Phillies’ offense finding success with curveball machine

They’re out there just about every day, swinging, sweating and, yes, laughing.

Kyle Schwarber is always there. Rhys Hoskins, Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott, too. Nick Castellanos, Jean Segura, Nick Maton, they’re known to stop by, as well.

Jason Camilli is a constant presence. Ninety-five degrees, 100-degree heat index, he’s out there, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, even earlier on the road, long before regular, mandatory batting practice has even begun, leading what has become a chemistry and camaraderie- building exercise with practical payoff for a group of Phillies hitters.

Remember a few years ago when then manager Gabe Kapler suggested that Phillies hitters take a few rips off the curveball machine to help break out of a losing skid? Remember how Bryce Harper snickered at the idea?

Well, the curveball machine is very much a thing for the 2022 Phillies.

“The boys have really bought into it,” said Camilli, who is in his first year as the team’s assistant hitting coach. “They have fun with it. They talk a lot of you-know-what. It’s just another tool to prepare them for the game and hopefully get ’em right.”

Back in late May, first-year hitting coach Kevin Long proposed making the curveball machine available on the field to any hitter who desired extra work on breaking balls. It’s all optional. Game days are busy with lots of pregame work. The machine was made available at 3 pm before pregame work really intensified.

Camilli was charged with facilitating the extra work and that meant a lot more than just finding an extension cord and plugging the machine into an electrical outlet. He would pore over data and video of that night’s opposing pitcher and set the machine as best he could to mimic that pitcher’s breaking ball.

“We get it as close as possible,” Camilli said. “It’s a good thing for them to see some spin, get out on the field early and see the flight of the ball. The hope is it helps slow things down when the game starts.”

Miles Kennedy/Phillies

Phillies assistant hitting coach Jason Camilli

Schwarber immediately bought into the exercise and he followed with a huge month of June. Early work on the curveball machine has become part of his daily routine.

“It’s a good drill,” he said. “You’re getting eyes on breaking balls that resemble what you might see from that night’s pitcher, and you take that knowledge into the game. If I see the pitch here in the strike zone, that’s where I want it. If it’s below that , I don’t want to swing.”

A blue-collar player with an Everyman’s quality, Schwarber has a special magnetism and an inclusive personality that appeals to everyone from the 26th man to the star of the team. He leads organically without calling attention to himself.

So when Schwarber started taking the curveball machine seriously, others did, too. Often there are half-dozen players, sometimes more on a given day, out there on their own hitting breaking balls more than four hours before the game. It’s all done in a relaxed setting because, well, there’s enough pressure in the game.

“We’re getting our work in, but we have a lot of fun with it,” Schwarber said. “We’ve made it into a game, a competition. Every day, there’s a new champion.”

The game goes something like this: In a bases-loaded situation, hitters get five swings per round to get home as many runners as they can. Schwarber is usually the judge.

The competition can get pretty fierce, with lots of hooting and hollering and giving each other the business. During the team’s last homestand, Yairo Muñoz shook the batting cage as he tried to unnerve his competitors.

“Anything goes — without physically touching the hitter,” Schwarber said with a laugh. “There is some funny stuff. If you hit the cage with a popup, you go back to zero. So you could have 13 points going into your last swing and you think you’ve got it and you hit the cage and you’re out of luck.”

Hoskins loves the drill and the preview of that night’s pitcher he gets.

“Obviously, there’s no arm action, but seeing the shape of the pitch — where does it need to start in the zone for it to be the one I can handle? — helps,” he said. “It gives you an added level of confidence because I’ve seen the breaking ball and I know I can put a good swing on it.

“Let’s say we’re facing a guy like Patrick Corbin, who has a good slider. I know I can hit the slider because I’ve done it already. I can be more on time for the fastball with less thought in the box because I’ve done my homework.”

Bohm and Stott are also regulars. Bohm hit .240 against breaking balls before June 1. He has hit .293 against them since June 1. Stott started off the season 1 for 15 against breaking balls. He has hit .311 (19 for 61) with a .557 slugging percentage since June 1 against breaking balls.

“Of course, it’s helped,” Stott said. “Any time you see more of it, it helps.”

Bohm competed and praised Camilli for his tireless work and willingness to do anything to help the team’s hitters before, during and after games.

Regular work against the curveball machine is not for everyone. It is completely the player’s call. Some guys prefer to do their machine work against high velocity.

But just about every hitter on the team, including Harper, will take advantage of the curveball machine on occasion in the indoor cages whey they feel the need.

“Every guy knows exactly what he needs,” Camilli said. “We’re here for them.”

In addition to getting a hitter ready to face that night’s pitcher, the war that is the almost daily curveball machine competition has another benefit.

“There’s a camaraderie to it,” Hoskins said. “There is the pressure of having to do it in front of five or six guys standing right there waiting to laugh.”

That togetherness is Schwarber’s favorite part of it all.

“The good teams are closed,” he said.

Subscribe to Phillies Talk: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | stitcher | Art19 | Watch on YouTube

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.