Rob Thomson

Hoskins blames himself for letting umpire West ring him up with game on the line

Hoskins blames himself for letting umpire West ring him up with game on the line

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Back when everything was going splendidly for Rhys Hoskins, you know, when he was hammering balls over the wall almost every night last August, he stood at his locker and answered all the questions. It was easy. After all, who doesn’t like talking about the good times?

Now, things have toughened up for Hoskins. But that hasn’t stopped him from answering all the questions. There’s no hiding in the trainer’s room for this guy. He might be hitting just .162 with a .577 OPS in 20 games this month. But he’s got some character.

The Phillies battled back from a five-run deficit, made it a one-run game and loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night. As the uprising was unfolding, manager Gabe Kapler turned to bench coach Rob Thomson and said, “If Rhys comes to the plate, we're going to win this game.”

Hoskins did come to the plate with a chance to tie or win the game for the Phillies. But the at-bat ended with him walking back to the dugout dejectedly after taking a close 2-2 fastball for a third strike. The next batter, Odubel Herrera, grounded out. Game over. Blue Jays 6, Phillies 5 (see first take). And up in Boston, the Braves lost to the Red Sox. The Phillies squandered a chance to take over first place in the NL East. They remain a half game back.

Replays of Ryan Tepera’s pitch on Hoskins showed it to be so close to the outside part of the plate that the call could have gone either way. Umpire Joe West rang up Hoskins. After the game, Hoskins resisted looking at the replay. He was not happy with himself.

“I thought it was a little off, but that doesn’t really matter,” he said. “It’s too close to take in that situation. It’s unacceptable. You’ve got to put the ball in play and give yourself a chance.

“I was just trying to simplify my approach as much as I can. When you have a pitcher on the ropes like that, I think that’s the best way to go about it and he made a good pitch. Like I said, unacceptable in that situation.”

Kapler had not looked at the replay of the pitch before meeting with reporters.

“I don’t know if that’s the best use of my time right now,” Kapler said. “I know it’s not going to make me feel good.

“I don’t think Rhys was particularly happy. I mean, look, it’s a very difficult moment to go through for a hitter — game on the line and a really close pitch. It’s just tough all the way around.”

Starter Zach Eflin allowed six runs in 4 2/3 innings. The Phils chipped away, but the deficit proved too big. Hoskins helped the Phils get close with an RBI double in the eighth. He also had a walk. So, ironically, on a night when he failed in a big situation, he may have taken a step toward breaking out of his May slump.

“If you go back four or five games, Rhys has been swinging the bat pretty good,” Kapler said. “I’m not talking about lots of hits. I’m taking about swings with bat speed. I’m talking attacking the baseball. I’m talking about getting the ball in the air. There have been some good things happening for Rhys. He’s very close to taking off for us.”

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler shakes off boos in home-opening win

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler shakes off boos in home-opening win

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It’s foolish to call the sixth game of a manager’s career a “must-win,” but that’s what it felt like Thursday for Gabe Kapler. He was ripped and ridiculed for his decisions during the Phillies’ 1-4 season-opening road trip and when the club came home to Citizens Bank Park on Thursday … well, it wasn’t exactly Welcome Wagon.

Kapler was booed during introductions and again – quite lustily — when he made a key pitching change with two outs in the top of the sixth inning, a runner on base and his team up by three runs on the Miami Marlins. Out went Nick Pivetta and in came Adam Morgan to face slugger Justin Bour. The lefty-on-lefty matchup paid dividends as Morgan struck out Bour on three pitches. It was the pivotal moment in Kapler’s must-win, 5-0 victory over the Marlins and it didn’t go unnoticed in the dugout (see first take). As Morgan’s third-strike breaking ball branded catcher Jorge Alfaro’s mitt, bench coach Rob Thomson patted the beleaguered manager on the back.

“It’s about support,” said Thomson, in his first season with the Phillies after working under Joe Torre and Joe Girardi with the New York Yankees.

“We’re all a team here and we all have his back. I’ve been booed before. It’s part of the gig. I was happy for him, for Morgan and the team.”

Kapler did not seem stung by the boos.

