After practicing in cage, Altherr ends up a hero

Revamped swing pays dividends in pinch-hit appearance

After practicing in cage, Altherr ends up a hero

PHILADELPHIA -- Aaron Altherr took between 100 and 150 swings in the depths of Citizens Bank Park on Sunday, prepping for an at-bat that might not come.

"I started going to the cage about the fifth inning because I could have been up a couple times and then something happened and I'd get back down, so I kept going in the cage and hitting," Altherr said after the game against the Nationals.

When his name was announced over the PA system in the eighth inning, it took just one swing for him to play hero, clubbing a three-run homer that tied the game at 5 before an eventual walk-off 6-5 win two innings later.

"Pinch-hitting, you might only have one shot, one good pitch to hit," Altherr said. "You just got to be aggressive and ready to hit from the first pitch on."

He saw that one good pitch, that one shot, in a first-pitch hanging slider and did not miss.

Altherr did not start either weekend game due to a tweaked left wrist, the same one he broke last Spring Training. He could have started Sunday -- sitting him was purely precautionary.

"I figured with the day off tomorrow, today would be a good day to give him another day off, knowing he was available to pinch-hit," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "It worked out well. Actually, I saved him for that big moment."

The 26-year-old outfielder has been the Phillies' best hitter this season with a team-leading 1.058 OPS in 23 games. The homer was his 11th extra-base hit this season in 65 at-bats, more than he had in 198 trips to the plate last year.

Altherr credits his offensive resurgence to hitting coach Matt Stairs, who helped him abbreviate his lengthy swing, quickening his hands and shortening his path to the ball.

"He takes it from Point A to Point C and eliminates Point B," Mackanin said. "He's direct to the ball, and he's getting good results."

The results of his modified mechanics have been prolific, giving the Phillies every reason to keep him in the lineup once Howie Kendrick returns from the disabled list.

The slight change has generated immense power, something Altherr was not sure it would initially, and allows him to see pitches longer before deciding to attack or lay off.

"I was looking fastball and he hung a slider over the middle, and I was able to recognize it pretty early and put a good swing on it," Altherr said.

In his first session of live batting practice this spring with his new swing, Altherr took a pitcher deep.

"After that happened, it was like, 'OK, maybe I'll stick with this and keep riding this,'" Altherr said.

He rode it all the way to his fourth homer of the season, a much-needed game-stealing drive that helped the Phillies snap a five-game losing streak.

"We definitely needed this," Altherr said. "To get this win was huge, and hopefully like I said we can ride this and keep on winning games."

Ben Harris is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia and covered the Phillies on Sunday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.