Phillies

MLB All-Star Game preview: AL looking to continue recent dominance

MLB All-Star Game preview: AL looking to continue recent dominance

SAN DIEGO - National League manager Terry Collins watched from the dugout as Johnny Cueto dominated in the 2015 World Series. On Tuesday, he hands the ball to Cueto as the starting pitcher against the American League in the 87th Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Petco Park.

Collins, whose New York Mets were mowed down by the Kansas City Royals in the 2015 Fall Classic, said his decision to name Cueto, 13-1 with a 2.47 ERA in his first season with the San Francisco Giants, his starter was easy. The options narrowed with Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list and Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner ineligible because he started Sunday.

"I think his numbers speak for themselves," said Collins, recalling Cueto's complete game with the Royals in Game 2 of the World Series as a member of the Kansas City Royals. "That was the best outing I've ever seen him have."

The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs, is contemplating not participating in Tuesday's game but not in protest of being skipped over for the start against Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale. Arrieta has lost three of his past four games as the Cubs slide into the break.

"The last three outings, I haven't pitched very well," he said. "If I had took care of business, I probably would have been the starter or considered a little more highly."

Sale was named AL starter by Royals manager Ned Yost. The 27-year-old power lefty has a record of 14-3 with a 3.38 ERA and 123 strikeouts. He said he plans to "let it eat" for an inning, and do so in part as a tribute to late Padres Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn.

"I chewed tobacco from 2007 until the day he passed away," Sale said. "I remember seeing that and just being so shocked. I quit that day and haven't touched it since. In a sense, I owe him a huge thank you for not only myself, but for my family. Hopefully I can maybe sway somebody in the right direction as well like he did for me."

The National League runs out a lineup led by former Royals second baseman Ben Zobrist - who signed with the Cubs in the offseason - and Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper in the No. 2 hole before third baseman Kris Bryant, one of five Cubs voted as starters in the All-Star Game. The entire Cubs' infield will back Cueto, the first time that has happened since the Big Red Machine in 1971. Miami Marlins center fielder Marcell Ozuna was named as an injury replacement for Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler.

Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz is playing in his final All-Star game at age 40. Even the games young stars, like Harper, are admiring Big Papi's swan song. Ortiz hit 23 home runs in the first half of the season.

"To see what he's doing this year, at that age, just goes to show how mentally strong and physically strong he is," said Harper, who has 20 home runs and 34 doubles for the Nationals this season. "

The American League has a 10-3 record since the format changed to grant the winning league home-field advantage in the World Series, a benefit Yost has experienced. As manager of the team last July in Minneapolis, Yost said the win gave his team a "big advantage to go back to a place where we're completely comfortable."

Matt Cain started the All-Star game in 2012 and the Giants also produced National League starters in 2009 (Tim Lincecum) and 2003 (Jason Schmidt).

Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

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Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

It's not clear whether the Phillies will add a starting pitcher before opening day, but surely they would like to.

General manager Matt Klentak “is busting his ass every single day looking for every possible opportunity to upgrade our team from every perspective,” manager Gabe Kapler said on Tuesday. “That includes looking at every option possible for the rotation.”

Klentak has kept a close eye on the trade market, but has found the prices (i.e., the young talent that must be surrendered) for top, controllable starters to be prohibitive.

He has kept a close eye on the free-agent market, but the length of contracts that top pitchers are looking for has given him pause.

For months, the Phillies have distanced themselves from speculation that has connected them to elite level free-agent pitchers Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta.

But with spring training less than a month away and both pitchers still unsigned, the Phillies would at least have to consider both pitchers if their asking prices experience a January thaw.

Six or seven years? No way.

Three years? Hmmm. Let's talk.

The Phillies are hosting a number of their young players this week. Rhys Hoskins, Jerad Eickhoff, Mark Leiter and Nick Williams were all in town on Tuesday.

Williams has set his sights on making the National League All-Star team in 2018.

“That's what I'm shooting for,” he said at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday. “I think I had a pretty good year last year. I'm shooting for more now. I don't think being an All-Star is shooting too high.”

Williams, 24, hit .288 with 12 homers, 55 RBIs and an .811 OPS in 83 games, mostly in right field, with the big club as a rookie last season.

To give himself the best chance of surpassing those numbers — and achieving his goal of making the All-Star team — Williams has spent the offseason in Austin, Texas, working with personal trainer Jeremy Hills, a former University of Texas football player.

Williams is working hard on agility, which will help him in the outfield and on the base paths.

And guess who one of his daily workout partners is?

Free-agent pitcher Jake Arrieta.

