Rhys Hoskins has been the talk of the town since being called up to the majors last August. He finished fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting after hitting ten home runs in his first 17 games played. He finished with 18 homers, five more than the mark set by Hall of Famer Ted Williams for rookies who did not debut before August 1.
Hoskins returned this year wanting to build on his stellar rookie performance. But 162 games is a long stretch, and while he has experienced peaks, he has not been able to avoid the valleys. Over the last two series played against the Braves and the Marlins, Hoskins is 4-for-24 at the plate. With those struggles, he still ranks 18th in the National League with a batting average of .296. It is also the reason his ninth-inning single Wednesday after four-consecutive strikeouts felt good not only to him but also those watching.
“It felt really good for him,” manager Gabe Kapler said after his team’s 6-0 win over the Marlins. “We were all pulling for him in the dugout. We know Rhys’ history; his timing gets off a bit as it did at the beginning of last year when he first came up. But that leads to a really, really productive stretch. We do not doubt that this period where his timing is a little off is going to lead to another really productive stretch. We are going to hang in there with him until it does.”
One of the things that helps Hoskins through his lean times hitting the ball is his patience at the plate. He can get behind in a count, but that does not alter his ability to see balls versus strikes. Hoskins ranks second only to Washington's Bryce Harper with his 25 walks.
“Hoskins is impressive because he can see a strikeout of hand, he can see a ball out of hand,” Kapler said before a game during the last Phillies homestand. “And I think the most important factor to being a good hitter is attacking balls in the zone and being passive on balls out of the zone. That’s what Rhys does very well.”
One of the other things that are endearing about Hoskins is his ability to want the fifth at-bat no matter what has transpired previously in the batter's box for him that day.
During a series, mid-April in Atlanta, Hoskins was having a frustrating day at the plate. He had stuck out three times and grounded into a double play in his four at-bats against the Braves. His night appeared to be fruitless until a fifth plate appearance came in the tenth inning, the game tied 1-1. With two outs Hoskins hit a two-run double to right field that started a four-run rally and lifted the Phillies to a 5-1 win. The moral of the story; you have to want that fifth at-bat.
“I think I learned from an early age that you have to want that fifth at-bat,” Hoskins said after that 5-1 win over the Braves in mid-April. “Somehow the baseball gods always seem to put that guy into a situation to try to win the game. It happened today. That’s what we dream of as hitters, to be in that situation in extra innings.”
Wednesday Hoskins was not the hero. He came to the plate in the top of the ninth, his team leading the game 4-0. Still that single was a much-needed hit for him. He was once again so grateful for that fifth at-bat he learned to desire as a kid.
"I think the most frustrating part is just the inability to make an adjustment," Hoskins said. "I said it, I think in Atlanta [following a game-winning hit]: You've got to want the fifth at-bat. I made an adjustment the other way and it kind of locked me in, and I finally put a good swing on the ball."