Phillies Analysis

Realmuto's toughness, Phillies' adjustments in grueling conditions lead to winning trip

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ST. LOUIS — J.T. Realmuto wasn't sure when he went to sleep Tuesday night whether he'd be able to play early Wednesday afternoon.

The turnaround until he'd have to report back to Busch Stadium for the Phillies' series finale against the Cardinals was about 10 hours and he had experienced dizziness, a sore throat and a headache behind his right eye.

Zack Wheeler had spiked a curveball in the seventh inning of the middle game of the series that bounced up and made direct contact with Realmuto's throat. Fortunately for the All-Star catcher and the Phillies, the ball missed anything structural and made contact with the right side of Realmuto's neck, above the collarbone.

The impact temporarily restricted blood circulation, which caused some dizziness.

"Right away, I got pretty dizzy," he said. "The neck, the throat is obviously sore but that's just normal soreness from a contusion, that doesn't bother me. I got dizzy right away and then a headache behind my right eyeball, it was only on the right side. That kind of persisted while I was in the training room after the game, but that went away once I went to sleep.

"Going to bed, I wasn't sure if the headache was going to continue through the night or if it was just going to go away. I slept good last night, didn't get woken up with any pain, woke up and felt fine, texted (head athletic trainer Paul Buchheit) and told him I'd be good to go."

None of his teammates were surprised. Realmuto has earned the reputation of "gamer" and "tough guy" by catching a zillion innings every year and rarely missing time. He's been on the injured list for 10 days in his six seasons as a Phillie despite catching 305 more innings than anyone in the majors the last four.

"That guy's a gamer, man," Aaron Nola said. "I don't think I've seen J.T. ever come out of a game. To get that guy out of the game, I guess you've got to hit him in the throat."

Realmuto didn't just play, he had a big day at the plate. He went 2-for-5 with two runs scored and reached on a two-base error in the first inning on a hard-hit ball to deep center that was muffed in the rain and wind by Victor Scott II.

He also had his work cut out behind the dish trying to navigate the Phillies' pitching staff through grueling conditions that diminished the stuff of the arms on both sides.

Nola battled through six innings without his usual command or velocity. He had to adjust his delivery, cutting down his stride to avoid slipping. The alteration resulted in uncharacteristic wildness. Nola went 3-0 to three hitters in the first inning and walked three on the afternoon. He’s dealt with rain, wind, frigid temperatures or all of the above in his first three starts.

"I think right off the bat, obviously it was kind of difficult, it was wet and slushy on the mound, the balls were wet," Nola said. "But battled through it, dried up there in the sixth, felt better in the sixth than I did all game. It was a grind for sure but we got through it and it was a good win.

"A lot of walks. I've gotta get those down pretty quick. Weather conditions, I mean that's what you get when you play up in the Northeast, right? We've been through it before. We know it's going to turn, hopefully soon. But just keep doing my thing and keep trying to command the baseball, keep my body healthy and cut the walks down. It was a little bit of the weather conditions but still, 3-0 right off the bat to three guys is pretty tough."

Realmuto said these are some of his favorite games to catch because they require figuring things out on the fly with pitchers who aren’t at their sharpest.

“You have to do things differently,” he said. “You can't pitch them like you normally would because the stuff's not as sharp, the command isn't there. You kind of have to try to bite off bigger parts of the plate and just trust that they're going to hit it at guys. You try to get them to swing the bat more often because he’s not going to be dialed in on the corners as much as he usually is.”

The same was true of Gregory Soto, Seranthony Dominguez and Jeff Hoffman, who pitched the final two innings of the Phillies’ 4-3 win. Matt Strahm pitched the seventh and seemed unbothered as he continued to fire strike after strike. He’s thrown 81 pitches this season, 62 for strikes.

Hoffman ended the game and the road trip by inducing a 6-4-3 double play. He rebounded two days after blowing a save to begin the series. Jose Alvarado was down for the day after appearing in three of five games with two hefty pitch counts.

“Gets it done,” manager Rob Thomson said of Hoffman. “Just gives him confidence. I just want to make sure he knows I have confidence in him. Same thing with Soto. Same with all of them. It's all part of managing people.”

The Phillies return to Citizens Bank Park for a 10-game homestand against the far inferior rosters of the Pirates, Rockies and White Sox. And surprise, surprise, weather could be a factor again with rain in the forecast Thursday and Friday.

“We're gonna slug at some point, that's just the way we're built,” Thomson said. “You've got to win these types of games when you're not slugging. And tough conditions, but we got it done. Really good road trip, now we're looking forward to getting home and keep playing.”

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