Phillies

Rhys Hoskins gives college coach many thrills — and unexpected recruiting boost

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Rhys Hoskins gives college coach many thrills — and unexpected recruiting boost

Reggie Christiansen remembers well his first trip to Philadelphia. How could he forget it? It was the summer of 1998. He had just graduated from Menlo College in California. What better way to mark the occasion than by jumping in a Volkswagen bus with four buddies and making a tour of ballparks around the country?

"We saw almost every minor-league and major-league park," Christiansen said. "Fifty days. Five guys. Twenty-three big-league parks, a bunch of minor-league parks, 10,000 miles.

"We saw Cal Ripken and the Orioles play the Phillies at Veterans Stadium. It awesome."

All these years later, Christiansen is back in Philadelphia this week. Veterans Stadium might be gone, but the baseball experience is still, to use his word, awesome.

Like everyone else in town, Christiansen has come down with a case of Rhys Hoskins-mania. But his is a special strain. After all, he was Hoskins' college coach at Sacramento State University.

On Thursday afternoon, Christiansen was on the field at Citizens Bank Park during batting practice. He was joined by another of his former players, Brennan Leitao, a pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals' organization and a former teammate and roommate of Hoskins'.

Two nights earlier, the pair watched Hoskins hit two home runs in a 15-inning victory over the Miami Marlins. The night before, they watched the Phillies' rookie sensation belt another one in an 8-1 win. And Thursday night, yep, Hoskins did it again in a 10-0 win. It was his 18th homer in 34 games.

It has been an incredible run for Hoskins.

Ditto for his old friends from Sacramento State.

"What he's been doing up here is pretty incredible," Christiansen said. "I got a chance to see him play in San Francisco, and he hit a home run like five rows behind where I was sitting with my family and I felt like I was in a Disney movie.

"That's the best way I can describe this. It's been like a Disney movie."

Leitao agreed.

"Rhys is special," he said. "He deserves this. Everybody is really stoked for him."

It's hard to believe now, but there once was a time when Hoskins was an under-the-radar baseball talent. He received one college scholarship offer, and that was from Christiansen and the hometown school five miles down the road.

"We saw him the summer after his junior year," Christiansen recalled. "He actually played some games on our campus. We have a big parking structure in left field, and he hit a home run off the parking structure with a wood bat, and we just felt like he was going to hit so we made him an offer. We were actually bidding against ourselves because he had no other offers.

"We knew he had a chance to be special. He could always hit. He was never a big swing-and-miss guy and the power has continued to come. He hit like 12 home runs as a freshman so the power was there. It's just been a matter of him making the adjustments at each level. A lot of the credit really goes to the Phillies for instituting the leg kick and he has just gotten better each year."

Even though he put up big numbers at Sacramento State, Hoskins remained slightly under the radar. He was not drafted until the fifth round in 2014. That's OK. He's not the first power-hitting gold nugget that the Phillies unearthed in that round. Ryan Howard was a fifth-rounder in 2001.

Leitao recalled living and hanging out with Hoskins.

"I got to understand how competitive he is," Leitao said. "Playing ping-pong, playing corn hole, just little games here and there. He's a very competitive guy."

Nowhere did that competitiveness show more than in the batter's box.

"We had some friends hanging out on top of the parking structure at our field during a game and he hit one up there," Leitao said. "It cleared their heads and went halfway deep, and they were on the sixth floor."

Christiansen was scheduled to come East this weekend to attend an amateur tournament in Toronto. He hopes to do some recruiting. That has become a little easier since Hoskins arrived in the majors and started terrorizing major-league pitching.

"He's already helped our recruiting, no question," Christiansen said. "What he's doing, he's on ESPN every night and they're mentioning Sacramento State. It's really helped. We're kind of a mid-major program. Kids see what he's doing, he came from our program and it’s an easier sell. Kids are more receptive."

During their time in Philadelphia, Christiansen and Leitao found some time to do touristy things before heading over to the ballpark at night. They visited the Rocky steps one day.

"We walked 'em," Christiansen said with a laugh.

Their nights were spent watching Philadelphia's newest attraction rack up home runs. Fifteen. Sixteen. Seventeen. Eighteen.

And the best part? Hoskins is the same guy he was back at Sacramento State.

"He's an unbelievable kid," Christiansen said. "Extremely humble."

Jorge Alfaro over Wilson Ramos? Carlos Santana over Justin Bour? Gabe Kapler has his reasons

Jorge Alfaro over Wilson Ramos? Carlos Santana over Justin Bour? Gabe Kapler has his reasons

WASHINGTON — Lots of folks asking questions about Gabe Kapler’s starting lineup Tuesday night.

The Phillies manager played Carlos Santana at first base over Justin Bour.

And he started Jorge Alfaro behind the plate over newcomer Wilson Ramos.

OK, some explanations from Kapler.

