ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Phillies gave J.P. Crawford a day off last week, telling the struggling shortstop to “work on some things.” Crawford had one hit in his first seven games and looked lost at the plate. Take some time, the Phillies said.
It is too early to say for sure, but that one day may have been enough to turn around Crawford’s season. He homered and doubled on Saturday, helping lead the Phillies to a 9-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays and continuing a strong response to his slow start.
Both of his hits came on two strikes against an all-star pitcher, as Crawford remained poised. He has five hits in 13 at-bats since he spent his day off with hitting coach John Mallee, who put the shortstop through a drill to shorten his swing and keep his hands close to his body. Crawford has not looked back.
“I feel comfortable,” Crawford said after the game. “I don’t feel like I’m getting beat anymore. I can just be myself in the box. I can just be comfortable and just play baseball again. I’m not thinking about getting beat or what side of the plate [to cover] or anything. I’m just going up there, having fun, and playing baseball again.”
Crawford doubled in a run in the second, as the Phillies scored six times to give starter Jake Arrieta an early lead. The righthander allowed two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings. He recorded just one strikeout and walked two. Arrieta controlled the Rays with 14 ground outs. He pounded them with his sinker and induced weak contact.
“He was an absolute animal out there,” manager Gabe Kapler said.
It was enough to give the Phillies their fifth win in a row and their seventh win in eight games. They have won three straight series and are three games above .500 for the first time since May 2016. They can complete their second consecutive sweep on Sunday, when the Rays try to piece together nine innings with their bullpen.
The Phillies, like Crawford, have found their footing after starting the season with a challenging week.
“We’re rolling right now,” Arrieta said. “We’re clicking right now. Everyone is upbeat, having a blast. That’s exactly what I want to see moving forward.”
Crawford batted .043 (1 for 23) through his first seven games, with a .127 OPS. It was not the way he intended to start his first full season in the majors. His homer on Saturday was his second in three games. He has a 1.467 OPS over the last four games. He no longer looks lost.
“He’s in a bit of a groove,” Kapler said. “It’s really nice to see him bounce back the way he did after a tough start. He worked really hard in the cage, and he worked hard from a mental perspective. It’s really nice to see that show up on the field and see him really drive the baseball. We talked about his ability to produce power in spring training, and I continue to believe that the power is in there.”
His second-inning double scored Scott Kingery, who had doubled in Nick Williams. Kingery doubled in another run in the fifth and already has six doubles. The Phillies are 5-0 when Kingery drives in a run.
Cesar Hernandez, Carlos Santana, and Odubel Herrera added RBI singles in the second.
Rhys Hoskins drove in the sixth run of the inning on a fielder’s choice. He beat out a potential double play at first and collided with pitcher Chris Archer, who was covering. Santana dashed for home and beat the throw, which sailed to the backstop. Hoskins was awarded two bases, and the rally was extended. Archer, Tampa Bay’s top pitcher, needed 34 pitches to get through the inning, as he faced 10 batters.
A Phillies win felt secure by the time Williams ended the inning with a ground out.
Two innings later, Crawford led off with a homer against Archer. He crushed it 383 feet to right field, using that smooth, compact swing that he refined on his day off.
The first week of the season made it easy to forget Crawford’s potential. He circled the bases and danced in the dugout with Jorge Alfaro, as they mimicked each other’s moves in a rehearsed celebration. This was Crawford’s moment to savor. He had a day off to prepare for it.
“The first seven games is in the past,” Crawford said. “I don’t even think about that. It’s four [good games] from here on out. We have to keep putting the work in every day to keep those results coming.”