Rhys Hoskins continues to struggle, as punchless Phillies fall to Braves

Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera loses his helmet after striking out during the Phillies’ 3-1 loss to the Braves on Tuesday.

It could have been a night seven years in the making, the night when the Phillies took back sole possession of first place in the National League East for the first time since the end of the 2011 season.

Instead, it will be remembered — if it is even remembered at all — as the night that center fielder Odubel Herrera kept busy during a pitching change by doing a fine impression of Kate Winslet on the deck of the Titanic that was captured on the left-field video screen.

Herrera’s arms-spread pose was the lasting image from the Phillies’ 3-1 loss to the division-leading Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night before an announced crowd of only 18,545 at Citizens Bank Park. Well, that and struggling slugger Rhys Hoskins walking alone through the middle of the field to take his position after striking out to end the fifth inning.

It’s fairly remarkable, actually. The Phillies have an 11-7 record in May, but their best hitter has been stuck in a miserable slump that has dropped his OPS by 183 points. Hoskins took another 0-for-4 Tuesday night and is 10-for-78 (.128) with 31 strikeouts in his last 21 games.

“Of course it’s frustrating,” Hoskins said. “Nobody wants this to happen. But I think it’s one of those things that, if I stick with the process and stick with the preparation and the drills that make me feel comfortable in the box, I think eventually it flips the other way.”

Hoskins could have flipped the game in the fifth inning.

Phillies starter Vince Velasquez kept the game close despite being in several jams and getting little help from his defense. First baseman Carlos Santana made another throwing error, his third in four games, in the fifth inning to give the Braves a two-run lead. But Cesar Hernandez lined an RBI single in the fifth to cut the deficit to 2-1 when Hoskins stepped to the plate with two runners aboard.

Braves starter Brandon McCarthy threw Hoskins five pitches, none of which was a fastball. Hoskins laid off a pair of curveballs for strikes, then took a ball and fouled off a cutter before swinging through another cutter, a familiar ending to many of his at-bats lately.

Hoskins is a diligent worker and watcher of video to detect any problems with his leg kick, his landing or his swing, all the little things that add up to a successful approach. But he’s also still a young player with fewer than 400 career at-bats in the big leagues. He maintains that his mechanics are sound. If anything, he’s trying to keep up the same work habits in an attempt to change his fortunes.

“I’ve always said you have to be stubborn in my approach,” Hoskins said. “But you just kind of have to be stubborn to the process and the preparation.”

Said manager Gabe Kapler: “This is a young, developing player making adjustments to the league, and the league is making adjustments to him. Sometimes we forget that Rhys has got not quite a year under his belt. We look at him often as a seasoned veteran, because of his composure and because of how good he’s been thus far. He’s got some adjustments to make and he’s continuing to work and I have all the faith in the world that he’s going to not just figure this out but soar.”

The Phillies will continue to wait, just as they will have to wait to reclaim the top spot in the division. With the series finale set for Wednesday night, they won’t be able to take over first place until at least after the Braves leave town.