A lot of guys have gotten credit for the Phillies’ recent winning ways. Kyle Schwarber was named National League Player of the Month, Rhys Hoskins has caught fire, and the entire bullpen has been lights out for two weeks. Above all, Interim Manager Rob Thomson has had his team on a winning track ever since the reviled Joe Girardi was ousted. The Phils have pulled within 2.5 games of a wildcard spot, and fans are riding high despite Bryce Harper’s broken thumb. Lost in all of this hoopla is one man that the Phillies have needed every step of the way: Matt Vierling.
Vierling began the season as the Phillies’ everyday center fielder as both Odúbel Herrera and Mickey Moniak were on the shelf. He was off to a brutal start through April and early May, slashing a miserable .170/.259/.213 through his first 54 at-bats. On 11 May, when Herrera returned, Vierling was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
His story doesn’t end there, however, as he earned himself a promotion back to the majors on 7 June. Vierling propelled the Phils to victory on his first night back, taking the best closer in the game, Josh Hader, deep in the ninth inning to give the Phillies the winning run. Since then, Vierling has kept on producing.
He’s secured himself semi-regular playing time over the past month, appearing at all three outfield positions, as well as first, and even second and third base. This newfound versatility has been crucial for Rob Thomson’s squad, as he’s able to plug Vierling into nearly any position on the diamond to give someone a day off, or move him around late in games to maximize his bench.
The 25-year-old has been coming up clutch for the Phillies lately. He had an outstanding diving catch in right field during last Sunday’s victory over the Padres. He came through with a crucial RBI double on Friday night, and even knocked in two runs during Saturday’s heartbreaking loss. Remember the putrid slash line that he posted over the first month-plus? He’s completely flipped the script since returning to the majors, bringing his season line up to .245/.330/.378, and now has his OPS up to .708. He also provides solid wheels and a decent glove all over the field, making him the perfect utility option off the bench.
Vierling doesn’t look like a flash in the pan, either. He’s made significant improvements in his underlying numbers that suggest he can carry this success into the future. His BB% currently sits at 11.4, well above the league average of 8.3, and his 19.5 K% is significantly below the league mark of 22.2. He’s spraying the ball to all fields, taking 44.0% of batted balls to center field, compared to 27.4% to left and 28.6% to right. With this new contact-oriented approach and a more discerning eye at the plate, Vierling should be able to keep getting on base consistently when called upon.
Joe Girardi fell in love with Johan Camargo early on this year, and he rode that till the wheels fell off. Now, with Camargo on the Injured List with a right knee strain, Vierling has stepped into a utility role quite nicely. He shouldn’t be playing every single day given that he struggles against right-handed pitching, and the Phillies have other options, but he’s seen a deserved increase in playing time. If the Phillies are able to weather the storm of Bryce Harper’s broken thumb and stay in the playoff hunt, it’ll be due in no small part to the contributions of Matt Vierling.