MILWAUKEE — A few days ago, as the Phillies prepared for a game, Bryson Stott offered a calming word to fellow infielder Nick Maton, who had just gotten called up from the minors.
“We’re just back in Scranton,” Stott said, referring to one of the last games they played in triple A. “We’ve all played together before. We’re just doing it here. It’s something we’ve all dreamed of.”
The irony was unavoidable. Here was Stott, a rookie, who will admit he put too much pressure on himself early in the season, telling a teammate to relax and have fun.
Let there be no doubt that Stott — all of the Phillies, actually — is more relaxed now. It wasn’t merely Wednesday night, when he notched four hits, including a two-run homer, from the No. 9 spot in the lineup to fuel a 10-0 giggler in Milwaukee, the Phillies’ sixth consecutive victory.
Over the last five days, Stott has hit his first major-league homer, his first walk-off homer, and collected seven hits. The Phillies have outscored the freefalling Angels and Brewers by a 39-11 margin. And interim manager Rob Thomson, who replaced deposed Joe Girardi last Friday, is the first Phillies skipper to win his first five games since Pat Moran started 8-0 in 1915.
“We’re having a lot of fun. That’s the biggest thing,” Stott said. “We were kind of, not mad all the time, but it was a little different. Everyone’s having fun and everyone’s smiling. It’s been tons of fun.”
Rhys Hoskins, Odúbel Herrera, and Bryce Harper also homered to send the National League Central-leading Brewers to their fifth straight loss and seventh in nine games. Aaron Nola dazzled for eight innings. Kyle Schwarber added four hits.
And if the Phillies can knock off reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes in the series finale Thursday, they will complete their first road sweep since Aug. 30-Sept. 2, 2021, against the sold-for-parts Washington Nationals.
Is it as simple as a managerial change?
“It’s hard to say,” Schwarber said. “Joe’s not here because we didn’t win. We weren’t winning. There’s that reality right in the middle of your face that, man, we’ve got to do better, we’ve got to find a way to win games. It’s on us to change that.”
Once again, Stott set the tone. He has recently worked with hitting coach Kevin Long on a better two-strike approach, widening his stance and eliminating his leg kick to make better contact. Sure enough, after fouling off a two-strike sinker, he got an elevated fastball and hit a two-run homer to right field.
“At first, it felt weird,” Stott said of the adjustments. “I’ve never had a toe tap or a leg kick. It’s getting comfortable.”
Looks like it. Three of Stott’s hits came with two strikes.
“It’s nice to see Stott getting rewarded for all the work he’s putting in,” Schwarber said. “It’s really cool to see the foot-down homer, two-strike approach. Can’t say enough about these young guys.”
Stott also singled in the fifth inning, doubled and scored in the seventh, and singled and scored in the Phillies’ four-run ninth. He admitted he gave a brief thought to the triple that he needed to hit for the cycle.
“For sure,” Stott said. “But I mean, I’ll take the hit.”
A few weeks ago, Stott was desperate for hits. Simply making good contact was all he could do to stay in the lineup, even with shortstop Didi Gregorius on the injured list. Girardi was playing utility infielder Johan Camargo as much, if not more, than Stott.
It’s still going to be a while before we know whether Thomson Magic is a real thing for the Phillies. But Thomson is committed to keeping the young players in the lineup. Gregorius returned a few days ago, but Stott has continued to play, moving to second base in place of injured Jean Segura.
“Obviously it helps getting those at-bats every day,” Stott said. “But not just playing every day is the main thing. Just getting more comfortable and being more relaxed.”
Surely the two things go hand in hand.
“It takes a while for some guys just to get comfortable being out there,” Thomson said. “It’s a different type of pitching, a lot more quality pitching. You’ve got to make adjustments.”
Just like he always did in the minors.
For a second time this season, Nola dominated the Brewers.
Six weeks after tossing a seven-inning, one-hit gem against them at Citizens Bank Park, Nola scattered four hits, all singles, and didn’t allow a runner to advance beyond first base in eight sparkling innings. The Brewers were 5-for-46 (.109) against Nola in the two games.
Nola hasn’t walked a batter in his last three starts, stretching his streak to a career-high 22 1/3 innings. His last walk came in the fifth inning May 21 against the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Gavin Lux. That was 87 batters ago.
Schwarber collected four hits, including an RBI double in the seventh inning, the continuation of a hot streak that coincided with his return to the leadoff spot.
In 10 games back atop the order, Schwarber is 11-for-38 (.289) with 10 walks and a .438 on-base percentage.
“That’s the thing about him and Hoskins at the top [two spots]. They really grind out at-bats,” Thomson said. “They see a lot of pitches. So you get to [Bryce] Harper, and the pitcher’s at 12, 13, 14, 15 pitches. Those guys are doing well.”
Although Thomson wants to give Mickey Moniak “a little bit of a shot” to grab the center-field job, he also wants to keep Herrera sharp.
So far, that doesn’t seem like a problem.
Herrera walked in the third inning and stroked an opposite-field solo homer to left field in the fifth to open a 5-0 lead. He’s 11-for-33 (.333) with three doubles and two homers in his last 10 games.