Brandon Marsh missed a month of Spring Training following minor knee surgery. He said it felt like he missed an entire season.

But he was back Wednesday making his 2024 Grapefruit League debut in the Phillies’ 4-1 win over the Detroit Tigers, and he did everything – including catching the ceremonial first pitches.

“It felt great to be out there,” he said. “It was the best 0-for-2 ever.”

OK, he didn’t get a hit. But he didn’t have to. Just having him back on the field was exciting for the Phillies. In fact, the first play of the game was a short fly ball to left field that required Marsh to get on his horse and sprint to make a nice charging grab for the first out of the game.

It confirmed Marsh’s belief in the baseball gods.

“It showed that they’re still there,” he said. “I was expecting the first ball to find me somehow.”

The two at bats were pretty solid. Marsh worked a full count off Tigers starter Jack Flaherty before hitting a 93.3 MPH groundball to shortstop for a ground out. His second at bat was a five-pitch duel that resulted in a 93.8 MPH flyout to centerfield.

“All in all, it was a solid day and we checked the boxes we needed to check and the hits will come later.”

(Note: I wonder who shows up at more games in a season, Cindy Webster or The Philly Sports Guy? I bet it’s really close.)

The only thing the Phillies need to do is get him some regular time in the final two weeks of Spring Training. Manager Rob Thomson said his plan is to have Marsh DH for two at bats Thursday just to keep him off his feet, but that it shouldn’t take long to get him up to speed.

Marsh said he took close to 40 at bats in simulated games on the back field, so he doesn’t feel like he’s behind at all.

“His at bats have been really good, so it’s really about building innings on defense an running bases and stealing bases, so he’s coming along just fine,” Thomson said.

Nola sharp in his third Spring start

Aaron Nola pounded the strike zone Wednesday. He threw 62 pitches, 45 of them for strikes.

He was really effective as well, with the lone “real” hit being a solo homer to dead center by former Phillie Matt Vierling in the top of the fourth. The other hit was a weak grounder by Gio Urshela to shortstop Trea Turner that resulted in a high throw to first base and pulled Bryce Harper off the bag. There is rarely a statistical review in Spring Training games, so the ruling of a hit stood, but it’s a good bet that with a good throw by Turner, Urshela would have been out at first.

“I thought he was outstanding,” Thomson said. “Other than one pitch that leaked out over the plate to Vierling, he was in complete command. He was throwing strikes, getting ahead, putting people away and getting soft contact. That’s Nola.”

Nola had five strikeouts, two walks, and induced a double play in 4 2/3 innings of work.

“I felt really good,” Nola said. “The two walks were kind of around the plate, which I’m OK with. Other than that I got some weak contact – except for Vierling.”

Vierling made some really good contact in all three of his at bats, the first two off Nola had exit velocities of 102.1 and 105.5 (the HR). His third at bat, against Seranthony Dominguez, he scorched a 106.9 MPH grounder to Alec Bohm, who fielded it cleanly at threw him out at first base.

“If anybody on that team had to get one off me today, I’d rather it be him,” Nola said.

While Nola was feeling good about all of his pitches Wednesday, he was really happy with his change up.

“I feel like the plan is always to lean on the change up,” Nola said. “It’s always a feel pitch for me. I feel like it takes a little while to get dialed in. It was better today than the previous starts this Spring training. I’m gonna keep trying to get real consistent with that pitch.”

Nola said he’s scheduled to make two more starts this spring – likely during a split squad game Monday against either Pittsburgh or the New York Yankees, and then on Saturday March 23 against the Yankees, which would put him in line to start on Opening Day – if the Phillies choose to go that route.

Nola added that his he’s like to get up to six innings and 85 pitches in those two starts to be ready for the regular season.

News and notes

  • Before the game Wednesday, the Phillies reassigned three pitchers – Mick Abel, Ryan Burr, and Tyler McKay – to minor league camp. Abel, 22, gave them 2 2/3 innings of perfect baseball this Spring, striking out four of the 10 batters he faced in two games. There’s a very real chance that Abel makes his Major League debut later this season.
  • Whit Merrifield wasn’t scheduled to be in the lineup, but a late scratch of Kyle Schwarber (groin tightness), had him inserted into the designated hitter role. All he did was hit his second homer of the spring. No biggie.

  • Schwarber seemed slightly gimpy when he left the Phillies clubhouse with his groin injury. Manager Rob Thomson said Schwarber took batting practice but started to feel tightness in the workout room after BP. Thomson said pulling him from the lineup was precautionary, but he expects Schwarber to be back in the lineup Thursday. He’ll take two at bats and then Marsh will replace him. Thomson added that if Schwarber is still feeling tightness tomorrow, he will pull him from the lineup again, but he doesn’t think that will be the case.
  • Kody Clemens, Edmundo Sosa and Darick Hall turned a really impressive double play in the top of the eighth inning to save a run. Clemens made a diving stop of a hard ground ball at third base, fired it from his knees to Sosa at second who in turn got the throw off with great quickness and Hall made a big stretch to hold the bag at first to complete the double play. Clemens then led off the bottom of the eighth with a triple and scored the winning run on a wild pitch but Detroit reliever Will Vest. The Phillies used 44 different players last year and 56 in 2022. It’s this kind of depth that can make a difference for a contending club.
  • Thomson gave an update on a number of pitchers. Cristopher Sanchez is slated to pitch Friday against Houston while Taijuan Walker stays behind to pitch in a sim game the same day. He said the only reasoning for this was the trip is on the Eastern part of Florida and they didn’t want Walker to have to sit on a bus that long because of his knee, which caused him to miss some time with soreness. That, and Sanchez wants to take the trip and pitch against Houston. The reasoning is fine, but I’m not 100 percent sure it passes the smell test. Walker was already behind to begin with and the Phillies are now skipping a chance to pitch against another team. Yes, a sim game does a nice job of impersonating game conditions, but that means he may only get 1-2 more starts before the regular season.
  • Thomson said Dylan Covey (shoulder) will start the season on the I.L. Additionally, Michael Rucker, who the Phillies acquired from Chicago, hasn’t pitched in almost two weeks because of numbness in his finger. The Phillies were concerned enough to send him to Philadelphia to get looked at by doctors. Guess he’s not winning one of those last bullpen jobs either. Finally, Orion Kerkering, who has been one of the Phillies who caught the flu bug that was ravaging the clubhouse, is still dealing with lingering effects of those symptoms even though he’s been back around the team for a few days. Thomson said the plan for him to pitch again is on the weekend, but no specific date was provided.