New York Yankees

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

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


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.

With or without Arrieta, Phillies have rotation depth, competition for jobs

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With or without Arrieta, Phillies have rotation depth, competition for jobs


TAMPA, Fla. — The Phillies might not have that classic No. 1 starting pitcher that opponents fear, but they do have significant rotation depth.

Aaron Nola has been tabbed as the opening day starter (see story). After him, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez will slot in somewhere and Nick Pivetta might have an edge on the rest of the pack for a spot in the rotation. All of this is subject to change, of course, but for the time being, there might be one opening in the rotation — and none if Jake Arrieta decides that he wants to be a Phillie.

The most realistic candidates to fill out the rotation are Zach Eflin, who is healthy and firing, and Ben Lively, but there are plenty more that will get a look, including Jake Thompson, Drew Hutchison, Drew Anderson and Tom Eshelman. Beyond that group, the Phils still have a number of starter prospects in camp, including Jose Taveras, Enyel De Los Santos, Cole Irvin, Brandon Leibrandt, Ranger Suarez and Franklyn Kilome. The organization will have no trouble stocking its Triple A and Double A rotations with prospects — and some tough decisions will have to be made on who goes where.

Lively kicked off his candidacy for a spot in the big-league rotation with two scoreless innings against the the Yankees on Monday night. The right-hander, who turns 26 next week, allowed just one hit and struck out three. He did not walk a batter.

Lively made his big-league debut last season and pitched to a 4.26 ERA in 15 starts. He is not a big strikeout guy — he struck out just 5.3 batters per nine innings — but has a bulldog quality that serves him well on the mound. He’s ready to compete for a spot in the rotation.

“Oh, yeah, everyone knows it’s a competition,” he said. “It’s fun to see everyone battle and compete. It’s awesome. It makes everyone better.”

Lively said he realized the importance of getting ahead of hitters and throwing inside last season. He said he learned to slow the game down, pitch to his strengths and not let “the big guys beat you.” He succeeded there on Monday night. One of his strikeouts came against Giancarlo Stanton, who hit 59 homers last season en route to winning the National League MVP award.

Eshelman also had a nice outing with two scoreless innings. He struck out two and walked none. Eshelman’s control is exceptional. He walked 1.1 batters per nine in 150 innings at Double A and Triple A last season and was the Phillies’ minor-league pitcher of the year. Eshelman is not on the 40-man roster. He lines up to return to Triple A, but could be a quick call-up if a need arises.

The Phillies lost to the Yankees, 4-3, on a solo homer by Miguel Andujar against Suarez in the bottom of the ninth.

Down to their last strike, the Phils tied the game at 3-3 on a solo homer by Scott Kingery in the top of the inning.

Eickhoff will make his Grapefruit League debut Tuesday against the Tigers. Velasquez will start Wednesday in Dunedin against the Blue Jays.

Rhys Hoskins, leadoff man? Wait, what?

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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.