Phillies

Phillies-White Sox 5 things: First trip to Chicago's South Side since 2004

Phillies-White Sox 5 things: First trip to Chicago's South Side since 2004

Phillies (58-67) at White Sox (59-64)
8:10 p.m. on CSN

After going 2-4 on a six-game homestand against the Dodgers and Cardinals, the Phillies visit the White Sox for a brief two-game series. Rarely does interleague play take the Phils to the South Side of Chicago. 

How rarely?

1. The last time ...
The last time the Phillies were in Chicago to take on the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field was 2004. 

The series was so long ago that Ryan Howard hadn't yet made his major-league debut. Chase Utley was still a part-time player. Carlos Ruiz was wrapping up his first full season at Double A.

It was so long ago that Ricky Ledee, Tomas Perez and Doug Glanville were in the Phillies' lineup, and Frank Thomas was the White Sox DH. 

Since interleague play began in 1997, the only other park the Phillies have visited as sparingly as U.S. Cellular Field is Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. The Phils are 1-2 at both AL Central fields. 

At the beginning of the season it looked like this would be another reunion for the Phils and Jimmy Rollins, but the shortstop was designated for assignment by the White Sox after hitting .221 through 41 games.

2. Thompson's turn
Jake Thompson makes his fourth big-league start after going 1-2 with a 8.79 ERA in his first three. 

It's been a true struggle so far for Thompson, who has allowed 14 runs in 14⅓ innings on 14 hits and nine walks. He's walked multiple batters each game, and so far just 57.5 percent of his pitches have been strikes. 

Thompson keeps falling behind hitters with men on base, which is a recipe for disaster. It just seems like he's not finishing pitches out of the stretch. Or maybe he's tried too hard to evade solid contact and has nibbled instead. Whatever the case, it hasn't worked and Thompson will need to fix it to figure out what kind of pitcher he needs to be in the majors. 

Thompson had a 1.21 ERA in his final 11 starts at Triple A. The talent is there. The execution just hasn't been. A lot of times, young pitchers come up and struggle before figuring it out. The early successes of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and even Zach Eflin (after his first start) may cause you to forget that.

3. The book on Rodon
The Phillies for the first time face 23-year-old White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon, who was drafted third overall in 2014, four picks ahead of Nola.

Rodon is one of the only players in that entire draft who made it to the majors faster than Nola. He came up last season and went 9-6 with a 3.75 ERA for the White Sox, striking out 139 batters in 139⅓ innings but walking 71. 

This season, Rodon is 3-8 with a 4.26 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 20 starts. It's been a rocky season, but he's been much better of late. Rodon missed almost all of July with a sprained wrist he suffered falling down the dugout steps. He's returned to pitch well in August, giving up four earned runs in 18 innings.

Rodon's control has improved significantly this season — he's walked 3.0 batters per nine innings after walking 4.6 as a rookie.

Rodon is a four-pitch pitcher with a four-seam fastball and sinker that average 94 mph, a slider at 87 and a changeup at 84. He throws the changeup just eight percent of the time.

Right-handed hitters have pounded Rodon this season, hitting .305/.365/.484. Lefties have hit just .220/.268/.286. Expect to see Tommy Joseph at first base and perhaps Tyler Goeddel in the outfield.

4. Scouting the Sox
The White Sox got off to a fast start this season, going 23-10 through May 9. They're 18 games under .500 since.

That early-season surge was built on timely offense and lights-out work from the bullpen. It probably inflated expectations for what is really just an average American League team.

Leadoff man Adam Eaton and veteran outfielder Melky Cabrera have had solid years for the Sox. Eaton has hit .276 with a .357 OBP and 37 extra-base hits. Cabrera has hit .295 with a .778 OPS.

The White Sox needed and still need more out of Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier, though. Abreu is hitting a respectable .283/.338/.447 but has just 16 home runs. And that's with Abreu heating up this month, hitting .361 with five homers. The big Cuban slugger has declined in each of his three seasons in the majors, his OPS dropping from .964 to .849 to .785. He hit 36 homers as a rookie and 30 last season.

Frazier, per usual, has hit for power with 31 homers and 76 RBIs. But he's hitting just .212 with a .295 on-base percentage, and those 31 homers account for one-third of his hits. He's also striking out a lot, on pace for 160.

The White Sox are too top-heavy a team. Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are a solid one-two punch atop the rotation. On paper, Abreu and Frazier should be a productive middle-of-the-order pairing. Eaton and Cabrera are adequate table-setters. And high-priced closer David Robertson still has great stuff. But the formula just hasn't led to wins in 2016.

5. This and that
• This is the only week the rest of the season the Phillies have two off days (Monday and Thursday).

• The Phils face the White Sox in another two-game series Sept. 20-21 at Citizens Bank Park.

• The Phillies have the fifth-best interleague record in the NL this season at 8-8. 

• The Phils are 14-14 against left-handed starting pitchers.

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."