“I’m glad to wear them if every day the fans are cheering for our players,” he said. “I’ll take that, 100 percent.”

There were a few things for the sellout crowd to cheer about as the Phils won their first home opener since 2011, the last year they made the playoffs. Pivetta pitched 5 2/3 innings of four-hit, walk-free ball. He featured a power slider and struck out nine. Morgan, Luis Garcia and Hector Neris teamed on 3 1/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen. The Phils stole four bases, Odubel Herrera had a big hit and Maikel Franco had a big day with three hits – half of the team’s total. Franco had a two-run single and a two-run homer (see story).

The Marlins were a compliant opponent. Their pitchers issued nine walks and the Phils turned three of them into runs.

Pivetta had no qualms with Kapler’s decision to remove him at 97 pitches.

“It’s the right call,” he said. “Adam is a tremendous guy to come out of the bullpen, he’s a lefty and Bour’s a good hitter.”

The crowd cheered Pivetta as he walked off the mound. Moments later, it booed Kapler as he handed Morgan the ball and returned to the dugout. It will take a few more victories to win over the Philadelphia fans.

Kapler is up for the challenge.

“I’m going to work my ass off for these fans,” he said. “I’m going to give them everything I have. At the end of the day, that’s all I can do: Work my tail off. Hopefully over the course of time, they will learn to trust that I am in this with them. Hopefully over the course of time, they will learn to trust that my process is strong.”

Brushbacks, hit batsmen, ejections in Phils' spring training game

Brushbacks, hit batsmen, ejections in Phils' spring training game

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CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies bring extra pitchers over from the minor-league complex for bullpen depth every game in spring training. For the pitchers, it’s a nice little recognition of a job well done. They often don’t get in the game, but they get to put on a big-league uniform and put a day’s worth of big-league meal money in their pocket.
 
Parker Frazier got even more than that on Thursday. He not only got in the game. He got ejected.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in a spring training game,” Frazier said with a laugh afterward. “I’ll take the first for something.”

Home plate umpire Tom Hallion gave Frazier the boot for hitting Detroit’s Derek Hill with a pitch in the eighth inning of a 6-2 loss. Frazier hit Hill with an off-speed pitch, so it clearly was not intentional. But Hallion had already issued warnings to both benches after Zach Eflin had hit Jose Iglesias and Detroit’s Matthew Boyd came in close twice against Odubel Herrera. In addition to Frazier, Hallion also ejected Phillies reliever Pedro Beato for hitting a batter in the ninth. Manager Gabe Kapler and bench coach Rob Thomson were ejected with Frazier and Beato, respectively.

It made for a crazy scene, especially in a spring training game.

Herrera believed that Boyd intentionally threw at him as retaliation for Iglesias getting hit. Boyd at first threw over Herrera’s head as Herrera tried to call timeout. He then came inside on Herrera. Herrera sidestepped the pitch and took first with a walk.

“He can’t hit me,” a defiant Herrera said afterward. “I’m too quick.”

Frazier definitely wasn’t trying to hit Hill, not with a slider.

“It was a slider that didn’t slide,” he joked.

Frazier is the 29-year-old son of former big-league pitcher George Frazier. He’s a career minor leaguer who has been in pro ball since 2007 and pitched in the Rockies, Reds, White Sox, A’s and Diamondbacks organizations. He pitched the last three seasons in independent ball and is in Phillies camp for the first time.

Frazier’s fiancee and future in-laws were in from Oklahoma for the game. They expected to see him pitch at the minor-league complex, but instead got to see him experience an eventful day in big-league camp.

After being ejected, Frazier returned to the clubhouse. A text from his fiancee awaited him.

“They wanted to know what happened,” he said. “I told them accidental hit pitch.”

Kapler wouldn't discuss what he said to Hallion after Frazier's ejection. He said he would respect the umpire's decision because those are the rules.

But Kapler made it clear that he didn’t believe his pitchers were trying to hit anyone.

“We have a minor leaguer in the game and he’s just trying to make a good impression,” Kapler said. “He threw a slider that backed up and hit somebody. Beato is also trying to make a club and make a good impression. There’s no reason to not throw strikes. Balls will get away. It’s part of the game.”