Phillies prospect Rhys Hoskins out to tackle 'challenge' of new position

Phillies prospect Rhys Hoskins out to tackle 'challenge' of new position

Not long ago, Rhys Hoskins wandered to the outfield to harmlessly shag some fly balls during batting practice.

On Monday night, he was in the outfield … for a live game.

The anticipated first base prospect started in left field for the first time in his professional career. The Phillies are experimenting a bit with Hoskins, whose bat is major-league ready but his position isn't quite open with 26-year-old Tommy Joseph currently holding down first base.

Hoskins said his venture into left field started taking shape a few weeks ago before coming to fruition — for now — during Triple A Lehigh Valley's 4-2 loss to Norfolk.

"Couple of weeks ago, they said, 'Hey, go run around the outfield a little bit during BP,'" Hoskins said pregame Monday in an interview with CSNPhilly's Marshall Harris. "It was good, get my conditioning up, keep it up towards the end of the year here. Then they told me, 'Hey, start taking it a little bit more serious, getting reads off the bat.' They talked to me about it a little bit, I felt comfortable out there and here we are tonight."

The debut saw Hoskins make four putouts and no errors over nine innings. The new setting didn't slow down his bat, as Hoskins went 2 for 5 with his 85th RBI of the season. The 24-year-old is slashing .281/.385/.568 with 27 home runs, 23 doubles and 64 walks — tied for most in the International League with teammate J.P. Crawford.

The offense is what the Phillies know about Hoskins. Now they want to know if outfield is a possibility in the future, and Hoskins sounds open to the tryout.

"That's really what it is, a new challenge," he said. "I think as a competitor, like we all are in the clubhouse and in this sport, someone presents you with a new challenge, you want to be good at it — and that's what I'll try to do.

"It's been a while since I started out there, back to college. Catch the ball, hit the cutoff, to put it in simple terms. And that's really what it is.

"I'm excited. Not nervous at all. It's the same game when it comes down to it. Catch the ball and hit the cutoff."

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Hoskins was selected by the Phillies in the fifth round of the 2014 draft out of Sacramento State, where he started 37 games in left field as a freshman. Even though that was in 2012, he'll look back on the experience moving forward.

"The one thing about the corner outfield is playing the ball with a hook or the slice," he said. "As soon as I got out there, it was like, 'OK, I've got to either not give up on a ball or get a good jump on a ball that's hooked down the line.' I got my reps in the outfield during BP and we'll go from there."

Hoskins said he wasn't surprised by the move because it had been in the works and discussed ahead of time by IronPigs manager Dusty Wathan.

As for how long the project continues is unknown.

"They didn't give me any timetable," Hoskins said. "I guess we'll see how it goes tonight. There's a lot more space out there than there is at first base, but there's a guy to my left in center field that's trying do his job, too, so I think we'll be OK."

Game 1 was fine. For all Hoskins knows, this is just the beginning.

Alex Cobb? Matt Klentak discusses replacing Jerad Eickhoff

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Alex Cobb? Matt Klentak discusses replacing Jerad Eickhoff

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies signed free-agent right-hander Jake Arrieta earlier this week.

That's probably going to be the extent of their pitching additions for now.

Jerad Eickhoff is out until at least May with a strained right lat muscle and that creates a sizable hole in the Phillies rotation.

The hole is likely to be filled internally, according to general manager Matt Klentak. The team is not likely to make a run at Alex Cobb, who remains on the free-agent market.

"I doubt it," Klentak said when asked if he would look outside the organization to fill Eickhoff's spot. "I don't think we have to. I think a lot of our guys have shown very well in camp. They have gotten their pitch counts up, they're getting to the point of being fully stretched out.

"More than anything, I think we're going to have some tough decisions on figuring out who is in the rotation, who is in the bullpen, who goes into the Triple-A rotation, who goes into the Double-A rotation. We've got a lot of tough decisions to make on that front, but I don't think we're in a position where we have to go outside. We have a lot of candidates to take the ball at the big league level so we'll be fine."

