Pence building a strong bond with Philadelphia

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Pence building a strong bond with Philadelphia

With a cup of coffee in hand and a copy of Napoleon Hill's famous self-motivational book, Think and Grow Rich, on his lap, the newest Phillie, Hunter Pence, was into his pregame routine when he was told there would be no game on Sunday.

Just like that, Pence had nothing planned and all day to do it.

So before diving back into the Andrew Carnegie-inspired book which explains to readers that they can do or be anything, a book that Ken Norton famously read before beating Muhammad Ali to win the heavyweight title in 1973, Pence took a little time to talk to some of the local writing press about how things were going during his first fortnight with his new team. Sprinkled in, of course, were little insights into what makes Pence tick.

Were only going to see prosperity and success, you know what Im saying, he said. Theres going to be criticism at some point. But if you go out and you give everything that you have, youll end up alright.

That, at its essence, is Hunter Pence. At some point during any conversation with the guy, he will say something about how his daily goal is to try as hard as possible to be the best person he can. That goes for everything, whether he's taking batting practice, chasing down fly balls in right field or hitting behind Ryan Howard in manager Charlie Manuel's batting order. Actually, it goes for everything. He could be playing ping-pong or walking down the street to his new digs in town overlooking the city. Success, both tangible or not, is what drives Pence.

Shoot, even Pence's catchphrase, "Good game, let's go eat," is embedded into the larger goal. No, Pence wasn't expecting it to become fodder for t-shirts.

It did catch on pretty quick. Good game, lets go eat. The phrase has an underlying message a good one, Pence said. Lets get this win is what were saying.

And so far, it's been nothing but wins since Pence joined the Phillies. The team is 12-2 since the trade with the Astros and Pence is batting .327 with three homers, 11 RBIs and a .381 on-base percentage. Better yet, Howard, the cleanup hitter Pence was acquired to "protect," is batting .333 with six homers and 17 RBIs in the 14 games since the trade.

Sure, Howard is known as a strong finisher, but Manuel says it isn't so much about Pence's addition to the roster behind the cleanup man that has spurred the Phillies. With Pence, Manuel says, the Phillies' entire lineup is much better. He is a piece that has been missing since Jayson Werth departed.

I think it has to do with having better balance in our lineup and getting more guys on base, Manuel said.

Pence agrees with his managers analysis.

I see our offense as pretty strong, we can battle any night, Pence said. Ryan Howard is leading the league in RBIs. The guy is unbelievable. All the way up and down there are people who can hurt you. We know it's not easy to face this lineup because there are so many hitters you have to bear down on. Normally there are two in most lineups. We go Rollins-Victorino-Utley-Howard-myself-Ibanez, when Polanco is healthy, there's no break. Everyone is capable to do damage. And don't forget about Chooch. He's going to drive in runs and hit line drives everywhere. If you sleep on him, you get hurt, too.

Man of the people
Pences allure so far has been twofold. On one side he has been extremely productive on the field as indicated by the numbers. The second part is that he looks just like the quintessential Philly fan favorite when plying his trade. He doesnt exactly look smooth on the diamond, with his pigeon-toed batting stance and choked up swing.

When running and throwing Pence is a mess of effort and elbows and other limbs unraveling in an awkward distilling of energy.

No, there is no mistaking that Pence is giving a max effort.

But where Pence has really endeared himself to the Phillies fans has been through simply acknowledging them. When he takes the field for the top of the first at the Bank, Pence makes sure to wave to the fans in the right-field seats before warming up. Who knew that such a simple act could go so far?

Regardless, its sort of an example of the artist and his audience being one in the same. Pence loves playing baseballthats pretty evidentand he puts his passion and enthusiasm right out there on display with the 45,000 folks who fill the ballpark every night. In fact, Pence said he felt a bond with the Philadelphia fans when he came to town for games with the Astros. Pence enjoyed the back and forth with the fans, particularly in how they would send him messages via Twitter. He says he fed off it, and now that hes with the Phillies, the fans passion fuels him even more.

I feel very welcome. I feel like Philly is a good city that my personality fits in good with. I like the city's mentality bring your lunchbox to work and lets get after it, Pence said. I feed off of it, I really get excited just watching how Utley goes about it. And Victorino, too. I feel like I have similarities to both of them. I feel really comfortable with who I am here on this team and in this city. I know when I come to the field Im going to give everything I have on that day. Im not going to accept anything less. My goal every day I wake up in the morning is Im going to give all I have on that day and I'm going to get better every day.

Its very difficult to not be won over by the native Texans positivity. Besides, an attitude like that will make Pence a favorite regardless of slumps or ineffectiveness. Though they are different types of players, Pence has a demeanor not unlike former Phillie Jim Thome in that he enjoys all peopleeven the media.

