Giancarlo Stanton

Phillies pitcher saw slugger's awesome power before most others did

usa-ben-lively-aaron-judge.jpg
USA Today Images

Phillies pitcher saw slugger's awesome power before most others did

BOX SCORE

TAMPA, Fla. — Pitching on the road in spring training often means facing the opposition’s A lineup.

For Ben Lively, that meant squaring off against the New York Yankees’ power duo of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton at Steinbrenner Field on Thursday. Judge and Stanton combined to hit 111 home runs last season. But Lively was not intimidated. He’d held Stanton hitless in three at-bats when the slugger — and National League MVP — was with the Miami Marlins last season.

Lively’s history with Judge goes back a little further.

Though Lively spent his college years at Central Florida and Judge across the country at Fresno State, they were opponents in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2012.

Judge crushed 52 homers for the Yankees en route to winning the American League Rookie of the Year award last year.

Lively saw the power long before that.

“Still the farthest ball I’ve ever seen hit off a pitcher was one he hit at Brewster on the Cape,” Lively said. “It’s still the farthest ball I’ve ever seen hit in person. It was still going up over the trees in left field when we last saw it.”

Lively was reminded of the eye-popping home run when he faced the 6-foot-7 behemoth in the first inning of Thursday's 7-6 win over the Yankees (more on the game here). In four innings of work, Lively retired Judge twice on fly balls to center field. He also retired Stanton, he of the 59-homer last season, twice on a strikeout and a pop out.

Lively, a candidate for a back-end spot in the Phillies’ starting rotation, sailed through the first three innings without allowing a run. He was touched for three of them after a two-out walk in the fourth, his final inning of work. Didi Gregorius highlighted the uprising with a two-run homer to right. He hit a 1-1 fastball, a 91-mph four-seamer that drifted over the plate.

The runs were the first that Lively has given up this spring. He had pitched five scoreless innings in two outings coming into the game.

Without a top-of-the-scale fastball, Lively has to rely on precise location. The pitch to Gregorius did not have it. But in the first inning, he located a fastball very well against Judge. It was inside just enough that the right-handed hitting masher skied it to left-center, but not deep enough.

"After that one and he smiled at me,” Lively said. “I was like, ‘I know you missed it. Miss another one.’"

Lively had previously faced Judge a number of times in the minor leagues.

“I love it,” Lively said. “He’s so big, it’s unbelievable when he steps in the box. It’s always fun throwing against guys like him and Stanton. Gear up, get ready to go.”

Oh, and that mammoth home run that Judge clouted six years ago in the Cape Cod League … one more question:

“It wasn’t off me,” Lively said with a laugh.

Rhys Hoskins, leadoff man? Wait, what?

ap-phillies-rhys-hoskins.jpg
AP Images

Rhys Hoskins, leadoff man? Wait, what?

TAMPA, Fla. — For a month last season, Rhys Hoskins was one of the most exciting power hitters in baseball. Heck, in terms of games played, no major leaguer had ever hit 18 home runs faster than Hoskins, who did it the first 34 games of his career. His 47 homers last season (between the majors and Triple A) were the third most in all of pro ball, behind two fellas named Stanton and Judge.

Hoskins got to line up across from Giancarlo Stanton (59 homers last season) and Aaron Judge (52) when the Phillies traveled to Steinbrenner Field to play the Yankees on Monday night. Actually, Judge did not play. The Yankees are taking it slow with him as he comes back from offseason shoulder surgery. He will play later this week. He did take batting practice — with Hoskins watching from the top step of the dugout — and put on a big power show, as did Stanton, who was in the lineup, hitting fourth, baseball’s classic power spot.

That’s what made the Phillies’ lineup so interesting. And unusual. Manager Gabe Kapler used Hoskins in the leadoff spot. Don’t bank on seeing that during the regular season, but in spring training … well, out-of-the-box thinker Kapler will try anything.

“Spring training spots in the lineup, spring training positions on the diamond, they’re practice, they’re processes, they’re ways for us not to do things for the first time in the season," Kapler said.

For instance, Cesar Hernandez started at shortstop. If there’s ever a time when he has to go over there during the regular season, it won’t be foreign to him.

Batting Hoskins first was a way to get him more at-bats early in the game, and a way to get him out of the game earlier so he can recover in time for the next workday.

“We’re always going to keep the long view in mind and sometimes lineups can be a demonstration of that,” Kapler said.

When the Phillies open the season March 29 in Atlanta, look for Hoskins to hit fourth. Carlos Santana might hit second. Kapler said he believes the two-hole and the four-hole are the most crucial in the lineup.

“The two-hole comes up with runners on base so often and the four-hole, as well,” Kapler said.

Lineups ultimately will be decided by matchups, data and film study. These are the new Phillies. Kapler said he could construct a lineup that has a player in a key spot in the lineup based on how his swing path matches up with an opposing pitcher’s pitch characteristics. He mentioned that he once batted third for Tampa Bay based on that very reason.

Believe it or not, this wasn’t the first time Hoskins had hit first.

“My sophomore or junior year (at Sacramento State), I did it one weekend,” he said. “We were struggling and our coach just tried to change things up. It got us going.”

The next weekend, Hoskins was back in the four-hole, land of the power hitter.

Marlins continue fire sale by trading Marcell Ozuna

ozunauspw.jpg
USA Today Images

Marlins continue fire sale by trading Marcell Ozuna

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Miami has agreed to trade left fielder Marcell Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press, the third All-Star jettisoned by the Marlins this month in an unrelenting payroll purge under new CEO Derek Jeter.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Wednesday because the agreement had not been announced and was subject to a physical.

"Ozuna is one of those names that you have to have great respect, especially as much we see him," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said at the winter meetings. "We're at that necessary point of talking through health always, no matter what the player is. It's not just a formality."

An All-Star the past two seasons, the 27-year-old Ozuna set career bests this season with a .312 average, 37 homers and 124 RBIs. He is eligible for salary arbitration and likely will earn more than $10 million. He can become a free agent after the 2019 season.

Miami traded second baseman Dee Gordon to Seattle last Thursday for three prospects and dealt right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, the reigning NL MVP, to the New York Yankees on Monday for second baseman Starlin Castro and two prospects. The Cardinals had a deal in place for Stanton last week, but he invoked his no-trade clause and blocked the move.

"I was just very impressed the fact that we were involved in those conversations," Matheny said. "Unfortunately, that didn't work, but I think that just kind of parlayed into, OK, now what are we going to do?"

Ozuna likely will be in the outfielder with Dexter Fowler and Tommy Pham. St. Louis could trade right fielder Stephen Piscotty.

Matheny wouldn't commit to an alignment.

"Something we're appreciative of is the humility of our players to maybe go to a spot where they haven't been before," he said. "You go in with your ideals of what you would like to see, and you're going to have to be flexible."

Center fielder Christian Yelich could be the next to exit the downsizing Marlins, bought by Bruce Sherman's group on Oct. 2.

Miami had a $116 million payroll on Aug. 31, up from $81 million at the end of last year, and is intent on reducing obligations. Stanton was owed $295 million over the next decade, and Gordon $38 million through 2020.