Tommy Joseph rewards Phillies' patience with red-hot bat in May

Phillies Nationals Baseball
The Phillies' Tommy Joseph watches his two-run double during the fifth inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Saturday, May 13, 2017.

WASHINGTON - Tommy Joseph celebrated the one-year anniversary of his ascension to the majors by playing baseball. It was Saturday, and he batted cleanup for the Phillies. He singled, walked and doubled. He scored a run. He drove home another.

The next day, he homered. He stood at his locker at Nationals Park and smirked when someone asked him how he had rediscovered a productive swing.

"You are never going to find it," Joseph said.

Joseph is 25, with more perspective than the typical 25-year-old, major-league player. He was a top prospect before being traded, concussed and forgotten. A year ago, he was the minor-league slugger that talk-radio callers demanded be promoted. He produced an .813 OPS in 105 games.


Is it time for the Phillies to call up Rhys Hoskins?

But, when this April ended, he looked at the scoreboard and saw a .179 batting average, exacerbated by a lack of walks (a .222 on-base percentage) and power (a .254 slugging percentage).

He shrugged.

"You look at the end of it and you're like, 'Oh man, I had a bad month.' Well, you know what? I've had bad months where I wasn't allowed to play a baseball game because I was hurt," Joseph said. "So nothing is ever going to compare to that. When the game's taken away from you, even bad months are good because I was healthy and able to play for a whole month. You learn from it and move on."

Patience pays off

The Phillies, with general manager Matt Klentak at the forefront, often preach patience. They request patience of their fans during a tedious rebuilding process. They tell their youngest players to embrace patience at the plate. They have rewarded their manager for his patience in handling a group of unestablished players, who are still learning while at the highest level of professional baseball.

They point to Joseph's first six weeks of the season as an example of how patience matters. Joseph was often behind in the count during his April at-bats. Pete Mackanin, his manager, extended faith by still starting him in 18 of the team's 24 games.

Then, Joseph relaxed. For the first two weeks of May, he was one of baseball's hottest hitters. He had 14 hits in 35 at-bats, a .400 average. Nine of them were extra-base hits. He walked seven times in 43 plate appearances this month, compared to four walks in 72 plate appearances in April.

The Phillies are not requesting that all of their players be passive and hunt for walks. They want a disciplined approach because patience, when correctly applied, can put a hitter in more favorable counts.

Of Joseph's 14 hits this month, 11 came with him ahead or even in the count. Three were while behind in the count. Joseph said that is intentional; he has sought to work better counts.

"I have tried to be more aggressive in my zone and more patient in other zones," Joseph said. "I realize, 'Hey, I can take pitches when they're not there.' When you start to scuffle you want to continue to swing, swing, swing. That's something I'm still going to do because I'm an aggressive hitter."

But he'll pick his spots. Just like Mackanin did. When Klentak sat on a dais in the basement of Citizens Bank Park to praise his manager and explain Mackanin's newest contract extension, Joseph was cited as an example.

An example of patience.

"The fact that Pete stuck with Joseph as much he did in April and allowed him the opportunity to break out in May," Klentak said. "There are a lot of managers who may not have been as patient but Pete was and continued to encourage him and we're being rewarded for that because Tommy is playing better."

Reality check

Joseph was not impervious to the noise. At home, he sits next to Cameron Rupp in the Phillies clubhouse, and they like to joke. They both started the season slow. They both are targets because two prospects, Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro, are aiming for their jobs.

They both have collected important hits in recent weeks.

"You know it's being said," Joseph said. "We're all in here and we're all aware of what's going on, what people think. It's one of those things: We all know it's a long season. Guys can turn around seasons in no time. You have a good week, boom, you're back on track.

"Not to mention, we have a lot of confidence in everybody in this room. That's what you want, you want to have your teammates' confidence in you when you go out to play. That's really what you want. You want to work for that. That comes from work ethic and how you prepare."

Joseph has a full year of service time in the majors, but just 462 plate appearances because he shared time last season with Ryan Howard. Still, Joseph leads the Phillies in home runs (26) since May 13, 2016, the day he debuted. His .810 OPS in that span is tops among all Phillies hitters. That is all despite his dismal April.

Perspective, like the one Joseph has, is important.

"I've definitely had worse months than the one I had," he said. "It's one of those things where I know I've had bad months in my career and I've been able to come out of it and have successful seasons because of it. It's definitely something I've been through, physically and mentally."