DURHAM Triple-A All-Star batting practice was scheduled for Tuesday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Two groups of players got through their sessions before the skies opened up and washed the rest of the day’s baseball activities away.
Charlotte Knights catcher Josh Phegley was scheduled to bat in the third grouping.
Rather than waste his cuts, Phegley saved them for Wednesday’s All-Star game, where he went 1-for-2 with a run scored in the International League’s 7-3 win over the Pacific Coast League in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,274 at the DBAP.
Phegley walked to the plate with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning and brought with him the advanced approach to the plate that’s a large part of the reason he’s hit .264 with 13 home runs (the most by any catcher in the IL) already this season.
He turned hard on the first pitch he saw from Oakland Athletics farmhand Paul Smyth and ripped it foul down the left-field line. The next pitch he took for a ball before once again pulling a fastball to the left of third base.
With two strikes, Phegley took a step out of the batter’s box, a deep breath, and thought about what he’d see Smyth try to do to the batter before him.
“I remembered seeing him throw four consecutive sliders,” said Phegley. “I knew that would probably be his go-to pitch for the strikeout. So, once he had two strikes on me, I sat back, looked for it.”
Phegley pegged Smyth correctly and sent the slider on a line through the hole between shortstop and third base for his first career Triple-A All-Star game hit (he went 0-for-2 in 2012 in Buffalo).
Two IL hits later, Phegley motored home from second base with his team’s fifth run of the game and a memory he’s not likely to forget.
“You want to try to do your best in these games,” Phegley said. “Ultimately, it doesn’t matter and is just for fun, but you want to show that you belong here, too. After I got that hit, it almost didn’t matter what happened after that.”
After playing his way out of the Triple-A All-Star game (and Futures Game) and into the major leagues in 2013 (.316, 15 HRs in 61 games in Class AAA), Phegley, 26, hoped the next All-Star team he’d be vying for would come in the majors.
However, a down second half with the White Sox, where he hit .206 and just four more home runs in 65 game, led to a return to Charlotte.
Since then, he’s tried to keep himself ready for the next time Chicago comes calling.
“Coming to another All-Star game, I think just builds the resume,” Phegley said. “(The White Sox are) constantly evaluating me and they know what they’re going to get if they call me up. While I’m here, I’m going to try to have fun.”
Notes: Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Liam Hendricks earned IL All-Star Game MVP honors after he struck out four batters and surrendered one hit in two innings to earn the win. Chris Taylor earned the honor for the PCL, finishing 3-for-4 with two doubles.
• Knights shortstop Tyler Saladino was voted to start the All-Star game, but had to pull out because of an arm injury.
“(Saladino) was definitely deserving and it would have been really nice for him to have been able to show up and be recognized,” Phegley said. “But his name’s on the shirt and his card’s in the stack, so everyone knows that he belonged here and it’s just sad he didn’t get to make it.”
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