Rhys Hoskins

A mechanical adjustment 'kick-started' Rhys Hoskins' career

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A mechanical adjustment 'kick-started' Rhys Hoskins' career

The spectacular beginning of Rhys Hoskins’ major-league career can be traced to a conversation he had with two members of the Phillies’ player-development department back in September 2014.

Hoskins had arrived in the Phillies organization earlier that year as a fifth-round draft pick out of Sacramento State University. That summer, he made his professional debut at Williamsport of the New York-Penn League. He hit .237 with nine homers and 40 RBIs in 70 games.

Phillies instructors liked what they saw of Hoskins that summer. They loved the potential. But something was missing.

“He didn’t consistently get his weight back,” director of player development Joe Jordan recalled. “His legs weren’t in his swing every night. The timing, the bat speed and swing path were all good, but they weren’t consistent every night.”

After the Williamsport season ended, Hoskins reported to the Florida Instructional League in Clearwater. He was hitting off a tee, by himself, in a batting cage early one morning when Jordan and Andy Tracy, the team’s minor-league hitting coordinator, approached him with an idea.

“What do you think about making a change to your stance?” Jordan asked Hoskins.

Hoskins, thoughtful, respectful, mature, coachable, eager to learn and just as eager to succeed, was all ears.

“I was open to anything,” he said.

On that September day in 2014, during a conversation in a batting cage in Clearwater, Hoskins’ left leg kick was born.

He has used it to trigger his swing ever since.

And …

“It’s made all the difference in my career,” he said. “I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

The Phillies, off to a 14-7 start, enjoyed an off day Monday. That provides us with a neat little checkpoint on Hoskins’ big-league career, which is just 71 games old, less than a half-season. He arrived in the majors on Aug. 10. Since then, he ranks first in the majors in RBIs (67) and pitches seen (1,376), third in walks (56), fourth in OPS (1.038) and times on base (126), and sixth in extra-base hits (36). His 22 home runs rank fifth in the majors in that span behind J.D. Martinez (27), Giancarlo Stanton (25), Aaron Judge (23) and Matt Olson (23).

Hoskins was no slouch at Sacramento State. He was the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year as a junior in 2014, the year the Phillies drafted him. But even his college coach admitted last summer that the leg kick had taken Hoskins to a new level (see story).

There are a number of benefits to the leg kick, Hoskins said. Among them: It slows him down a little. If he gets his leg up early, it allows his eyes to work and that helps his pitch recognition. It helps his rhythm and timing. It gets him on his backside and gives him a loading mechanism that translates into power when he fires through the ball.

“I had no prior experience with it before Joe and Andy mentioned it,” Hoskins said. “I had no clue what I was doing with it. I was super spread out in my stance. I would get to a point where I would start my swing, stop and have to start it again. Those precious milliseconds are huge. I was late a lot. A lot. The room for error that I had was slim to none.”

When Jordan and Tracy first proposed the leg kick, they asked Hoskins to exaggerate it.

“The first thing Joe said was, ‘Try to hit your chin with your left knee,’” Hoskins recalled.

Hoskins experimented with the size of the kick for a couple of weeks in batting practice and in games. Then one day he hit a home run in a game against the Yankees’ instructional league team.

“The pitcher was throwing pretty hard and I was able to get to a ball that was in and I hit it for a home run,” Hoskins said. “I said to myself, ‘Hmmm, this is probably something to stick with.’”

Jordan and Tracy encouraged Hoskins to use the leg kick during his wintertime workouts after the 2014 season. He did. He made it part of him and his bat carried him on a quick trip through the Phillies’ minor-league system and into the middle of the big club’s batting order.

Amazing what one little bit of coaching can do when it finds a talented and willing student.

“Our entire staff watched Rhys that first summer and came up with a great plan for him,” Jordan said. “Those guys did it and Rhys nailed it. He took it home that winter, worked at it and it’s become his normal ever since.”

Phillies' 2 most surprising pitchers pave way for walk-off win

Phillies' 2 most surprising pitchers pave way for walk-off win

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The Phillies walked it off against the Pirates Sunday, winning 3-2 in 11 innings to complete a four-game sweep over a team that entered Citizens Bank Park six games over .500.

Andrew Knapp and Aaron Altherr took care of the 11th-inning heroics with a triple and a game-winning single, but it was the work of the Phillies' two most surprising pitchers which put them in position to do so.

Nick Pivetta continued the Phillies' strong run of starting pitching, allowing two runs over 6⅓ innings with seven strikeouts. He paid for his only mistake, a two-run homer by catcher Elias Diaz. The Phils had just one hit while Pivetta was in the game.

Victor Arano, who began the season by retiring 25 consecutive batters, lost his streak of perfection but more importantly weaved his way out of rallies in both the ninth and 10th innings, stranding two runners apiece.

At 14-7, the Phillies ended Sunday's game just a half-game behind the Mets and Diamondbacks for the best record in the National League.

They allowed just five runs in the four-game sweep of the Pirates.

