Phillies

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 throw away chance to move into 1st place in NL East

Phillies throw away chance to move into 1st place in NL East

BOX SCORE

If this Phillies team proves to be for real, there will be other chances to move into first place in the National League East. For now, the Phils need to improve some things, most notably their defense.

The Phils have made nine errors in the last five games. They made two of them in the fifth inning Tuesday night and they proved lethal in a 3-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves that denied the Phils entry into first place in the division (see first take).

“We had some plays that we could have made, there’s no doubt about it,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It’s something that we’re going to stay focused on and work really hard to improve.”

Starting pitcher Vince Velasquez had good enough stuff to strike out nine Braves — including the side with the bases loaded in the fourth — over 4 1/3 innings, but his pitch count was high and he paid the price for a leadoff walk (one of three he issued in the game) in the fifth inning when the Braves parlayed errors by rightfielder Nick Williams and first baseman Carlos Santana into the tie-breaking run.

Santana had a chance to cut down Ozzie Albies at the plate, but his throw sailed over catcher Jorge Alfaro’s head. Later in the game, Alfaro was charged with a passed ball that set up the Braves’ third run. Two of the Braves’ runs were unearned.

Less than two weeks ago, Kapler praised Santana for playing Gold Glove-caliber defense. Lately, however, Santana's defense has slipped badly. He has made errors in four straight games. Three of them have been throwing errors. All have cost the Phillies runs.

“The last four games, I’m throwing bad,” Santana said. “But that happens. I have to keep working hard. I’m not putting pressure on myself. The results are not good but I feel strong mentally. Tomorrow is a new day.”

While Santana has struggled defensively, Rhys Hoskins has struggled offensively. He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to fall to .237. He is 10 for 67 (.149) with 27 strikeouts in May.

“It’s just one of those stretches,” Hoskins said. He cited some mechanical flaws that have hurt his timing. “It’s baseball. It’s frustrating, but I think it’s one of those things where if I stick with the process and preparation and drills that make me comfortable in the box, I think it eventually flips the other way.”

The Phils entered the game a half game behind the first-place Braves. Before the game, Kapler said moving into first place for the first time since 2011 “would mean a lot” as a confidence and momentum booster. The loss meant the Phils cannot overtake the Braves in Wednesday’s series finale. But the Phils can still win the series and that would be a positive. In fact, that should always be the goal and the Phils have not been able to do that in three previous series against Atlanta this season.

Jake Arrieta gets the ball Wednesday night.

The Phils will try not to throw it away.

Phillies miss target of 1st place with home loss to Braves

Phillies miss target of 1st place with home loss to Braves

BOX SCORE

The Phillies missed out on a chance to move into first place in the National League East on Tuesday night and they have no one to blame but themselves.

The team’s recent spate of poor defense continued in a 3-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Two of the Braves' runs were unearned.

The Phils made two errors in the fifth inning, allowing the Braves to push across the go-ahead run.

A passed ball on catcher Jorge Alfaro set up the Braves' third run.

The Phillies, and Alfaro in particular, made several defensive gems in Monday night’s 3-0 win over the Braves. But, overall, defense has been an issue lately. The Phils have made nine errors in the last five games, four of them by first baseman Carlos Santana.

Santana made his third throwing error in the last four games when he airmailed catcher Alfaro in the fifth inning. The wild throw allowed Ozzie Albies to score from third base with the tie-breaking run. Earlier in the fifth inning, rightfielder Nick Williams made a throwing error that gave the Braves runners on second and third.

Defense wasn’t the only issue for the Phillies. Starting pitcher Vince Velasquez walked the leadoff batter in an inning three times and one of them became the go-ahead run in the fifth.

Velasquez’s three-game winning streak came to an end as he allowed nine base runners in 4 1/3 innings. Albies jumped a first-pitch breaking ball for a solo homer in the third inning to give the Braves an early lead. The Phillies tied the game in the top of the fifth on a two-out, RBI single by Cesar Hernandez. Pinch-hitter Aaron Altherr had kept that inning alive by fighting back from an 0-2 count against Brandon McCarthy to draw a two-out walk.

Velasquez, who threw 89 pitches, had his moments of dominance. He struck out nine, including the side in the fourth inning after the Braves loaded the bases with no outs.

Velasquez is 0-4 against the Braves this season.

McCarthy, meanwhile, is 4-0 against the Phillies this season. The veteran right-hander gave up just one run in 5 2/3 innings. He has held the Phillies to just five runs in 21 2/3 innings this season.

The loss dropped the Phillies to 27-19. They trail the division-leading Braves by 1½ games. Atlanta is 29-18.

Notes
• Hernandez has reached base safely in 26 straight games.

• Albies, the Braves’ dynamic 21-year-old second baseman, scored all three of his team’s runs. He has 14 homers.

• Rhys Hoskins went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to fall to .237. He is 10 for 67 (.149) with 27 strikeouts in May.

• The series concludes on Wednesday night with Jake Arrieta going against Atlanta lefty Luiz Gohara.