Connor Brogdon had a good feeling Tuesday afternoon that he was receiving his call to the majors when his phone flashed the name of Josh Bonifay, the Phillies’ director of player development.
But Brogdon, a 10th-round pick in 2017 who defied the odds to answer that call, was conflicted. He was in the middle of playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive - a popular computer game - and could be suspended by the game’s online community if he paused or tried to quit.
“So I had to flip one earphone off as best I could and listen,” Brogdon said Wednesday.
The Phillies called on Brogdon, a 25-year-old right-hander with a 97-mph fastball, to help their bullpen, which entered Wednesday with the highest ERA, WHIP, and opponent’s batting average in the major leagues.
Brogdon had a 2.61 ERA last season in 51 games across high-A Clearwater, double-A Reading, and triple-A Lehigh Valley. He was one of a handful of relievers the team stashed at its alternative training site in Allentown, knowing that their services would likely be needed in 2020. And Brogdon was the first to get the call to the big leagues.
He just had other business to finish first.
“I had to finish it out as best as I could,” Brogdon said. “It was tough because obviously I’m trying to focus on what Josh is saying and then still compete in the game. I’m pretty sure my teammate was pretty mad at me.”
Brogdon grew up in Madera, Calif. and started his college career at nearby Fresno City College. He moved two years later to Lewis-Clark State, an NAIA school in Idaho, and made 12 starts for its 2017 national championship team.
The Phillies drafted Brogdon that June - 293rd overall - and gave him a $5,000 signing bonus. Brogdon tried to make his money last through his first offseason.
“After taxes, I think I got about 3,200 bucks,” he said. “You could imagine that it didn’t last too long.”
Brogdon played at two small schools, and his signing bonus came with no guarantee that his journey would reach Philadelphia. The Phillies quickly moved him to the bullpen, and his ability to handle that transition put him on track to the majors. He started last season with Clearwater but was in triple A by June.
He narrowed his arsenal as a reliever and focused on his changeup, a pitch that appears major-league ready. He has since added a cutter -- which Brogdon labeled a “cut-slider hybrid” -- to mix in with his fastball and changeup.
He has a 2.85 ERA in 98 minor-league games with an efficient 11.5 strikeouts and 2.3 walks per nine innings. He became one of the farm system’s top relievers thanks to a penchant for throwing strikes.
It also helped that his fastball velocity spiked to the mid-90s in his relief role after sitting in the low-90s as a college starter.
“I think it just came with the mindset that as a starter I need to pace myself for five, six innings and get deeper into the game. Then when I transitioned to the ‘pen, I’m in here for five or six hitters. I don’t need to pace myself. I can kind of just let it eat,” Brogdon said.
An hour after speaking with Bonifay, Brogdon received a phone call from Jameson Hall, the Phillies’ coordinator of team travel. The team wanted him at Citizens Bank Park in 90 minutes. Brogdon rushed to pack at the ballpark in Allentown and drove to Philadelphia.
It was “kind of a panic,” he said. A day that started out playing video games became a whirlwind thanks to one phone call. And how did that game finish?
“We got dusted,” Brogdon said of the final video game he played before reaching the major leagues.
Scott Kingery was out of the lineup Wednesday after going 0-for-5 Tuesday as his batting average dipped to .100 and his OPS fell to .263 through 43 plate appearances. Phil Gosselin started at second base. ... The Phillies did not know whether Spencer Howard or Vince Velasquez would start the series opener Friday against the Mets. ... Jake Arrieta will pitch in the series finale Thursday against Orioles righthander Thomas Eshelman, who was the Phillies’ minor-league pitcher of the year in 2017.