A win over the Marlins? In Miami? Six scoreless innings from Vince Velasquez? A 2.30 ERA in a six Velasquez starts this season?
No, you weren’t dreaming. That’s how it happened Tuesday night.
And while everything is far from right in the Phillies’ universe — J.T. Realmuto, Didi Gregorius, and now, Bryce Harper are all on the injured list — Aaron Nola is scheduled to start tonight with a chance to clinch at least a split of a four-game series against the team that has been the biggest pain in the Phillies’ you-know-what over the last few seasons.
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Rhys Hoskins heating up at right time for Phillies
When the Phillies played on Sunday Night Baseball three weeks ago in Atlanta, manager Joe Girardi dropped slumping cleanup hitter Rhys Hoskins to the No. 7 spot in the order for the first time since his major league debut in 2017. Hoskins got a hit that night, and since then, he’s 17-for-50 (.340) with eight walks and only 10 strikeouts.
Cause and effect?
“Sometimes the guys that have been around this game a long time know how to push the right buttons,” Hoskins said Tuesday night after hitting a two-run home run to account for the scoring in the Phillies’ 2-0 victory over the Marlins. “I don’t know if I could point to one thing in particular since that day, but yeah, it feels like I’m chasing [pitches] less. I’m just missing less.”
There couldn’t be a better time for Hoskins to have regained his timing at the plate. With Harper and Realmuto sidelined by bruised left wrists and Gregorius unable to get the swelling out of his right elbow, Hoskins is the Phillies’ last middle-of-the-order hitter standing for now.
And considering they went into Tuesday night ranked ninth in the National League in OPS (.697) and 10th in runs scored (197), it would help if Hoskins was able to carry them for a week or two.
“It’s extremely important,” Girardi said. “Everyone else has to do their job and pick up the pieces. It can’t be one guy. But it’s nice to have him really going at a time like this.”
For as many hits as Hoskins has gotten lately, the homer against tough Marlins starter Sandy Alcantara was by far the biggest. For one thing, Hoskins fell behind in the count 0-2 and fouled off three two-strike pitches to extend the at-bat. Then, on the seventh pitch, Alcantara reached back for a 99.8-mph fastball, and Hoskins hit it off signage above the left-field party deck at the Marlins’ ballpark.
Hoskins spiked his bat, glanced at the Phillies’ dugout, and in a release of emotion pent up over a stretch of seven losses in nine games, he shouted, “Let’s go!”
“We kind of needed a spark a little bit, right?” Hoskins said. “We played good baseball after that inning, and we made a lot of good plays defensively. The pitching was great. Whether or not it was sparked by that remains to be seen. The energy in the dugout was a lot better after that. Shoot, if it takes showing a little bit of emotion, I think all of us in that dugout are in.”
Hoskins won’t have to do it all by himself. Jean Segura, the Phillies’ most consistent hitter thus far this season, is sizzling with eight hits in his last 19 at-bats. Odúbel Herrera, their fourth choice to play center field, has brought stability to the position by hitting .323 over his last 19 games. Brad Miller has homered in two of the last three games. Leadoff man Andrew McCutchen was swinging the bat better before a 5-for-35 spell.
But in the absence of Harper, Realmuto, and Gregorius, the onus will fall on Hoskins to provide the power.
“We’ve kind of had a little bit of adversity thrown our way in the last week, two weeks,” Hoskins said. “It’s time for people to step up.”
It has been a weird couple of months for Hoskins.
Known as much for his patience at the plate as his prodigious right-handed power, he began the season with seven extra-base hits in his first 24 plate appearances but didn’t draw a walk until his 39th plate appearance. He went on another power binge in late April with six homers in six games. Then, over his next 26 games entering Tuesday night, he reached base at a .370 clip but had only six extra-base hits (five doubles, one homer).
Hoskins is a streaky hitter and has been throughout his career. Girardi can usually tell when Hoskins is coming out of a cold spell because he starts to hit more balls the other way, such as the RBI single to right-center field in Washington on May 11, one game after being dropped in the batting order.
“I don’t think it really had much to do with me dropping him down that day, but if that’s the case, I’ll make a move with somebody every day and we’ll get everybody hot and swinging like Rhys,” Girardi said, laughing. “He got a little out of whack where I think he was pulling the ball too much. He’s used the whole field. We’ve seen a number of hits to the opposite field. I think it helps him stay on the ball. I just think he’s found himself a little bit.”
It’s a good time for it.
Here’s more on the injury that landed Harper on the injured list — and why Girardi didn’t tell anyone about it for two days despite being asked several times.
Velasquez held it together when the game could’ve unraveled. How’s that for a change?
“Obviously we’re striking out too much,” Phillies hitting coach Joe Dillon told Matt Breen. At least they aren’t alone.
Injuries are spiking across baseball. Why? Is this the new norm, or a one-off epidemic after the pandemic? I asked Phillies GM Sam Fuld and others to weigh in with their theories.
Tonight: Nola starts in Miami, 6:40 p.m.
Tomorrow: Spencer Howard vs. Marlins’ Pablo Lopez, 12:10 p.m.
Friday: Day off for the Phillies.
Saturday: Zack Wheeler opens two-game series at Tampa Bay, 1:10 p.m.
Monday: Memorial Day matinee in Cincinnati, 2:10 p.m.
Stat of the day
With the lineup depleted, the Phillies tried to generate offense by twice stealing second base in the series opener Monday night in Miami. It worked. In both cases, Miller and Segura wound up scoring runs.
The Phillies should consider running more often. They are 15-for-15 in steal attempts this month and 30-for-33 this season, a 90.9% success rate that leads the majors. Since the start of last season, their 85.5% success rate (65-for-76) also leads the majors.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: Love EI! Who do you feel is the most tradable Phillie for value returns? — Dave S., via email
Answer: Hey, Dave. Thanks for reaching out — and for being a loyal reader.
Wait, you’re selling? Already? Look, I know the Phillies are under .500, but it’s not like anyone is running away with the NL East. I get your point, though. They probably have too many holes to make a deep playoff run — and maybe to make the playoffs, period — so it makes little sense to diminish a poorly ranked farm system at the trade deadline.
The Phillies could probably get decent value for Hoskins or Zach Eflin. Zack Wheeler makes a lot of money but would likely fetch a top prospect or two. But it’s also easy to see all of them as part of a playoff team next year, and Dave Dombrowski didn’t come here to keep rebuilding.