All it took was a look.
With the Phillies leading by one run, the tying and go-ahead runners on base, and reliever José Alvarado unable to throw strikes, rookie catcher Rafael Marchán glanced down to first base and locked eyes with Rhys Hoskins. That was the signal that Marchán was going to attempt to pick off the Marlins’ Miguel Rojas.
“He kind of made some eye contact with me and shook his head, and I kind of gave it back to him,” Hoskins said. “Props to him for even looking for it.”
Sure enough, on the next pitch, Marchán fired a strike to Hoskins, who applied the tag before Rojas could dive back to the base. And although the Marlins tied the game anyway on Garrett Cooper’s RBI single, Marchán’s throw erased an important base runner and helped prevent the inning from blowing up before the Phillies went ahead with a run in the ninth and left Miami with a 3-2 victory and a split of the four-game series.
It was another glimpse into why the Phillies are so high on Marchán, a 22-year-old catcher who was rushed to the majors late last season despite having not played above A-ball and is back now because J.T. Realmuto is on the injured list with a bruised left hand.
Marchán’s defense -- and his confidence in his defense -- belies his experience. Manager Joe Girardi hailed him in spring training last year for his blocking ability. His arm strength is well-known throughout the organization, too. And with bold throws like his pickoff play on Rojas, he showed he’s not afraid to unleash it.
“He’s nails, man,” pitcher Spencer Howard said. “He’s been nails the whole time. I love throwing to him. He’s a great guy, intelligent, and he has a cannon for an arm. Defensively he can play up here with the best of them.”
After making two misplays, neither of which was scored an error, in the decisive eighth inning of Wednesday night’s 4-2 loss, the Phillies had what Girardi termed “one of the better defensive games we’ve played.” That isn’t saying much considering the Phillies, according to most metrics, are the worst defensive team in baseball.
But shortstop Ronald Torreyes’ backhand play in the first inning, left fielder Roman Quinn’s diving catch in the seventh inning, and Hoskins’ heads-up decision to cut off a throw to the plate and redirect it to third base to cut down a runner for the final out of the fifth inning, the Phillies actually prevented runs for a change rather than giving the Marlins extra outs.
“The play in the fifth, I think that just kind of stops the inning,” Hoskins said. “Who knows what could happen if you give those guys another opportunity to hit with a couple men in scoring position?”
And Marchán’s play loomed as large as any.
“The arm obviously is there. You can see it every time he throws the ball,” Hoskins said. “But it’s the instincts, at such a young age at this level, that really stand out. We got a chance to see that today with the back-pick. He understands that maybe we had a pitcher out there that was struggling to throw some strikes, and it’s a big situation in the game. It was an awesome baseball play.”
Jean Segura was out of the lineup for only the second time in 18 games since he returned from the injured list earlier in the month. He grounded out as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning, but rather than keeping Segura in the game, Girardi inserted rookie Nick Maton at second base.
Asked to explain his thinking, Girardi passed.
“Just a manager’s decision,” he said. “And I’m not going to share anything, who’s available, who’s not available, because I think it’s somewhat unfair to us. Just like if you were to do something, you’re not going to necessarily share it with a rival reporter. So that’s the way we’re going to handle it. Just a manager’s decision.”
Girardi caught some flak this week for not being more forthright about Bryce Harper’s status before the Phillies put him on the injured list with a bruised left wrist/forearm. Even though Harper was unable to play Sunday or Monday, Girardi said his absence wasn’t injury-related because he didn’t want to divulge that information to the opposing team.
Access to players is limited because of Major League Baseball’s COVID-19 protocols, otherwise Segura would have been asked about his status directly.
Realmuto is eligible to come off the injured list Saturday, although the Phillies have not determined if he will be ready. The star catcher has been taking batting practice and had what Girardi characterized as “another good day.” ... The Phillies improved to 10-8 in one-run games. ... Hoskins homered for the third time in six games and leads the Phillies with 11. ... The Phillies are in the midst of their first stretch of four consecutive games with scheduled start times of 2:10 p.m. or earlier since May 25-29, 2016. ... After a rare Friday off, the Phillies will play a two-game series at Tampa Bay. Zack Wheeler is scheduled to start Saturday and Zach Eflin on Sunday.