Matt Vierling realizes he’s an unlikely pitchman.

Vierling was the Phillies’ fifth-round pick in 2018, not a top prospect. He had the inside track on a roster spot, but no guarantees, when spring training opened in March. He went into the season with a total of 71 major league at-bats. Before he got called up last year, most casual fans were more familiar with Yuengling than Vierling.

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So, no, Vierling isn’t offended whenever someone comes across his 60-second commercial on television or YouTube and wonders if it’s some sort of joke.

“My friends see it and they’re like, ‘What the heck’s going on?’” Vierling said with a laugh this week after getting recalled from triple A on Tuesday and smashing a go-ahead, pinch-hit homer against automatic Milwaukee Brewers closer Josh Hader. “I think [Bryce Harper] saw it and was like, ‘What? You’re on TV?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I guess.’ It’s pretty funny.”

The story of how a 25-year-old outfielder with three career home runs winds up in a commercial for an auto insurance company begins with a phone call.

Looking to build an advertising campaign around major league players, CarShield enlisted New York Mets star first baseman Pete Alonso and Los Angeles Dodgers ace Walker Buehler. The Atlanta Braves’ Austin Riley, the Chicago Cubs’ Patrick Wisdom, and the Baltimore Orioles’ Ryan Mountcastle also shot mostly regional spots. All are more recognizable, at least in their teams’ markets, than Vierling.

But Vierling’s agent is friendly with an executive at CarShield, which is based in St. Louis, Vierling’s hometown. That was the initial connection.

“It was a good opportunity for him to get his face out there,” said Jon Einalhori, who heads up marketing for Apex Baseball. “And I have to tell you, for his first time doing it, he was really darn impressive.”

In late March, on a day off in spring training, Vierling made the 45-mile drive from the Phillies’ complex in Clearwater, Fla., to State College of Florida’s campus in Bradenton for the shoot. It lasted a little more than an hour. He thinks he did about 20 takes, taking swings both with his bat and as a thespian by reeling off lines packed with baseball jargon.

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“I’m Matt Vierling, and out here, you can’t afford to be caught looking. That’s why, when it came to preparing for a car breakdown, I called CarShield.”

“I know a thing or two about game-winning hits. CarShield delivers game-winning protection.”

You get the gist.

“I’m not an actor,” Vierling said, chuckling. “We filmed it, and yeah, now it’s on TV. It’s pretty funny.”

Vierling joked that he has a long way to go to match Harper, a brand all unto himself with dozens of endorsement deals over the years. It’s fine. Vierling would be content to simply share the outfield with Harper again someday, although his path will be less direct than before, even involving a first-ever start at second base Saturday against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Phillies gave Vierling an opportunity to lock down the center-field job early in the season after his eye-catching, albeit brief, stint in the majors last year. He had a strong spring training, and with Odúbel Herrera and Mickey Moniak sidelined by injuries, he started 10 of the first 13 games.

But Vierling went 0-for-15 with one walk, one hit by pitch, and a sacrifice fly in his first 18 plate appearances. He was 5-for-29 with one extra-base hit when Herrera returned on April 22. Vierling started only six of the next 16 games and was batting .170 with a .472 on-base plus slugging percentage when the Phillies optioned him to triple A before a May 10 game in Seattle.

The disappointment ran deep. But Vierling also understood that it’s never good when your commercial plays more than you do.

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“You can’t really dwell too much on it,” he said. “You’ve got to go down there and you’ve got to play, and you’ve got to get back to being yourself. I really think going through things like that make you stronger, make you better, make you understand yourself more and your swing more. I’m pretty happy I went through it.”

If Vierling is on the other side now — and judging by his last week in triple A (8-for-17, four extra-base hits) and the swing that he put on Hader’s two-strike slider Tuesday night, he may be — it’s because of a minor adjustment, as it often is, involving the timing of his hand movement that slowed his bat speed.

Vierling impressed the Phillies last season with how hard he hit the ball. He ranked in the 80th percentile in maximum exit velocity (111.5 mph). His hard-hit rate, defined as balls that come off the bat at 95 mph or more, was 53.8%. For context, Harper was at 49.7%; Nick Castellanos and Rhys Hoskins came in at 46.9% and 46.3%, respectively.

Despite the poor results earlier this season, Vierling hit the ball nearly as hard. But he was making less contact, both within the strike zone (83.8%, down from 88.7% last year) and outside it (50%, down from 54.3%).

When the Phillies decided to option Vierling, then-manager Joe Girardi said they may have allowed him to work out his problems at the major league level if other, more prominent hitters in the lineup weren’t also struggling. But the inconsistency of Kyle Schwarber, Castellanos, Hoskins, and others didn’t allow for that.

Vierling relished the chance to play every day. And once he did, he made a discovery.

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“I had a lot of movement in my hands that was causing me to be late,” Vierling said. “I’ve kind of always dealt with that. It’s really hard [to diagnose] when you’re not playing a ton. But when you start playing a ton, you start seeing it, you start realizing it, and then you kind of adjust.”

By comparison, reading lines for a commercial must have been so easy.

At least for the moment, center field for the Phillies belongs to lefty-swinging Moniak, who is getting the bulk of the playing time from interim manager Rob Thomson. Herrera, also a left-handed hitter, continues to get at-bats, too.

But the Phillies entered the weekend with a .642 OPS from their center fielders, below league average at the position (.674). It leaves the door ajar for Vierling, whose versatility is keeping him on the roster for the time being.

Vierling volunteered at instructional league in 2020 that he can play the infield. He got time at first and third base last season and took grounders this week in Milwaukee before playing second for the first time in his life.

“He’s a really good athlete,” Thomson said. “He does a lot of good things. He can run, he can throw, the ball really jumps off his bat. He told me he’s comfortable playing anywhere on the diamond. So, yeah, he’s got a lot of value for us.”

Heck, he can even sell car insurance.

“I think I’ve seen it like twice,” Vierling said. “There’s a YouTube video. My girlfriend sent it to me, and my buddies did. I think it’s kind of weird seeing myself. But no, it was pretty cool. It was fun.”

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