Phillies bolster dugout IQ as analyst dons red pinstripes

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Phillies bolster dugout IQ as analyst dons red pinstripes

CLEARWATER, Fla. — It’s spring training and first-year Phillies manager Gabe Kapler will do anything (see story).

He will shift outfielders from left field to right field on the fly.

He will bat his best power hitter leadoff.

He will ask an analyst from the team’s research and development department to put on a uniform, hang out with Charlie Manuel during batting practice, take in a few innings from the dugout and a few more from the bullpen.

That’s what happened on Tuesday. Alex Nakahara, a senior quantitative analyst from the team’s R & D department, took the field in uniform as batting practice was about to begin and did not leave until the bullpen emptied after the last out in an 11-6 loss to the Tigers (more on the game here).

What in the name of Dr. Sheldon Cooper is this all about?

“First and foremost, it's being inclusive,” Kapler said. “It's something we've talked about a lot — bringing the front office and the field staff together. Bringing our R & D department, our analytics department, together so that they can experience what we're going through. They can understand how we're making decisions, listen to conversations on the bench, maybe get more inspired by those conversations.”

Nakahara is a Penn grad who spent five years as a systems engineer with Northrup Grumman before joining the Phillies' rapidly expanding analytics department.

“Alex just blends in anywhere,” Kapler said. “He represented himself really well. I think he learned a lot from listening to [the coaches] talk about the game situations. Understanding what goes into our decision-making process, what factors we layer on top of the analytics to make good decisions is really important, right? It’s very similar to how cool it would be if we went up to their [analytics] office and listened to them talk through how they come up with information.”

Kapler hoped having Nakahara in the dugout sent a message to the players.

“Alex is our teammate,” he said. “Our R & D department are our teammates. Every person in the organization is a shareholder in our organization. We want to treat them like they’re part of our group, not they’re up there and we’re down here, which historically has been sort of the divide in baseball.”

Kapler was impressed with how Nakahara looked in a uniform.

“There are a lot of people in this building who are huge fans of Alex," he said. "He may not be the only person that comes in the dugout during this time period. This is an inclusive environment. We want people to be familiar with one another. We want departments to be familiar with one another.”

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.