Grand slam shows Bryson Stott’s willingness to evolve: ‘I’m so proud of him’

PHILADELPHIA — Afterward, Bryson Stott just remembered the noise.

He didn’t remember his pause at home plate or the way he spiked his bat down the first-base line. He didn’t know what he yelled to the home dugout, only that he couldn’t hear it himself.

More bedlam at the Bank, to steal a phrase popular in these parts.

“I don’t usually pimp home runs. I don’t think I hit them far enough to do that,” Stott said. “I just got caught up in the moment, I guess.”

With the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning, Stott turned on Andrew Nardi’s fastball on the inner third and deposited it deep into the seats in right-center field. A grand slam and a door slammer, it pushed the Philadelphia Phillies’ lead from a field goal to a touchdown, essentially tying a bow on a two-game Wild Card sweep of the Marlins.

Bryson Stott rarely swings at the first pitch but made an exception this time. (Bill Streicher/USA Today)

A postseason grand slam is meaningful enough. For one, they don’t happen often around here: Stott’s was just the second in franchise history, joining Shane Victorino’s off CC Sabathia back in the ’08 NLDS.

But for Stott, that swing was especially significant for a few different reasons. In the short term, he’d hit under .200 with a single home run in September.

“Probably a lot,” manager Rob Thomson said when asked what it meant to Stott. “He’d been struggling a little bit. But to get the ball in the air, because he hadn’t hit a home run in a while, I think it was big for him.”

Taking another step back, though, Stott’s slam represented the improvement he’s shown in one critical area: his approach to fastballs.

When he spent the first part of his offseason rewatching every Phillies postseason game from last October, Stott realized what he hadn’t at the moment.

He had been tired.

And that fatigue had manifested itself most explicitly in the way Stott was pounded, time and again by fastballs. To be the hitter he wanted to be the next time the Phillies reached October, he needed to be better against the heater.

“It didn’t take much re-watching of film to realize what I needed to do in the offseason,” Stott said.

So he went to work on a plan with hitting coach Kevin Long to improve the strength in his top left hand to be quicker through the zone — a lot of one-arm swings and one-handed tee drills to get him ready for the season.

It worked. He hit nearly 100 points higher and slugged better than 100 points more against fastballs this year compared to last.

1004 Stott Fastballs

By Statcast’s pitch values, Stott was the fifth-worst hitter against fastballs in all of baseball last season. This year he was just below average.

And then there was this: That was a first-pitch fastball from Nardi. Stott swings at about 16 percent of first pitches — in the bottom 10 in the league among players with 300-plus plate appearances.

“The thing I was most proud of is he’s had a tough time swinging 0-0,” Long said. “Basically, he’s told the league I don’t swing 0-0. And he got an opportunity right there. He hammered an 0-0 pitch and I’m so proud of him.

“He jumps on it in a huge, huge spot. It gave us the push that we needed.”

After seeing how tired he looked on film, Stott reworked his routine with his trainer. Last year’s fatigue had been well-earned: He played in 40 more games than he ever had before. This year, he made sure he was ready for this grind.

“I made it a goal of mine to stay in the weight room a lot more than I did last year,” he said. “Just making sure that I have my legs underneath me for however long we play.”

“I think he’s pretty fresh right now,” Thomson said.

Because for Stott and the Phillies, the goal wasn’t just to win a Wild Card Series or to get back to a division series rematch with Atlanta. The goal is bigger than that.

“We’re playing very good baseball right now,” said Thomson. “It’s going to be a really good series.”

(Top photo of Bryson Stott: Bill Streicher/USA Today)

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