Phillies end frustrating trip and, with Trea Turner set to return, change is coming to outfield

BALTIMORE — A few hours before the final game of this two-country, three-city road trip, Rob Thomson leaned back in his chair. The weather outside was perfect. It was Father’s Day. Two teams more than 20 games over .500 with their aces, Zack Wheeler and Corbin Burnes, on the mound.

“If you’re a baseball fan, this should be a good day,” Thomson said Sunday morning. “It’s all lined up. Two good teams. Packed house. Raucous fans. Great pitching matchup.”

And, by the sixth inning of Sunday’s 8-3 Phillies loss, Thomson was a spectator. He unloaded on an umpire with a kind of tirade no one has seen from the mild-mannered Canadian since he became the Phillies manager two years ago. The specific incident — a contested pitch that hit Garrett Stubbs’ foot while outside the batter’s box — just underscored the anger that boiled inside Thomson all afternoon. His team hasn’t played well. Mike Estabrook’s strike zone was erratic.

“I was angry,” Thomson said.

Estabrook ejected Thomson after he muttered a few choice words. Thomson removed his hat and went nose-to-nose with Estabrook. The umpire did not attempt to de-escalate the situation and crew chief Laz Diaz did not intervene until after the two men had a prolonged shouting match.

So, Thomson watched the last three innings from the tiny office at Camden Yards. He had already seen his ace surrender four homers for the first time in his career. He saw his offense fail to generate enough timely hits. It was emblematic of this whole road trip.

The Phillies are 10-10 in their last 20 after going 35-10 in the previous 45 games. They have gained two games on the Braves in the NL East standings during that 10-10 stretch.

“It stinks, but it’s OK,” Wheeler said. “Got a long season ahead of us, and we’re a really good team. So we’ll be all right.”

The Phillies will return home Monday with Trea Turner as their shortstop. Turner will be activated from the injured list after missing 38 games with a strained hamstring. The Phillies went 25-13 in that time.

They could use Turner after the recent lull.

“Any time is a good time for Trea Turner, but it just makes our lineup even deeper,” Bryson Stott said. “He’s Trea Turner, so …”

So, the Phillies will have their No. 2 hitter back. Nick Castellanos had a cameo there this past week and went 3-for-27 with nine strikeouts. He was hitless in the Orioles series.

Thomson is a man of few words; he does not believe in team meetings or over-the-top pep talks because he considers less to be more. So, when he speaks, his players know it’s important. This was Thomson’s fourth ejection as Phillies manager and his first since Aug. 13, 2023. His fury was directed at the umpires, but his players saw a side rarely shown.

“It was frustrating for everybody, in that aspect,” Wheeler said. “Me included. Just try to bite our tongues and keep pressing and not let that type of stuff affect us. But I feel like he kind of got all of our anger out for us with that. Stood up for us. It was great to see Rob standing up for us, especially when things aren’t going our way.”

The Phillies have expected their pitching to regress, even a little, and that will put more onus on the offense. Reinserting Turner will help. In making room for him, the Phillies could opt to prioritize more offense.

They have discussed, multiple team sources told The Athletic, a demotion for Johan Rojas. If the Phillies went that route, they would be committing to two outfield platoons — Brandon Marsh and Cristian Pache in center field with David Dahl and Whit Merrifield in left field. It is an inelegant solution, but it is the path of least resistance. Rojas can be sent to the minors; Pache and Dahl cannot — at least without clearing waivers.

When the Phillies anointed Rojas as their center fielder after an unproductive spring training, they reserved the right to change their minds. It is possible they have reached that point. Rojas’ defensive play in center hasn’t been elite, like the Phillies expected. He’s been picked off a team-leading three times.

Rojas made a critical mistake in the first game of the Orioles series when, as a pinch runner, he did not have a good secondary lead. He was thrown out at the plate in extra innings, unable to score from second base on a single to right.

Thomson addressed the mistake with Rojas immediately after that game.

Johan Rojas is tagged out at the plate by Orioles catcher James McCann in the 10th inning of Friday’s game. (Terrance Williams / Associated Press)

Rojas is here for his glove, but there’s been disappointment within the organization that Rojas has not better utilized one of his best skills — speed. The club wanted Rojas to incorporate more bunting into his game. He has not attempted a bunt in June. His only bunt hit came on April 13.

Many with the Phillies still view Rojas in center field as the club’s best alignment and, with a demotion, they would not be eliminating that from being the solution later this season.

But Rojas has to be better, and that is the message the Phillies would send by sending him to Triple A.

Marsh is a downgrade in center field; the Phillies would be sacrificing defense for offense in their double-platoon scenario. Dahl and Merrifield are average defenders — at best. Pache, on the days he does not start, can serve as a late-inning defensive replacement.

Pache doubled as a pinch-hitter Sunday against a lefty reliever. All four of his extra-base hits this season have come against lefties. He is 5-for-23 with 10 strikeouts against righties; the Phillies do not view him as an everyday option because of his shortcomings at the plate. But, with Rojas’ demotion, Pache stands to gain playing time.

The Phillies have designs on improving their bench at the trade deadline. In the meantime, they will see what Dahl does. He is hitting .231/.231/.538 in 26 plate appearances.

Edmundo Sosa hit .282/.342/.500 in the 38-game span without Turner. “Oh, he was huge,” Thomson said. “For the last couple of years, probably the baseball world looked at him as a utilityman. Now they’re looking at him as a shortstop.” But Sosa had faded in the past two weeks, hitting only .200/.231/.320. He will return to his role as a reserve.

Everyone, for now, was just excited about seeing their own beds again.

“A lot of travel,” Thomson said. “Good teams. Now we go home in front of our fan base and get back to playing baseball.”

(Top photo of Phillies manager Rob Thomson arguing with umpire Mike Estabrook: Gregory Fisher / USA Today) 

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