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 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. 

Charlie Manuel keeps his promise to Roy Halladay's son

Jim Salisbury/NBCSP

Charlie Manuel keeps his promise to Roy Halladay's son

DUNEDIN, Fla. – It’s not hard to find Charlie Manuel in spring training. In late mornings, he’s perched behind the batting cage watching Phillies hitters take their swings. During the game, he’s on the top step of the dugout, taking it all in and offering advice where needed.

Manuel didn’t stay for the game Saturday. He watched batting practice, showered and drove out of the parking lot 30 minutes before the first pitch.

Manuel, you see, had a promise to keep.

Back in November, Manuel was one of nine people to speak at Roy Halladay’s memorial service at Spectrum Field, the Phillies’ spring training home. Manuel stood at a podium near the very mound that Halladay trained on and spoke from the heart about what an honor it was to manage such a great talent and competitor. Manuel had jotted his words down on a paper, but he didn’t stick completely to his script that day. At one point, he looked down at Halladay’s two grieving sons, Braden and Ryan, and told them he’d be keeping tabs on their progress as young ballplayers. Manuel promised to attend their games. And that’s just what he did Saturday afternoon.

Braden Halladay, a lanky 17-year-old right-hander who bears a striking resemblance to his dad, on and off the mound, is a member of the Canadian Junior Team’s spring training roster. He was born in Toronto when his dad played for the Blue Jays, hence his eligibility to pitch for Canada.

On Saturday, Braden pitched a scoreless eighth inning against a Jays’ split-squad team on the very Dunedin Stadium mound where his dad began his career.

“I’m so glad I came over,” Manuel said after Braden’s perfect inning of work. “He did good. I’m glad he got ‘em out.”

This wasn’t the first time Manuel had seen Braden pitch. Braden pitches for Calvary Christian High School in Clearwater, where he is a junior. Manuel watched him pitch five shutout innings earlier in the week. And on Wednesday night, Manuel attended young brother Ryan’s practice in Clearwater.

Manuel has a warm spot for the boys for a lot of reasons. Obviously, there was the respect he had for their dad. “When I think of Roy, I think of the perfect game and playoff no-hitter first,” Manuel said. “Right after that, I think of his work ethic. It was the best I’ve ever seen.” 

But Manuel’s affection for the boys goes beyond the respect he had for their dad. Manuel was 18, the oldest son in a family of 11 children, was he lost his dad.

“I feel for those boys,” Manuel said. “I know what they’re going through and it isn’t easy. Not easy at all.”

It takes a lot of love to get through a tragedy like the one the Halladay family has gone through. The boys get it from their mom, Brandy, who is at all of their games. And they get it from people like Charlie Manuel.

Saturday’s first pitch at Dunedin Stadium, just a few miles from the Phillies’ ballpark, was scheduled for 1:15 p.m. Manuel wanted to hustle over so he could wish Braden luck before the game. Manuel made his way down to the bullpen area and spotted one of his former Phillies players, Pete Orr, who is a coach with the Canadian team. Orr called over to Braden. A huge smile crossed the kid’s face when he saw Manuel. He sprinted over and gave Manuel a hug. Orr, who grew up near Toronto, slapped Braden on the back of his Team Canada jersey and said, “He looks good in red and white.”

He sure did.

Braden chatted with Manuel for a minute or two, and Manuel wished him luck. A reporter from Philadelphia asked Braden what it felt like to have Manuel keep tabs on his baseball career.

“It’s pretty sweet,” Braden said with a big smile. “It means a lot to me.”

The reporter wished him luck and told him that all of Philadelphia was rooting for him.

“I appreciate that,” the young pitcher said before trotting off to join his teammates.

Braden Halladay is 6-3 and 150 pounds. He entered the game in the bottom of the eighth inning with his team down, 11-3, at first to a smattering of applause. That grew into a big, beautiful round of applause after the PA man announced his name and everyone in the crowd realized the magnitude of the moment. Braden knelt behind the mound and wrote his dad’s initials in the dirt before delivering his first pitch. His pitching delivery is smooth and fundamentally pure.

“You can tell Roy worked with him,” Manuel said.

Braden mixed his pitches nicely in getting two pop-ups and a ground ball. He hit 83 mph on the stadium radar gun. A few months ago, Braden announced that he had committed to Penn State. Manuel sees a lot of promise in the kid.

“When he’s 21, he’ll pitch at 205 pounds,” Manuel said. “He’ll get stronger. You watch, he’s got a chance to be real good. He has a good, quick arm, command of the ball and mechanics.”

Where the game will eventually take Braden Halladay is a story for another day. Back in November, he sat in the middle of a baseball field and listened to people eulogize his dad. It was an excruciatingly difficult experience and the look on his face that day said as much.

So on Saturday, it was just great to see Braden Halladay back on a baseball field with a smile on his face. And it was great to see Charlie Manuel there, taking it all in, just as he had promised.

Jake Arrieta delights crowd, breaks bats

AP Images

Jake Arrieta delights crowd, breaks bats

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Spectrum Field was sold out, filled with fans clad in green and smeared with sunblock for a game against the Atlanta Braves on a festive St. Paddy’s Day.
But the main event Saturday took place several hundred yards away at the minor-league complex, two hours before the big-league game even began.
Five days after signing a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies, Jake Arrieta climbed atop a mound and threw a 31-pitch (two-inning) simulated game. Scott Kingery, Jorge Alfaro, Logan Moore and Andrew Pullin were the hitters. Andrew Knapp was the catcher. Players, coaches, minor-league instructors and manager Gabe Kapler all peeked in. Dozens of fans hugged the chain-link fence to get a look at the newest Phillie. They applauded when Arrieta took the mound and again when he finished.
“It was great,” the 32-year-old pitcher said moments after the workout ended. “There’s a lot of people out here. A lot of people are excited for the Phillies in 2018. We’ve got a lot of good things going on here. A lot of guys are healthy and competing, there’s a lot of youth. It’s a really fun time to be in this organization.”
Arrieta said he felt “really good physically,” not a surprise because he came into camp in terrific shape and had gotten to over 60 pitches in bullpen sessions back home in Austin, Texas. He threw all his pitches, including a couple of knee-buckling curveballs. He broke two of Alfaro’s bats, one with a sinker, one with a cutter.
“My goal was to throw everything in the arsenal for strikes and throw my off-speed pitches in and out of the zone where I could get some chases,” Arrieta said.
Arrieta did allow some contact, mostly ground balls.
Arrieta won the 2015 NL Cy Young Award with the Cubs. He won 22 games and had a 1.77 ERA that season.
A deceptive delivery is one of Arrieta’s strengths. He throws across his body and that crossfire action makes it difficult for a hitter to pick up the ball.
“It’s extremely deceptive,” Kingery said. “Every pitch is extremely deceptive. That’s what hit me. His curveball looks like it’s coming at your head then it drops.”
Arrieta is still hoping to be ready for the first week of the regular season, but the Phillies have not formulated a firm game plan. One thing is certain: They won’t rush him. They want him for the long haul. They could hold him back 10 days or so, allowing him to build more arm strength, and he’d still make 30 starts.
Arrieta expects to throw a bullpen session in the next day or two and try to get up around 60 pitches in his next outing. That could be in a minor-league game or in another simulated game.
“As long as we continue to get my pitch count up, I think I’ll be fine going into the season,” he said.