As the now famous paraphrase to an Alexander Graham Bell quote says, “when one door closes, another one opens.”
In the Phillies’ case, the door on Domonic Brown’s season and career in Philadelphia may have finally closed after the outfielder suffered a concussion last week at Citi Field against the Mets.
The door on the Major League career of Aaron Altherr has subsequently flown wide open.
We saw our first glimpse of “life after Brown” last weekend in Boston. With Brown in Philadelphia undergoing treatment, Altherr got the nod to start in right field for all three games of the series with the host Bosox.
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Interim manager Pete Mackanin seemed to be favoring the 24-year-old in each game in order to get the youngster as many at-bats as possible with just three and a half weeks left in the season.
When Altherr was originally promoted, Mackanin seemed to be treating the outfielder with kid gloves, keeping him out of the starting lineup against right-handed pitchers, and electing to go with the disappointing Brown in the outfield.
Those days appear to now be over. “He’s going to play and be playing a lot,” Mackanin was quoted by Jordan hall at CSN Philly. “I want to get a good look at him, the front office, we all want to get a good look at him. He’s obviously made a great first impression. Because of that, he’s going to keep playing.”
Altherr has started 9 of the Phillies’ last 10 games, with 6 of those starts coming against right-handed starting pitchers. Altherr has hit right handers well since his promotion, posting a slash line of .333/.405/.606 with an OPS of 1.011 to go along with five extra-base hits.
Surprisingly, the righty Altherr has struggled thus far against lefthanders, compiling a slash line of just .130/.160/.304 in 23 at-bats. Overall in 2015, Altherr is batting .294 against left-handed pitching in 126 at-bats, but 103 of those came in the minor leagues. The Phils have to be expecting that Altherr’s numbers against lefties will steadily improve the more that he faces them.
Altherr isn’t the only Phillies’ righthanded hitting rookie who struggled against left-handed pitching. Before suffering a wrist fracture, Maikel Franco had posted crooked stat lines against righties and lefties. In 233 at-bats against right-handers, Franco batted .296 with an .848 OPS. Against left-handers, however, he batted just .206 in 63 at-bats.
Altherr’s struggles against lefties skew his overall batting average, which currently sits at .250 after collecting 4 hits in 12 at-bats over the weekend against the Red Sox. His struggles against lefties continued Saturday and Sunday against Red Sox starters Wade Miley and Eduardo Rodriguez. In seven at-bats between the two, Altherr recorded zero hits and three strikeouts.
With Brown gone, Altherr has been given the opportunity to show what he can do on a regular basis with under a month left in the season. These last few weeks will serve as an evaluation period for the Phillies as they get a head start on figuring out who can play for the club in 2016.
Altherr has shown that he can play both corner outfield spots and has the athleticism to play centerfield if needed. Odubel Herrera has likely earned the starting center field job for next season, however, by posting a .302 average in 417 at-bats this season. The corner outfield positions, on the other hand, are still very much up for grabs.
Cody Asche has yet to blossom into the hitter that the Phillies thought he might be, and his transition to left field defensively hasn’t helped. His inconsistent bat has kept him from securing a starting job, and with Franco now the franchise’ third baseman, any playing time Ashe sees in the future will be in left, or as an infield backup.
Jeff Francoeur has flourished and become a 2015 fan favorite, but he is really no more than a platoon player at this juncture of his career. With Brown out, Altherr now has one less competitor for one of the corner outfield positions in 2016.
Minor league outfielders such as Nick Williams and Roman Quinn are developing into potential future starters for the Phillies, but they’re still likely a year or so away. In the mean time, Altherr will get his opportunity to stake a claim not just for the 2016 season, but for the foreseeable future.