Nick Castellanos

Castellanos no longer trying to be something he's not at the plate

NBC Universal, Inc.

MIAMI — Slowly but surely, Nick Castellanos is feeling like himself again. He might already be there, with the results finally showing up consistently over the last two weeks.

Castellanos homered on the first pitch he saw in his hometown Friday night, launching a solo shot to right-center field off of left-hander Trevor Rogers in an eventual 8-2 Phillies win.

He reacted similarly to last Monday in Anaheim, when he homered to a near identical spot and pointed his finger toward right-center in celebration.

When he's going well, Castellanos' success and swagger is like a bolt of lightning in the Phillies' dugout. It's not hard to see the positive energy it creates.

And he's at his best when hitting the ball with authority the opposite way. That's always been Castellanos' calling card.

Many times when a player slumps, there's no singular reason or smoking gun. Castellanos' situation in April seems a bit different. He became obsessed with staying in the strike zone and honing in on particular spots. He got away from his strengths. He wasn't being the Nick Castellanos that slugged his way to the major leagues, to a $100 million contract and to two All-Star teams.

"Somebody that was more patient and selective," he said of who he was trying to become at age 32. "Somebody who was looking for this pitch in this count, and this pitcher does that. And a lot of the freedom that I would have attacking the baseball went away because my mind was working way too fast.

"I just feel like my swings are more loose, free. Not worried so much about chasing or being so hard on myself with like trying to have a plan. Just go up there with no thoughts and just swing. See ball, hit ball."

The primary reason for the Phillies' unraveling in the 2023 NLCS was constant extending of the strike zone. The Diamondbacks realized that so many Phils hitters were over-aggressively trying to swing their way into the World Series that they stopped coming into the strike zone as much. The Phillies couldn't adjust, whiffing and putting pitchers' pitches into play weakly.

Castellanos wasn't the only player expanding too much in the Arizona series but he stuck out more than most because A) he is always aggressive, and B) he is frequently attacked the same way with low-and-away breaking balls.

"My whole career, I've never had a plan, I've never looked for a pitch," he said. "Basically, the game is glorified batting practice. That's when I've always been at my best. I think I really tried to be something I wasn't at the beginning of the season and f---ed myself a little bit. But I'm getting out of it."

Castellanos is 8-for-23 with three doubles, a homer, four RBI and two walks during a six-game hitting streak. Over the last 14 days, he's hit .265/.333/.510. Not eye-popping, but realistic and valuable rest-of-season production the Phillies would welcome. He hit a combined .214/.259/.376 in his final 75 games last season and first 30 this season.

The Phillies have built a nice cushion already at 27-12 but could especially use a Castellanos hot streak right now with Trea Turner sidelined at least another month with a hamstring strain and Kyle Schwarber day-to-day with back soreness.

"It's not like one moment," Castellanos said when asked when he decided his old way worked better. "It's kind of like ice, it just melts away."

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