Phillies

Rhys Hoskins gives college coach many thrills — and unexpected recruiting boost

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Rhys Hoskins gives college coach many thrills — and unexpected recruiting boost

Reggie Christiansen remembers well his first trip to Philadelphia. How could he forget it? It was the summer of 1998. He had just graduated from Menlo College in California. What better way to mark the occasion than by jumping in a Volkswagen bus with four buddies and making a tour of ballparks around the country?

"We saw almost every minor-league and major-league park," Christiansen said. "Fifty days. Five guys. Twenty-three big-league parks, a bunch of minor-league parks, 10,000 miles.

"We saw Cal Ripken and the Orioles play the Phillies at Veterans Stadium. It awesome."

All these years later, Christiansen is back in Philadelphia this week. Veterans Stadium might be gone, but the baseball experience is still, to use his word, awesome.

Like everyone else in town, Christiansen has come down with a case of Rhys Hoskins-mania. But his is a special strain. After all, he was Hoskins' college coach at Sacramento State University.

On Thursday afternoon, Christiansen was on the field at Citizens Bank Park during batting practice. He was joined by another of his former players, Brennan Leitao, a pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals' organization and a former teammate and roommate of Hoskins'.

Two nights earlier, the pair watched Hoskins hit two home runs in a 15-inning victory over the Miami Marlins. The night before, they watched the Phillies' rookie sensation belt another one in an 8-1 win. And Thursday night, yep, Hoskins did it again in a 10-0 win. It was his 18th homer in 34 games.

It has been an incredible run for Hoskins.

Ditto for his old friends from Sacramento State.

"What he's been doing up here is pretty incredible," Christiansen said. "I got a chance to see him play in San Francisco, and he hit a home run like five rows behind where I was sitting with my family and I felt like I was in a Disney movie.

"That's the best way I can describe this. It's been like a Disney movie."

Leitao agreed.

"Rhys is special," he said. "He deserves this. Everybody is really stoked for him."

It's hard to believe now, but there once was a time when Hoskins was an under-the-radar baseball talent. He received one college scholarship offer, and that was from Christiansen and the hometown school five miles down the road.

"We saw him the summer after his junior year," Christiansen recalled. "He actually played some games on our campus. We have a big parking structure in left field, and he hit a home run off the parking structure with a wood bat, and we just felt like he was going to hit so we made him an offer. We were actually bidding against ourselves because he had no other offers.

"We knew he had a chance to be special. He could always hit. He was never a big swing-and-miss guy and the power has continued to come. He hit like 12 home runs as a freshman so the power was there. It's just been a matter of him making the adjustments at each level. A lot of the credit really goes to the Phillies for instituting the leg kick and he has just gotten better each year."

Even though he put up big numbers at Sacramento State, Hoskins remained slightly under the radar. He was not drafted until the fifth round in 2014. That's OK. He's not the first power-hitting gold nugget that the Phillies unearthed in that round. Ryan Howard was a fifth-rounder in 2001.

Leitao recalled living and hanging out with Hoskins.

"I got to understand how competitive he is," Leitao said. "Playing ping-pong, playing corn hole, just little games here and there. He's a very competitive guy."

Nowhere did that competitiveness show more than in the batter's box.

"We had some friends hanging out on top of the parking structure at our field during a game and he hit one up there," Leitao said. "It cleared their heads and went halfway deep, and they were on the sixth floor."

Christiansen was scheduled to come East this weekend to attend an amateur tournament in Toronto. He hopes to do some recruiting. That has become a little easier since Hoskins arrived in the majors and started terrorizing major-league pitching.

"He's already helped our recruiting, no question," Christiansen said. "What he's doing, he's on ESPN every night and they're mentioning Sacramento State. It's really helped. We're kind of a mid-major program. Kids see what he's doing, he came from our program and it’s an easier sell. Kids are more receptive."

During their time in Philadelphia, Christiansen and Leitao found some time to do touristy things before heading over to the ballpark at night. They visited the Rocky steps one day.

"We walked 'em," Christiansen said with a laugh.

Their nights were spent watching Philadelphia's newest attraction rack up home runs. Fifteen. Sixteen. Seventeen. Eighteen.

And the best part? Hoskins is the same guy he was back at Sacramento State.

