Rojas has the night he needs, Turnbull making Phillies look smart

Rojas has the night he needs, Turnbull making Phillies look smart originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

ST. LOUIS — One of Johan Rojas' biggest supporters, perhaps the biggest, is the man who matters most: his skipper.

Rob Thomson took a quick liking to Rojas last summer, noticing immediately how much the 23-year-old's defensive wizardry helped the Phillies prevent runs, and he's vouched for him ever since.

It was easier last season when Rojas was hitting. Though he was never viewed as much of an offensive prospect, Rojas batted .306 in 354 plate appearances at Double A to earn a promotion to the majors, then he outperformed all expectations as a Phillie by hitting .302 in 164 regular-season plate appearances.

It all fell apart in the playoffs as he went 4-for-43 with one walk and 15 strikeouts. Pitchers found ways to exploit him and he was unable to adjust.

The Phillies, after that experience, told Rojas he would need to earn the center field job in spring training. They had him make mechanical adjustments at the plate. They wanted him to focus on pitch recognition. They needed him to become a better bunter.

The results were not there in Grapefruit League play, and they weren't there in the first nine games that counted, with Rojas entering Monday night 1-for-22 for a batting average of .045.

Suffice it to say, he needed a night like Monday. He had three hits, including a double that was the hardest-struck ball of his brief career, and made a sensational diving catch in a 5-3 Phillies win.

"First of all, I'm thankful just to be here," he said. "I'm going to keep working hard every day no matter what happens. What I can control is I can go out and give my everything every single day. Just be myself every day and try to help the team win."

Rojas singled in the Phillies' first run in the fifth inning after Brandon Marsh and Garrett Stubbs had singled themselves. The Phillies have gotten meager production out of their 7-8-9 spots this season but that was the group that fueled the first rally.

Trea Turner singled in a second run, then neither team scored until the bottom of the seventh when Ivan Herrera homered off Seranthony Dominguez to cut the Phillies' lead to one. Marsh added a solo home run in the ninth for insurance, then the Cardinals tied the game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when Masyn Winn singled off Jeff Hoffman.

The Phils won the game in the 10th inning thanks to an Alec Bohm RBI double and Bryson Stott sacrifice fly. They were in that position in the first place because of Rojas' all-around game and a second straight strong start by Spencer Turnbull.

"Any time you have a night like that after his start, I think he kind of exhaled a little bit," Thomson said of Rojas. "I feel happy for him. Feel happy for Turner, too, he had a big night."

Turner went 3-for-5. On Sunday in D.C., he struck out in his first three at-bats then nearly hit a game-tying homer in the ninth, flying out to the wall in left.

The Phillies are 5-5 on the season and 2-0 behind Turnbull, who has not allowed an earned run over 11 innings while striking out 13. He had all of his pitches working again Monday, particularly his new sweeper. Turnbull throws two different sliders now and is happy with how the sweeper has played.

"I think it's definitely helping a lot, it gives me an extra weapon. I think it's my favorite weapon so far," he said. "And it's something I've been able to quickly trust and rely on when I'm in a hole, when I need a swing-and-miss or when I need to attack with something behind in the count.

"I played around with it in a couple of rehab starts last year, I think I threw it once in a rehab start in September and then I tinkered with it in the offseason, just kind of fine-tuned a few things with it in spring training."

There was a ton of talk this offseason about how many pitches the Phillies chased as their 2023 season ended. So far, Turnbull's ability to coax the opposing lineup into doing so has made a big difference.

In his first start last Tuesday against the Reds, he struck out seven on four different pitches, utilizing up-and-away fastballs and a diving changeup to lefties with breaking balls that fell below the zone to miss bats.

On Monday night, it was more of the same, with Turnbull inducing some ugly swings on pitches that weren't even close by Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Gorman and Jordan Walker, among others.

"It's obviously helpful if you can get some chase," he said. "I think that's just a testament to the coaching staff and (catcher Garrett Stubbs) calling some good pitches, setting some things up really well.

"I'm very happy, very pleased with it. Very satisfying feeling. Hopefully, we can just keep it rolling."

Turnbull will make at least another handful of starts in the No. 5 spot for the Phillies, who have Taijuan Walker (right shoulder impingement) beginning a rehab assignment Thursday with Triple A Lehigh Valley. The Phillies' decision to sign Turnbull to a one-year, $2 million contract with up to $2 million more incentives is already paying off. And he's not even fully extended yet. He felt some fatigue after firing six scoreless innings in St. Louis.

"My velo's a little down right now, honestly. I think it's going to keep climbing as I'm getting used to being stretched out," he said. "I think it was up to 96 (mph) my last start in spring training. It's in there, it's just kind of getting used to being stretched out longer. I feel like right now I'm kind of in that middle of spring training phase. But I'll take that movement and location over a couple ticks of velo any day."