Phillies

Frustration mounts — in manager's office and in clubhouse — over Odubel Herrera's antics

Frustration mounts — in manager's office and in clubhouse — over Odubel Herrera's antics

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Phillies manager Pete Mackanin favors using honey over vinegar when trying to teach enigmatic Odubel Herrera the right way to play the game.

But even Patient Pete has his limits.

So when Herrera did not run out a dropped third strike in the sixth inning of Tuesday night's 5-0 loss to the Houston Astros at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay), Mackanin yanked him from the game as part of a double switch, a remarkable move considering Herrera has been the club's best hitter, batting .331 (58 for 175) since June 1.

"It had something to do with it," Mackanin admitted. "I'm going to talk to him tomorrow."

Herrera knows well the way to Mackanin's office. He's been called in front of the principal a number of times this season for transgressions that range from looking completely disinterested during some at-bats, to boneheaded base-running plays, to general lack of hustle. On one occasion, Mackanin fined Herrera for completely ignoring an order not to steal a base. Herrera decided to go anyway and was thrown out in a close game.

Herrera's antics have been noticed in the other dugout and in his own clubhouse. He lined a ball to the wall in the first inning Tuesday night and Astros centerfielder Derek Fisher made a nice running catch. Herrera had clearly assumed the ball would hit off the wall because he flipped his bat and did not run hard out of the box. After Fisher made the catch, players in the Houston dugout mocked Herrera's gaudy bat flip, and later in the game Astros pitcher Charlie Morton threw one up and in on Herrera. Coincidence? Who knows?

Herrera was the Phillies' best offensive player during his first two seasons in the majors, hitting .291 with a .773 OPS in 2015-2016. Last winter, management rewarded the 25-year-old centerfielder with a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension. The move identified Herrera as a building block as he is the only player on the roster with a long-term deal.

Herrera was aware that his being pulled from the game was a topic of discussion in Mackanin's postgame news conference, but he did not stick around to speak with reporters.

Catcher Cameron Rupp did speak with reporters and he admitted that Herrera's misdeeds have been noticed in the clubhouse.

"It’s not a secret. It’s talked about," Rupp said. "If you guys are seeing it, we are seeing it. It is what it is. We can say it to him, Pete has said it to him. It’s no secret and when you don’t do it, you put Pete in that position to do what he did.

"Pete is the manager and what he asks us to do, we’re supposed to do. It’s a team thing and one guy can’t just not follow the rules. It’s not the first time. It has happened before and that’s something we don’t want to see. We want him in the game. He’s a good player. Pete doesn’t ask a whole lot of us. He asks us to play the game hard and play the game the right way. Guys are going to make physical mistakes. Mental mistakes are something you can control.

"Yeah, it’s frustrating. There is no doubt about it. But it’s something he asks us to do and we have to do it."

Rupp mentioned that some teammates, including Freddy Galvis, have spoken to Herrera about his flaws. Galvis, like Herrera, hails from Venezuela.

"At the end of the day, it is him that has to do it, not anybody else," Rupp said. "It's hard for us. He’s a grown man. He has to learn on his own. We can only say so much. Guys have said things. I know Freddy has talked to him. Juan Samuel has. The language barrier is there, but you have the Latin guys who can tell him. He understands enough English. But it’s something only he can control. We can only do so much."

The Phillies have lost two nights in a row to Houston, a team with a powerhouse offense and the second-best record in the majors at 67-33. On Tuesday night, the right-hander Morton held the Phils to three hits over seven shutout innings. He struck out nine. Why can't the Phillies get pitchers like that?

Rookie right-hander Nick Pivetta pitched well against a tough lineup for five innings, but he gave up five hits and four runs in the sixth inning as the game got away from him.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of the latest meeting between Mackanin and Herrera on Wednesday afternoon. Will Mackanin continue to employ a nurturing touch as he tries to coax the behavior he's looking for from Herrera? Will Herrera be benched for the series finale Wednesday night?

"I have to keep having conversations with him, that's all," Mackanin said. "He's a different kind of guy. I just have to keep him pointed in the right direction.

"Odubel does a lot for us. He's just a different character. We have to deal with him in a certain way. I'll have a nice talk with him tomorrow. He's going to be fine. He's been doing very well in that regard for the last month or so. But he just needs a reminder. He's in a development stage, as well."

A mechanical adjustment 'kick-started' Rhys Hoskins' career

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A mechanical adjustment 'kick-started' Rhys Hoskins' career

The spectacular beginning of Rhys Hoskins’ major-league career can be traced to a conversation he had with two members of the Phillies’ player-development department back in September 2014.

Hoskins had arrived in the Phillies organization earlier that year as a fifth-round draft pick out of Sacramento State University. That summer, he made his professional debut at Williamsport of the New York-Penn League. He hit .237 with nine homers and 40 RBIs in 70 games.

Phillies instructors liked what they saw of Hoskins that summer. They loved the potential. But something was missing.

“He didn’t consistently get his weight back,” director of player development Joe Jordan recalled. “His legs weren’t in his swing every night. The timing, the bat speed and swing path were all good, but they weren’t consistent every night.”

After the Williamsport season ended, Hoskins reported to the Florida Instructional League in Clearwater. He was hitting off a tee, by himself, in a batting cage early one morning when Jordan and Andy Tracy, the team’s minor-league hitting coordinator, approached him with an idea.

“What do you think about making a change to your stance?” Jordan asked Hoskins.

Hoskins, thoughtful, respectful, mature, coachable, eager to learn and just as eager to succeed, was all ears.

“I was open to anything,” he said.

On that September day in 2014, during a conversation in a batting cage in Clearwater, Hoskins’ left leg kick was born.

