Bombs away! Nick Williams takes aim on manager's car in batting practice

Bombs away! Nick Williams takes aim on manager's car in batting practice

CLEARWATER, Fla. — A week into camp, Nick Williams looks primed to build on last year’s impressive rookie season.

Williams has been launching balls in batting practice and manager Gabe Kapler loves it — even if it means he’ll be charged for a little damage to his rental car.

On Tuesday, Williams clubbed a ball far over the fence at Mike Schmidt Field. It landed on the roof of Kapler’s rented Ford Explorer, leaving a dent that would hold a couple of servings of creamed spinach.

“I would trade a Nick Williams home run for a dent in a rental car any day of the week,” Kapler said Tuesday.

“I’m glad he said that,” Williams said Wednesday morning, “because it felt kind of good to hit it.”

Later on Wednesday, Williams put on another power display at Schmidt Field. It was so impressive that Cesar Hernandez considered leaving the field, grabbing his keys and moving his car.

“I just missed Cesar’s car,” Williams said with a laugh.

Kapler was again impressed with Williams’ round of BP.

“Today we had a nice little breeze coming in from right field,” Kapler said. “The breeze did not stop Nick Williams from destroying the baseball and almost hitting my car for a second day straight.

“If he is destroying cars and it happens to be mine, no problem.”

Kapler has no intention of parking elsewhere in coming days. In fact, he likes the idea of Williams using his car for target practice.

“We’re going to make it a bull’s-eye for him,” Kapler said. “That’ll be a running joke. It’s a great way to build relationships. It’s part of the whole scientific plan to make this work.”

Williams, 24, arrived in the majors in June of last season. He played in 83 games and hit .288 with 12 homers, 55 RBIs and an .811 OPS. Like a number of players on the roster, he would benefit from fewer strikeouts and more walks (97/20 in 343 plate appearances last season), but a week into camp, Kapler likes the hitting potential he sees in the young outfielder.

“He’s really shining,” Kapler said. “He really is. He walks around with a perpetual smile on his face.

“Our hitting coaches are enthused about the bat path. The way he sort of lofts the ball to the middle of the field. Some hitters, when they strike their best ball, it’s on the ground. But Nick, when he makes his most solid contract, it has a nice loft to his swing. And in the middle of the field, there aren’t many guys who can drive the ball like he can.”

The Phillies have four outfielders worthy of regular playing time. Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera line up to play left field and center field, respectively. Williams will get time in right. Aaron Altherr can play any outfield position.

Kapler is reluctant to assign roles at this point in camp. But he is confident he can find all four playing time.

“I’m not concerned about that,” he said. “Between pinch-hitting, interleague, someone getting a tweak and missing a week, the occasional rep at first base [for Hoskins], they’re all going to get a ton of reps. I envision plenty of at-bats to keep everybody satisfied, healthy and performing well.”

Phillies set to unveil new ace Jake Arrieta in spring training

Phillies set to unveil new ace Jake Arrieta in spring training

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Thursday starts the one-week countdown to opening day.

Oh, yeah, and Jake Arrieta will also make his Grapefruit League debut.

It figures to be the highlight of the spring.

Arrieta signed a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies last week. He has completed a progression from bullpen work — he actually had gotten well into that on his own before signing — to facing hitters in a controlled situation.

Now, it’s time to face some competition — the Detroit Tigers. The game will be televised on NBCSP+ at 1 p.m.

The Phillies have yet to decide when Arrieta will make his regular-season debut. The pitcher believes he will be ready during the first week of the season. The team will exercise caution. Arrieta’s performance Thursday — and possibly more important, his recovery — will go a long way into determining when the Phils turn him loose.

“I’m looking for him to be healthy, first and foremost,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I would love to see him come out just like he has in his live batting practice sessions and in his bullpens, which is strong, ball looking like a lead fastball, featuring that great cutter and a lot of that great deception.

"We’re looking for him to be Jake Arrieta. Most importantly, most critically and most consequentially, I’m looking for him to be healthy and strong.”

Kapler said the Phils would be flexible on Arrieta’s pitch count. Fifty or so seems like a good guess.

Arrieta has been around for a week now. His teammates are thrilled to have him.

“Obviously, with the Arrieta signing, we got a lot better not only on the field but in the clubhouse,” Rhys Hoskins said (more on him here). “What he’s going to be able to do not only for the pitchers but for some of us young position guys — I mean he’s recently won a World Series, he’s a Cy Young guy, he knows how to compete at the highest level. We have a good group. It’s meshing pretty quickly. I’m excited to see how it goes once we start.”

Rhys Hoskins doing damage as opening day comes into sight

USA Today Images

Rhys Hoskins doing damage as opening day comes into sight


DUNEDIN, Fla. — The season opener is eight days away and Rhys Hoskins says his swing “is getting there.” 

Getting there? Really?

It looks like it already arrived with the morning mail.

Hoskins continued his recent run of excellent at-bats in Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. He belted a two-run homer, a solo homer and also worked a walk. Over his last five games, he is 6 for 16 with five walks. For the spring, he is hitting .279 (12 for 43) with four doubles, four homers, eight RBIs, 11 runs scored and an OPS of 1.066.

“What does he have, 10 strikeouts and 10 walks on the spring?” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler asked.

Indeed, those are the numbers.

“That is fantastic,” Kapler said. “Obviously, he’s swinging the bat beautifully and really controlling the at-bats.”

It all starts with pitch recognition.

“I’ve been pretty happy with that throughout camp,” Hoskins said. “I don’t feel like I’ve chased too many, which is always good. I’ve seen a bunch of breaking balls and been able to recognize them early.”

The outstanding selectivity that Hoskins has allows him to work pitchers into fastball counts. He did that in the first inning when he got a 3-1 fastball from Marcus Stroman and drove it over the left-field wall. The ball left the bat at 108 miles per hour.

Obviously, Hoskins was pleased that the ball left the yard. He was more pleased with the swing. He believes pitchers will try to bust him in this season and he’s ready for it.

“I was really, really happy with the first at-bat,” he said. “I had been struggling with the ball in. I was able to keep my hands inside of it and the ball went.”

His second homer came on a 1-1 fastball from Luis Santos. The wind was blowing out at Dunedin Stadium. Hoskins saw a pitch up and took a rip.

“On a day like today, if you see the ball up you’re going to have a pretty good chance,” he said.

Hoskins batted second in the lineup, ahead of Maikel Franco and Carlos Santana. Kapler has juggled lineups all spring and has strongly implied that he will do that, based on matchups, during the regular season.

“I don’t care where I hit,” Hoskins said. “With the guys we have and the way they’re going to construct the lineup, if I hit second, fourth, sixth, I think I’m going to be able to hit with men on base.

“Throughout my career I’ve been a run producer, so that’s the main thing for me. If I can create some runs, whether it’s scoring runs or driving in runs, I’ll be happy.”

The Phils and Jays played to a 7-7 tie. The Phillies’ bullpen gave up five runs in the last two innings to let a 7-2 lead get away. The Phils used 10 pitchers, including two day-trippers from minor-league camp. Starter Nick Pivetta pitched two perfect innings. The team purposely scaled him back to keep him in line with a 25-inning spring target. Scott Kingery and Aaron Altherr also hit home runs.