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How Nick Williams finally learned the importance of hustling all the time

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How Nick Williams finally learned the importance of hustling all the time

Nick Williams is one game shy of a half-season in the major leagues.

He has played 80 games with the Phillies since coming up from Triple A at the end of June. He has had exactly 300 at-bats.

Some of the shortcomings that plagued the talented outfielder in the minors — particularly plate discipline — have followed him to the majors. His strikeouts (93) are high and his walks (19) are low. Those rates need improving. Some of his routes in the outfield need brushing up.

But all in all, for a kid who turned 24 earlier this month and was coming off a poor second half in Triple A last season, Williams has been a nice success story for these Phillies. He has hit often in the middle of the batting order and sports a .283 batting average, a .334 on-base percentage and a .467 slugging percentage. Twenty-nine of his 85 hits have been for extra bases. He has 11 homers and 52 RBIs.

"He's got a real knack for driving in runs," manager Pete Mackanin said. "And a very high ceiling."

Williams vows to keep working in the offseason, vows to strive for the improvement that will help him reach his potential and make him a core player next season. He certainly looks like one.

But there is one area where Williams might not need improvement, one area that he seems to have already successfully addressed.

Remember last season when Williams made headlines for not hustling in Triple A? He was benched by then-Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage a couple of times for not running out balls. (Good for Brundage, by the way, for having standards.) Well, Williams appears to have corrected that flaw. He runs the bases hard. He plays with energy and a smile, like he's having fun, and that has a positive effect on a team.

Williams acknowledges his mistakes last season.

"It shouldn’t have happened on my part," he said.

The benchings helped him see the light. But it wasn't until earlier this season, while playing back at Lehigh Valley under manager Dusty Wathan, that Williams said he was cured of any remaining flaws in the hustle department.

"There was a game where I came out of the box but didn't run hard all the way," he said.

It was time for another lesson. Not a benching. But definitely a lesson in the ongoing process of building a ballplayer.

The next day, Wathan brought Williams into the video room and cued up several shots from above home plate that showed Williams running from home to first. Williams busted it on some of them. He coasted on others.

Any reporter who has ever done a background story on Williams knows he has two younger brothers, Seth, 13, and Jonah, 11, back home in Texas. Williams' love for them is clear. He mentions them all the time — with a big smile crossing his face. Seth and Jonah are both ballplayers and their big brother is their hero.

In the video room at Lehigh Valley earlier this season, Wathan looked at Williams.

"What if your brothers or a kid who had just gotten your Bobblehead see that?" Wathan asked Williams. "What do you tell them?"

The visual resonated with Williams. So did the manager's words.

Lesson learned.

"Some guys are visual learners and we have a lot of visual aids," said Wathan, who is spending the month of September on the big-league coaching staff. "Some guys need to see what something looks like from the outside.

"To Nick's credit, he said it didn't look very good and he changed. In fact, as the season went on there were scouts who approached me and said they didn’t realize he could run that well."

Williams recalled the trip into the video room.

"When Dusty showed me what it looks like, I was like, 'Man, that does look bad,'" Williams admitted. "It was good because it wasn't just words. Because sometimes, you know, words can go in one ear and out the other."

When Wathan brought Williams' brothers into the lesson — it was a deal closer.

"It hit home because when I watch them play they imitate everything I do, the way I squat in the batter's box, everything," Williams said. "They try to wear whatever number I do. It definitely hit home."

Wathan offered Williams' growth and improvement as an example of a player becoming more mature. Every player goes through it and they all progress at different rates.

"He matured," Wathan said. "He took the blame, owned up to it and changed.

"I think we forget sometimes, these high-profile prospects coming out of high school and coming over in trades like Nick did, there's a lot of pressure on these guys from media, agents, friends. Everybody is like, 'When are you going to get there?' They have to deal with a lot of stuff and you never know what's going on in their mind. But once they get [to the majors], they can just play baseball and let their natural ability come out.

"Nick is doing that. And it looks like he's gone above and beyond the hustling part up here."

Lesson learned. Change implemented. It's all in the growth of a player.