He has used it to trigger his swing ever since.

And …

“It’s made all the difference in my career,” he said. “I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

The Phillies, off to a 14-7 start, enjoyed an off day Monday. That provides us with a neat little checkpoint on Hoskins’ big-league career, which is just 71 games old, less than a half-season. He arrived in the majors on Aug. 10. Since then, he ranks first in the majors in RBIs (67) and pitches seen (1,376), third in walks (56), fourth in OPS (1.038) and times on base (126), and sixth in extra-base hits (36). His 22 home runs rank fifth in the majors in that span behind J.D. Martinez (27), Giancarlo Stanton (25), Aaron Judge (23) and Matt Olson (23).

Hoskins was no slouch at Sacramento State. He was the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year as a junior in 2014, the year the Phillies drafted him. But even his college coach admitted last summer that the leg kick had taken Hoskins to a new level (see story).

There are a number of benefits to the leg kick, Hoskins said. Among them: It slows him down a little. If he gets his leg up early, it allows his eyes to work and that helps his pitch recognition. It helps his rhythm and timing. It gets him on his backside and gives him a loading mechanism that translates into power when he fires through the ball.

“I had no prior experience with it before Joe and Andy mentioned it,” Hoskins said. “I had no clue what I was doing with it. I was super spread out in my stance. I would get to a point where I would start my swing, stop and have to start it again. Those precious milliseconds are huge. I was late a lot. A lot. The room for error that I had was slim to none.”

When Jordan and Tracy first proposed the leg kick, they asked Hoskins to exaggerate it.

“The first thing Joe said was, ‘Try to hit your chin with your left knee,’” Hoskins recalled.

Hoskins experimented with the size of the kick for a couple of weeks in batting practice and in games. Then one day he hit a home run in a game against the Yankees’ instructional league team.

“The pitcher was throwing pretty hard and I was able to get to a ball that was in and I hit it for a home run,” Hoskins said. “I said to myself, ‘Hmmm, this is probably something to stick with.’”

Jordan and Tracy encouraged Hoskins to use the leg kick during his wintertime workouts after the 2014 season. He did. He made it part of him and his bat carried him on a quick trip through the Phillies’ minor-league system and into the middle of the big club’s batting order.

Amazing what one little bit of coaching can do when it finds a talented and willing student.

“Our entire staff watched Rhys that first summer and came up with a great plan for him,” Jordan said. “Those guys did it and Rhys nailed it. He took it home that winter, worked at it and it’s become his normal ever since.”

What Nick Pivetta's emergence means for Phillies

What Nick Pivetta's emergence means for Phillies

The Phillies knew what they had with Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola, Tommy Hunter and (injured) Pat Neshek, and to a lesser extent Hector Neris and Luis Garcia.

What they did not know entering the season was how Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez would pitch, or how the end of the bullpen would shake out.

With 21 games in the books, they've received key contributions from several emerging pitchers and that is a major reason why they're 14-7 despite a .231 team batting average

Pivetta had another strong start Sunday, making one mistake and limiting the Pirates to two runs over 6⅓ innings. In five starts, he has a 2.57 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and he's struck out 28 batters in 28 innings while walking four.

Over his last eight starts dating back to last September, Pivetta has an ERA of 2.00 on the dot.

Even the most optimistic Phillies observers couldn't have envisioned such a fast and consistent start for Pivetta in Year 2.

"He's still carrying over what he did in spring training, which is pitch to the top of the zone and the bottom of the zone," manager Gabe Kapler said after Sunday's win. "The north-south effect with his fastball-curveball combination. He's mixing in a slider. Right-handed hitters can't tell if it's a curveball or a slider. They're showing you that with their swings."

Pivetta misses a lot of bats with high fastballs that hitters just can't catch up to. He also has a sharp breaking ball, which was apparent from his first start last season. The main issue was his control. He had seven starts last season with four or more walks. So far in 2018, he's a different guy.

"I think we saw glimpses of it last year with a little bit less consistency," said Andrew Knapp, who has caught all five of Pivetta's starts. "Right now, he's really confident in what he's doing. It's kind of becoming an every-time-out thing where he's really pounding the strike zone and he's got four pitches he can throw in any count.

"The fastball is electric. When the other hitters feel the fastball, it opens up the off-speed."

Pivetta will probably not finish the season with an ERA under 3.00, but the Phillies aren't asking him to be an ace. They're asking him to be a consistent mid-rotation piece, and his upside could allow him to become much more than that.

It could also change the ceiling of the 2018 Phillies.

"I think it does. I think it does," Kapler said. "I think it's the emergence of Nick. I think it's the emergence of Velasquez. I think it's relievers we can go to that have sort of behaved like the guys you depend on every day in the seventh, eighth and ninth. 

"We have Garcia, (Adam) Morgan and Neris as the guys coming out of camp who we knew were going to perform in those situations. Now you have (Tommy) Hunter coming back. You've got [Pat Neshek] not that far away. And you have (Yacksel) Rios, (Victor) Arano and (Edubray) Ramos performing like this. It's very encouraging."

That's a pretty deep bullpen in addition to a solid rotation. Hunter made his Phillies debut Sunday and needed just eight pitches in a 1-2-3 eighth inning. His cutter, which he threw 20 percent more often last season than he did the prior three, will make him a weapon against left-handed batters.

As for Velasquez, he'll have a chance Tuesday to kick it up another notch against a very good Diamondbacks lineup that may get power-hitting lefty Jake Lamb back in time for the series.

It's still April, but the Phils have the chance to make a little statement with a series win over the 15-6 D-backs.

"It would be awesome," Kapler said, "for us to go out there and tackle Arizona the way we did Pittsburgh."