Phillies

Phillies-Athletics thoughts: Facing a poor man's Rhys Hoskins

Phillies-Athletics thoughts: Facing a poor man's Rhys Hoskins

Phillies (57-90) vs. Athletics (65-82)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies' three-game winning streak came to an abrupt end on Friday night. Daniel Mengden and the Athletics took down the Phils in a 4-0 game as J.P. Crawford was the only hitter to reach base. 

Looking to get back in the win column, the Phillies toss out Ben Lively against Kendall Graveman on Saturday night. Here are some thoughts to ponder before first pitch:

• This isn't very revolutionary, but it usually helps to have more than two hits. After pulverizing the Marlins for three nights with hit after hit, coming up with just two hits against a team that came in with a 4.81 team ERA is embarrassing. The Phillies have been outscored plenty of times this year (90 times to be exact), but this type of game has been the exception and not the rule, especially since Rhys Hoskins came along.

• Speaking of Hoskins, there isn't too much to say about him that hasn't already been said about Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger this year and Mark McGwire 30 years ago. Guys just don't come into the league mashing like this. 

Perhaps the best stat to show Hoskins' ridiculous start is his line against left-handed pitching: In 37 plate appearances, he's gone 6 for 25 with 11 walks, 1 HBP and just five strikeouts. Oh yeah, all six hits are home runs. That means he's gone 0 for 14 on balls in play but still has an OPS of 1.446. That's ... unreal. 

• It gets lost in the Hoskins-mania but Nick Williams has been quite good as well. His walk and strikeout rates are both slightly better than his Triple-A numbers and he's hitting .296/.350/.496. He certainly strikes out more than Hoskins and hits fewer home runs, but he's still an exciting young player on this roster. 

He's had issues in the outfield, but that's mostly occurred when he's played out of position in centerfield. Put him in right and he should be fine moving forward. 

• Lively has been a throwback to pitchers of old this year. As strikeouts become the name of the game, a guy who fans only 14.4 percent of batters and relies on balls in play, particularly plenty of flyballs, tend to be phased out. But as he did at the minor league level, he's induced plenty of weak content, keeping a lot of pop-ups near the infield.

He's given the Phillies length in nearly every outing and has given them a chance to win outside of a poor start against the defending champion Cubs. His last time out, the 25-year-old righty held a potent Nationals lineup to just three runs in eight innings while striking out seven, one shy of his career-best. 

• Graveman joined the Athletics in the ill-conceived trade that sent Josh Donaldson to Toronto. He's been a fairly average starter for the Athletics. Like Lively, he allows a lot of balls in play but has still been fairly successful. How? The opposite way of Lively: Plenty of groundballs. 

He keeps the ball on the ground with a heavy dose of his 94-mph sinker while also turning to a cutter, curveball and changeup. He's never faced the Phillies before and only Hyun Soo Kim (1 for 3) has faced him before. The Phils have to hope they'll have more success against this unknown for them than they did with his rotation mate on Friday.

• While Mengden and his mustache were the story on Friday, Matt Olson also gave the Phillies a dose of what he's been doing in recent weeks. The rookie has essentially been a left-handed poor man's Rhys Hoskins, drilling 19 home runs in 184 PAs. 

His stance starts with his hands and bat essentially over home plate and somehow he makes it work with a non-absurd strikeout rate considering the amount of movement in his swing. He's gotten zero attention because he's in Oakland and comes after Hoskins, Bellinger and Judge already lit the majors on fire in their first taste. It's no longer that insane to see a player do this in their first sample of the majors.

• After Friday night, the A's have now won seven of nine and are playing some of their best baseball. They aren't a good team, as their record would suggest, but their offense is showing some life recently, particularly since Olson started to take off.  

• Their bullpen is still very beatable. Santiago Casilla was removed from the closer role for a reason. Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle were both traded to Washington. And new closer Blake Treinen throws an upper-90s sinker that makes teams fawn over his potential, but he still has blown three saves in 10 opportunities.

• Before this series, the Phillies last played the A's in 2014, losing two of three in Oakland that September. The Phils are 7-9 vs. the Athletics all-time. The two teams, of course, used to share Philadelphia before the A's moved to Kansas City in 1955. 

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

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AP Images/USA Today Images

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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USA Today Images

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."