Rhys Hoskins kickstarted the Phillies’ five-run second inning Thursday night by crushing a pitch through a stiff wind and over the left-field fence at Citizens Bank Park.
But it didn’t happen until Hoskins was in a two-strike count.
It has been a familiar refrain through the season’s first three weeks. The Phillies — and their cleanup hitter, in particular — have been at their most dangerous after opposing pitchers get to two strikes against them.
Entering Friday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Phillies had a .328 on-base percentage, fifth in the National League. With two strikes, they were at .277, second in the league behind the Chicago Cubs (.280). Hoskins’ two-strike numbers are off the charts, his .444 on-base percentage ranked seventh among all players with at least 20 plate appearances in two-strike situations through Thursday.
Hoskins’ secret: Stay calm. And don’t fear striking out.
“The guys on the mound are big leaguers as well and they’re here for a reason, too, so strikeouts are going to happen,” said Hoskins, a .243/.359/.513 hitter in 181 career plate appearances that have gotten to two strikes. “I think what we’ve done a really, really good job of since we’ve started the year is knowing what we do well and not chasing early or creating weak contact. It’s just being stubborn enough to wait the pitcher out.”
Hoskins’ homer Thursday night capped a seven-pitch at-bat against Pirates starter Jameson Taillon. After taking a first-pitch strike, Hoskins took three consecutive pitches out of the strike zone. He swung through one sinker, fouled off another and then went deep on a third.
And Hoskins isn’t alone. Later in the inning, Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera drove in runs with singles on full-count pitches. Herrera did it again Friday night, fouling off a pair of pitches from Pirates reliever George Kontos before delivering a decisive RBI triple in a 2-1 victory.
First-year manager Gabe Kapler, who played for Boston Red Sox teams that were notorious for working deep counts, has stressed that philosophy to the Phillies, and no team in baseball has seen more pitches. Part of the reason the players have bought in, Hoskins said, is their comfort level with hitting with two strikes.
“I think if you were to ask all of us hitters, if we’re looking for a certain pitch and it comes on the first pitch, we’re going to have a go at it,” Hoskins said. “But often times it doesn’t. More than not it doesn’t, and that’s where we get into, quote-unquote, working the count. Mistakes happen, and I don’t know whether it’s pitchers trying too hard, but it just seems like a lot of mistakes happen with two strikes.”
Rookie phenom Scott Kingery wasn’t in the starting lineup for the second time in 11 games, part of Kapler’s plan to provide each player with periodic rest throughout the season. Across baseball, more managers are becoming aware of the importance of rest, even for everyday players. … Herrera has reached base in 21 consecutive games. The streak, which dates to last season, matches the longest of his career. He has had four other 21-game on-base streaks. … Hoskins scored his 50th career run in his 68th game, making him the fastest Phillies player to reach that mark since Juan Samuel scored 50 runs in 67 games in 1983-84. … Reliever Tommy Hunter (hamstring) struck out two batters in a perfect seventh inning for double-A Reading, the latest stop on his rehab assignment.