MIAMI -- Right-hander Connor Brogdon referenced a saying pregame on Friday: “You have to beat your division in order to win your division.”
With two games left before the All-Star break and the second half of the season, the Phillies got a taste of a playoff atmosphere in their 2-1 series-opening win over the Marlins at loanDepot park. The key to Philadelphia’s success came in the form of J.T. Realmuto, who broke into the league with Miami in 2014 and is at least somewhat familiar with Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara’s stuff -- from both sides of the plate.
“J.T. was able to catch a couple of my games when I came here,” said Alcantara (Realmuto caught five of Alcantara’s rookie starts in 2018). “He's a great catcher. I think that's why he maybe got the hits, because he knows all my pitches.”
Realmuto began his professional career with the Marlins, making his debut in 2014 after he was selected with their third-round pick in the 2010 Draft (104 overall). He spent his first five years in Miami before he was acquired by the Phillies on Feb. 7, 2019. He's been with Philadelphia ever since, and he signed a five-year, $115.5 million contract as a free agent in January 2021.
So after missing two games on the restricted list while the Phillies were in Toronto, it was fitting that Realmuto showed out on Friday to the tune of a 3-for-4 night that included a game-winning RBI double and the hit that ended Alcantara’s perfect-game bid in the fifth inning.
It was Realmuto’s second multi-hit performance vs. the Marlins this season (he went 4-for-4 in Miami’s home opener on April 14) and came at a time when the three-time All-Star “would probably tell you that maybe he hasn't been swinging it how he wants to,” according to starting pitcher Kyle Gibson.
It’s true. Realmuto has been struggling to connect for hits this season. The catcher had a .200/.250/.350 slash line in his past seven games entering Friday, and a .206/.273/.327 slash line in his past 30. Some of that can be chalked up to good hits that turn into outs; Realmuto’s line-drive rate is up almost three percentage points since last year (25.1%, up from 22.2%).
Noted Gibson: “He’s probably caught some bad luck [this year], with hitting balls hard and making some outs. He put a couple really good swings on tonight and came through big for us.”
Despite the bad luck, Realmuto has consistently done well against the team that trails the Phillies (47-43) by just 3 1/2 games in the NL Wild Card race.
Including the series opener on Friday, Realmuto is batting .346 with nine hits against the Marlins. Only one other Phillie (min. 20 at-bats) has a better average vs. the NL East rivals: Rhys Hoskins (.379), who drew a walk in the seventh inning for Philadelphia’s first walk in 148 consecutive plate appearances. Hoskins came around to score the game-tying run before Realmuto put the Phillies ahead.
“Getting hits off some of the best pitchers in the league [like Alcantara] is huge,” backup catcher Garrett Stubbs said. “To watch [J.T.] do that is ... we expect it out of him. We know how good of a player he is. So to see him do that, none of us are surprised, but of course doing it against one of the best pitchers and maybe the best pitcher in the big leagues right now, it's very impressive.”
For Stubbs, and most of the Phillies, it’s not just what Realmuto does at the plate that’s impressive, it’s also what he does behind the plate.
“Just being able to watch [who] I believe is the best catcher in the big leagues catch every day,” Stubbs said, “and watch him receive [pitches], throw guys out, block, all that kind of stuff, it sets a huge precedent for me when I get into the game. So it's been a lot of fun being able to watch him day-in and day-out.”