BOSTON — Rhys Hoskins and J.D. Martinez were making small talk the other night about the biggest topic in baseball through the first half of the season. And they agreed that MLB’s enforcement of an existing rule that forbids pitchers from slathering the ball with foreign substances has leveled the playing field for hitters and infused the sport with offense.
“One-hundred percent,” said Martinez, the Boston Red Sox’s slugger. “I think the whole league has seen a difference. I was at first base talking to Rhys Hoskins about it, and he’s like, ‘It’s amazing. It’s such a difference now.’”
By itself, the ban on sticky stuff didn’t explain Hoskins’ two-run double off the Green Monster or the Phillies’ eight-run eighth inning Saturday in an 11-2 rout of the American League-leading Red Sox. The Phillies mashed 13 hits, including home runs by Jean Segura in the first inning and Alec Bohm in the second, and clinched a winning record on this seven-game swing through Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.
And with a victory Sunday against former teammate Nick Pivetta in the last game before the four-day All-Star break, the Phillies can raise their record to .500 for the first time since June 19.
“I think it just starts with the approach and the consistent at-bats all the way through the lineup,” Hoskins said of a 55-run outburst in the last six games. “Obviously we’ve gotten healthy and you could see the length that the lineup has.”
Zoom out, though, and you can see what Hoskins and Martinez were chit-chatting about. Prior to June 3, when MLB issued what amounted to a cease-and-desist memo to pitchers in advance of mandatory in-game pat-downs, hitters across the league were batting .236 with a .312 on-base percentage and .395 slugging percentage. Since June 3, those numbers have risen to .247/.321/.414.
The Phillies are following the trend — and not only this week. They’re averaging 5.3 runs per game since June 3 compared with 4.1 before that. Six of the eight games in which they have tallied a double-digit run total came after June 3, including three this week.
“We’ll find out over time,” manager Joe Girardi said. “But so far there’s more runs being scored, there’s more hits, there’s more balls in play, there’s less batters hit, and velocity was actually up a little bit. It’s interesting. We’ll see if the correlation continues. The early answers are so far it probably has affected it.”
Hoskins, the Phillies’ representative in the MLB Players Association, said before Saturday’s game that the increase in offense may be multifactorial. He noted the warmer weather in most cities and the tendency for balls to carry farther in the summer months.
But he also said it can’t be ignored that the Phillies entered Saturday batting .243 and slugging .423 since June 3 compared with .237 and .387 before that.
“To me it’s most prevalent on fastballs,” Hoskins said. “Guys have a good slider, a good breaking ball, they have a good breaking ball. That’s just how it is. But I think it affects their ability to pitch at the top of the zone like has been taught the last three, four, five years. That’s where I see the biggest difference.”
Segura jumped Red Sox lefty Martín Pérez with his 10th career leadoff homer (first since 2016). Bohm, who left in the eighth inning because of COVID protocols, hit only his second homer since May 6 — and his first against an actual pitcher. He went deep earlier in the week against Cubs infielder Eric Sogard.
Left-hander Matt Moore bent but didn’t break for 4⅓ innings and the bullpen maintained the one-run lead before the offense went to work in the eighth. The Phillies sent 13 batters to the plate. They got five hits and drew four walks against three Red Sox relievers, all of whom had their hats, gloves, and belt buckles checked by the umpires as they left the game.
With Odúbel Herrera headed to the injured list before the game — and staying there through at least next weekend — the Phillies will put Travis Jankowski in center field against right-handed pitchers and Luke Williams against lefties. Williams, a utilityman with four career starts in center field, took his turn and promptly robbed Alex Verdugo of extra bases in the first inning with a diving catch.
As first-half story lines go, it doesn’t get much better for the Phillies than Williams, whose two-week magic-carpet ride last month included helping Team USA qualify for the Olympics, making his major-league debut, capping his first career start with a walk-off home run, and getting his own rooting section at Dodger Stadium, not far from his hometown in southern California.
Williams has cooled at the plate since then, going 5-for-30 in his last 17 games, including 0-for-3 against the Red Sox. But his ability to play seven positions continues to make him him an asset to the Phillies, especially when an everyday player such as Herrera goes down.
Héctor’s a protector
Rookie left-hander Bailey Falter went six-up, six-down in the sixth and seventh innings and picked up his first major-league win. But deposed closer Héctor Neris got the biggest outs of the game with one pitch in the fifth.
With the tying run at first and dangerous Martinez at the plate, Neris rolled a double play to safeguard a 3-2 lead.
“It’s big,” Hoskins said. “It’s nice to see him get outs, too, without the splitter. If he can continue to pound the strike zone with that [sinker], it just makes the splitter that much better.”