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Slumping Kyle Schwarber continues to top off a struggling Phillies offense

Slumping Schwarber continues to top off struggling Phillies offense originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Phillies offense continued to sputter at the plate Saturday night and the shade tree experts continued to sputter in indignation at manager Rob Thomson’s insistence on leaving slumping Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot.

Given that the Phils lost again, their sixth in a row, 7-4 to the Red Sox at Citizens Bank, that’s understandable. More on that in a moment.

Thomson insisted before the game that his lineup would heat up and there were some hopeful harbingers buried in the otherwise discouraging nine innings that followed.

Batting second, Trea Turner doubled in the first and homered in the seventh. He had been hitting .170 with 19 strikeouts in his previous 14 games.

Batting third, Bryce Harper ripped his first home run in just his fourth game since coming back from Tommy John surgery. Last year, when he came off the injured list following surgery to repair a fractured hand, he didn’t hit his first home run until his 13th game and didn’t really round back into form for a month.

Harper was not available postgame. But he talked Friday about how he can’t use his 2022 comeback as any sport of template for how quickly he might be able to get hot this season.

“It’s totally different,” he explained. “Any time you mess up a hand, it’s really tough to get back from something like that. I’ve never gone through the Tommy John thing, so I’m not sure how it’s going to affect me as I get going. But I’d imagine it’s going to take me a minute to find some timing or pitch selection or things like that. Pitch selection is going to be huge for me. So the more and more you play, the better you usually get.”

Now, back to Schwarber, who went 0-for-5 Saturday night to drop his overall average to .175 with one whiff for every 2.98 at bats.

When Thomson took over as Phillies manager last June his predecessor, Joe Girardi, had used six different leadoff hitters in 51 games. How’d that work out? Well, Girardi was fired at that point, so. . .

Under Thomson in 2022, Schwarber led off all but two of the games he appeared in even though he would finish with a .218 batting average and a league-leading 200 strikeouts to go along with his league-leading 46 home runs. During that stretch, the Phils went from seven games under .500 to qualifying for the playoffs and then all the way to the World Series,

Which is a long way of explaining why Schwarber has remained in the top spot.

Success in baseball often involves carefully navigating the treacherous quicksand that separates panic, patience and stubbornness. As the Phillies have struggled to score runs – three or fewer in 16 of 34 games so far – that’s the nightly dilemma when constructing the lineup.

To the pregame observation that the Phillies need to get more production from the top of the order, the manager quickly responded, “And we will. We’ll also get production out of our two hitter and our three hitter and our four hitter. It’s coming. Trust me.”

He also left himself plenty of wiggle room. He followed his definite-sounding vote of confidence by admitting that he didn’t know how long it would take. And he added that he was committed to this configuration “for the time being” while declining to specify exactly how long that meant.

Here’s the case for continuing to bat Schwarber first: He’s historically a slow starter: .215 in March-April and .192 in May. Thomson said that’s where he feels most comfortable in the order.

The other obvious options to lead off are Trea Turner and Bryson Stott. Turner had been scuffling and Stott is hitting .185 in his last 14 games.

All this emphasis on the top spot is further misplaced because of the reality that the No. 1 hitter is guaranteed to lead off once in the game.

The numbers on the backs of the Phillies hitter’s baseball cards suggest Thomson has some time to let them settle in. Figuring out exactly how much time is the tricky part.