Phillies

Young Phillies end trip with valuable lesson from Stephen Strasburg in loss to Nationals

Young Phillies end trip with valuable lesson from Stephen Strasburg in loss to Nationals

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WASHINGTON — While the Washington Nationals gear up for the postseason over these final three weeks of the regular season, the Phillies remain in full development mode.
 
So maybe it was a good thing for both teams that Nationals' right-hander Stephen Strasburg was on top of his game Sunday afternoon.
 
Strasburg pitched the Nats to the National League East title in a 3-2 win over the Phillies (see observations). And while Strasburg was completely dominant in pitching eight shutout innings and striking out 10, the Phillies' young hitters got a chance to familiarize themselves with the type of elite pitching they'll one day have to beat if they want to ascend to the top of the division.

There's some value in that.
 
"You want to throw guys right into the fire and let them know what they're up against," manager Pete Mackanin said after the game.
 
"Strasburg had his best stuff today. It's good for those young guys to see him."
 
Seven of Strasburg's strikeouts came against Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams and J.P. Crawford, three of the young building blocks that have recently joined the Phillies' lineup. They will be better for the experience of seeing Strasburg's high 90s fastball, his knee-buckling breaking ball and his killer changeup.
 
"He was on today," Crawford said. "He mixed it up and commanded it. He's not afraid to throw his off-speed stuff 2-2 or 3-2. Props to him. He shut us down."
 
Strasburg is on a terrific roll. He has not allowed a run in his last four starts, running his scoreless innings streak to 34, a Montreal/Washington franchise record.
 
Despite Strasburg's excellence, the Phillies were in this game. In fact, the loss was their 35th by one run, tying a team record. Overall, the Phillies have 89 losses with 19 games to play.
 
The Phils were in this game because rookie right-hander Ben Lively continued to impress with his competitiveness, willingness to attack hitters and ability to command his fastball. He became the only Phillies pitcher not named Aaron Nola to pitch into the eighth inning this season. He finished with eight innings of three-run ball. He walked one and struck out seven.
 
"He pitched extremely well," Mackanin said. "That was our first complete game of the year. It was nice not to have to go to the bullpen."
 
Pitching against a red-hot Strasburg, Lively could afford no mistakes. He made just a couple in allowing two runs in the sixth inning and another in the bottom of the eighth inning. Trea Turner tripled and scored the Nats' first run in the sixth. He then homered in the eighth to give the Nats a 3-0 lead.
 
"Two bad pitches and that was the ballgame," Lively said. "The first slider I hung all day was in that last inning. I'd rather get my teeth kicked in than lose a game like that."
 
Lively, 25, has a 3.86 ERA in 12 starts. He has pitched at least six innings and allowed three or fewer earned runs in nine of those starts. He does a lot of it with command, deception and competitiveness as he does not possess a fastball that lights up radar guns. He has put himself in line to bid for a starting spot next spring.
 
"I hope so," he said. "I've been pitching my ass off. I always pitch my ass off. That's how I always am and nothing is going to change."
 
Lively has a fan in Mackanin.
 
"There's always the discussion about what's more important, velocity, deception, movement, location," Mackanin said. "A lot of people will say velocity but that's not the case for me. Location, movement and deception are just as important if not more important, and if you locate with lesser stuff you can be just as successful. We've seen many pitchers in the majors who are like that."
 
The Nationals will be a tough team to reckon with in the postseason. With Max Scherzer (2.32), Gio Gonzalez (2.50) and Strasburg (2.64), they have the second-, third- and fourth-best ERAs in the NL, and the July acquisitions of Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle have bolstered the bullpen. Of course, they still need to get Bryce Harper healthy and there's optimism they will.
 
Madson was called on to protect a 3-0 lead in the ninth inning Sunday. He sputtered a little and allowed three hits and two runs (his first in 13 innings with the Nats) before closing the door on the Phils. Williams drove in the Phillies' two runs in that inning with a base hit.
 
The Phillies finished the 11-game road trip with five wins and six losses, and Williams had 15 RBIs on the trip, giving him 45 in his first 64 big-league games. For a developing team, that was a positive. Lively's recent work has been a positive, too.

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

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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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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."