BOSTON -- Rhys Hoskins went into Tuesday night's game with one hit in 26 at-bats, results that made him the iciest hitter in the Phillies' lineup. Yet for the fifth time in six games, he batted leadoff, an elevated position from his usual No. 2 or cleanup spots in the order.
Seems counterintuitive, doesn't it?
Not the way that manager Gabe Kapler sees it.
“No, because right now we need somebody to lead the game off,” Kapler said. “Quite frankly, I don’t really care how this is interpreted, he’s good in that spot. He sees pitches. You lead off the game one time during the game, and in that time, he is well-suited to work a pitcher, to grind a pitcher and to see pitches so that all of his teammates are watching and see which pitches the opposing starting pitcher has that day.”
On cue, Hoskins worked a six-pitch walk to open the game against Red Sox starter Brian Johnson, then scored on Jean Segura’s two-run double. Hoskins walked again on six pitches in the second inning against Johnson, who threw 12 of his 67 pitches over 3 2/3 innings to Hoskins.
That’s typical for Hoskins, who sees more pitches than any player in the majors, an average of 4.59 per plate appearance entering Tuesday night. Last season, he led the majors with 4.42 pitches per plate appearance.
But having the patience of Job hasn’t led to enough hits for Hoskins over the last five weeks. He was slugging .530 with a .931 on-base percentage at the All-Star break; since then, he was slugging .336 with a .651 OPS in 34 games entering the series opener against the Red Sox here at Fenway Park.
It also marks the second consecutive year in which Hoskins has slumped in August. He slugged .433 with six homers and a .758 OPS last August, a downturn that included an 0-for-20 spell. He recovered only slightly last September, slugging .495 with seven homers and an .809 OPS.
After hitting a ball that was hauled in by San Diego’s Manuel Margot with his back to the center-field wall in the eighth inning Sunday, Hoskins maintained that he’s “one swing away” from snapping out of his funk. And to hear Kapler tell it, Hoskins has been luckless more than anything.
"Like I've said and like I was pretty adamant about," Kapler said, "he can't control where the ball goes off his bat."
If anything, Kapler gave Hoskins an opportunity to focus exclusively on his hitting by using him as the designated hitter in an interleague game in an American League ballpark. J.T. Realmuto made his second start of the season at first base, while backup catcher Andrew Knapp got a rare start behind the plate.
Leaning on Nola
With a day off Thursday, the Phillies could bring back Aaron Nola to start Sunday’s series finale in Miami against the last-place Marlins, a move that would enable them to push either Zach Eflin or Jason Vargas into next week’s series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"It's something that we're considering," Kapler said. "Starting Aaron every fifth day would also put him in line to start him the last game of the season."
Indeed, by keeping their ace on his regular turn rather than utilizing off days to afford him extra rest, the Phillies would line up Nola to start Sunday in Miami, Aug. 30 at home against the Mets, Sept. 4 in Cincinnati, Sept. 9 at home against the Braves, Sept. 14 at home against the Red Sox, Sept. 19 in Atlanta, Sept. 24 in Washington and Sept. 29 in the season finale at home against the Marlins.
Realmuto is expected to be back behind the plate Wednesday night. He has thrown out a majors-leading 28 runners attempting to steal this season, the most of any Phillies catcher since Mike Lieberthal (35 in 1997). ... Left-hander Drew Smyly (2-6, 7.09 ERA) will start Wednesday night against Red Sox right-hander Rick Porcello (11-9, 5.49).