Kyle Schwarber stood there and tried his hardest to maintain a deadpan delivery.

He was being asked about making a leaping catch at the wall in the fifth inning of the Phillies’ 4-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers Tuesday, an impressive catch for even the best defensive outfielders. For a moment, he surveyed the scrum of reporters who were waiting on his response. And then, with almost perfect timing he said, “Everyone’s a little shocked, I guess, that I can play left field.”

Always astutely aware of what the chatter is about the Phillies, Schwarber, who is the de facto soul of the clubhouse culture for the Phillies, knows that he is a hot button topic of conversation. Why is he playing every day in left, a position he has never been even league average defensively and has only but an emphasis on that subpar range and glove this season? Why does he lead off when he’s hitting .190 and is on pace to strike out 200 times this season?

You name it, if there’s a criticism of the Phillies offense or defense, Schwarber’s name is usually right at the forefront.

But, on this night, Schwarber flipped the script:

His leaping grab at the wall preserved what was, until that point, a perfect game for starter Aaron Nola. The Brewers would finally break through on the next batter as Ramiel Tapia legged out an infield hit on a grounder to shortstop, and the shutout was gone a batter later as Tapia stole second and scored when Brandon Marsh took a circuitous route to a fly ball to the centerfield wall by Andruw Monasterio that landed for a double. But, for a fleeting moment, it was one of those defensive plays that are often made in a no-hitter or perfect game that is talked about and remembered forever as a play associated with those pitching feats.

“I saw in the third or fourth inning that (Nola) had that going on, and when that happened, I was like, ‘Oh, it could be the play,'” Schwarber said. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t.”

Instead, it will just be remembered as one of Schwarber’s few defensive highlights, especially since he is careening toward become a primary designated hitter for the Phillies as soon as Bryce Harper starts playing first base with regularity.

While Schwarber may not be known for his defense, he is known for one thing – and that’s raw power. And he provided that – again – Tuesday with a leadoff homer on the first pitch of the game:

Schwarber has now homered in four consecutive games for the first time in his career. He is the 44th Phillie to do that, and first since Rhys Hoskins last season. He is, however, the first Phillie to ever do it in four straight games as a leadoff hitter, which speaks to the uniqueness of him as an unconventional leadoff hitter that just seems to work for the Phillies.

It was the 26th leadoff homer in his career, and the sixth this season alone. He is on pace for 45 home runs this season, which belies his .189 batting average. He does walk a bunch, and even though his on base percentage (.313) is low for a leadoff hitter, and his OPS (.762) is nothing special for a run producer, Schwarber just fits for the Phillies in a spot normally reserved for table setters.

It’s hard to explain how, or why. It just is. And sometimes, when that’s the case, you don’t question it and just let it go. Manager Rob Thomson often talks about him putting pressure on the opposing pitcher right off the bat. He’s right, it does. He often talks about getting Schwarber that extra plate appearance at the end of a game with the best chance of putting the ball out of the park, if, in fact, the Phillies need that long ball to play catch-up. And again, the manager is correct.

There are many ways to parse Schwarber’s numbers negatively as a leadoff hitter too, and a valid argument can be made to not lead him off based on that data set. But the one thing that can’t be argued is the Phillies record with Schwarber batting leadoff vs. when he doesn’t.

In the past two seasons, when Schwarber has led off for the Phillies, they are 96-69. When he hasn’t led off, They are 38-46. (This only includes games Schwarber played).

The Phillies have now won four straight games. They are 10 games over .500 for the first time all season, they are back in a wild card spot in the N.L. and are only 1 1/2 games out of the top wild card spot, and while it remains a long shot, they have trimmed the Braves N.L. East lead back down to single digits.

And all this is happening with Schwarber as your leadoff hitter.

It doesn’t make sense, but really, do we need it to make sense?

The Phillies are content to ride the wave with him, and at this point, it’s hard to disagree with them doing so.

Classic Noles

Aaron Nola had eight days off between starts, thanks to the All-Star break. He said he took four days off completely where he didn’t throw. Then, upon returning, he picked up a normal routine as if he was on a typical five-man rotation schedule.

The result was a strong start against an admittedly weak-hitting Milwaukee lineup.

