Phillies

Phillies turn sights to starting pitching after adding relievers at winter meetings

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Phillies turn sights to starting pitching after adding relievers at winter meetings

ORLANDO, Fla. — Matt Klentak's trip to the winter meetings netted two veteran relievers, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter.

Now, Klentak's focus becomes starting pitching. He'd like to add at least one before spring training begins, and chances are good that he will.

"We will probably slow down on the reliever front for a little while," the Phillies general manager said on Wednesday, Day 3 of the meetings. "I think for right now, we’ll probably shift our focus back toward the starting pitcher market, see what comes of that and just be patient with it.

"My expectation is that we will have another move before we go to spring training. I would not be surprised if we’re done for the winter meetings, but I would be surprised if we’re done for the offseason."

The Phillies have probed the free-agent market — big-ticket items such as Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta are unlikely — and spent the fall gauging other teams on which starters could become available in trades.

"I couldn't handicap the way it'll happen or even if it'll happen," Klentak said. "I think we're continuing to stay engaged with some agents. There's a few teams we've talked to about trades, some short-term options, some more controllable options. I just don't know.

"We've said as an industry and the Phillies have talked about this for a long time: it's so important to be able to develop your own starting pitchers because to acquire them in a trade is incredibly expensive in terms of player capital and to acquire them in free agency is incredibly expensive in terms of total dollars. Maybe never in our history has it been more important to develop starting pitchers."

In recent seasons, the Phillies have added starting pitchers (Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton, Clay Buchholz) near the end of their contracts. The Phils could still do that and have the money to take on a salary dump. But there would be merit to taking on a younger pitcher who has more contractual control, and the Phillies have the prospects to get in the hunt for Chris Archer, Gerrit Cole or Michael Fulmer, three pitchers who fit this profile.

The Phillies have a logjam in the middle infield with J.P. Crawford and Scott Kingery pushing Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez. Galvis and Hernandez are both available for trades. Officials from other clubs say the Phillies have been aggressive in shopping Galvis. The Phils will look to get pitching for Galvis, but the return might not be robust because he is a rental player who will be a free agent after the 2018 season. Hernandez figures to bring a better return because he has three years of contractual control remaining. A person from a club that has spoken to the Phillies about Hernandez said the Phils are looking for two pitchers for him.

Another starting arm is needed to complement a group of starters that includes Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson and Ben Lively.

It's possible the Phils could also look for a veteran outfielder to come off the bench. But it's just as possible that the Phils give in-house prospect Roman Quinn a chance to be that guy. Quinn, a dynamic, speedy switch-hitter, has been plagued by injuries throughout his minor-league career, including last season when he missed significant time at Triple A with an elbow injury. He will turn 25 in May. It might be time to bring him, even if it means filling a reserve role.

"This is a year we want to find out about our young kids," Klentak said. "If we can find out about Roman Quinn, we would like to do that. On the flip side, if we have a chance to bring in a great makeup, complementary player that can help our young kids and show them the ropes a little bit, then we’d be open to that, too. That’s not likely to be an early offseason venture."

Also, as the rest of the offseason plays out, the Phils will monitor the availability of Miami outfielder Christian Yelich. The Phils have long liked Yelich and would certainly try to make a play for him. But as much as the Phillies like the player, Klentak has made it clear he's not in a hurry to subtract core players and prospects. That could hurt the Phillies' chances because it would take a big package of talent to get Yelich.

Notes
The Phillies pick third in the Rule 5 draft on Thursday morning. They will likely make a pick, but there's a strong possibility they will make it for another club and quickly trade the player. If the Phils lost someone in the draft, it could be outfielder Carlos Tocci or lefthander Brandon Leibrandt.

Klentak hinted that hard-throwing pitching prospect Seranthony Dominguez would begin transitioning to the bullpen in spring training. Mark Appel will also make the move to the bullpen.

There are way bigger things to worry about with Phillies than Rhys Hoskins

There are way bigger things to worry about with Phillies than Rhys Hoskins

Rhys Hoskins is in a slump. An ill-timed slump, given the time of year and the Phillies’ position in a crowded but still somehow winnable wild-card race. 

Hoskins made four more outs Sunday. He’s 1 for his last 24. He’s hit .148 over his last 30 games. 

This rut from Hoskins has affected the Phillies’ record, but it’s nothing more than a slump and shouldn’t be viewed as such just because it is happening right now. It is not a sign that the organization needs to go out this offseason and find a better first baseman. It is not some definitive piece of evidence that Hoskins needs to move to the bottom of the order. 

We always overvalue what we’ve just seen. Hoskins hasn’t hit for a month, so his hot streaks become harder to recall and feel less long and less productive than they are. 

But consider this: Hoskins’ on-base percentage dipped below .380 Sunday for the first time since opening day. It took a stretch this cold for his on-base and power numbers to decrease to their current levels, which are still impressive. 

Hoskins’ OBP is 40 points higher than the league average for first basemen. His slugging percentage is 13 points higher than his first base peers and 40 points better than the league overall. He has made an out nearly 75 percent of the time he’s stepped to the plate over the last month, yet is still having an offensive season better than at least half of the league’s first basemen. 

Hoskins’ numbers likely won’t end up where they are now. We’ve seen too much evidence that he is a better hitter than this. A multi-year track record matters more than four weeks. It is a simple concept that always sounds logical until a player is in the midst of a run as poor as Hoskins’. 

