For Rojas, it's time to let loose and play free

April 13th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Todd Zolecki’s Phillies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

PHILADELPHIA -- It’s time to play.

Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long and spent hours together this spring in Clearwater, Fla., talking and working on mechanics, and approach and everything else that goes into making somebody a better hitter. In his first 11 games, Rojas is batting .161 (5-for-31) with one RBI and a .429 OPS. He did not start for a second consecutive game on Friday night against the Pirates.

“Just let him sit and watch for a minute,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “He’ll be back out there tomorrow, for sure.”

There has been a disproportionate amount of focus on Rojas in the season’s first two weeks, considering he is the team’s No. 9 hitter in a lineup filled with eight National League MVP and/or NL All-Star candidates. But the Phillies have only three hitters in the lineup with a .750 OPS or better: Brandon Marsh (.976), Bryce Harper (.764) and Alec Bohm (.753). Two players besides Rojas have an OPS under .500: Nick Castellanos (.410) and Whit Merrifield (.305).

Rojas should not need to hit .300, much less .250, for the Phillies to win. But he acknowledged Monday that he has been too tentative at the plate. He is thinking too much.

“We talked about playing your game, not playing tight,” Long said. “He wasn’t playing loose and free. Not on the bases, not in the outfield, not anywhere. We said, ‘Until you start playing free and loose, this game is going to eat you up. You’ve got to enjoy the game.’”

Rojas had three hits Monday in St. Louis, including a double that left his bat at 108.1 mph. It was Rojas’ hardest-hit ball for a hit in his big league career. He had another hit on Wednesday, giving him four hits in his last nine at-bats.

“I think he’s good mentally,” Long said. “Mechanically, I’m not going to talk about his mechanics anymore. He’s not going to talk about his mechanics anymore. It’s time to compete. It’s time to get in the box and play your game. Know that you’re better than the pitchers. You work on your mechanics in the cage, you work on your mechanics doing drills. But when you step into the box, it’s not about mechanics. It’s about competing. We’re at that stage with him. He’s done a lot better since he’s gone with that approach.”

The Phillies hit three home runs on Thursday to beat the Pirates, 5-1, but they had only two extra-base hits in a 5-2 loss on Friday. The Phillies haven’t hit for power, but everybody believes it will come.

Somebody asked Harper on Friday if the players were pressing. He chuckled.

“No,” Harper said. “It’s 14 games.”

Long feels the same way.

“Nobody’s worried about it,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I’m not concerned one iota. I’m excited about our team. We’re getting our bearings. We’re getting settled in. We’ll get hot when we need to get hot. Don’t let us do what we’re doing now, and then all of a sudden we get hot because it’s going to be dangerous.”