Gabe Kapler going with a 'stud' as Phillies' opening day starter

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Gabe Kapler going with a 'stud' as Phillies' opening day starter


CLEARWATER, Fla. — Gabe Kapler got one of the rites of spring out of the way Sunday. He named his opening day starting pitcher. Not surprisingly, it is the Phillies’ best starter. Aaron Nola will take the mound March 29 in Atlanta.

“I’ll tell you, it’s Aaron Nola,” Kapler said after the right-hander’s spring debut in an 8-3 loss to the Yankees. “It’s going to be Aaron Nola, barring anything crazy happening. He’s our guy. He's the man. He's our opening day starter. He’s earned it. He’s unequivocally the right choice. He’s an absolute gamer, a grinder and a stud and we’re proud to have him.”

Nola, 24, will be the Phillies’ youngest opening day starter since Dennis Bennett in 1964. Nola departed before Kapler’s announcement. Earlier in the day, he said getting the opening day nod “would mean a lot.” He added, “But there’s a lot of games and I plan on pitching a lot of them.”

After making the announcement, Kapler was asked if he would stay with that plan if the Phillies landed a big-name starting pitcher. It’s no secret that the club would like to sign former NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta — if he’d be willing to take a short-term deal. There’s a feeling around baseball that the longer Arrieta remains unsigned, the better chance his road would lead to Philadelphia.

“Yes,” Kapler said in response to the question. “As of this moment, Aaron Nola is our opening day starter.”

Nola returned from an elbow injury in 2017 and struck out 9.88 batters per nine innings in 27 starts last season. His 3.54 ERA ranked 20th in the majors. He had 12 ultra-quality starts — seven innings or more, two or fewer earned runs. Only Clayton Kershaw (16) and Max Scherzer (14) had more.

“His performance lines up nicely with the Scherzers of the world, not far off (Zack) Grienke,” Kapler said. “He is a real stud, someone we can depend on.”

Nola worked two innings Sunday. He gave up four hits, but one was a ball that Maikel Franco lost in the sun. Had Franco made the play, Nola eventually would have gotten out of the first inning. Instead, he was charged with three runs. He did not walk a batter and struck out three.

“It was really impressive to see that horizontal curveball and the life on his fastball,” Kapler said. “His curveball has the most east-west break in baseball. You can see it make a sharp left turn out of his hand.

“The results are not representative of his work today. His work was outstanding.”

Nola said his goal this season was to make every start and pitch 200 innings. He believes the Phillies can contend.

“Everybody still thinks we’re in the rebuilding stage, but I don’t think anyone in here doesn't think we’re going to compete,” he said. “We’re definitely going to be better than last year.”

And if the Phillies can add someone like Arrieta?

“That’s not our decision,” Nola said. “That’s the big guys’ decision. It would definitely be good to get another veteran. It’s always good to have veterans because for us younger guys it’s good to learn from them. They’ve been in our shoes before.”

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

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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.