Rhys Hoskins came to the Phillies two weeks ago as a polished minor-leaguer with a patient plan at the plate. And there he was Wednesday night, grinding a full count in the third inning after already working a walk in an 8-0 win over Miami.
Hoskins also joined the Phillies as one of minor-league baseball’s premier sluggers, mashing 67 homers over the last two seasons. And there he was Wednesday, bashing the eighth pitch of that full-count at-bat for a three-run homer in the third inning, a blast that rocketed 445 feet before crashing into the second deck in left field at Citizens Bank Park.
It was Hoskins’ seventh homer in his first 14 major-league games. Hoskins drove in five of the team’s eight runs and provided further proof that he is living up to his billing: a disciplined hitter backed with an excellent approach and very real power.
“He knows the strike zone. He looks like a professional hitter,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He’s not afraid to get behind in the count. You can tell that he’s not afraid to go the other way. He wants to drive in the run.”
Mark Leiter Jr. carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning before allowing a lead-off single. It would be the lone hit Leiter allowed in his seven scoreless innings. He walked just two and racked up five strikeouts. He had good command of his fastball, keeping the pitch low and moving it on both sides of the plate. It was an impressive start on a night that the bullpen needed a rest following Tuesday’s doubleheader losses.
“I don’t know who my favorite player is, either Leiter or Hoskins right now,” Mackanin said. “I’m trying to make a decision on that. Right now they’re about tied.”
“I was just trying to command the strike zone and get ahead early,” Leiter said. “They have a great lineup over there. The key was just getting ahead and trying to keep guys off balance as much as you can.”
Nick Williams added a pair of hits and Tommy Joseph had an RBI double. Cesar Hernandez tripled and Jorge Alfaro doubled in a run. The Phillies supported Leiter with a six-run lead after three innings. That was plenty.
Hoskins has 16 RBIs, 10 walks, and a 1.071 OPS through his first 14 games. He entered Wednesday with an average of 4.69 pitches per plate appearance as he seems to have no trouble adjusting his patient approach to the majors. It is easy to forget that all of this success came after Hoskins began his career with an 0 for 12 stretch before finally slapping a single in his fourth game. He then went 12 for 35 over the last 10 games.
Hoskins approached Mackanin before hitting his home run and asked the manager if he wanted him to move the runners over or try and drive them in.
“I said ‘We’re paying you to drive runs in. That’s what we’re paying you for,’ ” Mackanin said. “He said ‘OK.’ And he did.”
“He kind of just laughed at me. Rightfully so, I guess,” Hoskins said. “But I guess that’s why you hit in the middle of the order, to drive runs in. If he’s going to continue to put me there, that’ll be my main goal.”
The unselfish hitter started the at-bat in a two-strike hole against Miami starter Justin Nicolino. Hoskins then took a fastball for ball one. He fouled off a curveball and watched Nicolino miss with two more pitches. Hoskins had a full count after falling behind, 0-2. He fouled off another curveball before unloading on a 91 mph fastball. Hoskins held his swing briefly to watch as his homer soared to left field.
“I think I saw everything,” Hoskins said. “The more that at-bat went on, the more comfortable I got. He left a pitch over the middle of the plate and I didn’t miss.”
He added a two-run double in the sixth, but there was no need for patience. He turned on Brian Ellington’s second pitch, an inside fastball, and laced it down the third base line, scoring Freddy Galvis and Nick Williams.
Hoskins’ success did not come out of nowhere. He’s been the organization’s best hitter for the last three seasons. He jumped to double A last season and dominated. He moved this year to triple A and dominated. And now he’s tackling his major-league promotion the same way he reacted to his climbs up the minor-league ladder. It will take more than two weeks to make a clear judgment, but Hoskins is shaping up to be the real deal.
“You try to keep everything in check and not get too excited,” Mackanin said. “But what I saw in the spring is what I’m seeing now: quality at-bats.”