Rhys Hoskins

Bryce Harper hits his first home run of 2020 before Vince Velasquez gives it all back

Bryce Harper hits his first home run of 2020 before Vince Velasquez gives it all back

This time, the Phillies didn't fail to cash in early.

Adam Haseley, Rhys Hoskins and Bryce Harper went single, double, three-run homer to begin the Phillies' series finale Sunday afternoon against the Marlins.

Four batters later, Jay Bruce hit an RBI triple off of the top of the wall in left-center to give the Phils a four-run lead. A four-run lead that Vince Velasquez immediately gave up by allowing a solo shot to Jesus Aguilar and a three-run homer to Miguel Rojas in the top of the second inning. Not a pretty debut by any stretch for Velasquez, who is barely clinging to his spot in the rotation.

Harper's home run was a first-pitch missile to the stairwell in right field, his first of the season. The Phillies had five hits in the inning against overmatched Marlins right-hander Robert Dugger.

The Phillies had been 1 for 9 on the season with runners in scoring position before Harper's homer. They left five runners on base in the first two innings Saturday before busting out. Sunday, they got to work even earlier.

The Marlins had planned to start veteran Jose Ureña, but he was scratched at 11:40 a.m.

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Phil Gosselin trending up, Rhys Hoskins tinkering as Phillies camp winds down

Phil Gosselin trending up, Rhys Hoskins tinkering as Phillies camp winds down

Rhys Hoskins thinks people are sleeping on the Phillies.

"We've played some pretty good baseball in these exhibition games," he said Tuesday night. "We've seen a lot of really good things in intrasquad games, too. We could talk about Vinny (Velasquez) and the way that he's looked over these last couple of weeks as something that stands out. 

"I think we're feeling pretty confident. I think still, at least nationally, we're being overlooked a little bit. I think you couple that as a chip on our shoulder with the confidence that we have in the clubhouse and I think it's going to allow for us to have a pretty good season."

That season, a 60-game sprint, begins Friday night against the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park.

Aaron Nola will start his third straight opener for the Phillies. Right-hander Sandy Alcantara will go for the Marlins. He will be followed by lefty Caleb Smith and righty Jose Urena in the three-game series.

The Phillies' rotation after Nola is in flux because scheduled No. 2 starter Zack Wheeler is on baby watch as he and his wife get set for the arrival of their first child. If Wheeler can't go Saturday, the Phils will have to do some juggling. Velasquez and Jake Arrieta appear set to take turns in the rotation the first time through. Zach Eflin's status could be determined after he throws a simulated game Thursday. He has been slowed by a balky back. Nick Pivetta, who pitched in an intrasquad game on Tuesday night, remains in the mix for a first-week start, depending on the availability of others.

Spencer Howard also pitched on Tuesday night. He could be in line to join the rotation during the second week of the season.

Howard pitched four innings. He allowed a hit and a run, walked one and struck out four.

"He was good," manager Joe Girardi said. “His changeup is really effective. His fastball is sneaky -- easy delivery and it comes out at you really well. We’re excited about him."

Hoskins had a difficult night. He was hitless in six at-bats. (He took a couple of extra at-bats late in the game.) He struck out three times but did line out hard to the left field wall.

"He just wanted some extra at-bats," Girardi said. "He'll DH (in the final intrasquad game) tomorrow."

Hoskins is a big key for the Phillies, an X factor in the batting order. He struggled mightily in the second half of last season, hitting just .180 after the All-Star break. If the Phillies are to be the team that Hoskins believes they can be, he will need to be a big producer somewhere in that mid-order pack of bats that includes Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jay Bruce and Didi Gregorius.

Working with new hitting coach Joe Dillon, Hoskins spent the winter making changes in his setup at the plate. He lowered his hands and opened his stance a little.

Recently, however, Hoskins has raised his hands from where they were back in February and March in Clearwater.

"It was well-documented in the offseason that I experimented with some changes in my setup," Hoskins said. "I thought it was going well in the spring but then the pandemic hit and I was unable to get live reps. Since we’ve gotten back, it’s turned into more of a hybrid between those changes and what I’ve done in the past."

Hoskins said the recent adjustment was about getting “a good feel” at the plate.

