Trea Turner activated from injured list; Johan Rojas optioned

PHILADELPHIA — It was no secret that Phillies shortstop Trea Turner would make his long-awaited return Monday. The only outstanding question was who would be removed from the active roster to create a spot.

That answer came when the club activated Turner and optioned starting center fielder Johan Rojas to Triple-A Lehigh Valley before Monday’s series opener against the Padres at Citizens Bank Park.

“He took it very well, very professionally,” manager Rob Thomson said. “I think he’s going to go in there and work on it.”

The decision wasn’t as simple as picking one player to send to Lehigh Valley and keeping everyone else.

Among potential candidates, David Dahl, Cristian Pache and Whit Merrifield should have been granted waivers before being sent to Triple-A. It’s unlikely some would have gone unclaimed — and Dahl and Merrifield would have had the option to decline a demotion even if they had cleared waivers.

That left Rojas, who still had Minor League options, as the only option that allowed the Phillies to keep everyone in the organization for the time being. For now, Philadelphia will roll with two platoons: Brandon Marsh and Pache at center, and Dahl and Merrifield on the left.

The Phils will also test Edmundo Sosa – who has played well in Turner’s absence – in left field to potentially keep his bat in the lineup. Sosa did some pregame work in left field on Monday and will continue to do so in the coming days.

Of course, the roster move wasn’t solely due to Rojas’ remaining options.

The 23-year-old is hitting .235/.271/.295 in 196 plate appearances in 58 games this season. His .566 OPS ranked 218th out of 228 players with 175 plate appearances Monday.

“We told him some things he needed to do: reduce his momentum, use the ground and be able to cushion,” Thomson said. “Those are the things we need, because if he does what he can do on offense — which is just be a table setter, really — with him playing the field central, it’s probably the best version of our club.”

The Phillies entered spring training this year hoping Rojas would hit well enough to win the everyday centerfielder job out of camp. Although he hit .302 with a .771 OPS in 59 regular season games in his first season last year, Rojas was exposed in the postseason, when he only had a score of 4 for 43 (.093) with 15 strikeouts.

He hit just .170 with a .478 OPS during spring training. The Phillies also worked him extensively on the banners this spring – both in sacrifice situations and on base hits – but that project didn’t go as planned either. Rojas’ bunt attempts have become rarer in recent weeks and his only bunt base hit all season came on April 13.

“He wasn’t dropping them,” Thomson said. “So he has to do it in one game, and there’s probably a little less pressure and a better opportunity to do it at Triple-A.”

Still, Rojas’ elite defense was enough to offset early season offensive woes.

Despite only playing in 59 games last season, Rojas ranked fourth among all centers with 15 defensive points saved. Although he played above-average defense this season, he made a few defensive mistakes amid his scoring catches. Rojas ranks outside the top 15 among center fielders in DRS and Outs Above Average.

All that aside, the Phillies could also be more offensive right now.

After leading the Majors with 5.2 runs per game and ranking fourth with a team OPS of .749 through the end of May, the Phils averaged just four runs while posting a .749 OPS. 673 in 13 matches this month.

They’re hoping the return of Turner — who was hitting .343 with an .852 OPS before straining his hamstring on May 3 — will help.

Rolling with a more offensive outfield could also provide a boost.

While there’s no doubt the Phillies are sacrificing some of their defense without Rojas in center and Marsh in left, they should gain on offense with Marsh (.760 OPS) in center and Dahl (four extra-base hits in eight games ) or Merrifield (5- (for-14 with one homer and five RBIs in his last four starts) left.

But if Rojas makes the improvements the Phillies hope for, could he still be factored into the mix this season?

“Absolutely,” Thomson said. “Like I said, if he does the things we want him to do, then with him playing center field, I believe that’s the best version of our club.”

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