Back atop Phillies' lineup, Cesar Hernandez continues torrid second half

Back atop Phillies' lineup, Cesar Hernandez continues torrid second half

Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa wanted second baseman Cesar Hernandez to know quite clearly that he wasn’t getting time off to rest.

This was in mid June when the Phillies were in Minnesota for a three-game series at Target Field.

A month prior, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin had slid Hernandez down in the order in an effort to send a message to the slumping infielder.

This time, the coaching staff, growing tired of watching Hernandez and his .293 on-base percentage hit the ball in the air for outs, decided to sit Hernandez for back-to-back games.

“We had a harsh reality check for him,” Mackanin said. “(Hitting coach) Steve Henderson has been bugging him for as long as I’ve known him to get on top of the ball, keep the ball out of the air, quit upper-cutting the ball. And finally, when we were in Minnesota, Bowa kind of put an exclamation point on it.”

That’s when it finally clicked for Hernandez.

In his lone start in that series, on June 23, Hernandez went 4 for 4 with a triple and three runs in the series finale.

He’s been arguably the team’s best hitter ever since.

After a 3-for-4 night in Saturday’s 4-2 win over St. Louis (see game story), Hernandez’s average is at .359 since the benching in Minnesota.

Saturday night, he hit his first career leadoff home run.

Hernandez, who turned 26 on May 23, has been at the top of the batting order since July 24. He’s racked up a .469 OBP since the move. He also leads MLB with nine triples on the season.

“He’s leveled off his swing,” Mackanin said. “When they talk about swinging down on the ball, when you take a stride, what it does is level your bat plane out. It keeps your bat in the strike zone more, rather than in and out. It stays level through the zone.”

And it also doesn’t hurt the pop in the bat, as evidenced by the 0-1 fastball he turned on for his fourth home run of the year.

“Especially when the ball is up in the zone, you’ve got a chance to stay on top of it and drive it in the gap or out of the ballpark,” Mackanin said.

Then he paused before saying: “Maybe Cesar will become a power hitter.”

No, that’s probably not true. But he’s certainly becoming a dangerous one. His average is up to .298 on the year, his .358 OBP is seventh among MLB second baseman and his OPS is a career-best .741.

One area of Hernandez's game that still occasionally drives is manager nuts, however, is the adventure he can be on the base paths. Hernandez has been caught stealing nine times this year to just 13 steals. He’s had plenty of baserunning blunders.

“Every player has warts, some have more than others,” Mackanin said. “He’s got some areas to work on and that’s one of them. Certainly, he’s got ability and tools to help you win, especially if he’s going to continue to hit the way he’s been hitting and play defense.”

If he can keep doing those two things as well as he has, he’ll at least cause the Phillies to think a little harder about what to do with him when prospect J.P. Crawford eventually makes his arrival in Philadelphia to take over as the everyday shortstop.

The expectation has long been the Phillies would rather keep Freddy Galvis in the lineup for his defensive ability and would move him to second base.

But Galvis is a career .239/.277/.358 hitter. Hernandez’s slash line looks like: .278/.340/.354. The two are longtime friends from their time growing up in Venezuela. They’ll soon be fighting for a job.

“I never think about that,” Hernandez said. “I go year-for-year. We’ll see what happens.”

“I had a meeting with him and Freddy early in the season," Mackanin said. "Just told them to go do what they can do and have the best year that they can… not to worry about it, compete on a daily basis and let the cards fall where they may."

Ever since that trip to Minnesota, Hernandez is showing his hand.

Carlos Santana is ready to show Maikel Franco the way

NBC Sports Philadelphia

Carlos Santana is ready to show Maikel Franco the way

CLEARWATER, Fla. – The numbering is a little off in the Phillies’ spring training clubhouse. Usually lockers are assigned in numerical sequence, clockwise around the room. But this spring, No. 41 comes after No. 7.


Because that’s the way Carlos Santana wanted it.

“I told the team that I wanted Maikel Franco right next to me,” the new first baseman said after his first workout with the club Saturday. “That's something that I wanted. I really like him. He's a special kid. I appreciate him a lot. And, not only him, the whole group is nice. But I really want to work with him and help him out.”

Santana, 31, and Franco, 25, are both natives of the Dominican Republic. They bonded this winter. After Santana signed with the Phillies in December, he worked out at the Phillies academy in the DR with Franco.

It’s no secret this is a big year for Franco (see story). He needs to finally put together his potential or the team may look elsewhere – hello, Manny Machado – for its next third baseman.

