One of Phillies' main spring training focuses shows up in Game 1 win


The Phillies are not a team known for defense but they made plays all over the field on opening day — the routine ones and four flashy ones, all of which came at important times.

In a 3-2, extra-inning win over the Braves, all of them mattered.

Third baseman Alec Bohm, an offense-first player who arrived in the majors last summer with questions about his glove, impressed twice in key moments.

The first one for Bohm was a charging bare-handed pick-and-throw to Rhys Hoskins, who made an equally impressive scoop to nab Ozzie Albies at first base to end the third inning with a man in scoring position.

Later, with runners on second and third in the sixth inning, the 6-foot-5 Bohm snagged a line shot off the bat of Marcell Ozuna and the Braves were again kept off the board.

"Huge, man, huge," said Aaron Nola, who allowed two runs in 6⅔ innings in a no-decision. "If he’s not that tall I don’t think he would’ve been able to catch it. Saved a run or two."

The Phillies won the sort of nailbiter they lost repeatedly last season, largely because of the revamped bullpen and their defense in the final half-hour.

With two outs and nobody on in the ninth, Didi Gregorius made what will be one of the Phillies’ best catches of the year. A popup from Albies took Gregorius full-speed into shallow left-center field for an over-the-shoulder catch. Words don’t really do it justice so here it is.

The most impactful defensive play, though, was the one that ended the top of the 10th. Albies began the inning on second base with nobody out per MLB’s two-year-old extra-inning rule. He advanced to third on a groundball from Freddie Freeman but was cut down at the plate when Roman Quinn and J.T. Realmuto hooked up for a bang-bang play.

Quinn’s throw was not perfect — it bounced a couple of times — but it was accurate and Realmuto did an admirable job of blocking the plate to nail a fast runner. Tough luck day for Albies.

"Defense was a focus in spring training," Joe Girardi said after his 13th opening day as a manager and second with the Phillies. "We asked them to do some things different, kind of get out of your comfort zone a little bit and try our way. They all agreed to do it.

"You’ve got to be ready to play defense and our guys took it in spring training as a challenge and I really appreciate that they did. It’s really on the guys. They took pride in getting better."

They looked better Thursday afternoon but it was obviously just one game in a 162-game season and defense is about consistency. When you look around the diamond, you don't see too many plus defenders aside from Realmuto, but there is a pathway to defensive improvement for the Phillies. Jean Segura, who delivered the walk-off hit, should be better at second base than he was at shortstop. Bryce Harper played very well defensively in 2019, then slipped as he dealt with a back issue in 2020. Andrew McCutchen is healthier than he was a year ago. 

It was a focal point in camp, for position players and pitchers alike. Girardi credited the work of the players, infield coach Juan Castro and first base coach Paco Figueroa, who works with the outfielders. He said new pitching coach Caleb Cotham incorporated some pitcher fielding drills he'd never seen before. Nola mentioned that the pitchers are taking their own fielding seriously.

"Today, unbelievable defense, off the charts," Nola said. "Our defense is a lot better, I believe."

He'll be one of the main beneficiaries if that proves to be true.

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