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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.

Phillies come roaring out of All-Star break to blast Padres

Phillies come roaring out of All-Star break to blast Padres

BOX SCORE

The Phillies came back from the All-Star break Friday night and survived a ragged first inning en route to an 11-5 win over the San Diego Padres at Citizens Bank Park.

Carlos Santana led the Phillies’ offense with a three-run home run, highlighting the team’s six-run second inning.

Phillies starting pitcher Jake Arrieta was not sharp. He allowed five base runners — on three hits and two walks — and four runs in the first inning. It did not help that the Phils made two errors in the inning. One of the errors was by Arrieta and he also threw a wild pitch.

Arrieta’s mates got him off the hook with a big second inning against lefty Clayton Richard. The Phils drew three walks in the inning and two of them came around to score. Santana’s 15th homer was the big blow in the inning. Odubel Herrera chipped in with a two-run single and Rhys Hoskins worked a bases-loaded walk.

Arrieta had pitched well — four earned runs in 19 innings — in his first three starts in July. He did not make it out of the fourth inning in this one. He gave up six hits and five runs. Two of his three walks led off innings and became runs.

The Phillies’ bullpen was exceptional. Austin Davis, Victor Arano, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek and Adam Morgan combined on 5 2/3 scoreless innings. The left-hander Davis earned his first big-league win with 1 2/3 scoreless innings.

The offense erupted for four more runs in the bottom of the eighth to salt the game away.

Santana finished the night with four RBIs.

The attendance was 30,034.

The win improved the Phillies to 54-42 overall and 31-16 at Citizens Bank Park. They maintained a half-game lead in the NL East over second-place Atlanta, which was victorious at Washington. The Nats are 6½ games back.

Notes
• Vince Velasquez (5-8, 4.39) will start Saturday night against San Diego’s Luis Perdomo (1-4, 7.55). Nick Pivetta (6-7, 4.58) will start Sunday afternoon against Tyson Ross (5-8, 4.32).

The blister on Zach Eflin’s right middle finger has healed. He will come off the disabled list and face the Dodgers on Monday night. Aaron Nola will round out the rotation and start on Tuesday. The Phillies wanted to give Nola a couple of extra days of rest.

“He’s been a dependable horse and we thought it was smart to give him a blow,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

• J.P. Crawford, on the DL with a fractured hand, has been cleared to take ground balls and hit balls off a tee. 

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GM Matt Klentak: Phillies made a strong run at Manny Machado, will continue to seek upgrades

GM Matt Klentak: Phillies made a strong run at Manny Machado, will continue to seek upgrades

The Phillies returned to Citizens Bank Park on Friday. Manny Machado was not in their clubhouse.

A drama that consumed much of the All-Star break ended when the Los Angeles Dodgers traded for Machado, beating out the Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers.

“We made a pretty strong run at it,” general manager Matt Klentak said.

The Phillies built their offer around pitching prospects, but Klentak would not reveal the names of the players that were on the table.

Six weeks ago, the Phillies were only on the periphery of the Machado sweepstakes as they were reluctant to part with young talent for a player who could become a free agent at season's end.

Phillies players forced the front office to pursue Machado by staying in the NL East race throughout a June schedule loaded with tough opponents and eventually moving into first place as the All-Star break approached. The Phillies entered Friday night leading the division by a half-game over Atlanta.

“Being active in the rental market is not the best place to be,” Klentak said. “But we felt in this particular case that this player represented a pretty unique opportunity for us and that’s why we did get aggressive.

“I would be surprised if we strongly pursue rentals, high-priced rentals, in the future. It’s just not a good market to be in, but every once in a while it does make sense to pursue something like that. We’re always going to explore opportunities and we explored that one right down to the very end.”

Klentak is still actively looking to upgrade the roster for the stretch run.

“If I had to bet, I would guess we would make a move between now and July 31,” he said.

It is still possible that the Phillies could trade for a player scheduled to become a free agent at season’s end, but not one that would cost the level of prospects that Machado would have. The Phillies are known to have interest in Minnesota infielder Eduardo Escobar and Baltimore closer Zach Britton. Both will be free agents this winter.

Escobar leads the majors with 35 doubles and has an .834 OPS. He can play third base and shortstop. If the Phillies traded for him, they could use him at shortstop and shift Scott Kingery to a super-utility role. Third baseman Maikel Franco, on the trading block not long ago, may have saved himself, at least until the end to of the season, by hitting .352 with a 1.106 OPS in 22 games leading up to the break.

“What Maikel is doing right now and what he has shown in the couple weeks leading up to the break is very reminiscent of what he did in 2015, and it’s a heck of a lot better than what he had done in ‘16 and ’17,” Klentak said. “And he’s still 25 years old. So that’s what makes the trade deadline process difficult is trying to not only evaluate what’s available outside, but also to evaluate what you have internally.”

The Phillies pursued Britton as part of a package for Machado. They remain on the lefty. Adding him would help the Phillies to shorten games.

The Phillies, according to sources, have shown interest in lefty starter J.A. Happ. In a perfect world, however, Klentak said the Phillies would not seek a starting pitcher before the deadline.

“Right now starting pitching has been the strength of our team this year," he said. "We’re very encouraged about not only the five here but also what we have in Triple A, and we’re hopeful that that’s going to mean that we can stay out of the starting pitcher trade market at the deadline because, if you can avoid it, that is definitely a market to avoid.”

The Phillies have long coveted Machado. The in-season window for acquiring him has passed. The team is expected to go hard after him in the offseason when he will be a free agent and the price will be money and not prospects. Of course, Klentak could not comment on that possibility because Machado is someone else’s player and that would be tampering.

“I won’t go there,” Klentak said with a laugh.

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