PHOENIX — Eighteen days ago, before Rhys Hoskins rushed back to the Phillies lineup, he summed up what it’s like to play in August in the midst of a race for a division title.
“We’re in that sprint-type feel,” he said that day in Washington. “It’s go time.”
But Hoskins hasn’t been able to go. Not for the last two weeks and not in Thursday’s 6-2 loss against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Phillies could have used his right-handed bat in the middle of their punchless lineup against veteran left-hander Madison Bumgarner. Hoskins’ lingering left groin strain wouldn’t allow it, though, so here he was, on the bench once again, a 24-homer cheerleader with nothing to cheer about.
The Phillies put Hoskins on the injured list Aug. 6, and in their first three games without him, they scored 12 runs on 21 hits, including eight home runs, and swept the New York Mets in a playoff atmosphere at Citizens Bank Park. In the nine games that followed, they totaled 21 runs on 51 hits, only five of which left the ballpark. As a team, they batted .181. They won only twice and slid six games in the standings, from two games up in the division to four behind the first-place Atlanta Braves.
“I think we’re learning how important he is in that lineup,” said Phillies general manager Sam Fuld, who already knew. “He stretches the lineup. Whether it’s white-hot Rhys or a different version of Rhys, he grinds at-bats and creates stress for whoever’s on the bump trying to get him out. We miss him.”
Hoskins may be back Friday night in San Diego against Padres lefty Blake Snell. Then again, maybe not. Hoskins received a cortisone injection last Friday to aid the healing. Then, for three days in Arizona, he tested his groin by running the bases and moving laterally for ground balls, increasing the intensity each day.
Wednesday was particularly active. He pushed it by going from first base to third, from second to home.
The injury isn’t 100% healed, and odds are it probably won’t be until after the season. He may need periodic rest. The Phillies’ medical and training staffs believe there’s “not a lot of risk” for Hoskins in making it worse, but they also don’t want him to return to the injured list once he leaves it. So, they’re being cautious.
Fuld said Hoskins may be “in play” for the series opener against the Padres. But manager Joe Girardi, asked about Hoskins’ status, said, “We’ll see. I’m not sure.”
“Luckily,” Hoskins said the other day, a wry smile forming, “it’s not a huge part of my game, the speed aspect.”
The power aspect, on the other hand? The Phillies expect Hoskins — nay, they need him — to drive the ball over the fence. He can be maddeningly streaky, but when he’s on a tear, he can carry the offense unlike almost any Phillies hitter other than Bryce Harper.
Before he got injured on an awkward dive for a line drive in the second game of a July 29 doubleheader, Hoskins was getting on one of those rolls. He was 11-for-35 with five doubles and three homers in an 11-game stretch. And after a three-game absence, he came back for a series in Washington and went 5-for-14 with two doubles and one homer in four games.
The Phillies may have thought they could do without Hoskins against the 81-loss Diamondbacks and their league-worst pitching staff, even in the series finale against Bumgarner. But there isn’t a hitter in the lineup who is swinging the bat well. In particular, heart-of-the-order staples Harper (4-for-27 in the last nine games), J.T. Realmuto (3-for-25), and Andrew McCutchen (3-for-29) are struggling. Jean Segura is in a 3-for-28 slump.
Brad Miller, the primary fill-in at first base, is 5-for-34 with 14 strikeouts since Hoskins went on the injured list. Alec Bohm, another first-base option and a right-handed hitter, started only twice in the last nine games because of his defensive shortcomings.
Surely it would be easier if Hoskins could lessen the burden for a few games.
“It’s really on the rest of us,” Realmuto said. “I’d say the rest of us are really underperforming more than us missing Rhys. Obviously that’s a huge part of our lineup and a huge part of our team. We can’t wait to get him back. But the rest of us have to carry a little more weight when he’s not there, and we’re really not doing that.”
Maybe Hoskins will be there Friday night.
“We try to balance recognizing that we have  games ahead of us,” Fuld said. “We want to strike that perfect balance of preserving health for the remainder of the season with the value of today’s game.”
But that balance is becoming increasingly tilted.
It’s go time, after all.