When told he has Thomes old locker, Pences smile spread from ear to ear.

Jim Thome. I like that, he said.

He also likes the move from Houston to Philadelphia, too. Born in Fort Worth and raised in Arlington outside of Dallas, Pence is a Texas boy through and through. Aside from a bit of time in the minors, Pence has spent his entire life in Texas, so it would be easy to understand the apprehension about coming to Philadelphia.

But thanks to his family and friendsand all those followers on TwitterPence says the transition has been smooth. His family drove his truck from Houston to Philadelphia had his clothes cleaned and foundfurnished his apartment all while he was on the Phillies 10-game road trip.

Then again, Pence says his family is just as excited as he is to be playing for the Phillies.

When I got back, my car was here and my parents already had my place furnished, he said. Its like the coolest place Ive ever beenIm overlooking Philadelphia with all the windows everywhere. Im by the water. I see a bridge, I can see the buildings Its beautiful and I love it.

Sounds like Philly is falling for Pence, too. Then again, a bunch of his former teammates that spent some time with the Phillies kind of clued him in on what to expect.

They all had a little smile and said that you dont know what you are in for. You are going to have a lot of fun, he said. And they were right.

E-mail John R. Finger at jfinger@comcastsportsnet.com

Today's Lineup: Ryan Howard still starting against a righty

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Today's Lineup: Ryan Howard still starting against a righty

One day after a rain-soaked 6-2 loss to the MLB-best Cubs, the Phillies look to steal a game against Chicago's fifth starter Kyle Hendricks Saturday afternoon (see game notes).

And with a right-hander on the bump for the Cubs, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has decided to give Ryan Howard the start at first base instead of Tommy Joseph.

This has been the subject of debate in Philadelphia. What to do with first base? Mackanin has used a platoon at first all season long, first with Darin Ruf and now with Joseph.

But with Howard's struggles at the plate continuing, many have called for more playing time for the 24-year-old Joseph, even against righties. Both played in Detroit.

Now it appears the platoon may continue. For at least one more day. Howard gets the call for Game 2 of a three-game set Saturday at Wrigley Field against Hendricks.

Howard is sporting a .159 average in 132 at-bats with .224 on-base percentage and is hitting .172 in May. Additionally, the lefty is hitting .162 against righties this season.

Still, Howard is tied for the Phillies' lead with eight homers. He's not making much contact and the case against playing him may be stronger, but he still has some pop.

Chicago is scheduled to start another righty Sunday in John Lackey. Joseph, who's hitting .290 with two home runs and four RBIs, might find his way into the lineup then.

Joseph faced four straight righties before Friday's game in Chicago. Against Atlanta last Sunday, he went 0 for 4, but in Detroit, Joseph was 4 for 11 with a homer and three RBIs.

What the Phillies do with Howard-Joseph at first base will continue to be a storyline until the situation is resolved. At least for Saturday, the discussion lives on.

In other lineup notes, Mackanin has given leftfielder Tyler Goeddel the day off, giving David Lough the start in left and batting him seventh. Cameron Rupp is back behind the plate, catching Jerad Eickhoff.

Here are today's full lineups:

Phillies
1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
7. David Lough, LF
8. Jered Eickhoff, P
9. Peter Bourjos, RF

Cubs
1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Jayson Heyward, RF
3. Kris Bryant, 3B
4. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
5. Ben Zobrist, 2B
6. Jorge Soler, LF
7. Miguel Montero, C
8. Addison Russell, SS
9. Matt Hendricks, P

Phillies prospect Rhys Hoskins looking to steadily advance through minors

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Phillies prospect Rhys Hoskins looking to steadily advance through minors

READING, Pa. – There is a photo atop Rhys Hoskins’ Twitter page that shows the Reading Fightin Phils first baseman, a Sacramento native, seated on a rock and looking out over Lake Tahoe, as well as the horizon beyond.

“Just keep livin’,” it says elsewhere on the page.

“As clichéd as it sounds, I try to stay where I am, day to day – take care of what I have to do that day,” he said Thursday, after hitting a solo homer in Reading’s 7-4 victory over Erie. “Life’s going to throw a lot of stuff at you, so just keep on going.”

The 23-year-old Hoskins, a fifth-round pick of the Phillies in 2014, as a result has managed to remain in the moment, but not without expanding his horizons – all the way to Australia, where he played winter ball this past offseason, and one day, he can only hope, Citizens Bank Park.

“I set a goal with my dad, as soon as I got drafted – a (minor-league) level a year, as long as I kept on progressing,” he said. “Try not to get caught somewhere.”

