Matt Vierling’s path to playing first base in the midst of a playoff race began 11 months ago on a back field at the Phillies’ spring-training complex in Clearwater, Fla.
Vierling, an outfielder throughout his minor-league career, was attending the Phillies’ instructional league when he persuaded a few coaches to allow him to take grounders on the infield. He started out at first base, then moved to third. It was intriguing.
“I kind of pushed it on the infield coordinator that I can play there,” Vierling said. “It kind of took some convincing to get me to do it. but yeah, I initiated it.”
Gary Jones, the manager at triple-A Lehigh Valley, gave in to Vierling’s request to dabble at the corner-infield spots at the alternate training site in April. But Vierling remained exclusively an outfielder until June 27, when he played third base late in a game. Two weeks later, he made a start at third. The next day, he played first base.
And when J.T. Realmuto was unable to play Tuesday night in Washington, manager Joe Girardi told Vierling he would get a start at first base against Nationals lefty Patrick Corbin. Vierling, using Rhys Hoskins’ first-base mitt, delivered four hits in a 12-6 victory that pushed the Phillies within 2.5 games of the last wild-card spot and three of the division-leading Atlanta Braves, who lost both a game to the Dodgers and second baseman Ozzie Albies to a knee injury in Los Angeles.
“It’s pretty exhilarating,” he said. “Knowing what this team has a chance to do, being able to step in and carve out a role and just getting that opportunity, I’m just really happy with how it went tonight and really happy I initiated that back in October.”
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The Phillies are on a weeklong run-scoring binge unlike any they have had since 1933, when Chuck Klein played the role of Bryce Harper.
Speaking of Harper, he recently told teammate Zack Wheeler that he was “about to turn it on.” Sure enough, as Matt Breen writes, Harper had an MVP-caliber August.
Even before his game-tying two-run homer Tuesday night, rookie catcher Rafael Marchan was making an impression for the Phillies.
Tonight: Aaron Nola starts in Washington, weather permitting, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: The Phillies are off.
Friday: Kyle Gibson starts series opener in Miami, 7:10 p.m.
Saturday: Ranger Suárez faces the Marlins, 6:10 p.m.
Sunday: Zack Wheeler starts finale vs. the Marlins, 1:10 p.m.
Stat of the day
The Phillies have scored at least seven runs in six games in a row, their longest streak since June 19-24, 1933. During that seven-game stretch against the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, they scored a total of 60 runs on 99 hits and batted .394 as a team. Incredibly, they hit only four home runs in those games.
Klein, runner-up in the MVP voting to New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell, had two of those homers, part of a 13-for-29 tear (.448) in which he had a 1.274 OPS.
In these last six games, the Phillies have scored 47 runs on 67 hits and are batting .300. They have hit 10 homers. And Harper is 12-for-24 (.500) with a 1.556 OPS.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: Love reading Extra Innings every day! With rosters expanding on Sept. 1, which players do you think the Phillies will call up? — Donald N., via email
Answer: Thanks, Donald. Roster expansion is a little different this year. Instead of maxing out at 40 players, teams will be limited to 28. Also, because the minor-league season runs through Sept. 19, teams can continue to call up players as they normally would.
I strongly suspect that’s what you will see from the Phillies. They will use the 27th and 28th roster spots as revolving doors based on needs. I would imagine at least one of the initial call-ups will be a pitcher. I think it’s possible Alec Bohm and Mickey Moniak will be back in the majors in September, although perhaps not until after the triple-A season ends. The Phillies want them to play every day.