First, a week-old one on the Santana-Bour question:

“Santana's going to play every day,” Kapler said after Bour joined the club in a trade from Miami last week. “Santana's going to play regularly.

“Bour is going to be a weapon off the bench for us. Santana's going to play every day.”

OK.

And now for Kapler’s decision to start Alfaro over Ramos on Tuesday night against the Nationals.

“There are a number of things involved here,” Kapler said before the game.

“First, Alfaro has a history of success against [Tanner] Roark.

“Second, Ramos is coming off a long stint on the DL and we have ridden him pretty hard the last couple of days. Two consecutive days off is going to give him a chance to repair his body.

“Third, we have a bit of a slippery, rainy day today and when it comes to Ramos, we’re really concerned with how we’re going to manage his health through the end of the season and into October and so all of those reasons are why we thought it made sense to have Alfaro in there.

“And, I guess, finally, I think [starting pitcher Vince Velasquez] and Alfaro have a pretty good rapport.”

Ramos missed six weeks with a hamstring strain before the Phillies activated him last week. He has seven hits, including four doubles and a triple, in 17 at-bats with the club. It is reasonable to wonder why he wasn’t in the lineup. And Kapler’s answer was reasonable, as well.

Alfaro is hitting .251 with a .700 OPS and 120 strikeouts in 295 at-bats, but, as Kapler pointed out, he does have some success against Roark. He was 5 for 7 with a double and a homer against the Washington starter. Ramos was 0 for 3 against Roark. The two are former teammates with Washington.

Bour was just 6 for 31 (.194) against Roark, but half of his hits were homers. He had nine strikeouts.

Santana was 2 for 7 with a triple against Roark.

Santana, in the first year of a three-year, $60 million contract, is one of the most polarizing players on the club. His supporters, which include the front office and Kapler, love the way he works counts and gets on base. It fits the style of play management is dedicated to. Santana's on-base percentage is .351 (third best on the club) and his 69 RBIs are second most on the club.

Santana’s detractors see his .218 batting average and want more.

Or Bour.

As with the Alfaro-Ramos decision, it is completely reasonable to question Kapler’s decision to go with Santana over Bour.

But Kapler makes out the lineup. And he’s given his reasons.

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With 9 games left vs. Nationals, Phillies are big fans of Tuesday's trades

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With 9 games left vs. Nationals, Phillies are big fans of Tuesday's trades

The Nationals, who have lost seven of 10 games and are 62-63 despite several hot bats, made things easier on the Phillies this week.

Prior to Tuesday's series opener in D.C., the Nats agreed to trade Daniel Murphy to the Cubs and Matt Adams to the Cardinals.

Both players had been claimed on waivers over the weekend. Bryce Harper was reportedly claimed, too, but the Nationals were unable to work out a trade before waivers expired. This means that Harper will be a National for the rest of the season before becoming a free agent.

Murphy is a perennial Phillie-killer so the Phillies have to be loving this. Yes, they'll face the Cubs just next week, but one series is better than three. The Phillies have nine games left with the Nationals beginning tonight.

Murphy had microfracture surgery last winter but is back to the Daniel Murphy we know. Over his last 34 games, he's hit .364 with a .960 OPS. Good riddance.

Why didn't the Phillies claim Murphy?

As a refresher, in August, the waiver order is an inverse of the standings. When Murphy was placed on waivers, the Phillies had the NL's third-best record and were 13th in the order. The Cubs had the NL's best record and were 15th.

Thus, the Phillies had a chance to claim Murphy but did not. You'd have to think they would have if they didn't just acquire Justin Bour, another left-handed hitter with defensive limitations.

Murphy is a great hitter but he's always been a below-average defensive player. He can only play first and second base at this point. The Phillies are crowded at both spots. Murphy would be an offensive upgrade over Cesar Hernandez, but Gabe Kapler loves him some Cesar Hernandez atop the lineup.

What about Harper?

The Dodgers were reportedly the team to claim Harper. They were several spots ahead of the Phillies in the waiver order. The Phillies almost certainly would have claimed Harper if he made it to them because he's an upgrade over basically every outfielder in baseball.

It doesn't change anything heading into the offseason. The Phillies will make aggressive runs at both Harper and Manny Machado. The Dodgers, though, will be a top competitor for both star free agents. 

L.A. seems much more likely to make a run at Harper because he fills more of a need, fits in more with their offensive philosophy, and the Dodgers have Corey Seager returning next season to play shortstop.

What changes this week?

Anytime you can face Wilmer Difo instead of Murphy, you're happy. The Phillies also won't have to deal with Adams' big left-handed bat off the bench, though Ryan Zimmerman is still a hot and dangerous first baseman.

Despite the Nationals' recent losing ways and Tuesday's trades, this will still be a challenging series.

Tanner Roark, who pitches the series opener, is 5-0 with a 1.77 ERA and .246 opponents' OBP in his last five starts. Then the Phils have to deal with Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer. 

The key in this series getting to Washington's terrible, injury-riddled bullpen.

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