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Cozens using his time back in Minors wisely

MLB.com

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- Dylan Cozens stood on the infield grass of Coca-Cola Park with one arm around a six-foot-tall pig. He cradled a six-inch, turkey-costumed version of himself in his opposite hand. Cozens smiled, posed for a picture, waved to the crowd and ventured back to the home dugout to start in a baseball game for the first time since June 29.

Welcome back to Lehigh Valley.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- Dylan Cozens stood on the infield grass of Coca-Cola Park with one arm around a six-foot-tall pig. He cradled a six-inch, turkey-costumed version of himself in his opposite hand. Cozens smiled, posed for a picture, waved to the crowd and ventured back to the home dugout to start in a baseball game for the first time since June 29.

Welcome back to Lehigh Valley.

Tweet from @IronPigs: Tonight is our Salute to Thanksgiving and we have so much for which to be thankful: ��� The team is in first place��� There's a bobblehead giveaway and jersey auction��� The Pigs have walked off as winners in their last four home games��� Tonight opens...https://t.co/Mghmk9TPMR pic.twitter.com/W0ykUtjNcO

The Phillies on Tuesday optioned Cozens, their No. 15 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, to Triple-A in a swap for Trevor Plouffe, a 32-year-old infielder signed in April. The move gave the Phillies a more experienced bench option after Cozens totaled just two hits and three walks in 21 plate appearances after being called up on June 1.

"We felt confident that [Plouffe] could come up and give us a good at-bat off the bench," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said Tuesday. "... It's not an indictment of anybody else. It doesn't mean he's better than anybody."

The return to Lehigh Valley ended the first instance in Cozens' life in which he didn't see regular playing time. He started four games during his time with the Phillies. A brief trip to the disabled list didn't help.

Now, Cozens will start nearly every game for the IronPigs, as he did in 46 of 50 games before his callup and again on Thursday night. He went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts and a three-run home run -- his first hit since his first Major League homer on June 6 at Wrigley Field -- while batting cleanup and manning center field in a 4-3 loss to Buffalo.

Video: PHI@CHC: Cozens puts Phils ahead in 9th with 1st HR

"I just want to keep continuing to be a better hitter," Cozens said in the IronPigs clubhouse Thursday. "Put the ball in play more, run the bases better, get better at defense -- everything really. Just continue to improve my game in every single aspect."

Cozens had no qualms with his first Major League stint. He's a ballplayer; reaching the big leagues will always be "cool." His vantage point from the dugout provided a learning experience, too.

"I got to watch the game a lot, take in the kind of things I wouldn't really pay attention to if I was playing," Cozens said. "... Watching the pitchers. Watching the hitters as well. Different counts, how these pitchers are attacking certain guys and stuff like that. A lot of baserunning things that can kind of open your eyes, especially playing against the Cubs and how they run the bases. Things that you can do to give your team an advantage to win."

Such an outlook aligns with Kapler's search to find value at the margins. And when Major League rosters expand in September, Cozens will almost surely find himself back in the Phillies clubhouse. He could be back sooner. He is just 24 years old, and one hitless month will matter less after he puts in more work as an IronPig.

"It's just another opportunity to succeed and prove that I should be back up there," Cozens said. "Trying to grind here and play good enough to where they can't be without me."

Joe Bloss is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Phillies, Dylan Cozens