Here are 4 goals for the Phils' last road trip

September 24th, 2022

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.

The Phillies plan to pop champagne bottles somewhere during their upcoming 10-game road trip through Chicago, Washington and Houston.

But besides a party celebrating the Phils’ first trip to the postseason since 2011, they would like to see a few other things happen on the road.

Here are four:

1. Harper heats up
If you watched  this week, then you know he is struggling offensively. He entered Saturday hitless in his past 13 at-bats with seven strikeouts. He showed bunt a few times recently, which he occasionally does when he is scuffling, and he argued for a foul tip on a ball he did not appear close to hitting. Harper was slashing .149/.247/.284 with two home runs, six RBIs, nine walks and 26 strikeouts in 77 plate appearances this month. It goes without saying the Phillies need him to return to his 2021 NL MVP form -- and he showed signs of doing so with an opposite-field two-run homer off Kyle Wright on Saturday.

“I think he’s just caught in between right now,” interim manager Rob Thomson said. “It’s just timing and confidence. He’ll get it back.”

2. The bullpen settles
The bullpen has been unsettled the past five weeks. Seranthony Domínguez’s time on the injured list was a big reason why. Everything just fit when he was healthy and pitching well. The bullpen had a 3.64 ERA from the time Thomson replaced Joe Girardi on June 3 to Domínguez’s final appearance before he went on the IL on Aug. 17.

From Aug. 18 through Thursday, the bullpen had a 5.55 ERA.

The Phillies need Domínguez to fix whatever is ailing him on the mound. They need David Robertson, Brad Hand and Connor Brogdon to get right, too. In the meantime, Thomson is becoming more comfortable with Zach Eflin and José Alvarado taking down big innings late in games. They should help.

3. Wheeler keeps building
pitched four scoreless innings in his return to the rotation Wednesday. His four-seam fastball averaged 97.9 mph, 2 mph better than his season average.

Wheeler will make two more starts in the regular season: Tuesday at Chicago and Oct. 2 at Washington. His pitch count could be about 70 on Tuesday and 85 on Oct. 2. Thomson said Wheeler will be turned loose after that, which is good news because “after that” would be Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series.

4. Castellanos returns?
The Phillies and  decided the slugger will not go out on a Minor League rehab assignment before he returns from a right oblique strain. He could be activated during the club's upcoming series at Wrigley Field against the Cubs.

Castellanos slashed .322/.349/.496 with five homers, 15 RBIs and an .845 OPS in 31 games before he strained his oblique on Sept. 2 in San Francisco. It was supposed to be a big loss, but since Castellanos last played, Matt Vierling, Dalton Guthrie and Nick Maton have held down right field. They have slashed a combined .333/.407/.627 with four homers, 13 RBIs and a 1.037 OPS through Thursday.

Could the Phillies platoon in right whenever Castellanos returns? It might be a way to work him back after missing a few weeks.

“The one thing we have to take into consideration is conditioning,” Thomson said. “He hasn't played the outfield in a long time. So there could be days off when he comes back. Just to get him off his feet. We'll see how he performs. If he performs, then I want him out there every day. If he's performing the way he can perform.”