His fastball velocity was up a tad. His curveball was sharp. He was filling up the zone and mostly inducing weak contact or actually getting a lot of swing and miss. His defense didn’t help him in the fifth inning, when two runs scored, one unearned, and he seemed to tire a little in the eighth inning, giving up back-to-back singles, one of which would score after he left the game.

But on the whole, Nola pitched 7 1/3 innings allowing just five hits – two infield singles, a double that could have been caught if Marsh took a better route to it, or if there were a better defensive centerfielder out there, and then two singles in the eighth inning. That’s it. He had no walks and six strikeouts and induced 17 swings and misses, the fourth most of any game he’s pitched this season.

Nola credited the success to a mechanical adjustment where he slowed down his delivery. He said he felt like he was rushing his delivery sometimes – and by that he’s not referring to trying to get started in time because of the pitch clock. No, he meant once the delivery began, he felt he was rushing the ball to the plate and needed to slow that down a bit.

It allowed him to have more command of his pitches and keep hitters off balance.

The one negative, in Nola’s mind, is that he may have over-corrected just a bit out of the stretch, making it easier for guys to steal bases on him. Nola has always been more susceptible to base-stealing because of a more deliberate delivery, but he felt that he was so slow that he didn’t give J.T. Realmuto a chance to throw runners out – and it was evidenced by Realmuto registering the fastest pop time of any catcher in baseball this season on Tapia’s stolen base attempt, and Tapia was still easily safe.

Nola said that’s going to be a focus this week to correct that.

First Base Panic

Thomson did Phillies fans no favors by being cryptic about when Bryce Harper was going to debut at first base before Tuesday’s game. Last Friday, Thomson had said Harper was going to play there during the Brewers series, but Tuesday he altered that and said he didn’t know when it was going to happen.

Of course, this sent everyone into a frenzy. Twitter went cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. The yappers on talk radio insisted something was wrong and that the Phillies desperately needed to trade for a first baseman now.

No one really took the time to understand why there’s a delay. Yes, Thomson could have explained it better, but if we all stop and breathe for a minute and piece it together, we’d see it wasn’t a big deal that this is getting pushed back a day or two or three.

  • Because of the doubleheader Saturday and the long rain delay Sunday, the Phillies missed out on getting Harper some more work in fielding practice over the weekend. And, with Monday being a players’ day off, Harper would have only practiced fielding at first base once in the previous 10 days once you add in the All-Star break.
  • Secondly, the Phillies want to integrate him into that position more slowly. Thomson said last week that it would be one day at first and then one day back at DH, just until he gets his feet under him. With that in mind, it would make the most sense to do it against a left-handed pitcher, which allows the Phillies more positional flexibility as they could play Johan Rojas in centerfield against a lefty and keep Brandon Marsh in the lineup as well, in left field while Schwarber shifts to DH.
  • The Brewers were originally slated to start lefty Wade Miley on Wednesday, which would have been Harper’s debut at first base, but Miley went on the I.L. Tuesday, and Milwaukee replaced him in the rotation with a righty, Colin Rea, which also put a hiccup in the Phillies plans.
  • Looking ahead, the Phillies travel to Cleveland after playing the Brewers and the Guardians have not set their rotation for the weekend yet. That’s because they, too, had to put a pitcher on I.L., losing ace Shane Bieber. If they stick with the guys who pitched coming out of the break in turn, the Phillies will face three more righties, meaning they may have to choose to make Harper debut at first base against a righty, but they are likely waiting for more clarity on what Cleveland is doing starter-wise to determine the best path for Harper.
  • All that said, Darick Hall has made an error in three straight games at first base and until a single in his last at bat Tuesday, has looked completely lost at the plate, so the Phillies could just tear up the short-term plan and put Harper out there Wednesday anyway, and improve outfield defense, even if it has a limited bat in the lineup against a righty.

So pump the breaks on the conspiracy theories about Harper not being ready physically, or having concerns about his arm, or the Phillies desperately needing a first baseman. None of that is necessary. This was the result of a perfect storm of the schedule, the rain, and opposing pitcher injuries all lining up to force the Phillies to alter a plan. It’s not a big deal.