After the Phillies’ embarrassing series loss in Pittsburgh Sunday, manager Rob Thomson uncharacteristically peeled the paint off the visiting clubhouse walls.

Alec Bohm admitted a day later that the Phillies deserved the tongue lashing. And the team responded with a clean game in a needed 4-2 victory over the Miami Marlins.

It was their way of saying, “We got the message, Skip.”

Then came Tuesday, and the Phillies players were delivered another message, this one from higher above Thomson’s pay grade.

President of Baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, GM Sam Fuld, and the rest of the Phillies front office staff made two trades prior to the MLB trade deadline.

They added All-Star starting pitcher Michael Lorenzen from the Tigers and utility infielder Rodolfo Castro from the Pirates while designating veteran Josh Harrison for assignment. The cost of those trades was infield prospect Hao-Yu Lee to Detroit and Bailey Falter to Pittsburgh. Someone else will have to be removed from the active roster Wednesday to make room for Castro. One would assume it will be a pitcher, likely from the bullpen as the Phillies announced that the plan is to go with a six-man rotation for at least the next two weeks as there are no off days until August 14th.

Both players are nice additions. Lorenzen is having an excellent season as a starter but has plenty of experience pitching as a leverage reliever and could be shifted into that role down the stretch, or into the post season. Actually, the Phillies now have three of their six current starting pitchers who have relief experience in the majors in Lorenzen, Ranger Suarez, and Cristopher Sanchez, which gives them a lot of options when putting the postseason roster together.

As for Castro, he absolutely destroys lefties, and will be a huge bench upgrade over Harrison as a guy who can start against lefties and pinch hit, if needed. Although Castro is a switch hitter, he struggles mightily from the left side. However, as a right-handed batter against left-handed pitching he slashes .277/.341/.559 for a .900 OPS with 14 homers and 33 RBI in 223 career plate appearances. Castro is also just 24 and under team control through the 2028 season.

But in the grand scheme of things, these two trades were additions to the margins for the Phillies. Starting pitching depth/pitching flexibility and a bench upgrade. That’s it. Meaning the message from above to the Phillies clubhouse is a simple one – this one is on you to get right.

Dombrowski refused to discuss any of the Phillies high-end pitching prospects via trade and felt asking prices were too high on veteran bats that could bolster what has been an anemic lineup at times.

Instead, the message was crystal clear – Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, J.T. Realmuto, Nick Castellanos, and Kyle Schwarber – you all need to be better, otherwise, there won’t be October magic this year.

For eight innings Tuesday night, it looked like the Phillies weren’t going to respond to that message in the same way they did with Thomson.

Reigning N.L. Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara, who the Phillies ironically usually hit well, dominated them for those eight innings. It’s not been the best season for Alcantara, similar to most big-name pitchers who have struggled in the new world of baseball designed to murder pitching statistics in cold blood, but he did throw a complete game shutout against Tampa Bay last week and followed suit with dominance against the Phillies, looking much more like the guy who was the best pitcher in the National League in 2022.

But then the Marlins decided to try and help the Phillies by removing him in the ninth inning and turning the game over to their shiny new toy – closer David Robertson, who they acquired from the Mets at the start of their purge over the weekend.

When Robertson entered the game, to face the top of the Phillies lineup, three of those players who Dombrowski’s silent message was targeted at responded.

First it was Schwarber, who led off the inning with a walk, taking a 3-2 pitch that was a ball, but barely so. It was Schwarber’s 12th walk in the last five games. Considering he walked just twice in 13 games between July 2 and July 19, that’s a pretty remarkable turnaround. His 79 walks this season rank second in the majors behind only Juan Soto. It may be unconventional, but this is why Schwarber is a successful leadoff hitter for the Phillies despite batting just .184 this season.

Robertson struck out Alec Bohm, but that brought Harper to the plate with one goal in mind – get pinch runner Jake Cave home and tie the score.

He did just that, driving a ball off the left field wall for a game-tying double, only to be topped by Castellanos, who broke out of his nearly month-long malaise in a big way:

You could see it coming a little bit with Castellanos. His previous plate appearances in the game were much better. He hadn’t gotten a hit in any of them. In fact, they were three ground outs – one was even a double play. But sometimes, even in failed plate appearances, there are signs of doing things right, and the biggest sign in each of those three ground outs was this – Castellanos wasn’t chasing pitches.

In his first at bat, the first two pitches Alcantara threw him were down and away, and Castellanos laid off both. He did swing and miss at a 2-0 changeup, but was expecting a fastball there, and then grounded out on the fourth pitch, which was a strike.

In the second at bat, he laid off another pitch away that was a ball before taking a strike and then fouling off four consecutive pitches, all that were in the zone. The ball that was the double play grounder was a bit off the plate, but it was up and reachable with his swing, and when you are protecting with two strikes its not a terrible pitch to swing at, his problem on that one was he was trying to pull it, rather than go with the pitch, which could have resulted in a better outcome than a double play off the end of the bat.

On his third at bat he did chase the first pitch out of the zone down and away, but then laid off the second pitch in the same location. The third pitch was a change up again that he rolled over, likely looking for a fastball, but again, at least it was a strike.

The final at bat was the homer, driving a hanging slider over the left field wall.

Castellanos talked about his struggles in a very good interview on the radio with Scott Franzke and Kevin Stocker after the game. I recommend listening to both parts:

Adding to the great story about Castellanos were a few things:

  • It was his son Liam’s 10th birthday. Considering how the relationship between Nick and Liam has been played out so wonderfully in the public this year, that’s a really cool gift for his boy.
  • Castellanos is from Miami and maintains a home there, so he had lots of family and friends in attendance.
  • When the Phillies arrived in Miami Sunday night, Castellanos immediately went to his house, called his brother Ryan and his close friend Rudy, who has been his personal batting practice pitcher for years, invited them over to the house and spent more than an hour, late night, hitting in his home batting cage to try and get things right.

It’s a heck of a story (most of it courtesy of Todd Zolecki) for a guy who is easy to root for because of his honesty, transparency and willingness to hold himself accountable. But it’s also a heck of a story that the veterans on this team got the message and realized, it’s on them to get the Phillies where they want to go.

“We’re a resilient group,” Castellanos told MLB.com, “I still think there’s a lot of guys in this clubhouse that haven’t particularly performed the way they personally have wanted to, but everybody does such a good job of being a professional, showing up to work and caring about the right things that we’re able to squeak things out like this.”

And if that’s how the Phillies have to win in 2023, then that’s how they have to win. It’s certainly not ideal, but if there’s a group of players that can make it happen that way, this certainly is that group.

Thomson and Dombrowski simply reminded them of that twice in 48 hours.