Aaron Altherr's diving catch started with Phillies' emphasis on analytics

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Aaron Altherr did not intend to make a catch as he ran to his right on Sunday afternoon and locked his eyes on Denard Span’s line drive. The ball was moving fast and Altherr figured he would corral it after it bounced off the turf.

But Span’s hit kept carrying. Altherr had a play.

“I was able to run in there, dive and catch it,” he said.

The diving catch saved two runs in the sixth inning and seemed to change the complexion of Phillies’ 10-4 win over the Rays. It was another defensive stop made possible by the team’s outfield shifts, as the sheet of paper in Altherr’s pocket guided him to move a couple of steps to his right against Span.

Each outfielder uses a sheet to direct him how to position for each batter. The sheets are made before each game by assistant pitching coach Chris Young and information coordinator Sam Fuld, who use analytics and spray charts to determine where hits will likely fall. Those couple of steps proved essential as Altherr dived with a full extension.

“We pretty much stick to the card that we get,” Altherr said. “The card stayed true to the yardage there that time.”

“The play in right field was tremendous,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “The read, the break, the laying out and the positioning were all spot on.”

Altherr delivered again two innings later with a three-run homer for his first hit in a week. He started the season with just two hits in his first 34 at-bats. Kapler gave him Saturday off to work on his rhythm and timing “without pressure.” The Phillies still had the “highest level of confidence” in Altherr, Kapler said. His home run — a towering shot to left field — was what they had been waiting for. Altherr seemed to have the type of day that can break a funk.

“Hopefully, that means some good things are coming,” Altherr said. “I was just trying to stay positive every day. That’s the way baseball goes. Obviously, if this happened in July or August, it’s really not that big a deal. But at the beginning of the year, it looks a lot worse seeing the average under .100. It is what it is. I think this is the start of something good.”

Extra bases

Tommy Hunter, sidelined with a hamstring injury, will pitch in Clearwater on Tuesday and could then be activated from the disabled list. … Pat Neshek (shoulder) will start a throwing program on Monday and Mark Leiter Jr. (arm) will throw a bullpen session as they work back from injuries suffered during spring training. … Aaron Nola starts Monday against Braves righthander Julio Teheran.