Aaron Nola will start on opening day. Arrieta will be in the rotation, though he might need an extra week or so to get ready. Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta are likely to hold down spots. That leaves Zach Eflin, Ben Lively, Mark Leiter Jr., Jake Thompson, Drew Hutchison and Tom Eshelman in the running for the final spot in the five-man rotation. Eshelman, strike-thrower extraordinaire, was the Phillies' minor-league pitcher of the year last year and projects to be in Philadelphia before long. However, it might not be at the outset of the season because he is not on the 40-man roster. Neither is Hutchison.

The Phillies do not need a fifth starter until April 11 so they could employ some creative roster construction until then. They could go with four starters and an extra reliever or bench man. Or they could bring an extra starter and "piggyback" him with Arrieta, a move that would allow Arrieta to make an abbreviated start during the first week of the season.

"There's a decent chance we open the season with somewhat of a non-traditional 25-man roster, not because we're trying to be cute but because we don't need the fifth starter until the 11th," Klentak said. "We're going to do whatever puts us in the best position to win those first 10 days of the season."

The Phillies made one transaction on Friday. They added utility man Pedro Florimon to the 40-man roster. He had a provision in his minor-league contract that allowed him to become a free agent if he wasn't on the 40-man roster by March 15. Florimon is a candidate for a spot on the Phillies' bench. The move doesn't guarantee that Florimon will win a spot, but it gives the team more time to evaluate him. To make room for Florimon, the Phillies designated infielder Eliezer Alvarez for assignment.

Florimon homered in the Phillies' 6-4 loss to Toronto in Clearwater Friday. Cam Rupp and Cesar Hernandez also homered. Velasquez gave up five hits and a run in 2⅔ innings. He struck out five.

In Lakeland, Pivetta allowed two runs over five innings as the Phils and Tigers played to a 6-6 tie. J.P. Crawford and Ryan Flaherty both homered.

Phillies lose Jerad Eickhoff for 6-8 weeks

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Phillies lose Jerad Eickhoff for 6-8 weeks

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies' pitching staff has suffered a setback.

Jerad Eickhoff, projected as a member of the season-opening starting rotation, has been shut down with a strained right lat muscle, the area behind his shoulder. He will open the season on the disabled list and be sidelined into May, based on the team's six- to eight-week timetable for treatment and recovery.

Eickhoff, 27, spent time on the disabled list with a similar injury last season. That injury was technically called an upper back strain.

Manager Gabe Kapler said Eickhoff injured himself on one of the final pitches he threw during his last start.

Eickhoff led the Phillies' staff in ERA (3.65) while making 33 starts in 2016. He was limited to 24 starts and had a 4.71 ERA last year while making two trips to the DL. His second trip to the DL, which ended his season, was for a nerve irritation in his right hand. Eickhoff is in Philadelphia being checked by doctors.

"We want to ensure, and we're pretty confident, that it's not related in any way to the (nerve) stuff he was dealing with last year," manager Gabe Kapler said.

Kapler added, "It's a mild lat strain. There might be a blessing in disguise here. We're always thinking about keeping guys healthy and strong and limiting their total innings count. Those are things that are always on our mind so it's possible the innings are limited on the front end and then in September, October, he's strong and healthy and prepared to go through a full season."

With Eickhoff down, the Phillies suddenly have some openings in their rotation. Jake Arrieta, who signed with the Phillies on Monday, believes he can be ready for the first week of the season, but nothing is official. Aaron Nola will be the opening day starter and Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez are good bets to be in the rotation. The final spot could go to Zach Eflin, Ben Lively, Mark Leiter Jr. or Tom Eshelman.

It is not known whether the Phillies would pursue free agent Alex Cobb. On Monday, general manager Matt Klentak said his offseason moves were likely complete.