Don't want to face Bryce? Realmuto makes Nats pay

Phillies catcher blasts decisive 3-run homer after Nationals intentionally walk Harper

April 7th, 2024

WASHINGTON -- spent most of last season hitting anywhere from fifth to seventh in the Phillies' lineup.

It is not a bad place to be on a talented team like this, but Realmuto believes he is a better hitter than he showed last year. He spent the offseason working on his swing, hoping the adjustments he made would return him to the top of the lineup. Phillies manager Rob Thomson saw enough improvement this spring that he made Realmuto his cleanup hitter on Opening Day. Realmuto came up big in that spot in Saturday’s 5-2 victory over the Nationals at Nationals Park.

“When I’m right, that’s where I want to be,” Realmuto said.

Realmuto singled and scored in the second inning to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead. In the third, Nationals pitcher Jake Irvin intentionally walked Bryce Harper to put runners on first and second with two outs for Realmuto. Harper has been intentionally walked 51 times in six seasons with the Phillies, which feels light considering his reputation for big hits in big moments. But only four players have been intentionally walked more in that span: Freddie Freeman (57), Shohei Ohtani (56), José Ramirez (55) and Juan Soto (55).

Realmuto took no offense that the Nationals walked Harper to face him.

“I know it comes with the job -- hitting four-hole on this team,” Realmuto said. “It’s more important to take it like another at-bat and not try to go up there and get vengeance or do too much. I just try to treat it like any other at-bat.”

Irvin threw Realmuto two curveballs to get ahead 0-2. Then, he threw Realmuto a third.

Irvin hung this one over the middle of the plate and Realmuto smashed a three-run home run into the visitors’ bullpen in left-center field to give the Phillies a 4-0 lead.

“Just got way too much of the plate,” Irvin said. “The thought process is get something below the zone, see if they’ll roll it over, and I just made a really bad pitch.”

The Phillies are batting .280 (14-for-51) with two home runs and 24 RBIs following Harper’s intentional walks, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Realmuto is batting .318 (7-for-22) with one homer and 12 RBIs in that situation.

But Realmuto is hitting .500 (6-for-12) with one triple, one home run and 11 RBIs in the last 12 such instances.

That’s the type of production that could keep him in the cleanup spot.

“In those spots, where we have [Alec] Bohm and [Bryson] Stott,” Thomson said, referring to the fifth and six spots, “I want people who are going to put the ball in play because there’s usually somebody on base. And now, J.T. is putting the ball in play. So now, you’ve got three guys right in a row.”

Realmuto is batting .333 with two home runs, four RBIs and a .935 OPS this season. He batted .252 with a .762 OPS last year. It was his lowest batting average and OPS since his rookie year in 2015. Realmuto spent the winter figuring out how he can get himself into a better position to hit.

“He’s shortened his leg kick a little bit,” Thomson said. “I think that’s giving him better timing. He’s getting his foot down, not as inconsistently as he did in the past. He’s ready to hit and it’s helping him.”

Realmuto said his swing today feels like it did from 2018-19, when he put up big numbers with the Marlins and Phillies.

“The adjustments I’ve made aren’t anything I haven’t done before,” he said. “I just got back to some things that I was doing. I was putting myself in a better position more often than I was last year. The last two years, I kind of got away from it.

“The biggest difference is my swing direction, my approach, staying to right-center and trying that swing path. Any time I start looking in or cheating to pull, that’s when things go south for me. My front hip leaks early. If my direction is good and to right-center field, that’s when I’m at my best -- and I feel like I’ve been able to do that more consistently.”

The results have been there. It isn’t going to stop anybody from intentionally walking Harper, but it might help the Phillies put a few more runs on the board.