Offseason work, time in Minors paying dividends for Phillips

September 14th, 2023

SEATTLE -- Veteran outfielder has looked like a different player since being called up by the Angels last week.

Phillips, who worked to completely retool his swing in the offseason, struggled offensively in a part-time role to open the season and was ultimately designated for assignment in mid-May. But he continued to work on his swing while at Triple-A Salt Lake, and it’s started to pay dividends since his return to the Majors. He kept it rolling by going 2-for-3 with a solo homer and a walk in a 3-2 loss to the Mariners on Wednesday afternoon at T-Mobile Park.

“For me, it’s about taking advantage of an opportunity down the stretch and showing the Angels that I can produce offensively,” Phillips said. “It’s been encouraging. Hopefully, I continue to keep the confidence day to day. It feels good to put the barrel on some baseballs.”

Phillips, who signed a one-year deal worth $1.2 million in the offseason, hit just .077 with eight strikeouts through his first 19 games with the Angels, who decided to shuffle him off the 40-man roster in mid-May with the emergence of fellow outfielder Mickey Moniak. But the 29-year-old accepted his outright to Triple-A Salt Lake and hit .230 with six homers and 25 RBIs in 66 games before having his contract selected on Sept. 6.

He said that being sent down to the Minors ended up being a positive, because it gave him the opportunity to implement his new mechanics. Playing well down the stretch could also give him an opportunity next year, whether it’s with the Angels or another club.

“I came in with a totally different swing, and we saw early on that obviously the opportunity wasn't going to be there to see if it played out,” Phillips said. “So it was honestly the best thing for me to go down to Triple-A and play every day. Get that confidence with a new swing. And I’m glad to see it's translating so far. But again, it's early.”

The early returns have been promising, however. In eight games since rejoining the Angels, Phillips has slashed .320/.414/.560 with two homers, four walks and three RBIs. His second blast of the year came in the third inning on a 2-2 fastball from Luis Castillo to give the Angels an early lead. He also singled in the ninth off Seattle closer Andrés Muñoz.

“He's staying on the fastball,” manager Phil Nevin said. “He obviously didn't get a lot of reps here. He went to Salt Lake and there were a lot of things he needed to work on and did. And he did everything we asked him. That was a big home run off one of the best in the game. And against one of the best closers, smoking one up the middle to give us a chance.”

Phillips also showed off his strong arm in the fifth, nearly throwing out Ty France at home as France scored from second on a single to right by Cal Raleigh. It was a close play at the plate, but catcher Logan O’Hoppe couldn’t get the tag down in time. The Mariners tied the score, and Teoscar Hernández followed with a go-ahead RBI single.

“Those are really tough plays for catchers, and he thought he could get to it and come back and make the tag, but it just didn't work out,” Nevin said. “You want to stay behind the plate and maybe even take a long hop and go toward the plate, but all teaching moments.”

Phillips also drew a walk in the seventh inning after rookie Jordyn Adams left off with a single. But fellow rookie Kyren Paris couldn’t get a bunt down and struck out before Adams was picked off second base and caught stealing. Phillips got to second on the play, but Nolan Schanuel grounded out softly to shortstop to end the inning.

“It’s a learning experience for these players,” Nevin said. “It’s a different atmosphere up here sometimes. But the more reps and the more games, the better they’ll be.”

Phillips picked up his second hit with a single with one out in the ninth inning off Muñoz but was caught stealing at second base to end the game. The play was reviewed, but the call was ultimately upheld.

“It’s tough,” Phillips said. “I thought it was a good opportunity. Muñoz was flashing a slow leg kick. I knew if I got thrown out it was going to be bang-bang. The throw was just on the money.”