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).

Gabe Kapler eats a big steak, watches a big arm during trip to Reading

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Gabe Kapler eats a big steak, watches a big arm during trip to Reading

Gabe Kapler, manager of the 14-7 Phillies, took a busman’s holiday Monday and ventured up Rt. 422 to watch the Double A Reading Fightin Phils play the Akron Rubber Ducks. (Actual name.)

Before the game, Kapler enjoyed an “incredible” 20 oz. rib eye – medium rare – at one of Reading’s fine steakeries. (The name eluded him.) He then headed over to the ballpark, fedora perched stylishly atop his head, and watched the Fightins beat the Cleveland Indians’ Double A club, 8-4.

“I thought it was the right thing to do to support (Reading manager) Greg Legg and the work that he is doing,” Kapler said of his trip to Reading. “Our player development staff is so incredibly invested in what we’re doing here and they deserve a lot of credit for the start that we’re off to. Their fingerprints are all over this major league club and we’re in this together. Player development is an unsung department in an organization and those guys deserve a lot of love and credit for what is happening here.”

Kapler was impressed with several of Reading's players.

“I saw some cool things,” he said before the big Phillies got back to work Tuesday night. “Zach Coppola and his effort on the bases. He drove a ball to left-center field with a beautiful swing. And he gave his body for the club on defense when he crashed into the wall full speed. That was really impressive.

“I saw (Zach) Green hit a home run.

“And Seranthony was sensational. It was nice to see him.”

Seranthony Dominguez, a 23-year-old power-armed right-hander from the Dominican Republic, is making the transition from starter to reliever this season. He has opened the season with 18 strikeouts and two walks in his first 12 innings. He pitched a perfect inning Monday night with Kapler looking on.

Dominguez, a potential closer down the road, had previously impressed Kapler during a stint in big-league camp this spring.

Kapler was asked if he believed Dominguez could help the big club this season.

“He’s definitely got the talent,” Kapler said. “He’s definitely got the demeanor. And one of the things I mentioned yesterday as I was watching him was when we went out for mound visits (during spring training) this was a guy that was completely composed, in some ways similar to the way Scott Kingery’s heartbeat is. He was always very cool, calm and collected. Then to come up and dial up 97, 98 [mph] with a nasty slider — those two things in combination lead me to believe he can make an impact.”

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.”