Phillies News

Johan Rojas heads to the bench ahead of Phillies-Mets series finale

Cristian Pache will get the starting nod in center field after Johan Rojas made a couple errors Wednesday night against the Mets.

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The Phillies reached all the way down to Double-A Reading last July to elevate Johan Rojas. They weren’t sure if he’d hit but they were positive his glove would help steady their leaky defense.

He responded with several highlight reel quality catches. The possibility of future Gold Gloves increasingly started to creep into the conversation.

Rojas was out of the Phillies starting lineup Thursday night against the Mets at Citizens Park. That came the day after the 23-year-old centerfielder dropped two fly balls, one off the bat of Brandon Nimmo that was scored an error and one by Jeff McNeil in the eighth that went down as a hit.

Manager Rob Thomson insisted nothing should be read into the fact that Cristian Pache was in center for the series finale. It was just a matter of spreading around enough playing time to keep everybody as sharp as possible, he said. And that could be the whole truth and nothing but.

But it’s also a fact that Rojas was challenged coming into spring training this year, told that he didn’t have to compete for a batting title but that he had to demonstrate that he could hold his own at the plate if he wanted to stay in the big leagues. That being a plus defender by itself wasn’t enough.

A quarter of the way into the season he’s hitting .233. More significantly, statistically at least, he hasn’t been nearly as effective in the field.

As a rookie his range factor – putouts and assists per nine innings – was 3.17, significantly above the league average of 2.42. So far this season it’s 2.15, well below the 2.64 league average.

There are many across baseball who doubt that defensive metrics can accurately reflect a player’s skill or contributions in the field. And Thomson is one of them.

“I’m not too confident in (those stats). I trust my eyes,” he said. “I think he’s played fine. There have been some plays where maybe he’s been a little bit too aggressive. But I think we have to take that with a grain of salt, because he gets to more baseball’s than 99 percent of the outfielders in the game. So there are going to be more chances for mistakes.

“He’s overrun a few balls but he’s a good defender and I trust him out there.”

The manager added that he’s comfortable with what he’s getting from Rojas offensively. “He’s getting his base hits. He’s walking a little bit. So he’s keeping his head above water,” Thomson said.

Having the best record in baseball gives the Phillies some breathing room to get at bats for bench players and be patient with regulars who might be slumping. But this is clearly a situation that bears watching.

Rojas addressed his miscues after Wednesday night’s game. “I just have to catch those balls. There are no excuses,” he said per interpreter Diego D’Aniello. “I’ll just come back and work on that to make those plays. The most important thing is to show up and give 100 percent every single day. That’s what I come here to do. I’m thankful to be here. I have to be better.”

Add lineup: Bryson Stott, who has been shuttling between second base and shortstop since Trea Turner went on the injured list with a strained left hamstring, has been the Phillies hottest hitter recently. In his last 14 games he’s hitting .405 with 16 runs scored, 16 RBI and a 1.319 OPS.

Despite that, Stott didn’t start Thursday night. Thomson said it had nothing to do with him being hit on the wrist by a pitch the night before. “It’s tough, but it’s beneficial to get some of these (regular) guys a day off here and there,” the manager said.

Stott ended up getting two plate appearances after entering the game as a pinch-hitter in the eighth. His first time up he walked and scored a run. In the ninth his one-out single drove in Brandon Marsh with the tying run, sending the game into extra innings.

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