The secret to J.T.'s sauce? Hit the ball hard
PHILADELPHIA -- Zack Wheeler did exactly what the Phillies have come to expect from him on Tuesday night against the Marlins -- but the key to Philadelphia's playoff push might be the resurgence of his batterymate.
J.T. Realmuto homered for a third straight game while catching six innings of one-run ball from Wheeler as the Phillies won their sixth consecutive game in a 4-1 victory -- one that featured two rain delays totaling a combined one hour -- at Citizens Bank Park.
The three-game homer streak matches a career high for Realmuto, who has clubbed six home runs over his past 17 games after hitting just seven in his first 76 games this season. His 1.292 OPS during that 17-game stretch is the best in the National League since July 15 -- and trails only AL MVP candidate Aaron Judge across the Majors.
“Nothing necessarily clicked, I just got back to what I'd done well in the past,” Realmuto said. “I went back to the drawing board and really just trusted my approach that's worked for me, really, since I've been in the big leagues.”
The key for Realmuto has been relatively simple: Hit the ball hard.
Realmuto has a 55.8% hard-hit rate since July 15, up from 42.5% prior to that date. Even the outs he's made recently have been scorched. On Saturday, he had a 105.0 mph groundout and a 102.0 mph lineout. The only out he made on a ball in play Tuesday was a 93.8 mph fielder's choice.
“It's hard, honestly. When you're scuffling at the plate, everybody can see it, everybody talks about it,” Realmuto said of his early struggles. “It's not an easy thing to go through. But, for me, I just take pride in the rest of my game when I'm not doing well offensively. I try to focus on my defense, on my baserunning -- still help the team any way I can on the field.”
Realmuto has certainly done that. He’s maintained his elite defense behind the plate, throwing out an MLB-best 17 attempted basestealers, all while swiping 13 bags of his own. Those 13 stolen bases match his career high -- and Tuesday was just his 93rd game.
“Even earlier this year, when he was struggling a bit, it was nice just to have him behind the plate,” Wheeler said. “First and foremost, he calls an awesome game. … But when he gets that bat going, he's just on a different level. That's why he's the best in the game.”
Realmuto's surge could help lengthen the Phillies' lineup even further upon the potential return of Bryce Harper, who still aims to play again this season -- though he may be limited to DH duty.
The return of another regular in Jean Segura has also provided Philadelphia with some much-needed offensive depth. After missing more than two months due to a fractured right index finger, Segura followed up a three-hit game on Sunday with a solo homer on Tuesday in just his fourth game back in the lineup.
“That makes it huge,” interim manager Rob Thomson said of Realmuto heating up as other pieces start to return. “When Harp gets back, and if these guys continue to swing the bat the way they are, our lineup is deep and long.”
Realmuto took it one step further.
“We feel like we're one of, if not, the deepest top-to-bottom lineup in the league,” Realmuto said. “So we feel like we stack up pretty well with anybody.”
Realmuto has not only homered in each of the last three games, but he's had multiple extra-base hits in each of those contests. After tripling and homering on both Friday and Saturday, he notched a first-inning RBI double to pair with his fourth-inning homer on Tuesday.
In doing so, he became just the second player in franchise history with at least three homers, two triples and a double in a three-game span. The other was Dolph Camilli in 1936.
As Philadelphia continues its push to make the postseason for the first time since 2011, it will certainly help if Realmuto continues doing things that the Phillies haven't seen from him much this season -- or from anyone in the last 86 years.
“J.T., I think what you know about him as a competitor is that you get him in a pennant race and he's going to be good,” said Marlins skipper Don Mattingly, who managed Realmuto in Miami from 2016-18. “I think that's what you're going to see a little bit down the stretch.”