READING — Cornelius Randolph stepped up to the plate Wednesday in the most high-leverage of situations: two on, two out, 2-2 game, bottom of the seventh inning.
The first pitch was a fastball high. Randolph, wisely, didn't even think about swinging. The second one was more in his range. He belted a two-run double to the right-field corner.
The 21-year-old Reading outfielder and 2015 first-round pick by the Phillies wasn't doing that earlier this year, during a slow and painful transition to double A. Yet now he is, and consistently. It's been a long process, but despite being one of the youngest players in the Eastern League, Randolph has spent the last two months playing like one of the best, too.
"The first month or so, [against] the experienced pitchers and the cold, he dug a little hole for himself — it was tough. But he never stopped working," Reading manager Greg Legg said. "He's on the right track to go on right where we want. A lot of huge hits for us in the second half — walk-off homers, pinch hits off the bench."
The divide between Randolph's season before and since July 1 is as deep as the Reading outfield is shallow, and is trending in a very encouraging direction:
Four of Randolph's five home runs and 23 of his 39 RBIs have come since the calendar flipped to July. His trick has been a more patient and unflappable approach.
"I'm swinging at pitches that I want to hit and not the pitches that they want me to hit," he said. "They might throw me a change-up down and away — early season, I was swinging at it. Now I'm taking that pitch, working the counts and getting pitches that I actually want to swing at."
It wasn't just change-ups, either. Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development, said earlier in the season that he thought catching up to fastballs was proving difficult for Randolph. The Georgia native said that was actually a generous way of putting it.
"It wasn't that I wasn't catching up to fastballs. It was that I was missing fastballs," Randolph said. "I would get fastballs right over the dish early [in counts], and I was fouling them straight back. Then I'd get another one, foul that one straight back. Next thing you know, I'm down 0-2 and I'm getting their nasty stuff, because they're in double A for a reason."
But then eventually, around midseason, something started clicking.
Legg attributed Randolph's intense work ethic — he's also made major strides defensively, and is hoping ultimately to be able to shift from left to center field, if only for fill-in appearances — for his season turnaround. He also thinks Randolph's natural talent was partly to blame, too; since Randolph can make contact on pitches even well out of the strike zone, he would swing at them instead of waiting for pitches he could drive to the outfield.
Regardless of the exact recipe, something is clearly in Randolph's water now. He has multiple hits in five of the Fightin Phils' last nine games. Entering the final few series of the season, his numbers appear destined to keep climbing.