Rhys Hoskins returned Thursday afternoon to Citizens Bank Park, joining the Phillies for the first time since undergoing season-ending surgery to repair an abdominal tear.
“It was great to see him,” manager Joe Girardi said.
The Phillies miss Hoskins’ production in their lineup and his presence in the clubhouse. But no Phillies’ hitter could be more affected by Hoskins’ absence this month than Bryce Harper, who is starting to see fewer pitches in the strike zone as opponents seem willing to test their luck against whoever is hitting behind him.
And maybe they’d be less likely to do so if Hoskins — who had the highest slugging percentage in the second half when his season ended — was protecting Harper.
“Well I think Rhys was dangerous when we lost him. I think that’s part of it,” Girardi said. “Rhys was a big bat that we miss, but again, there’s nothing you can do about it. Guys have to pick up the slack where we don’t have Rhys and try to fill in.”
Harper homered in his first at-bat on Wednesday night and then walked three straight times as he saw just six strikes over his final three plate appearances. After being burned by Harper, the Brewers were willing to give him first base and move on.
The Rockies chose to pitch to Harper in the first inning Thursday. He hit a solo home run.
According to Statcast data, entering Thursday’s game, just 43.5% of the pitches seen by Harper since August 26 — the first day the Phillies played without Hoskins — had been in the strike zone. Before August 26, that number was 54.2%.
Harper has remained patient as he entered Thursday with eight walks and 11 strikeouts in his last 59 plate appearances, a sign that he’s not expanding the zone despite seeing fewer pitches to hit. And when he does get a pitch to hit, Harper usually doesn’t miss as he has five homers and a 1.269 OPS since the Phils lost Hoskins.
But those pitches could become even fewer as it may become a theme this month for opponents to pitch Harper the way Milwaukee did.
“It could be, but I think teams have always pitched him carefully because of his ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark,” Girardi said. “And that happens, but guys behind him are going to have to make them pay.”
Hoskins was batting primarily fifth and sixth during his final five weeks, but did bat fourth in his final game and easily could have slid into the cleanup spot this month while J.T. Realmuto — who has nine hits in 39 at-bats since Hoskins left — seems to be slowed by a nagging shoulder.
Instead, the Phillies have one less option to protect Harper, who will miss Hoskins this month if Wednesday night creates a pattern.
“Sometimes we talk about all the pressure on the guy behind him. It’s also on the guys in front of him to get on because you got first and second you don’t want to just walk him to get bases loaded or that sort of thing,” Girardi said. “So that guy on first is really important.”
No surgery for J.T. this winter
Realmuto was not in Thursday night’s lineup, but Girardi said it was just a chance to rest him and not because of his bothersome right shoulder.
“He actually feels better,” said Girardi. “You watch him throw between innings. He shakes it less. He actually feels better.”
Girardi said that Realmuto will play the next three games in the Rockies series and that his shoulder will not require surgery this offseason.
“I think just like everyone when you have some issues, you work on strengthening them during the winter,” Girardi said. “But nothing that requires anything.”
Freddy Galvis still seems somewhat limited by the groin injury he suffered before being acquired by the Phillies, but Girardi said the infielder is “100 percent healthy. Sometimes there’s mental hurdles to get over just as much as physical hurdles and, you know, he’s had no complaints about it.” ... Vince Velasquez struck out nine batters Wednesday night and allowed one hit (a solo homer) in 3⅔ innings in a rehab start with triple-A Lehigh Valley. He’s a candidate to rejoin the Phillies this month. ... The Phillies will use a bullpen game on Friday against Rockies right-hander German Marquez.