Phillies

Another big night for Rhys Hoskins, 'the heartbeat' of the Phillies

Another big night for Rhys Hoskins, 'the heartbeat' of the Phillies

During the first week of the season, Gabe Kapler called Rhys Hoskins “the heartbeat” of the Phillies.

It was pretty high praise considering some of the personnel that the team has assembled. Let’s see, there are two former National League MVPs (Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen), a former Cy Young winner (Jake Arrieta), a potential future Cy Young winner (Aaron Nola) and one of the most respected competitors in the game (J.T. Realmuto) in the clubhouse.

But Kapler is right.

Hoskins is this team’s leader. He is the heartbeat. And he’s off to a great start. He continued a torrid homestand with a pair of home runs — his fourth and fifth of the season — in leading a 4-3 win over the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night (see observations). 

For the homestand, Hoskins is 8 for 14 with a double, four homers and nine RBIs. The Phillies have won three of four and Hoskins has hit decisive home runs in one-run games two days in a row as the Phillies have pushed their early season record to 7-2.

Hoskins was not aware of Kapler’s comment until after Monday night’s game.

“That’s pretty cool, especially in a clubhouse full of the kind of guys we have,” he said.

Hoskins hit a two-run home run in the sixth inning to pace a 2-1 win over Minnesota on Sunday.

He hit a tie-breaking homer in the sixth and another in the eighth Monday night. The one in the eighth proved huge after the Nationals shaved a run off the Phils’ lead in the ninth.

These are heartbeat performances.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of bearing down more in a spot,” Hoskins said of his clutch work. “Obviously you want to bear down in every at-bat. I have confidence in those situations that if I can keep my heart rate down and treat it like any other at-bat good things can happen. And if I don’t get the job done, there’s an All-Star behind me and an All-Star behind him. That part makes it pretty comforting in the box.”

Being the cleanup hitter in a stacked lineup comes with a responsibility to produce runs and Hoskins has done that so far. He has 15 RBIs in the Phils’ first nine games. That’s second-most in the majors.

“With the guys that we have, no, I don’t feel like that’s a responsibility,” he said of coming through in clutch situations. “An opportunity? A privilege? Sure. But again, I don’t feel like any guy feels like he has to be the guy on this team because if you don’t do it somebody else will.”

It is amazing how the front office deepened this lineup in one winter. The Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 5 hitters are all newcomers — and proven hitters. Hoskins is the lone holdover at the top. In addition to his 15 RBIs, he’s hitting .367 with a 1.446 OPS. That’s third-best in the majors behind Mike Trout and Cody Bellinger.

While Hoskins has spent the last couple of days making an impact with his bat, there’s been more to these last two one-run victories. The defense has been outstanding. In both wins, the Phils cut down a run at the plate from the outfield. And when things got tight with Pat Neshek on the mound Monday night, leftfielder Andrew McCutchen made a tough and important running catch going toward the line with a man on second base.

The Phillies were a horrible defensive club last year. Now, defense is helping them win.

“We’ve made it a priority and we’ll keep making it a priority,” Hoskins said. “We took our preparation seriously in spring training and you’re seeing a good product on the field right now.”

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Even Bryce Harper’s wife wonders if the Phillies did enough to improve

Even Bryce Harper’s wife wonders if the Phillies did enough to improve

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Even Bryce Harper’s wife wonders if the Phillies did enough to improve this winter.

Harper reported to Phillies spring training Sunday with much less fanfare than he did a year ago. There was no top-of-the-dugout, televised news conference heralding his 13-year, $330-million contract. Instead, he stepped into the hallway outside the clubhouse and took questions from reporters on subjects ranging from his connection with Phillies fans to his personal goals for the coming season. He also weighed in on his old team, the Washington Nationals, winning the World Series, the cheating Houston Astros and his homie, the very available Kris Bryant.

The topic inquiring minds most wanted to discuss was the off-season work done by Phillies management.

A year ago, as he vetted potential free-agent destinations, Harper sought assurances from Phillies managing partner John Middleton that the club would continually bring in the talent needed to win a championship.

This winter, the Phillies made two significant free-agent additions in pitcher Zack Wheeler and shortstop Didi Gregorius. Both were on board by mid-December and the Phillies, despite holes in the pitching staff, made only minor roster tweaks the rest of the off-season.

So, the natural question for Harper as he reported to his second Phillies camp Sunday morning was: Did the team do enough this off-season to win?

“My wife actually asked me that question the other night,” Harper said. “She’s super into it and everything like that.

“You know,” he added. “I believe we did.”

Harper mentioned the addition of Wheeler and the potential upside of having a healthy Jake Arrieta in the rotation and a healthy Seranthony Dominguez in the bullpen. He mentioned the possibility of prospects Spencer Howard, Alec Bohm and Damon Jones having an impact in the rotation – clearly, Harper has done his homework – and of non-roster relievers Drew Storen and Bud Norris helping. He mentioned how good Aaron Nola and Hector Neris have been.

“We’re going to score runs, we were able to do that last year, and if our bullpen can hold and our starters can, as well, I think we’ll be OK,” Harper said.

The Phillies could have done more this winter had they been willing to exceed the luxury-tax threshold of $208 million in payroll. They still might end up over the tax later this season, especially if they are in contention, but for now are in a wait-and-see mode.

