions just scrolling through Twitter seem out of control.

The bullpen structure makes sense, especially with how he consistently gets José Alvarado against the opposing team’s best hitters, picked Andrew Bellatti to be the stopper, and has managed chaotic relievers like Gregory Soto and Craig Kimbrel to not cost them games (even if Soto has).

Yunior Marté’s spots didn’t work out but they weren’t exactly the highest leverage situations and calling a bunch of sliders to Josh Jung was bizarre.

The lineup makes sense given the construction of the team. Trea Turner is the prototypical top-of-the-lineup hitter, Kyle Schwarber should be an effective two-hole but needs to start working counts, JT Realmuto hitting three is fine, and you’re not lowering Nick Castellanos.

Now with Stott hitting well, Thomson is rewarding him with a bump to the top.

Topper’s one huge weakness is that he isn’t as aggressive with the bench. With two outs and runners at the corners, left-handed reliever Brock Burke was able to get Jake Cave swinging. That’s probably a spot where Edmundo Sosa should hit but everything else has been overexaggerated.

First Base Solved?

The Phillies ripped the band-aid and will now make Alec Bohm learn first base to get Edmundo Sosa in the lineup and there’s a chance this changes Alec Bohm’s career.

Bohm and infield coach Bobby Dickerson have made positive strides over the years with getting Bohm to manageable third base defense but first base just makes more sense.

In 2,316 innings at third base, Bohm has -38 defensive runs saved and -12 Outs Above Average. That level of production is just really hard to sustain, especially now with the shift restrictions.

Sosa is what a good third baseman looks like with steady feet, athleticism, and a cannon. He’s making plays Bohm may never make on a nightly basis.

Darick Hall is likely out for the next couple of months so Bohm will have plenty of time to adjust over at first but what happens after that?

Hall wasn’t exactly ripping the cover off the ball in the chances he got and Sosa is going to provide strong infield defense. Keeping Bohm at first for the rest of the season makes a lot of sense.

It also solves a glaring hole long-term. Rhys Hoskins is about to be a free agent at 31 and coming off a torn ACL so it’s hard to imagine there being mutual interest in a reunion.

The Phillies just opened a door that doesn’t need to be shut for the next couple of years if/when Bohm keeps up the offense.

Well then...

Bullpen Workload

The Phillies asked their bullpen to cover 12 innings in a three-game series against the Reds and are about to have a bullpen game tonight with Matt Strahm starting.

Taijuan Walker threw 105 pitches yesterday and couldn’t make it past the fifth and Zack Wheeler threw 92 pitches on Friday and couldn’t make it through the sixth.

The only starting pitcher that’s made it through six innings was Aaron Nola against the Yankees and that’s just not good enough from the staff.

The Phillies have already had four different relievers appear in five or more games this season and lack a traditional long-man. The bullpen could be gassed sooner rather than later if Thomson is forced to keep using it as much.

Nola and Wheeler are going to be pushed a lot more in their next couple of outings because of these issues.

Managing the starter’s workload and bullpen workload has always been a cat-and-mouse game but the scales are tipped too heavily one way through nine games.