Turner hits ground running in Phillies debut

Shortstop singles twice, steals base and scores; Castellanos' adjustments pay off with homer

February 26th, 2023

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- swore the idea to move closer to the plate and further up in the batter’s box came Sunday morning at BayCare Ballpark, following a conversation with Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long.

A few hours later, Castellanos hit an opposite-field two-run home run to right field.

The homer happened after singled, stole second base and scored in his first plate appearance in his first Grapefruit League game with the Phillies in a 10-8 victory over the Twins. Turner also singled to plate a run in the second. It was a soon-to-be-forgotten Spring Training game, but Turner’s likely impact atop the lineup and Castellanos’ possible resurgence were on display Sunday.

“Our potential is really, really high,” Castellanos said. “But [potential] only matters if you reach it. If we click on all cylinders, we can be really good.”

“I think we’re going to be dangerous when we get everybody going,” Turner said.

There might not have been a more impactful offseason acquisition in baseball than Turner, who signed an 11-year, $300 million contract in December. He batted .301 with a .486 slugging percentage in 651 games from 2018-22.

The Phillies have not had a player with a .301 or better batting average and a .486 or better slugging percentage over a 650-game span since Chase Utley (.301 batting average, .530 slugging percentage) from 2006-10.

Phillies fans are excited about it. They are buying Turner jerseys and T-shirts at the team’s store at Citizens Bank Park at a Bryce Harper-like clip.

Turner jerseys are the team's No. 2 seller, behind Harper. Turner T-shirts are No. 1, accounting for 70 percent of T-shirt sales.

He received a nice ovation Sunday from Phillies fans. Before they could get comfortable in their seats, he singled, donned sliding mitts and started to run. The speedy Turner led baseball with 149 stolen bases over the past five seasons. He could potentially swipe even more bags this year because of MLB's bigger bases and the new rule that limits pickoff attempts.

Perhaps with that in mind, but certainly because Turner has jammed and broken fingers in the past, the Phillies athletic training staff recommended that Turner wear sliding mitts on both hands.

“I despise them,” Turner said. “It’s stupid. You’re biting your hands and your first-base coach has to help you put on the gloves. I don’t like it. I’m not too happy about it, but I think it’s something I need to do and conceded with the training staff [to do]. Last year, in my second-to-last playoff game in San Diego, I dove back and jammed my finger. The fingers are fine. Nothing is bothering me. It’s just more so going forward."

Castellanos slashed .263/.305/.389 with 13 home runs, 62 RBIs and a career-low .694 OPS last season. He wasn’t happy for a lot of reasons. He certainly wasn’t comfortable. But he entered camp with a refreshed mindset. Maybe the swagger is back.

“I feel like I’m in a more relaxed spot at the plate,” Castellanos said.

He certainly is closer to it.

“[Long] asked me, ‘How many times do you feel a fastball in the zone has been blown by you?’” Castellanos said. “I said ‘Not very many.’ Then he said, ‘How many times do you feel like you’ve expanded off the plate because you feel like you need to attack away?’ I said a lot. … I don’t feel like I have to attack the outside corner as much.”

And moving up in the box?

“Just to get that slider a little bit higher,” he said, smiling. “Obviously it’s Day 1. There’s no one secret thing. Simple things, but sometimes the game makes you complicate things.”

It will be a long time before everybody gets to see what this lineup could do together. Harper might not return from Tommy John surgery until June or July. The rest of the projected Opening Day lineup is not expected to be together for a while, too. Rhys Hoskins has not played this spring as he works his way back from a meniscectomy on his right knee in December, though he could play as early as Friday. Turner, Kyle Schwarber and J.T. Realmuto leave early next week to play for Team USA at the World Baseball Classic.

But Sunday offered a glimpse of what might be. Spring is a time to be optimistic, right?

“It’s a long lineup, and there’s a lot of damage out there,” manager Rob Thomson said.