Jeff Hoffman was released by the Reds last November, released by the Twins at the end of spring training. He signed a minor league contract with the Phillies and had a 7.00 average in nine games for Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Every team that plays deep into October receives contributions from the roster. The Phils are no exception. But no one has a more unlikely rise to prominence than the 30-year-old right-hander. Manager Rob Thomson said: “It’s a huge chunk of this. I’m not sure where we’d be without him.”
Hoffman’s story takes on even more of a fairy tale aspect when you consider that his big break came when he was deemed expendable enough for the IronPigs to give Bryce Harper early batting practice, long before the gates opened, while the superstar was working out s to rehabilitate his elbow from Tommy John surgery instead of going to rehab.
“I said it was almost a World Series for me at that point,” Hoffman said Monday before Game 6 at Citizens Bank Park. “(The season) started crazy and ends a little crazy. This whole year has been incredible. I thanked the organization 100 times for the opportunity to come out here and throw Bryce.
“At least the way I thought about it, I think it helped them overlook some of the numbers I was putting up in Triple-A. I think when I came to pitch to Bryce, the organization saw me for the first time because I wasn’t in camp with them. I think it helped them see a few things that maybe weren’t so shiny at the time.”
Thomson said the decision to bring in Hoffman (along with Nick Nelson) to help get Harper’s timing down came from assistant pitching coach Brian Kaplan. The story then unfolded quickly.
“He came in and was 97, 98, a really good rider,” the manager recalled. “Harp said he was dirty.
As it turned out, Hoffman had an out clause in his deal with the Phillies that could be triggered in about a week. Rather than risk losing him, the front office picked up his contract on May 4th, and he’s been thrust into increasingly important roles ever since.
In his last 23 regular season appearances, his ERA was 1.35. Seven of his eight postseason appearances were scoreless.
“We made this thing a little bit easier for him,” Thomson said. “When he first showed up, we put him in low leverage (situations). Then it graduated to maybe sixth or seventh. Then it went to dirty innings and then came back and finished that inning.
“It’s to the point now where I’m comfortable using it in any inning, including the ninth.”
Funny how things work. He jumped right into a chance to make an actual World Series appearance.
One of the Phillies’ better storylines this year has been how Nick Castellanos, who struggled after signing a big free agent contract in 2022, came back and became an All-Star this year.
Before Game 6 on Monday at Citizens Bank Park, he talked about how his relationship with Harper from their time as Youth Olympic teammates eventually brought him to Philadelphia.
“Honestly, during my free agent process, I didn’t think I was coming here at all,” he said. “It wasn’t one of the places I was interested in at the time. It really wasn’t on the radar.
“Then Bryce reached out to me and said, ‘What do you think?’ I want it. I want you to be here.’ So, sure, I think if it wasn’t for his initiation… I might have turned my attention even more to the other cities that had my attention at the time.”
His 10-year-old son Liam also continues to share the spotlight. He designed a T-shirt – Liam’s battle cry shirt — which will be sold by Clutch Apparel, with proceeds going to the Kisses For Kyle Foundation, which supports children with cancer.
The short features art by Nick and Liam plus Harper, Bryson Stott and Brandon Marsh and retails for $30. “I’m very proud, for sure,” Nick said. “Anytime you can give back, it means a lot.” Also, that he controls it.’
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