Jeff Hoffman was released by the Reds last November, released by the Twins at the end of spring training. Signed to a minor league contract by the Phillies, had a 7.00 earned run average after nine appearances for Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Every team that plays deep into October gets contributions from up and down the roster. The Phils are no exception. But none has a more improbable rise to prominence than the 30-year-old righthander. Said manager Rob Thomson: “He’s a huge piece of this. I’m not really sure where we would be without him.”
Hoffman’s story sounds even more like a fairy tale aspect when you consider that his big break came when he was deemed expendable enough to the IronPigs to pitch early batting practice to Bryce Harper, long before the gates opened, while the superstar was working out with the team to rehab his elbow after Tommy John surgery rather than going on a rehab assignment.
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“I’ve been on record as saying that was pretty much the World Series for me at that point,” Hoffman said before Game 6 on Monday at Citizens Bank Park. “(The season) started crazy and it’s kind of ending crazy. This whole year has been unbelievable. I’ve thanked the organization 100 times for the opportunity to come up here and throw to Bryce.
“At least the way I’ve thought about it, I think that helped them overlook some of the numbers I was putting up at Triple-A. I think that when I came up to throw to Bryce, the organization got to see me really for the first time because I wasn’t in camp with them. I think that helped them overlook a few of the things that maybe weren’t as shiny at the time.”
Thomson said the decision to bring in Hoffman (along with Nick Nelson) to help Harper get his timing down came from assistant pitching coach Brian Kaplan. The narrative developed quickly after that.
“He came in and he was 97, 98, really good slider,” the manager recalled. “Harp said he was filthy.”
As it turned out, Hoffman had an out clause in his agreement with the Phillies that could be triggered in about a week. Rather than risk losing him, the front office selected his contract on May 4 and he’s been pitching his way into ever more significant roles ever since.
In his last 23 regular-season appearances his ERA was 1.35. Seven of his eight postseason appearances have been scoreless.
“We sort of eased him into this thing,” Thomson said. “When he first came up, we were putting him in low leverage (situations). Then it graduated to maybe sixth or seventh. Then it graduated to dirty innings and then going back out and finishing that inning off.
“Now it’s to the point where I’m comfortable using him in any inning, including the ninth.”
Funny how things work. He’s pitched himself right into a chance to perform in the real World Series, too.
One of the better Phillies storylines this year has been the way Nick Castellanos, who struggled badly after signing a big free agent contract going into the 2022 season, bounced back to become an All-Star this year.
Before Game 6 on Monday at Citizens Bank Park, he talked about how his relationship with Harper stemming from when they were Youth Olympics teammates ultimately led him to Philadelphia.
“Honestly, I didn’t think during my free-agent process that I was coming here at all,” he said. “It wasn’t one of the cities I was interested in at the time. It really wasn’t on the radar.
“Then Bryce reached out to me and said, 'What do you think? I want this. I want you to be here.’ So, sure, I think that if it wasn’t for him initiating ... maybe I would have still been more locked in on the other cities that had my attention at the time.”
His 10-year-old son, Liam, also continues to share the spotlight. He’s designed a T-shirt — Liam’s Battle Cry Shirt — which will be sold by Clutch Apparel, with proceeds going to the Kisses For Kyle Foundation, which supports children with cancer.
The short features a drawing of Nick and Liam plus Harper, Bryson Stott and Brandon Marsh and sells for $30. “Very proud, for sure,” Nick said. “Any time you’re able to give back it means a lot. Also, that he’s steering it.”