Joe Girardi has written out 16 lineup cards this season and all but one have included Rhys Hoskins.
The Phillies manager has played Hoskins nearly every day this season, patiently riding the first baseman through an early-season slump that followed a brutal finish to last season.
He has batted Hoskins second, watched him drive in just one run over the first 15 games, and never panicked.
“I’m not worried about Rhys,” Girardi said before a 6-2 win Saturday night over the Mets at Citizens Bank Park.
And Hoskins, finally, proved Girardi right. He crushed a three-run double to break the game open and highlight a five-run fifth inning.
They were Hoskins’ first RBIs since Aug. 5 and the double was just his fourth extra-base hit this season. The Phillies have two of baseball’s hottest hitters in Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto, but their lineup desperately needs a third. It could be Hoskins.
“I’ve felt pretty good all year,” said Hoskins. “I think my decision making, for the most part, has been pretty good. There’s still a little bit of chase with two strikes, but I feel like I’ve been swinging at good pitches and making passes but not getting the results that everyone wants. But that’s what makes this game hard, right? You can do everything right and not get the results, but you just have to continue to work and hope they come.”
The five-run rally was plenty for Aaron Nola, who pitched seven shutout innings in a dominating effort. And it was even plenty of cushion for the shaky bullpen, which relied on Ramon Rosso for the final two innings.
Nola allowed just three hits, walked two, and struck out eight. He threw 102 pitches and accessorized his fastball with an almost equal mix of his curveball and change-up, both of which were prime pitches.
Nola, with 30 strikeouts and two earned runs in his last three starts, looks like the pitcher who nearly won the Cy Young Award in 2018 instead of the one who finished 2019 with a roughly league average ERA.
Nola, per the Elias Sports Bureau, became the first Phillies pitcher since the current mound distance was established in 1893 to allow three or fewer hits and strike out eight or more batters in three straight starts.
“Just command of all three of my pitches, getting ahead of guys, finishing guys off, playing down in the zone when I need to. I think that’s been the key,” Nola said. “I wasn’t really on time on top of the ball tonight, but I battled through that to get the guys out anyway that I could.”
He struck out the first two batters before putting on two runners in the first inning. He escaped with a strikeout on a biting curveball.
The first two batters reached in the third, but Nola quickly ended that threat by inducing a double play and a strikeout. That was all the trouble he faced as he retired the final 13 batters he faced.
“Great again,” Girardi said.
One game is not enough to break a slump, but Hoskins now has hits in six of his last seven games. He popped up Saturday on a 3-0 fastball in the first inning, but his fifth-inning double was redemption.
Hoskins’ slump this season seemed to stem from a less-than-aggressive approach at the plate, but he discarded that after Steven Matz walked Andrew McCutchen to load the bases. Hoskins didn’t let Matz settle down. Instead, he jumped on the first pitch and drove the left-hander’s sinker to the right-field gap.
“I’m just trying to tell myself to be in attack mode no matter the pitch, no matter the count,” Hoskins said. “Not necessarily in swing mode, but ready to swing on each and every pitch and trust that my eyes will tell me when it’s going to be a ball or going to be a strike. I thought it was a good pitch to hit.”
The Phillies passed the Mets in the standings by winning the first two games of the season between the teams. It is their first series win this season. On Sunday, they’ll go for a sweep with Zack Wheeler on the mound.
The Phillies are still two games below .500, but they’re not buried yet. After Sunday, they play four games in four days against Boston and Toronto, the two last-place teams in the American League East. A win on Sunday could set the Phillies up for a run.
“I think we need to make some hay in the next 10 days,” Girardi said. “These are important games. I don’t want to look too far ahead, but these games are important.”
After Hoskins’ double in the fifth inning, Harper, the next batter, scorched a line-drive off the top of the right-field wall. Hoskins scored and Harper slid head-first into second base for a double.
The Phillies know what to expect from Harper and Realmuto, but they also know that two hitters are not enough to carry them, even in a 60-game season. They were counting heavily on Hoskins when they entered the season and that’s why Girardi never wavered. Finally, his patience may be rewarded.