Tonight's lineup: Rhys Hoskins at 1B, Nick Williams draws back in final game vs. Nationals

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Tonight's lineup: Rhys Hoskins at 1B, Nick Williams draws back in final game vs. Nationals

After officially avoiding a 100-loss season with a 4-1 against the Nationals on Tuesday, the Phillies will face pitcher Tanner Roark in the series rubber match tonight.

Nick Williams is back in the lineup tonight, batting third and playing right field after sitting Tuesday. Aaron Altherr will play left field, moving Rhys Hoskins to move back to first base and bump Tommy Joseph out of the lineup.

Jorge Alfaro will be behind the plate tonight catching for Mark Leiter.

Here's the Phillies' lineup that will face Roark:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, RF
4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, LF
6. Odubel Herrera, CF
7. Jorge Alfaro, C
8. J.P. Crawford, 3B
9. Mark Leiter, P

And the Nationals' lineup:

1. Trea Turner SS
2. Bryce Harper, RF
3. Daniel Murphy, 2B
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
5. Anthony Rendon, 3B
6. Jayson Werth, LF
7. Michael Taylor CF
8. Pedro Severino C
9. Tanner Roark, P

Phillies-Braves observations: Ben Lively ambushed in 1st inning of blowout loss

Phillies-Braves observations: Ben Lively ambushed in 1st inning of blowout loss

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Ben Lively's ability to deliver quality starts escaped him early on Friday night. The rookie right-hander was tagged for five first-inning runs as he and the Phillies absorbed a 7-2 beating by the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park.

Lively had authored a quality start — six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs — in nine of his previous 13 outings this season.

The Phillies are 26-53 on the road with two more road games remaining.

• Lively allowed a sixth run in the second inning, but did manage to get things in order in the third inning. He finished with three straight scoreless innings and pitched through the fifth, preventing the team from blowing out its bullpen in the first game of the series.

• Before the game, manager Pete Mackanin praised Lively's competitiveness and said it helped him make up for having "pretty ordinary" stuff. Lively can survive with that ordinary stuff if he keeps it out of the middle of the plate. He did not do that in this game. In particular, Kurt Suzuki hit a down-the-middle, 92-mph fastball for a two-run home run in the first inning.

• The Braves' first six hitters of the game all reached on hits.

• The Braves also sent a rookie to the mound. Lefty Sean Newcomb held the Phillies to two runs over 5 1/3 innings. Newcomb has faced the Phillies three times this season and allowed just five earned runs in 16 1/3 innings. He was a first-round pick of the Angels in 2014 — he went 15th overall, eight picks behind Aaron Nola — and was traded to Atlanta in November 2015.

• The Phillies' offense did little. The Phils did not have a hit through the first three innings. Cesar Hernandez doubled to lead off the fourth and eventually scored on a fly ball by Nick Williams. Williams also singled home a run in the sixth inning. He has 52 RBIs in 75 games. Twenty-two of his RBIs have come this month. Williams had two of the Phillies' six hits.

• Odubel Herrera went hitless against the Braves for the first time this season. He had hit safely in 13 previous games this season — 16 overall, dating to last season — at a .434 clip.

• Atlanta's Ender Inciarte led off the bottom of the first inning with a double against Lively. It was his 192nd hit of the season, third most in the majors behind Charlie Blackmon (201 entering Friday) and Jose Altuve (195 entering Friday). The Braves have not had a player reach 200 hits since Marquis Grissom had 207 in 1996. Jimmy Rollins was the Phillies' last 200-hit man. He had 212 in his MVP season of 2007. Inciarte is a former Rule 5 pick by the Phillies. In fact, he opened the season with the 2013 Phillies before being sent back to Arizona, his original team. The Phillies are typically patient with players. They were not patient enough with Inciarte. In 2013, they were still hoping to contend and did not feel they could carry Inciarte. The rebuild did not begin in earnest until after the 2014 season.

• The race for the No. 1 pick in next year's draft is going right down to the wire. The Phillies are 61-93. The San Francisco Giants entered play Friday night at 60-93. The Chicago White Sox were 61-91.

• Henderson Alvarez (0-1, 7.20) gets his second look in the rotation Saturday night. He will oppose right-hander Julio Teheran (11-12, 4.52).