SARASOTA, Fla. — The eighth inning of a mid-March Grapefruit League game is about as inconsequential as they come, but it will be hard this spring to top what Nick Williams did.
The Phillies outfield prospect bashed an opposite-field home run in the top of the eighth of a 6-4 loss to the Orioles. Then, in the bottom half, he sprinted to the right-field corner and robbed Baltimore's Logan Schafer of a homer.
"That," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said, "was a 'wow.' "
Williams will not break camp with the Phillies, but there is some relevance to his spring performance, which has been impressive, because of how last season ended. He finished in a horrible slump at triple-A Lehigh Valley. It cost him a chance at a September call-up.
He is 8 for 21 this spring with two walks against five strikeouts.
"He's kind of on a mission to get to the big leagues," Mackanin said. "He's having a real good spring. He's been playing with energy and a real positive attitude, which I think is important for him. He's put that behind him, which is the right thing to do."
Williams, a former wide receiver in high school, said it was the first time he pulled back a homer. He likened it to a jump ball on a deep pass.
"I took off with my head down," Williams said. "I knew it was going to be a close play at the wall. Just right off the bat. It's a feeling, an instinct. Seeing where the wall was, I jumped. I knew it was going over. But I timed it."
Brock Stassi continued his bid for a bench job with another home run. Stassi leads the team with four Grapefruit League homers. He is hitting .407/.484/.889 in 31 plate appearances.
Jeremy Hellickson struck out six of the first eight Baltimore batters he faced, but the Orioles solved him the second time through the lineup. Hellickson said he threw a few too many fastballs; Baltimore tagged him for five runs in four innings. Hellickson threw 76 pitches.