"I found myself getting a little bit too mechanical in some of these intrasquad and exhibition games," he said. "I talked with Joe Dillon and the rest of the staff, and we thought that the work we had done over the past five or six months was really going to help with something I was already familiar with, so I think we'll see the adjustments kind of form into a little bit of a hybrid. 

"Right now, I'm feeling pretty good. I'm feeling pretty comfortable with it. I feel strong in the box. I feel like I'm seeing the ball well. Try to swing at strikes and go from there."

Hoskins will look to finish summer camp strong on Wednesday night.

Thursday is an off day, save for Eflin’s throwing a simulated game. Friday is showtime.

Rosters must be turned in by Thursday noontime. Utility infielder Phil Gosselin is making a strong push to be on the roster. He had four hits Tuesday night and is 7 for 7 over his last four games.

"What he's done hasn’t gone unnoticed," Girardi said.

Teammates have begun calling Gosselin "Barrels" because, well, he's been barreling everything lately. His chances of making the club improved late Tuesday night when the club announced that Josh Harrison, another utility player on a non-roster contract, asked for and was granted his release.

One final note: Jean Segura, hit on the hand by a pitch Monday night, is fine. An X-ray was negative. He took batting practice and worked in the infield before the game.

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An optimistic outlook on Rhys Hoskins in shortened season

An optimistic outlook on Rhys Hoskins in shortened season

There's a long list of Phillies with something to prove during this abbreviated 2020 season. 

Rhys Hoskins is at the top of that list. 

12 months ago, Hoskins was viewed as a cornerstone piece for the Phillies to build upon for the next decade. He was finishing up a very good first half of the 2019 season, hitting .263 with 20 HR, 59 RBI and a .931 OPS in 89 games before the All-Star break. 

Add his 2019 first half performance to a solid 2018 campaign and historic 2017 rookie season, and it was plain to see that Hoskins was establishing himself as one of the premiere power hitters in baseball. He seemed destined for a big pay day in the near future. 

Then the second half of 2019 happened. Hoskins slipped into the worst slump of his career, hitting .180 with a .679 OPS in his final 71 games. Hoskins was arguably the least productive hitter in the National League over the last two and a half months of the season.

Suddenly there were questions about his future. Could he still be that foundational piece that everyone envisioned him being?

Hoskins went to work in the offseason, altering his batting stance by lowering his hands significantly during his set-up. He said he felt comfortable with his new stance during spring training and was anxious to put it to the test once the regular season began.

Then baseball shut down for three and a half months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now Hoskins finds himself back at work with the rest of his teammates, jamming in a three-week training camp before a shortened season starts on July 24. 

"We're kind of having to restart with the comfort level thing," the 27-year old Hoskins said Wednesday in a video conference with reporters. "Just seeing live pitching again, just like every spring training though, what we need is reps. The more reps we get we'll be fine."

"The quarantine and the shutdown, in terms of the adjustments that were made, I was really able to hone in on some of the details within the setup. I have a bat on every floor of my house and I'd just pick up the bat, get the feel of it one time, then 20 minutes later you do the same thing. In that sense it was nice to have because that's time I wasn't necessarily going to have during the season. But we'll utilize these next two weeks to get as many live reps as we can and we'll compete from there."

As Hoskins sets out to redeem himself after his second half struggles in 2019, there are several reasons for optimism. 

Namely, he's flying under the radar right now, which is a good thing. Before the shutdown, Hoskins' new batting stance and quest to bounce back were major talking points. Now, everyone is talking about much bigger concerns that accompany playing a baseball season during a pandemic. And as far as baseball storylines go, J.T. Realmuto's contract negotiations have garnered far more headlines than Hoskins' offseason adjustments. 

Then there's the fact that a 60-game season might just be tailor-made for Hoskins. He's come out of the gates strong in all three seasons of his major league career.

The numbers tell the story. 

First 34 games of 2017 - .314 BA, 18 HR, 39 RBI, 1.247 OPS

First 32 games of 2018 - .286 BA, 5 HR, 22 RBI, .951 OPS

First 34 games of 2019 - .302 BA, 11 HR, 32 RBI, 1.076 OPS

If Hoskins can put up those type of numbers for the first 35 games of the 2020 season, that would account for more than half the schedule. He'd have his confidence back as September arrives, hoping to help carry the Phillies to the playoffs. 

Hoskins' performance is critical as the Phillies set out to end a 9-year postseason drought. The road to redemption begins in two weeks.  

 

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