Here's why Pache is breaking out in Philly

April 26th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies always knew was capable of plays like the diving catch he made to rob red-hot Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic of an extra-base hit in Tuesday night’s game at Citizens Bank Park.

What they didn't know, given Pache's brief track record in the big leagues, was whether he could swing the bat the way he did -- once again -- in the Phillies' 5-3 loss in the series opener. After all, Pache had slashed just .156/.205/.234 over 332 plate appearances with the Braves and A's prior to arriving in Philadelphia.

"He has struggled offensively in his career," president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said on Opening Day. "But if anybody has a club that can hopefully help him in being receptive to things, it’s us with Kevin Long, because he’s an outstanding hitting coach.”

Pache's first week in a Phillies uniform went much like his first few years in the Majors. He went 0-for-6 with two strikeouts, including 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position. He left nine men on base.

But that was all before the Phils returned home from their season-opening six-game road trip through Arlington and the Bronx. Though Long immediately went to work with Pache -- staying back on the ball longer was the first step, Long told him -- there was understandably an adjustment period.

"When we faced the Yankees at Yankee Stadium," Pache said via translator Diego Ettedgui following Tuesday’s game, "I was trying to stay back so much that my legs were starting to hurt."

It's not often a player tweaks his mechanics on the fly, especially at the big league level. Yet with Pache out of options, that's the only choice the Phillies had.

The focal point for Long was getting Pache to hit the ball in the air more -- not an easy task given Pache's average launch angle with Oakland last season was 3.2 degrees. To put that in perspective, the MLB average is 12.1 degrees.

The result was a ground-ball rate of 58%, the fourth highest among 317 players with at least 250 plate appearances. Though it's a small sample size, Pache has put 11 of his 18 batted balls in the air with the Phillies -- a ground-ball rate of just 38.9%.

"It's getting a lot better," manager Rob Thomson said. "He's getting the ball up in the air and that was the issue coming in -- he was just smothering balls. Now, he's lifting balls and getting them in the air."

For Pache, it was a matter of finding the balance between staying back a bit longer than he had before arriving in Philadelphia … but not quite as long as he did during those painful at-bats against the Yankees.

"I've been working really hard with Kevin Long,” Pache said. “He wants me to stay back a little more, use my legs a little more. And the results are showing, so I'm pumped.”

So are the Phillies.

Pache turned in his second multihit effort in as many starts Tuesday night. Even with his rocky opening week, Pache is hitting .348 (8-for-23) with one home run, two doubles and a .913 OPS this season. He's 8-for-17 (.471) since settling in from that road trip.

"I feel really good about it, because when you get to the MLB level, you want to do well," said Pache, who broke into the Majors as the Braves’ top overall prospect in 2020. "So when you've got things to show for it, that's what you work for and that's what you want for the team."

Pache's latest performance showcased everything the Phillies imagined he could be when they rolled the dice by adding him to their Opening Day roster. His two hits had exit velocities of 102.7 mph and 94.3 mph. Even his seventh-inning lineout was scorched off the bat at 98.0 mph.

And then there was Pache's diving catch in the sixth, when he covered 66 feet in just 4 seconds to snag a 98.3 mph liner to left-center field that had a catch probability of just 50%, per Statcast.

Nothing about that play was a surprise to anyone who watched Pache play with the A’s or Braves. But the fact that he already has eight hits as a Phillie -- the same amount he accumulated in 72 career plate appearances for Atlanta -- has to be about as much as Dombrowski could have hoped for when he made the last-minute deal.

“He's been playing great,” Thomson said. “He's really worked at it. Him and K-Long have worked hard, and we're definitely seeing results.”