Franco’s big area of need is Santana’s area of strength: Plate discipline. Santana walks almost as much as he strikes out. He has registered a career on-base percentage of .365 while averaging 24 homers over the last seven seasons. Franco has pop – he has hit 25 and 24 homers, respectively, the last two seasons – but his career on-base percentage is just .300 after a dip to .281 last season.

Santana has reached at least 100 walks twice in his career and at least 91 four other times. Franco had a career-best 41 walks last season.

Santana praised Victor Martinez for being a mentor to him early in his career. “That’s why I wear No. 41,” he said. Santana wants to be Franco’s Victor Martinez.

“We’re going to work together every single day,” Santana said. “We’re going to make sure he executes the plan he wants to follow. I know he’s a guy that’s very talented and he’s capable of a lot. So I’m going to be there. I’m committed to helping him. I’m going to be in the cage, hitting as many balls as possible. He already told me today that he wants to follow me everywhere he goes. If I have to go to the cage he’s going to go with me to hit some balls. He’s committed and I’m committed, too.”

The Phillies have baseball’s second-worst on-base percentage (.307, San Diego is .303) the last six seasons. The additions of Santana and J.P. Crawford to the lineup – and a full season of Rhys Hoskins, another selective hitter – should help the offense.

“When you have a guy (like Santana) in the middle of the lineup, grinding down the opposing pitcher – just imagine, you’re a pitcher on the other side and you’re delivering pitch after pitch that’s getting fouled off or a ball that is just off the corner and being taken, you get exhausted,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Guess who benefits from that? The next man up and the next man up and there’s this ripple effect. An exhausted starting pitcher or even an exhausted reliever is a really good thing for the Philadelphia Phillies.”

Santana signed a three-year, $60 million contract with the Phillies in December. He said the Phillies’ young core reminds him of the group of youngsters that his former team, the Cleveland Indians, brought to the majors in recent seasons.

Unlike a number of other free agents who are still jobless in this unusual year for free agents, Santana jumped relatively early at the Phillies’ offer. He said it was “shocking” that so many free agents remain unsigned.

“I know baseball is going through a difficult time right now, with all of the free agents,” Santana said. “But it worked out for me. I am happy. I can only speak for myself, and I am happy I did it the way I did it. It's very surprising because there are a lot of talented free agents out there. I thought it would be very different from what it's been.”

To prepare for the new season and the new team, Santana worked with a personal trainer in the Dominican Republic. In one of the drills, he was forced to push a car.

“It was a complete workout,” he said. “It wasn't only to get ready for preseason, it was also to get ready for the season and be successful during the season.

“It's a positive atmosphere here. I see a lot of young guys, very hungry and very eager to win. You can tell everyone is ready to go here.”

Phillies add experienced candidate to their bullpen

USA Today Images

Phillies add experienced candidate to their bullpen

CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Phillies on Saturday added to their stock of reliever candidates with the signing of veteran left-hander Fernando Abad to a minor-league contract. Abad will report to big-league camp and compete for a job on the 25-man roster.

The Phillies are likely to have an eight-man bullpen. The addition of Abad gives the Phillies four left-handed relief candidates. Adam Morgan, Hoby Milner and Zac Curtis are all on the 40-man roster. 

Morgan and Milner both shined in the second half of 2017. Morgan recorded a 1.69 ERA in 21 games over the final two months. He pitched 26 2/3 innings over that span, allowed just 16 hits and five runs, struck out 33 and walked six. Milner gave up just two runs in 21 2/3 innings over his last 27 games. He struck out 15 and managed to pitch around 12 walks. He was tough on lefty hitters (.159), but struggled against righties (.377). Curtis was a late-season waiver claim from Seattle. He pitched in just three games with the Phillies. 

Abad, 32, is an eight-year major-league veteran who has made stops in Houston, Washington, Oakland, Minnesota and Boston. He had a 3.30 ERA in 48 games with the Red Sox last season and lefties hit .227 off him.

From the right side, the Phillies have some bullpen depth with closer Hector Neris, veteran setup men Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, Luis Garcia and Edubray Ramos. Victor Arano, Ricardo Pinto, Yacksel Rios and Seranthony Dominquez are also on the 40-man roster. 

Dominguez hit 100 mph on the radar gun as a starter last season and is being converted to the bullpen. He is likely to open the season at Double A Reading, but “could be a quick mover,” general manager Matt Klentak said.

The list of bullpen candidates also includes two veterans on minor-league contracts: Pedro Beato and Francisco Rodriguez. The latter is a 16-year veteran who has racked up 437 saves – fourth-most all-time -- in his career. Rodriguez was released by the Tigers and Nationals last summer and is trying to make the Phillies as a nonroster invitee to big-league camp.