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The unlikely contributor who is helping the Phillies’ playoff push | Extra Innings

A year ago, Matt Vierling wasn’t on the big-league radar. But now he’s playing an important role thanks to some versatility he added last offseason.

Matt Vierling has proven valuable as a first baseman against left-handed pitchers and as a late-inning defensive replacement in the outfield.
Matt Vierling has proven valuable as a first baseman against left-handed pitchers and as a late-inning defensive replacement in the outfield.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

A year ago, Matt Vierling was getting ready to report to Clearwater, Fla., for the Phillies instructional league to make up for lost time after the pandemic canceled the minor-league season. He struggled in 2019 and was certainly not on the major-league radar when he arrived to Florida last fall.

Yet now he’s playing a vital role for a team trying to push its way into the postseason. He had a pair of hits in Wednesday’s 4-3 win over the Orioles to keep the Phillies three games back of Atlanta. And he made what was perhaps a game-saving catch at first base, the position the natural outfielder told the Phillies he could play when he reported last year to the instructional league.

“It was straight reaction,” Vierling said of his diving catch in the eighth inning. “Just put the glove out there and it went in there, luckily. It was great.”

Since returning this month to the big leagues, Vierling has given the Phillies a solid pinch-hitting option who can also play all three outfield positions and first base. His time at first has been important because it allows Joe Girardi to sit Brad Miller against left-handed starters, which he did on Wednesday night.

“He came up here and hit his stride,” Zack Wheeler said. “It’s nice to see. He’s swinging it and can play all over the place. It’s always nice when you get one of those guys who has good speed. He just keeps his head down and plays hard. That’s all you can ask for.”

A year ago, it didn’t seem like Vierling would be making key plays in a postseason chase. But he forced his way to Philly and is holding his own.

“I’m just kind of going with it,” Vierling said. “I thought about it a little bit, speaking up and saying I can play first base and infield and kind of convinced them to put me there. They finally did and I’m just proud that I did that because I know I’m in a good spot and I want to stay in a good spot.”

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The rundown

Dave Dombrowski denies that the Phillies reprimanded their minor leaguers for wearing wristbands to protest low pay, Scott Lauber writes.

Ten years, 1,222 games, and no playoffs: The Phillies’ Jean Segura hopes to finally break through. First, he said Phillies have to change their mind-set against losing teams.

Why would anyone pitch to Bryce Harper? Rare plate discipline fuels his MVP bid, Scott Lauber writes.

Important dates

Tonight: Aaron Nola opens four-game series vs. Pirates, 7:05 p.m.

Tomorrow: Kyle Gibson starts the second game of the series, 7:05 p.m.

Saturday: Ranger Suárez starts vs. Pirates right-hander Wil Crowe, 4:05 p.m.

Sunday: Phillies use a bullpen game for the series finale, 1:05 p.m.

Monday: Phillies are off.

Stat of the day

Could Zack Wheeler win the Cy Young Award? He’s making a case. He struck out nine batters on Wednesday night to bring his season total to 240, which ties him with Steve Carlton (1974) for the 11th-most by a Phillies pitcher. He is averaging 10.47 strikeouts per nine innings in 31 starts this year. The only pitcher in franchise history who has posted a season with a higher strikeout-per-nine mark while making more than 30 starts was Curt Schilling in 1997, who struck out 11.29 batters per nine innings. Wheeler leads the majors this season in strikeouts (240) and innings pitched (206⅓) in 2021. The last pitcher to lead the majors in both was Max Scherzer in 2018.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.

Question: “Wouldn’t it make more sense to have Matt Moore start these bullpen games? I know he hasn’t been great but if the Phillies could get 3 or 4 innings from him it would at least save some bullpen arms.” — Steve C. via Twitter.

Answer: Thanks, Steve. First, Moore tweaked his back during batting practice on Wednesday afternoon so stay tuned for an update on him. If he’s injured, the Phillies will make a move before Thursday’s game. But I agree with your thinking. I liked the way they approached Tuesday’s bullpen game by having Adonis Medina pitch into the fourth inning. Joe Girardi said Wednesday that Medina is an option for Sunday. I would start him again, hope he can give you three or four innings, but keep a close eye on him and lift him if trouble arises. The Phillies, if they’re in the race next week, are going to need their bullpen in Atlanta. So finding some rest on Sunday would be ideal.