Will Hoskins finish the year hitting .237? Will his slump last much longer? If you’re looking for a couple positive signs, take his 400-foot flyout to straightaway center that was a foot shy of tying Sunday’s game in the eighth inning. Hoskins had better swings and tracked pitches better in that game than he has for much of the past month.

He was confident and didn’t seem defeated after the game Sunday. 

“Look, I feel great,” he said after the Padres took two of three. “Obviously, it sucks to not contribute and not produce, but swing-wise, I feel great. I feel like for the most part I’m seeing pitches. I’m seeing the ball fine. Just for whatever reason things are a little off and the last couple weeks when I do click something, it’s right at somebody. 

“That’s baseball. Unfortunately, I know that’s really cliché. I wish I had a different answer. I’ve sat for hours and hours and looked at film trying to find something that I can go in the cage and take a thousand swings to fix, but at some point you just have to keep going up there and stuff will turn. Water will find its level.”

“I'm feeling pretty protective of him right now,” manager Gabe Kapler said, “because I know how hard he's working and I know how much effort and time he's putting in. The at-bat quality remains strong even though at the end, the results aren't there. 

“I know how disappointed he is in it and I'm disappointed for him because I know this is going to turn around for him. I know these at-bats are going to end in doubles and homers.” 

Still realistic for Hoskins to finish with an OPS around .900 with 30-plus homers and 90-plus RBI. That would be a very good season. Maybe not a “great” season, but remember again that this is a third-year player making less than $600,000. Should a very good player be blamed for not being a great player?

There are just far more important things to worry about with this team in 2019 and beyond than Rhys Hoskins. 

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A new feeling for Bryce Harper and a familiar feeling for the Phillies in disappointing end to homestand

A new feeling for Bryce Harper and a familiar feeling for the Phillies in disappointing end to homestand

As the Delaware Valley held its breath awaiting word of what happened to Bryce Harper, the Phillies again fell short against the Padres, losing 3-2 to close out a homestand that began with fireworks and ended with the excitement of a suburban dad mowing his lawn.

After sweeping the Cubs and winning a fourth straight game in the series opener vs. San Diego, the Phillies managed just five runs and 10 hits total in the final two losses.

This team ...

As for Harper, he is OK. He was suffering from blurred vision after the fourth inning and was forced to exit after five. The Phillies called it dehydration. Harper had an IV and was feeling better after the game. This was something he hadn't experienced before.

"An hour ago, I couldn't see in front of me," Harper said postgame, his eyes still sensitive to light.

He will be fine by Tuesday — good news because the Phillies are not going anywhere without him — when the quick two-game series at Fenway Park begins. 

Manager Gabe Kapler was happy Sunday with the quality of the Phillies' at-bats. He referenced the 110 pitches they made starter Joey Lucchesi throw and the 27 more they forced from closer Kirby Yates.

If a team is winning consistently or hitting consistently, maybe that kind of grind-it-out approach can make up for a loss or a series loss. But not as much when it's said about a team that hasn't been able to sustain momentum at any point this season, especially offensively. 

Sure, the Phillies made Lucchesi and Yates work. They also made an out in 18 of 23 plate appearances against them. 

The best example of the Phils' falling short on Sunday was Rhys Hoskins' 400-foot blast to the 401-foot sign in center field in the eighth inning. Padres centerfielder Manuel Margot raised his glove above his head and caught a ball that was a foot, maybe less, from going out and tying the game. In every game, you will find the sort of baseball randomness that impacts winning and losing. That deep, loud flyout was Sunday's example.

It was an 0-for-4 day for Hoskins atop the lineup, but ...

"Look, I feel great," said Hoskins, who is 1 for his last 24 and has hit .148 over his last 30 games.

"Obviously, it sucks to not contribute and not produce, but swing-wise, I feel great. I feel like for the most part I'm seeing pitches. I'm seeing the ball fine. Just for whatever reason, things are a little off and the last couple weeks when I do hit something, it's right at somebody. 

"That's baseball. Unfortunately, I know that's really cliché. I wish I had a different answer. I've sat for hours and hours and looked at film trying to find something that I can go in the cage and take a thousand swings to fix, but at some point you just have to keep going up there and stuff will turn. Water will find its level."

Water has found its level with Harper and J.T. Realmuto, two of baseball's hottest hitters in the month of August. Had Hoskins also been going well at this time, just imagine the run totals or win streaks the Phillies could have run off. 

Instead, on Sunday they wasted a rare strong pitching performance from someone other than Aaron Nola. Jason Vargas limited the Padres to two runs over 5⅔ innings. He has allowed two runs or fewer in three of his four starts as a Phillie but the team is just 1-3 because it has scored a total of five runs with Vargas in the game in his four starts.

"If we keep pitching like we do and the bullpen keeps pitching like (it has), we've seen how hot we can get quickly," Hoskins said.

"We swept a good team in the Cubs. Obviously, disappointing to lose a series to the Padres, but we talked about this a couple nights ago — you could feel the difference in here this week. It just feels a little different. There's a little more swagger and a little more confidence. Tough loss today but we'll be all right."

The Phillies have 38 games left to make a run and end a playoff drought of seven years. Harper was surprised when it was relayed to him Sunday that no Phillies team since 1990 has had its longest winning streak last just four games.

"That's crazy," he said. "In the game now, you see (Jacob) deGrom for six and see somebody else out of the bullpen, four other guys, three other guys. The game has definitely changed. It's evolved.

"Hopefully we can break that a little bit and win five in a row. Why not?"

One reason to remain skeptical: The last two times the Phillies have won four in a row, they lost their next series to the Marlins and Padres. You just don't know which Phillies will team show up on a given day.

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