One player who would surely help the Phillies now is Bryant, the slugging third baseman from the Chicago Cubs and Harper’s longtime pal from their days growing up together in Las Vegas. Bryant, who will be a free agent after the 2021 season, is on the trading block. Both he and Harper are represented by agent Scott Boras.

Bryant, who will make $18.6 million this season, might be a player that the Phillies would be willing to go over the tax line for, but the Phils and Cubs haven’t been able to line up as trade partners. The Cubs are looking for young pitching and the Phillies, with one of the lowest-rated farm systems in baseball, don’t have much beyond Howard, who is pretty much untouchable.

A year ago, Harper banged the drum for a possible Phillies-Mike Trout union. Alas, however, Trout signed a contract extension with the Angels that will prevent him from becoming a free agent.

Given the opportunity to bang the drum for the Phillies to go get Bryant, Harper exercised restraint and some long-term vision.

“You have to have certain guys on your team that make less money to also have guys that make more money, as well,” Harper said. “Kris, of course, you want an All-Star-caliber player, but we have (third base prospect) Bohm. We have a big-time third baseman we were able to get in the draft.

"Of course, any time you're able to add an All-Star player you're going to want to add an All-Star player. But you have to be able to know that you developed a player in the minor leagues that can also help you at third base, and Bohm could be that guy for us. He could come up and be one of the best third basemen in the second half or whatever it is.

"As a team, you have to have guys like that, that are only making the minimum so you can go and spend at the deadline. If the Cubs aren't where they are, you never know at the half what they're going to be doing. He could be cheaper at [that] point. But I can't give up Spencer Howard and Bohm, and possibly give up our whole future, for a year and a half of KB if we don't sign him to an extension. And I know there's a guy in there that we need to sign to an extension.”

That guy is catcher J.T. Realmuto. The Phillies will look to sign him to a contract extension in the coming weeks so he does not become a free agent after the season. Realmuto could look to top Joe Mauer’s annual salary of $23 million, a record for a catcher.

“I think having a guy like J.T. for the next six years would help us,” Harper said.

As for other matters that Harper touched on:

Personal goals

“Just hitting for average. What did I hit, .260 last year? I think get my average back up and get my on-base back up, get to 100 walks. It really bugged me last year when I was at 99 and I didn’t get it. I really pride myself on my on-base and slugging percentage and things like that, so individually at the plate I just want to get better and doing everything I can to help this team win. I want to keep hitting with guys on base because that’s always fun.”

The Nationals winning the World Series

“I watched through the whole Series and I never have before. I’m so happy for those guys over there. I played there for eight years and enjoyed my time with the players, but I’m happy to turn the page and be here in Philly.”

On the cheating Astros

“It’s very tough to see that. But, I think, for me, it’s more the guys that come up for the first time and they’re at the back end of the bullpen and they know it and they get hit or shelled and they’re never coming to the big leagues again because a team had their signs. It’s those guys that I feel bad for.”

On his first year with Philadelphia fans

“It’s funny, in the offseason, all my buddies were like, ‘How’d you like Philly?’ and I was like, ‘Dude, I loved it. Like, it was unbelievable.’ So I think people might look at me and go, ‘Yeah, right, you’re crazy.’ But no, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the fans. I enjoyed the people. That blue-collar feel, that blue-collar mentality. They want you to work hard, they hold you accountable and that made me a better player. I can’t thank the fans enough for last year, for really welcoming me and my family. I’m really looking forward to what we have this year and what we can do.”

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Phillies trade left-handed pitcher Tyler Gilbert to Dodgers for outfielder Kyle Garlick

Phillies trade left-handed pitcher Tyler Gilbert to Dodgers for outfielder Kyle Garlick

Trade! OK, maybe not the kind Phillies fans had been waiting on. The Phils acquired corner outfielder Kyle Garlick from the Dodgers on Saturday for left-handed reliever Tyler Gilbert.

Garlick, 28, was designated for assignment by the Dodgers last week. The Phillies made room for him on the 40-man roster by DFA’ing Nick Martini. Martini had been picked up off waivers from Cincy last month.

Garlick went 12 for 48 with four doubles and three homers for the Dodgers in 2019, his lone season in the bigs. He’s a right-handed hitter with power who went deep 82 times while climbing from Single A to Triple A in a crowded Dodgers system from 2016-19.

With the Phillies, Garlick will vie for a spot on the bench. He has a ton of competition. Jay Bruce, Nick Williams and Roman Quinn are on the 40-man roster, and non-roster invitees Logan Forsythe, Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin, Mikie Mahtook, Matt Szczur, Neil Walker and Ronald Torreyes are also battling for bench jobs. That's 11 players for, at most, four spots, considering the other bench player would be the backup catcher.

Garlick still has two minor league options left, which could provide useful flexibility to the Phillies if they choose to shuttle him back and forth between Triple A and the majors.

Gilbert, the lefty headed to the Dodgers, did not pitch in the majors for the Phillies. He was in camp as a non-roster invitee. He had a 2.83 ERA in 47⅔ innings at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season but found himself behind many other lefty bullpen candidates here.

The Phillies have Adam Morgan, Jose Alvarez, Francisco Liriano, Ranger Suarez, Cole Irvin, Austin Davis and prospects Cristopher Sanchez, Zach Warren, Damon Jones, Kyle Dohy and JoJo Romero in camp. Lots of options to choose from.

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