Dan Straily craned his neck Wednesday night to follow the flight of Rhys Hoskins’ home run. The Marlins pitcher tilted his neck some more as the shot soared to left field. And then even a bit more until he finally — finally — had Hoskins’ towering blast in his sights.
It was another day and another titanic home run by Hoskins, who hit his 17th homer in an 8-1 win over the Marlins on Wednesday night. The homer traveled 369 feet in the fifth inning and it seemed to hang over Citizens Bank Park for an eternity. It was the type of blast that makes you, well, crane your neck.
Hoskins leads all of baseball in homers since he reached the majors on Aug. 10. His arrival has been incredible. His home run rate is certainly not realistic to maintain, but his success is no fluke. He is the fastest player in baseball history to hit 17 career homers, reaching the mark in just 33 games. It is five more than the next closest player. Hoskins is the fastest Phillie to hit 17 homers in a single season since Cy Williams hit 17 in his first 32 games of 1923.
“I’m confident in the ability that I have, I really am,” Hoskins said. “And the work that I’m doing before games is putting me in a situation to be successful once the game starts. I know this is not going to last forever. This is baseball. It’s not going to last forever. I’ve just been lucky enough that I’m able to kind of ride this natural wave for what, almost a month now. I’m just going to try to keep riding it as much as I can.”
Pete Mackanin has been in professional baseball for nearly 50 years and even he has trouble finding a player that has arrived like Hoskins. He compared the rookie’s hitting ability to Vladimir Guerrero: “You couldn’t throw a ball anywhere where he couldn’t hit a line drive somewhere.” Hoskins’ approach, the manager said, is reminiscent of Chase Utley. That’s how disciplined Hoskins is.
“This guy looks like the real deal,” Mackanin said. “He’s had his moments here or there, but he just rebounds quickly because he has such a good approach at the plate. He knows what to look for. He studies the film. He knows hitting.”
It is that approach and plate discipline that makes Hoskins’ success not feel like a fluke. He walked Wednesday for the 24th time in 33 games.
He has just two more strikeouts over that span. He drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the first and singled in the sixth, proving in his first month that he’s a hitter and not just a slugger. His homer was a mistake — an up-and-in fastball — that Hoskins did not miss. He does not miss mistakes.
“The most important part of that whole deal is that he’ll take a walk with bases loaded because he’s not going to get himself out by getting all excited and try to hit a home run, try to do what he can’t do,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He hits what he’s given by the pitcher. So taking a walk and hitting a ball up the middle or to right field to drive in a run when you need a single to get a run, he’s the kind of player who is smart enough to know how to do that. But I’m definitely excited about him. I don’t think he’s going to hit 90 home runs, maybe 80, but not 90.”
Hoskins’ homer was followed an inning later by a two-run shot from Odubel Herrera that landed in the second deck of right field. It was such a blast that Herrera forgot to flip his bat.
The Phillies scored eight runs for Aaron Nola, who allowed just one run in seven innings and struck out a career-high 11. Nola allowed just four hits, including a homer by Christian Yelich, and walked two. He had command of his curveball and used the often-devastating pitch to rack up eight strikeouts, all but one of which were swinging. Nola gave the Phillies exactly what they hope to see at the top of their rotation in 2018.
Before leaving the clubhouse on Wednesday night, Nola stopped by Hoskins’ locker and gave him a slap, congratulating him on yet another homer. The season was dreadful until mid-August when Hoskins arrived. He brought intrigue and then excitement. The season’s final month will be the most exciting. And that was hard to imagine when the loses were piling in the middle of the summer.
“I mean, it’s pretty amazing,” Nola said. “His approach is so good, if he doesn’t hit a home run, he gets a hit. If he doesn’t get a hit he walks. I think he’s definitely sparked this offense.”