Back in Austin, between reps and protein shakes, Williams has occasionally talked up Philadelphia as a potential landing spot to Arrieta, the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner who will turn 32 in March.

“He loves it here,” Williams said of Arrieta, who, as a free agent and a Scott Boras client, is astute enough not to rule out any team, particularly one as deep-pocketed as the Phillies. “He has told me he likes working with young guys. I'm like, ‘All right, come on up.’ But I'm not writing the check. I don’t know what he wants. I don’t really dig into that because I'm not really in his position.”

Williams smiled.

“I hope to be one day,” he said.

Williams marveled at Arrieta's work ethic in the gym.

And he expressed gratitude for the kindness and generosity Arrieta has showed him.

“He's bought a lot of my protein shakes,” Williams said.

Time will tell if the Phillies add a starting pitcher to the group that already consists of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and other youngsters. The hunch is they will, though it's unclear what the magnitude of that talent will be. Klentak's search for an arm likely won't stop with the addition of one pitcher and it will likely continue through July. And beyond. The quest to build a championship-caliber staff never stops.

“The pursuit is very real,” Kapler said of Klentak's search for pitching. “I have a lot of trust that we'll either go in [to spring training] with a new toy or we will pass on the opportunity because we're better off giving this collection of pitchers a really healthy look because we thought that we could go acquire that piece a little bit later on this season or in the offseason next year.”

Rhys Hoskins on 'surreal' rookie year, position switch, expectations

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Rhys Hoskins on 'surreal' rookie year, position switch, expectations

For a couple of weeks in August, Rhys Hoskins might have been Philadelphia's most popular athlete. Fans marveled at the nightly power display that the young slugger put on in the middle of the Phillies' batting order. Carson Wentz and the Eagles had not yet begun their magnificent season. Hoskins was the man in town.

It hit him one night after a game. He stopped in Center City for some late-night eats. A man and his young son approached. They offered their congratulations and asked for an autograph.

"That's when I was like, 'OK, this might be something that's about to be part of my life,' " Hoskins said. "But it was cool because I used to be that kid."

Hoskins was back in the area Monday night for the 114th Philadelphia Sports Writers Association Dinner. He was honored with a special achievement award for a torrid major league debut in which he clubbed 18 homers and drove in 48 runs in just 50 games last season.

Hoskins was raised in Sacramento, California but moved to San Diego this offseason. His 18 homers in 2017 were the most ever hit by a player who did not make his season debut until after Aug. 1. Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who hit 13 homers after returning from the Korean War in 1953, was the previous record holder.

Williams was a San Diego native.

"Surreal," Hoskins said of that 50-game stretch last season and the buzz that has followed him into the offseason. "Indescribable."

He is now a recognizable face, a signature talent, in a sports-crazy town.

And he's ready for it.

"Enjoy it," he said. "Take it by storm and enjoy it. It's supposed to be fun and that's probably the best approach to take. I think my thought is what happened may never happen again. Tomorrow something might happen. Tomorrow I might never be able to step on a baseball field again. So I think you have to take it by storm and enjoy it.

"If you had asked me a year ago if I would be walking down the streets of Philadelphia and would people recognize me I'd probably laugh at you. But that’s where we are now.

"It's just a testament to how passionate the people of Philadelphia are and how much they love their sports."

Hoskins will report to Clearwater for spring training at the end of this month. He wants to get a head start so he can ramp up his workouts in left field. A first baseman by trade, he began playing the position occasionally last season. He will move there full-time in 2018 as newly signed Carlos Santana takes over at first base.

Hoskins got a 30-game taste of left field last year. He is OK with the move.

"Having Carlos is exciting for the city and exciting for the team," Hoskins said. "We add a guy who has proven himself in this league for five or six years at a very high level so to kind of insert that into the lineup and into the clubhouse, especially with such a young team — I think we're going to feel that exponentially throughout the year.

"Left field is a challenge. It's a challenge that I'm definitely excited about. I started to feel more comfortable out there toward the end of the year.

"I think I can be just fine out there. I'm not necessarily going to be a Gold Glover. I just don’t have the speed that some guys out there do, especially in today's game. But I think I'll be just fine and contribute to the team defensively as much as I can and make the plays that I'm supposed to."

Hoskins will turn 25 on March 17. He projects to bat cleanup in new manager Gabe Kapler's lineup.

"He's energized, intense and thorough," Hoskins said of the new skipper. "He can captivate a room. I'm curious to see how that dynamic works in the clubhouse. I think he's going to be a pretty exciting guy to work with."