Phegley fighting to regain early flair
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White Sox catcher Josh Phegley talks with starter Andre Rienzo during a recent game in Cleveland.
It was his first week with the White Sox, but Josh Phegley was already drawing comparisons to Carlton Fisk and A.J. Pierzynski.
In a sense, it was understandable.
The Sox were already hopelessly buried in last place in the AL Central on July 5 when Phegley was summoned from Class AAA Charlotte to take over for struggling starting catcher Tyler Flowers.
White Sox fans needed somebody — anybody — to get excited about, and Phegley obliged by hitting 3 home runs and driving in 8 runs in his first 5 games.
"Phegley Phever" was spreading all over the South Side, but alas, opposing pitchers quickly discovered a cure.
"I don't think so," Phegley said Monday when I asked him if his torrid start might have raised expectations too high. "I think I was just feeling really good at the plate when I came up. My expectations have always been that high. I'm capable of hitting for power and average. I've always thought that.
"It's just been a little frustrating lately. I'm kind of pressing a little bit to try to get back to there but that's just my high expectations of myself, and I'm going to try to reach those expectations."
Phegley has cooled off considerably since the torrid start, but he turned the heat back up a bit in Monday night's 6-2 win over the first-place Tigers at U.S. Cellular Field.
Even though he is batting .180 (9-for-50) over his last 16 games, Phegley was 2-for-4 with 2 RBI against Detroit. He could have been 3-for-4 but was robbed of an infield hit by new Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias in the sixth inning.
Overall, Phegley is batting .221 with 3 home runs and 13 RBI in 26 games.
"It's not always easy when you come up here and you start going through guys pitching it different and getting kind of a read on how you swing, what you do," Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "There's definitely a learning process, and he's going to have to fight his way through it."
So, what exactly are opposing pitchers doing to Phegley, who batted .316 with 15 home runs and 41 RBI in 61 games with Charlotte?
Let's go to his first at-bat Monday against Detroit starter Doug Fister.
Phegley took a fastball for strike one and fouled off the next fastball to quickly fall in the hole.
Fister threw a breaking pitch outside and a fastball outside to even the count at 2-2, and then he went with another off-speed pitch on the outside corner.
Predictably, Phegley lunged forward and rolled it to Iglesias, who started an inning-ending double play.
Since he's a catcher and understands the thought process of pitching, Phegley has already identified his problem.
"I'm getting a lot of breaking balls," he said. "They know I'm pressing and I'm not letting the ball get to me. Pitchers are just throwing off-speed and letting me get out in front. And of course, if you get off your legs you don't get enough power or have the ability to drive the ball. They'll show me in and go right back outside. They're staying away most of the time."
Along with newcomer Avisail Garcia, Phegley had an early work session with hitting coach Jeff Manto Monday afternoon. Taking good swings and laying off bad pitches was the theme.
"I think it's just a matter of adjusting," said Phegley. "Obviously, the other teams are probably getting reports that I'm going to swing the bat, I'm going to get in there and swing. So they're not going to give in. I have to just be patient and make them kind of come to me, throw something I want to hit. Getting that first walk (Saturday) was a step towards being patient. Be more patient to get a good pitch."
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