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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