Dominant starting pitching
The Phillies' starting rotation has been lights-out the last dozen games. Just have a look:

• 2.38 ERA
• 0.98 WHIP
• 8.0 K/9
• 1.8 BB/9
• .218 opponents' batting average
• 11 extra-base hits allowed in 12 games

Pivetta himself is on a roll, allowing a total of five runs in his last four starts. 

Including the final few weeks of 2017, Pivetta has a 2.00 ERA over his last eight outings with 47 strikeouts and 12 walks in 45 innings.

Pivetta has been especially effective the first time facing a batting order this season. His opponents have hit .167/.195/.195 the first time through with 15 strikeouts and no walks.

There are just three National League pitchers who have 14 Ks and no walks the first time through a batting order and the Phillies have two of them in Pivetta and Vince Velasquez. (D-backs lefty Patrick Corbin is the other.)

Make 'em work
Offensively, the Phils couldn't muster much off Pirates right-hander Trevor Williams. They did, however, have five walks and a two-run fifth inning keyed by Pivetta's first career double and RBI. 

Through five innings, Williams had thrown 42 strikes and 41 balls. This Phils team really makes pitchers work.

Hunter debuts
Reliever Tommy Hunter made his Phillies debut after missing the first 20 games with a hamstring injury. He had a quick, impressive eighth inning, retiring the side on just eight pitches with a groundout, popout and strikeout.

Hunter was signed to a two-year, $18 million contract this offseason.

Up next
The Phillies are off Monday before beginning a three-game home series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, who entered Sunday tied with the Mets for the best record in the NL (14-6).

The pitching matchups for that series:

Tuesday: Vince Velasquez (1-2, 3.80) vs. LHP Robbie Ray (2-0, 4.98)

Wednesday: Jake Arrieta (2-0, 2.04) vs. Zack Greinke (2-1, 4,13)

Thursday: Ben Lively (0-1, 4.64) vs. Matt Koch (0-0, 1.13)

Rampaging Phillies poised to sweep Pirates thanks to Nola, Hoskins

Rampaging Phillies poised to sweep Pirates thanks to Nola, Hoskins

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Here’s a ridiculously early prediction: Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins will be in Washington on July 17.

And they won’t be there to visit the Smithsonian.

They’ll be there as members of the National League All-Star team.

These two pillars of the Phillies’ rebuild led the club to a 6-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates Saturday (see first take). Nola was brilliant on the mound. He went seven innings, allowed just two runs, walked none and struck out nine. He allowed six hits. Two never left the infield and one was a sixth-inning pop up to center field that became the latest chapter in the Adventures of Odubel Herrera and dropped in, costing Nola a run as the Pirates went ahead, 2-0.

Just when it was starting to seem as if Nola was going to be victimized by no run support, Hoskins showed up to save the day with a three-run home run to left against gas-throwing righty Michael Feliz. The bomb capped a terrific, seven-pitch at-bat in which Hoskins came back from an 0-2 count, and gave the Phils a 3-2 lead that they padded with three runs in the eighth.

Hoskins fouled off three pitches after falling behind, 0-2. Hit his a 1-2 fastball that came in at 97 mph. Through 20 games, Hoskins is hitting .328 with four homers, 19 RBIs and a 1.127 OPS. He is 8 for 17 with two doubles and two homers on counts of 1-2 or 0-2.

There ain’t any fear in this gifted, 25-year-old hitter, who, by the way, has played in just 70 big-league games.

“Wherever he is in the count, it always feels like he’s dominating the at-bat,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “So even if he is down 0-2, we’re waiting to see him get back into the count and hang in there for a pitch he can drive into the gaps or out of the ballpark.

“You need a calm to hit like that with two strikes and that’s what he displays. No situation overwhelms him. He gets down 0-2 against a guy who has nasty stuff, a big fastball, it just doesn’t seem to faze him.”

The Phillies, 13-7 and 12-3 since their 1-4 start, have beaten the Pirates three straight days and go for a sweep Sunday. They rallied for a run in the eighth to win, 2-1, Friday and rallied back from being down 2-0 in this one.

“There’s no panic,” Hoskins said. “We get into the late innings, we keep grinding.”

Hoskins explained the key to his success with two strikes.

“I think if you can control your heart rate and be comfortable in the box, good things are probably going to happen,” he said.

Being a good hitter also helps.

It seems as if Nola has been around forever, but he doesn’t turn 25 until June. He has the same calm that Hoskins does. A leadoff homer by Sean Rodriguez never fazed him. Rodriguez swung big and laid into a fastball. Nola went soft on him the rest of the day. Herrera’s mistake in center field didn’t rattle Nola either.

“There are so many pitchers who would get frustrated and then not be able to execute their pitches,” Kapler said. “It was just the opposite with Noles. He just got right back on the bump and delivered his next strike.”

Nola has not allowed more than two runs in any of his five starts this season.

A few more of those and he and Hoskins can carpool to Washington in July.