At a time when the Phillies starting rotation is riding high, Zach Eflin is playing the role of Debbie Downer. Eflin allowed five runs and lasted just four innings Wednesday night in an 8-2 loss at Dodger Stadium. It marked his second consecutive dud and reaffirmed the need for improvement from the No. 5 starter spot. It was a tough day all around for the Phillies, who learned that slugger Rhys Hoskins has a fractured jaw and almost certainly will need to go on the disabled list.
Chins up, though, Phillies fans. It's Aaron Nola Day, and the ace righthander will square off against Clayton Kershaw — only the best pitcher of his generation — in the finale of a four-game series. It's a pitching matchup that is not to be missed.
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Tricks of the trade
Across baseball, the strong presumption is the Phillies will throw wads of cash at Manny Machado this winter in a bid to make him their shortstop. Machado can practically name his price — $350 million? $400 million? More? — and ready-to-win owner John Middleton will meet it, at least in the opinions of several rival talent evaluators.
It might be time for the Phillies to get a head start.
Even before Hoskins' fractured jaw, which might require surgery, the Phillies were in need of a jolt of offense. Entering play Wednesday, they ranked sixth in the National League in runs, seventh in OPS and eighth in home runs. They have a 14-11 record in May because their starters have pitched to a 2.48 ERA. But they've scored three runs or fewer in six of the last nine games, and with Hoskins on the shelf, it won't get any easier.
The last-place Orioles have no reason not to trade Machado before the July 31 deadline. And while the O's surely have visions of acquiring three or four prized prospects, one NL scout guessed this week they will be hard-pressed to get more than one given Machado's looming free agency. The Tigers were in a similar predicament last year with J.D. Martinez and settled for a package of three lower-level minor leaguers, only one of whom ranked among the Diamondbacks' top 10 prospects.
Trading for Machado now wouldn't guarantee the Phillies could re-sign him in the offseason. It can't hurt, though. If he feels comfortable here — and he's already acquainted with several team officials, including general manager Matt Klentak and farm director Joe Jordan — he might be more inclined to stay. And there's no doubt Machado would boost the Phillies' chances of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Other hitters will be available, too. Third basemen Josh Donaldson (Blue Jays) and Mike Moustakas (Royals) could be on the move. And if the Orioles really do blow it up, they could trade face-of-the-franchise center fielder Adam Jones, who will be eligible for free agency at season's end.
Memorial Day has come and gone, and the Phillies are hanging around near the top of the NL East. Once the amateur draft is over next week, it'll be time to think about making a trade to help them stay there.
Nobody was more surprised than Hoskins to learn that Hoskins' jaw is fractured, as Matt Breen writes from Los Angeles.
There's no other way to say it: Wednesday night's loss was a clunker.
Mitch Walding very nearly missed the most important phone call of his career. Walding was brought up from triple-A Lehigh Valley to take the place of infielder Pedro Florimon, who will have surgery on his broken right foot.
After years of dealing with injuries, double-A Reading infielder Zach Green is finally healthy and slugging his way toward a reunion with Hoskins, his former high school teammate.
Dylan Cozens is the likeliest candidate to take Hoskins' spot. He homered Wednesday night for Lehigh Valley.
Tonight: Aaron Nola vs. Clayton Kershaw. Must-see TV in prime time, 7:35 p.m.
Tomorrow: Nick Pivetta starts series opener in San Francisco, 10:15 p.m.
Saturday: Vince Velasquez looks to improve upon 2.30 ERA in May, 10:05 p.m.
Sunday: Jake Arrieta starts series finale at Giants, 4:05 p.m.
Monday: Off day before Phillies begin series in Chicago
Stat of the day
With Hoskins' season on pause, it feels like a good time to take stock of his brief career thus far. It began in historic fashion, of course, with Hoskins becoming the first player since 1900 to hit at least 20 home runs and draw 45 walks in his first 250 plate appearances. Since then, though, he has hit only four homers and drawn 26 walks in 178 plate appearances. Overall, Hoskins has 24 homers and an .894 OPS (.379 on-base percentage, .514 slugging), not too far off from what Ryan Howard achieved at the 428-plate-appearance mark of his career (25 homers, .360 on-base, .554 slugging).
But Hoskins' numbers are even more similar to another notoriously fast starter. Readers of a certain age might remember Kevin Maas, who captured the imagination of Yankees fans upon reaching the big leagues in 1990. Through 428 plate appearances, Maas had 27 homers, a .395 on-base percentage and .511 slugging. But he wasn't able to sustain that success and was released by the Yankees in 1994. Needless to say, the Phillies believe Hoskins has more staying power.
From the mailbag
Question: Hi. I just started reading "Extra Innings" and I love it. With the first-year player draft quickly approaching, any thoughts on what the Phillies will be doing? College or high-school player in the first round? Focus on pitching or bats during the draft? — Mike D., via e-mail
Answer: Thanks, Mike, for the kind words and the question. As you rightly point out, the amateur draft will begin Monday. The Phillies will make the third overall pick, then won't select again until the fourth round (they lost their second- and third-round picks after signing free agents Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta). As usual, the Phillies say they intend to take the "best player available" rather than filling a specific positional need. If amateur scouting director Johnny Almaraz is leaning any particular way in the first round, he's keeping it to himself. He did say 10 players are under consideration.
I would be surprised if the Phillies don't target a college player, perhaps a pitcher. Almaraz has noted the depth of power arms, but without a pick in the second and third rounds, they might not wait around to take the one they like best. Auburn righthander Casey Mize, the consensus No. 1 overall pick, won't likely be available to the Phillies, but Florida righthanders Jackson Kowar and Brady Singer probably will be. If it's a hitter you crave, Wichita State third basemen Alec Bohm or Oregon State shortstop Nick Madrigal are possibilities.