So far, so good. He spent 2014 at Williamsport, the short-season A-ball affiliate, and tore it up while splitting last season between two other Class A clubs, Lakewood and Clearwater. And recently he has begun to rake for the Double-A Fightins, a team featuring such other prospects as catcher Jorge Alfaro, rightfielder Dylan Cozens and pitcher Ben Lively.

Hoskins hit .450 while being named the Phillies Minor League Review Player of the Week for the week of May 16-22, and followed that up by hitting a walk-off grand slam Tuesday against Erie, in addition to his blast Thursday.

Overall, his stat line will not overwhelm – he was hitting .269 with nine homers and 32 RBIs in 45 games through Friday – but the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder is at least another name to consider going forward, as the big-league club continues its rebuild.

As for the others: Alfaro, the jewel of the Cole Hamels trade last year with Texas, was hitting .339 entering Saturday's games, and Cozens, a second-round pick in 2012, was leading the Eastern League with 13 homers and second in RBIs with 40. Lively, acquired from Cincinnati for Marlon Byrd in December 2014, was 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA in nine starts.

Certainly Hoskins understands the first-base pecking order, with Ryan Howard in obvious decline. Tommy Joseph is off to a promising start for the big-league club, and Darin Ruf is at Triple A Lehigh Valley. 

At the same time, Hoskins tries not to dwell too much on such things.

“If you get caught looking ahead,” he said, “you probably miss some stuff, where you’re at right now.”

All told he hit .319 with 19 homers and 90 RBIs in his two stops last season, then asked the Phillies to arrange a winter-ball destination. They sent him to Sydney, and he excelled there, too – .323 with eight homers and 38 RBIs, in 42 games.

“The baseball was fun, a lot of fun,” he said. “I was able to get some more work in, but I think more than anything it’s a life experience. … Not too many people get to spend three months in a country on the other side of the world, especially when someone else is paying for it.”

The season ran from October to January – part of Australia’s summer – and he remained for a few weeks afterward, touring not only that country but nearby New Zealand.

No telling when he might ever be back there. 

He does have some idea of where he’d like to be, baseball-wise, but everything in its time. He’s just going to keep livin’ and continue to focus on the task at hand.

Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Big test for Jerad Eickhoff

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Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Big test for Jerad Eickhoff

Phillies (26-22) at Cubs (32-14)
2:20 p.m. on CSN

After Friday’s 6-2 loss to the MLB-best Chicago Cubs, Jerad Eickhoff and the Phillies look to rebound against Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs’ potent offense.

1. Slowing down the Cubs
How can the Phillies slow down one of the deepest offenses in the game?

Well, they may not be able to — not many teams have.

As the Phillies learned Friday, when the Cubs hit it out of the park, they are almost unbeatable. As a team, the Cubs have hit 52 home runs in 45 games this season and are 22-5 when they hit a home run. That’s only 16 games without a homer and the Cubs are 7-9 in those games.

For the Phillies to have a chance in this series, the pitching staff must limit the long balls. 

2. Big test for Eickhoff
And it is Eickhoff’s job to do just that Saturday afternoon — to contain the Cubs.

Eickhoff’s inconsistencies have been well documented and Saturday is his biggest test yet. In his last five starts, Eickhoff has gone at least six innings and has allowed three runs or fewer in four of those starts, including a seven shutout innings his last time out against the Atlanta Braves.

Eickhoff and the Phillies would be thrilled with a start like that Saturday. 

3. Something’s gotta give
Lefties have had the better of the right-handed Eickhoff this season, hitting .302 against him with an OPS of .844, .200 points higher than his numbers against righties.

Most of the Cubs’ power bats are right-handed, with the exception of Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward. Lucky for Eickhoff, right? Not so fast.

Of the Cubs’ 52 home runs this season, 41 have come against right-handed pitchers. Something’s got to give.

4. What 5th starter?
The Phillies draw the Cubs’ fifth starter, Kyle Hendricks, Saturday. However, Hendricks might just be the best back-end pitcher in baseball this year.

Boasting a 3.30 ERA, Hendricks holds opponents to just a .218 batting average and is equally effective against both righties and lefties. Hendricks doesn’t have blazing speed on his pitches — his fastball routinely tops out at 89 mph — but what he lacks in velocity, he makes up for in pinpoint precision. The Phillies will have their work cut out for them.

5. This and that
• Hendricks tossed 6⅔ innings in his only career start against the Phillies, giving up three runs on four hits — three of which were doubles. 

• Eickhoff has one career start against Chicago, a no-decision. Eickhoff went seven strong innings, giving up just one run on three hits with eight strikeouts. 

• The Phillies have 144 RBIs on the season — the Cubs had 129 in April alone. 

• Chicago has two of the top three hitters in the league in on-base percentage in Ben Zobrist (.453) and Dexter Fowler (.436). The two sandwich Odubel Herrera, who has a .440 OBP.