"He's an unbelievable kid," Christiansen said. "Extremely humble."

Phillies set to activate Tommy Hunter after sending Hoby Milner to Triple A

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USA Today Images

Phillies set to activate Tommy Hunter after sending Hoby Milner to Triple A

The Phillies sent left-handed reliever Hoby Milner to Triple A after Saturday’s 6-2 win over the Pirates. Though the team said it would not announce a corresponding roster move until Sunday, the transaction clears a spot for reliever Tommy Hunter to be activated.

Hunter, 31, signed a two-year, $18-million contract with the Phillies in December, but was forced to begin the season on the disabled list after suffering a hamstring strain late in spring training. The right-hander has pitched twice at Double A Reading in recent days in preparation for his return.

Milner’s departure leaves the Phillies with just one lefty — Adam Morgan — in their bullpen. However, as manager Gabe Kapler mentioned several days ago, Hunter’s cutter can be effective against lefty hitters.

Hunter pitched in 61 games for Tampa Bay last season and held lefty hitters to a .170 (15 for 88) batting average and a .501 OPS. Righties hit .224 (28 for 125) with a .649 OPS.

Milner pitched 4 2/3 innings over 10 appearances. He allowed six hits and four runs. He walked three, hit a batter and struck out four.

Rampaging Phillies poised to sweep Pirates thanks to Nola, Hoskins

Rampaging Phillies poised to sweep Pirates thanks to Nola, Hoskins

BOX SCORE

Here’s a ridiculously early prediction: Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins will be in Washington on July 17.

And they won’t be there to visit the Smithsonian.

They’ll be there as members of the National League All-Star team.

These two pillars of the Phillies’ rebuild led the club to a 6-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates Saturday (see first take). Nola was brilliant on the mound. He went seven innings, allowed just two runs, walked none and struck out nine. He allowed six hits. Two never left the infield and one was a sixth-inning pop up to center field that became the latest chapter in the Adventures of Odubel Herrera and dropped in, costing Nola a run as the Pirates went ahead, 2-0.

Just when it was starting to seem as if Nola was going to be victimized by no run support, Hoskins showed up to save the day with a three-run home run to left against gas-throwing righty Michael Feliz. The bomb capped a terrific, seven-pitch at-bat in which Hoskins came back from an 0-2 count, and gave the Phils a 3-2 lead that they padded with three runs in the eighth.

Hoskins fouled off three pitches after falling behind, 0-2. Hit his a 1-2 fastball that came in at 97 mph. Through 20 games, Hoskins is hitting .328 with four homers, 19 RBIs and a 1.127 OPS. He is 8 for 17 with two doubles and two homers on counts of 1-2 or 0-2.

There ain’t any fear in this gifted, 25-year-old hitter, who, by the way, has played in just 70 big-league games.

“Wherever he is in the count, it always feels like he’s dominating the at-bat,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “So even if he is down 0-2, we’re waiting to see him get back into the count and hang in there for a pitch he can drive into the gaps or out of the ballpark.

“You need a calm to hit like that with two strikes and that’s what he displays. No situation overwhelms him. He gets down 0-2 against a guy who has nasty stuff, a big fastball, it just doesn’t seem to faze him.”

The Phillies, 13-7 and 12-3 since their 1-4 start, have beaten the Pirates three straight days and go for a sweep Sunday. They rallied for a run in the eighth to win, 2-1, Friday and rallied back from being down 2-0 in this one.

“There’s no panic,” Hoskins said. “We get into the late innings, we keep grinding.”

Hoskins explained the key to his success with two strikes.

“I think if you can control your heart rate and be comfortable in the box, good things are probably going to happen,” he said.

Being a good hitter also helps.

It seems as if Nola has been around forever, but he doesn’t turn 25 until June. He has the same calm that Hoskins does. A leadoff homer by Sean Rodriguez never fazed him. Rodriguez swung big and laid into a fastball. Nola went soft on him the rest of the day. Herrera’s mistake in center field didn’t rattle Nola either.

“There are so many pitchers who would get frustrated and then not be able to execute their pitches,” Kapler said. “It was just the opposite with Noles. He just got right back on the bump and delivered his next strike.”

Nola has not allowed more than two runs in any of his five starts this season.

A few more of those and he and Hoskins can carpool to Washington in July.