Rhys Hoskins listened Tuesday night as the umpire ruled the pitch as strike two, seemingly placing him in trouble. Hoskins, who has shown exceptional plate discipline through his first month in the majors, had no worries. Strangely, he was comfortable.
“Sometimes you get into these little zones where you almost feel more comfortable having two strikes,” Hoskins said. “I think it just simplifies whatever your approach is. ‘Well, I have to swing at anything that’s in the strike zone.’ For myself, I tend to shorten up a little bit.”
Hoskins roped the next pitch he saw for a single. It was another two-strike hit, and he is batting .276 with a .391 on-base percentage in 69 plate appearances with two strikes. Of his 12 homers, seven have come with two strikes.
Hoskins, who majored in finance in college and is the son of lawyers, is very bright. And the 24-year-old seems to use that intelligence in every at-bat as he attacks with a calculated approach. He does not crack under the pressure of two strikes. Pete Mackanin said Hoskins is not afraid to fall behind in the count. The manager is right.
“The biggest part about that is just being comfortable,” Hoskins said. “I think guys and myself get into trouble with two strikes. As soon as you get jumpy and you’re moving around and moving fast in the box and you get uncomfortable because you don’t want to strike out or you don’t want to swing at a bad pitch. Just that comfortable feeling in the box that I’ve been able to capture right now and not let go of is definitely the biggest thing when it comes to having two strikes.”
Hoskins’ polished approach was no secret. Mackanin raved about his “idea at the plate” during spring training. Dusty Wathan, who managed Hoskins for two years in the minors, said Hoskins picks the pitches he wants to swing at and not the ones the pitcher wants him to chase. But it has been refreshing to see Hoskins apply that approach in the major leagues.
He hardly swings at bad pitches, chasing just 24 percent of the pitches that are outside the strike zone. And when Hoskins does swing at an outside-the-strike-zone pitch, he makes contact 75 percent of the time. He is hard to fool. Both of those rates are markedly better than the league average.
That knowledge of the strike zone allows Hoskins to grind out at-bats. He has seen an average of 4.43 pitches per plate appearance, which would rank as the third highest in baseball if Hoskins played enough games this season to qualify for the MLB leader board. The longer a duel with a pitcher lasts, the more likely Hoskins will win. He has homered seven times in at-bats of five or more pitches.
“The biggest thing is that the longer you’re up there, the more likely you are to see a mistake,” Hoskins said. “Sometimes, that mistake is the first pitch. There have been times that I swung at the first pitch or the second pitch, whatever. But the more that you make the pitcher work, I think the more likely they are to come into the middle of the plate. Obviously, that’s where you’re trying to do damage.”
“That’s what good hitters do,” Mackanin said. “Basically, he’s a good hitter. He’s not a good hitter because he sees a lot of pitches; he sees a lot of pitches because he’s a good hitter. Good hitters do that. The better hitters do that. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves with Rhys Hoskins. Let him get 300 at-bats and we’ll have a better idea. But right now, my guess is that he’s going to be a huge success in Philly.”
Hoskins began his major-league career in an 0-for-12 rut. Perhaps that was enough time for him to adjust. He had established himself as the organization’s top minor-league hitter over the last two seasons as he powered his way to the big leagues. He hit 67 homers at double A and triple A, but it was his approach and discipline that set him apart.
Hoskins is more than just a slugger. And it has not taken long for him to prove that.
“They still have to throw it over the plate. It’s still 60 feet, 6 inches away,” Hoskins said. “I think for the most part besides the absolute studs in the league — the deGroms, the Scherzers, the Kershaws, there’s a handful of those guys, those guys have the stuff to get you out inside the strike zone — but for the most part, across baseball, you’re going to get yourself out if you swing at pitches out of the strike zone. I’ve been trying to remind myself of that. This really is the same game and to not psyche myself out. I think that’s really helped myself believe that I belong here.”