Phillies

Rhys Hoskins is still sore; Phillies remain confident he will be ready for opening day

Rhys Hoskins is still sore; Phillies remain confident he will be ready for opening day

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Even after backing off a tentative plan of playing Rhys Hoskins on Sunday, the Phillies remain optimistic that he will be ready to play in Thursday’s season opener.

“The game plan is for him to play [Monday] and be ready for opening day,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We feel confident in that.”

Hoskins, the team’s first baseman and cleanup hitter, has not played since last Sunday when he hurt his left shoulder taking an awkward swing. An MRI showed no structural damage and Hoskins has continued to do drills. The Phils had hoped to play Hoskins on Sunday, but he was held out of the game against Baltimore. He was able to take batting practice.

“There’s been steady improvement but there’s still a little bit of soreness,” Kapler said. “Rhys is very important to us and our season and we’re always going to lean toward the side of caution, expecially this close to opening day. We wanted to give him some extra time to improve.”

Hoskins said much of the same: There’s still a little soreness, he’s improving and he’ll be ready for opening day. He said he was confident that he would play in the team’s final Grapefruit League game on Monday afternoon against Tampa Bay in Clearwater.

The Phillies’ lineup Sunday reflected some concern for Hoskins. Maikel Franco moved over from third base and started at first for the second time in three games. He is essentially the team’s backup first baseman. Scott Kingery started at third base. If Hoskins were to miss any time, this would be how the Phillies would cover him. At the moment, however, the team is confident that Hoskins will not miss any time.

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Phillies outfielder Jay Bruce honors a friend on his back and in his heart

Phillies outfielder Jay Bruce honors a friend on his back and in his heart

CLEARWATER, Fla. – As kids, they rode their bikes to each other’s houses. They played Little League and high school ball together.

As adults, they hunted and fished together, always washing it down with a cold beer and a few laughs.

Jay Bruce and Justin Hoose were boys, as the saying goes.

“We started playing together in tee ball,” Bruce said. “And we were always close. I had my first sleepover at his house. Toothpaste in the ear, shaving cream, you name it, we did it. He was the first person I ever ding-dong-ditched with. 

“We did everything together. And regardless of whether you wanted to have fun or wanted to laugh or wanted to have a good time, when he came around you were going to do all of those things.”

The phone call came in December when Bruce was in Idaho picking up a hunting dog. Back home in Beaumont, Texas, his lifelong friend Justin had been hospitalized with a sudden and serious illness. A few days later, he was gone, way too young at the age of 32.

“It floored me,” Bruce said. “We have a tight group of friends from high school and it floored all of us. It still stings. I still can’t believe it. It’s something no one would have imagined.

“I always believed we’d one day be old men talking (crap) on each other and then …

“It’s really made me understand and realize that life is precious and can be taken from you so quickly and to just love the people you’re close with.”

Justin loved the Dallas Cowboys so much that friends were encouraged to wear Cowboys’ colors to his memorial service. A few years ago, Bruce arranged for sideline passes at a Cowboys game.

“We had a blast,” he said.

In 12 seasons as a major league outfielder, Bruce has played in Cincinnati, Cleveland, New York, Seattle and Philadelphia. Justin supported his friend, and rooted like crazy for him, in every one of these towns.

So, as Bruce prepared for spring training this year, he decided to do something for the old friend that supported him so much. He phoned Phillies equipment man Phil Sheridan and asked if he could change his number from 23 to 9. That was the number Justin wore when they were teammates on the baseball team at West Brook High School in Beaumont.

Changing numbers in the big leagues is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, it requires league approval. Merchandisers often object because they have existing stock with the player’s number already on it. But everything lined up favorably for Bruce because he’d only been a Phillie for a few months after being traded from Seattle last season.

“I got here in June so there’s not a lot of stuff out there,” he said. “But if there was merchandise out there, I would have been willing to buy it to do this.”

There aren’t many Bruce jerseys with No. 9 on them in the merchandise stores yet. But there is another one out there. Before he left for spring training, Bruce, a husband and father of two young sons, made sure to order one for Joseph Hoose, the 10-year-son of his old pal Justin.

Bruce took batting practice with his new number on his back Tuesday and felt as if his old friend was looking down on him.

“Justin was special,” Jay Bruce said through misty eyes. “He was an incredible person. Wearing this number doesn’t fully honor who he was a person, but it brings a little bit of him with me.”

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Which of these Phillies batting orders do you like better?

Which of these Phillies batting orders do you like better?

The Phillies have 32 spring training games to figure out which infield alignment makes the most sense, who the opening day centerfielder will be and how the batting order shakes out. 

On yesterday’s Phillies Talk podcast, Ricky Bottalico and I discussed how much batting order flexibility the addition of Didi Gregorius gives Joe Girardi. Gregorius can really bat anywhere between first and fifth. 

This was Ricky’s batting order:

  1. Andrew McCutchen, LF
  2. Didi Gregorius, SS (L)
  3. Bryce Harper, RF (L)
  4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
  5. J.T. Realmuto, C
  6. Jean Segura, 2B
  7. Scott Kingery, 3B
  8. Adam Haseley, CF (L)

And here was mine:

  1. Andrew McCutchen, LF
  2. Bryce Harper, RF (L)
  3. J.T. Realmuto, C
  4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
  5. Didi Gregorius, SS (L)
  6. Jean Segura, 2B
  7. Scott Kingery, 3B
  8. Adam Haseley, CF (L)

We will have to wait and see how much the new three-batter rule for relievers affects lineup construction, if at all. It could prompt managers to focus more on splitting up their lefties, which was the idea behind my splitting up Harper and Didi. 

Another option the Phils could go with is McCutchen and Segura at the top, where they were early last season. Forgotten in the totality of Segura’s disappointing first season as a Phillie is that he was hitting .330 in mid-May and his production didn’t crater until right around the time he didn’t hustle out the ball in San Diego, leading to the rundown in which McCutchen tore his ACL. Segura spoke this week about how much that ordeal weighed on him last summer. 

What’s your ideal Phillies batting order?

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