Phillies pass a test by winning series against Pirates

Rhys Hoskins of the Phillies hits a 3-tun home run against the Pirates on April 21, 2018.

It’s one thing to win three games in a row against the Tampa Bay Rays, who have one of the worst records in baseball. It’s another thing entirely to do so against the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates.

And the Phillies know it.

On Thursday, in their usual pre-series scouting meeting, the Phillies discussed using the four games against the Pirates as a barometer for exactly how well they were playing. The Pirates, after all, came to Philadelphia having won 12 of their first 18 games by a combined margin of 99-78.

“We had a conversation as a team before that this was going to be a good chance,” Phillies left fielder Rhys Hoskins said. “Two good teams going at it, two teams that were playing well. Good chance to show a little grittiness, what kind of team we are. I think we’ve done that so far.”

Indeed. After Hoskins’ three-run homer in the sixth inning Saturday proved decisive in a 6-2 victory, the Phillies have outscored the Pirates, 15-3, in winning the series’ first three games. They will attempt a rare four-game sweep Sunday, but have already won their first series against the Pirates since July 2-4, 2013.

The Phillies have won 12 of 15 games since they went 1-4 to open the season.

“It’s pretty good,” Hoskins said. “I think we’re a really, really confident group right now. There’s no panic at all, no matter what the situation is in the game. That’s a good place to be.”

Deciding on ‘Dudes’

After watching video of Tommy Hunter’s Friday night rehab appearance at double-A Reading, including his leaping grab of a comebacker, Kapler said it’s clear that the veteran reliever’s strained right hamstring is “perfectly healthy.” And in a sign that Hunter’s return is, in fact, imminent, reliever Hoby Milner was optioned to triple-A Lehigh Valley after Saturday’s game. Milner had a 7.71 ERA in 10 appearances this season.

But the Phillies will have other difficult roster decisions when fellow injured relievers Pat Neshek (right shoulder strain) and Mark Leiter Jr. (right forearm strain) are ready to return from the disabled list. Young righthanders Victor Arano, Edubray Ramos and Yacksel Rios have started strong, considering none was guaranteed to be among Kapler’s “dudes” — the manager’s nickname for his relievers – – when spring training began.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Kapler said. “When you have relievers that are performing and you have relievers coming back into the fold who have historically performed, I think you start going, ‘OK, we’re going to have a really good, deep bullpen and we’re not quite sure how the puzzle pieces are going to fit together.’ ”

Extra bases

With a sixth-inning single, center fielder Odubel Herrera extended his on-base streak to a career-high 22 games dating to last season. Kapler considered giving Herrera a day off against Pirates lefty Steven Brault, but “couldn’t do it because he’s been playing that good.” In particular, Kapler was complimentary of Herrera’s outfield reads and jumps. … Kapler improved to 4-for-4 on challenges when a video replay overturned the umpires’ no-call on Carlos Santana getting hit by a pitch in the sixth inning. “It was pretty clear that it grazed his jersey,” Kapler said. “Felt confident in that call. Felt like it was the right decision.”  … Hector Neris recorded a four-out save (and got his second career at-bat) and has converted 24 of his last 25 save chances.