Once an Injured Afterthought, Aaron Altherr Forcing Phillies to Reconsider Master Plan

His stroke is short and quick now, his return to prominence with the Phillies no less rapid.

Aaron Altherr, the guy who had to rethink his approach at the plate this spring, has forced the organization to reconsider its master plan.

An intriguing prospect in 2015 and injured afterthought last season, the young outfielder enters Monday's series finale against the Braves slashing .290/.364/.556. He leads the team in OPS (.920) and is tied with Tommy Joseph for the lead in homers with 16 while driving in 47 runs.

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All that has come in 83 games, just over half a season. No reason to get too excited yet. But enough to give everyone something to think about.

On Saturday night, manager Pete Mackanin sat in his office before a game against Atlanta and talked not only about the 26-year-old Altherr but another outfielder, rookie Nick Williams, who was called up from Lehigh Valley on June 30. How Altherr has "really responded well" this season, and how the .277-hitting Williams is "really holding his own."

"Those two guys in themselves is a real bonus," Mackanin said, "just to get a look at them to see if they can fit in here. I'm not saying it's a done deal (that they will be regulars), but it really bodes well."

Lately, Mackanin has been playing Altherr and Williams at the corner spots with the enigmatic Odubel Herrera, and things will likely stay that way most of the rest of the season. Certainly, Daniel Nava will see some daylight when he comes off the disabled list, and maybe a call-up like Dylan Cozens or Roman Quinn will get a look in September.

But that figures to be the most frequent configuration and might turn out to be the long-term solution in the outfield as well.

Fine with Altherr, who at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds is swift enough to play any of the three spots.

"We know he's a good defender," Mackanin said. "We know he can run. He's got a good arm. Hitting is the last ingredient."

That came around after some work in spring training with hitting coach Matt Stairs, who encouraged Altherr to lower his hands, allowing him to get his bat through the strike zone more quickly.

Almost immediately, Altherr said, "I felt more relaxed and a lot quicker to the ball."

That he homered in his first simulated game only reinforced the idea that the new approach was the way to go.

"I was just like, ‘Maybe this will work out. … Maybe I'll stick with this, and see how this goes,'" he said.

"It was," Mackanin said, "a night-and-day difference. He's just more compact."

That has been evident all season, but never more than in the first two games of this series against the Braves. In Friday's 10-3 victory, Altherr homered twice, on a 91 mph fastball from Julio Teheran and a 95 mph heater from reliever Jason Hursh.

And never mind that Mackanin had him in the seven-hole because he began the night 1 for 12 against Teheran. He picked out a 2-0 offering from the Atlanta starter and sent it soaring into the left-field seats, some 412 feet away.

"Especially in 2-0 counts and counts like that, you want to really zone in and get a pitch you can really do damage with," Altherr said. "I was able to do that."

He was looking fastball on the 2-1 pitch from Hursh as well.

"Was able to put a pretty good swing on it," Altherr said, "and it happened to go out."

The next night, Altherr batted second against left-hander Sean Newcomb. (Against righties Mackanin plans to put Freddy Galvis in the 2-hole and hit Altherr third.) And with the Phils down 3-1 and Cesar Hernandez at third with none out in the eighth, Altherr lined a 2-2 fastball from reliever Arodys Vizcaino into right, starting the comeback that resulted in a 4-3, 11-inning victory.

(Also interesting was Newcomb's approach when he fell behind Altherr 2-0 with two on and one out in the fifth. Newcomb, having seen what Altherr did against Teheran the night before, eschewed the fastball and went changeup/curveball/change, getting two strikes before inducing a short fly to right.)

All this comes a year later than expected. After a promising 39-game cameo in 2015 - Altherr generated 20 extra-base blows among 33 hits - he was penciled in as the regular rightfielder last season. But he tore the tendon sheath in his left wrist while attempting to make a diving catch in spring training and underwent surgery, delaying his season debut until July 28.

When he finally did play, he did little - .197 in 57 games. The talk at that point was that he was nothing more than an extra man.

But just like that, things changed again.

"That's really the big thing (this season) - just knowing the wrist is all good and I can do what I know I can do," he said. "And the work that Stairsy has done with me has helped me out tremendously, so all that definitely adds up to being more confident, more relaxed."

And much more prominent.

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