Phillies

Rhys Hoskins on 'surreal' rookie year, position switch, expectations

usa-rhys-hoskins.jpg
USA Today Images

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."

Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta goes to school on Justin Verlander

ap-usa-nick-pivetta-justin-verlander.jpg
AP Images/USA Today Images

Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta goes to school on Justin Verlander

BOX SCORE

DUNEDIN, Fla. — For a gazillion years, pitchers have been told to keep the ball down. That is still valuable advice, but with more and more hitters looking to launch the ball with an upward swing path these days, power pitchers are striking back with a high fastball above the bat head.

Nick Pivetta has a power fastball and he’s working on this technique. He consciously threw some fastballs above the belt in his two-inning spring debut Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

“We're telling all of our pitchers, we're asking them to do some new things,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “And there's going to be some times in spring training games when you get hit a little bit.”

That’s OK. The new-school Phillies want their players to be open to new ideas. Pivetta, who struck out 9.5 batters per nine innings in 26 starts last season, is open learning to ride a high fastball by a hitter looking to launch. He watched on television as Justin Verlander did that for Houston in the postseason last year and he’s watched more video of Verlander and interacted with Phillies coaches about the strategy this spring.

“A key point that they brought to me was how Verlander pitched in the playoffs,” Pivetta said. “I think that’s something I can learn from a lot of the time, how he did it when he came over to Houston.

“It’s part of pitching. You’ve got to be able to command the zone, both the top and bottom. It’s not to say we’re going to only throw up. It’s just something else to work on.”

Pivetta pitched two innings and struck out three in the 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays. He allowed three hits, a walk and two runs in the first inning. One of the hits was a solo homer by Curtis Granderson on a hanging breaking ball.

Kapler was pleased with Pivetta’s performace and his reponse to trying new things.

“He executed his game plan today,” Kapler said. “He executed some pretty nasty sliders at the bottom of the zone. He executed some fastballs at the top of the zone. He missed some bats, which is really encouraging.

“One of the things we’re working on with him is elevating a little bit. He has velocity and strong pitch characteristics to pitch up in the zone. But he also has the ability to pitch down in the zone with his slider and his curveball.

“He kicked ass today. He did everything we asked him to do.”

The Phillies host the Orioles on Saturday. Zach Eflin will be the starting pitcher.

Lost and found — K-Rod enjoys solid debut with Phillies

usa-francisco-rodriguez.jpg
USA Today Images

Lost and found — K-Rod enjoys solid debut with Phillies

BOX SCORE

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Francisco Rodriguez navigated the narrow streets of this friendly, little, old-school spring training burg looking for a place to park his Mercedes late Friday morning.

Finally, after asking several people for directions, he found a spot near the grounds crew shed at Dunedin Stadium.

The episode was a bit of a metaphor for Rodriguez’s workday with the Phillies. Back on the mound in a game situation for the first time since last summer, Rodriguez allowed a walk to the first batter he faced and later a single, but stayed composed and left two runners on base in notching a scoreless inning in his first action of the spring in a 2-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

“I felt kind of lost the first couple of batters,” Rodriguez said. “But once I got a ground ball, I started locating. It had been a while since I was on the mound in a game.”

Rodriguez, 36, is the most decorated player in Phillies camp. He is a six-time All-Star and baseball’s active leader in saves (437) and appearances (948). Released twice last season, he is trying to win a spot in the Phillies’ bullpen as a non-roster invite to camp.

He opened last season as Detroit’s closer, but was released in June after recording a 7.82 ERA in 28 games. The Nationals took a peek at him in the minors a few weeks later and also let him go.

Rodriguez said he was not healthy last season. He said he had issues with his groin and hamstring.

“I couldn’t be 100 percent,” he said. “But that’s not an excuse. I should have found a way to get the job done in Detroit and I couldn’t. That’s one of the reasons that I’m in this situation now.”

Rodriguez ranks fourth all time in saves behind Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith. He does not have the power fastball that once earned him the nickname K-Rod — he topped out at 89 mph Friday — but location, a good changeup and old-fashioned savvy are still strengths. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz was influential in bringing in Rodriguez for a look. The two were together in Milwaukee, where Rodriguez was an All-Star in 2014 and 2015.

“He’s a great reliever,” Kranitz said.

Does he have anything left?

“I believe so, yes,” Kranitz said.

Kranitz went on to say that Rodriguez was a high-character guy who would help the Phillies’ young pitchers.

Rodriguez was asked what pushed him to continue his career and come to camp essentially on a tryout.

“I love the game,” he said. “I don’t think I have to prove anything. I don’t think I went to Walmart and bought 900 appearances and 437 saves. I did that with a lot of pride and hard work. This is the only thing I know how to do, play baseball. God gave me the opportunity to throw a baseball and I’m going to continue to do it.”

The Phillies may go with an eight-man bullpen. That could help Rodriguez’s chances of sticking. But he will have to pitch well.

“I’m looking forward to having a great spring,” he said.