Odubel Herrera has been a big story in Phillies camp for all the wrong reasons, but on Thursday he was a pretty big story for the right reasons.
The 29-year-old outfielder, trying to rebuild his career, and his life, nearly two years after a domestic violence arrest (charges were eventually dropped) and a suspension from Major League Baseball, was a standout offensively and defensively in the Phillies' 15-0 Grapefruit League win over the New York Yankees in Clearwater, Florida.
Herrera, who had not played a game in a Phillies uniform since May 26, 2019 before playing for the club on Tuesday, made his second start in three days in right field.
He started a terrific defensive play that resulted in a potential run being cut down at the plate in the top of the second inning and in the bottom of the frame clubbed a home run over everything in right field against Yankees starter Deivi Garcia.
Herrera punctuated the blast with a big-air bat flip.
In the fourth inning, he lashed a base hit to left field on a full-count pitch from Asher Wojciechowski.
"I think that was his most impressive at-bat, 3-2 breaking ball, stayed back nice and hit it the other way," manager Joe Girardi said. "He had a great day."
Rhys Hoskins, one of the veteran teammates whose acceptance Herrera is trying to earn, was impressed.
"We know the bat-to-ball skills that he possesses and they've been on full display early in camp," Hoskins said. "I think the play he made today was outstanding, sliding into the wall trying to cut a run down this early in camp. That was phenomenal to see. He's hustling hard out of the box. Those are the kind of things that I think he knows he had to clean up, and so far, it looks like he has."
The Phillies are not looking for a right fielder. That's Bryce Harper's job and he soon will make his spring debut.
But the Phillies are looking for a center fielder and Herrera, who held the job from the start of the 2015 season to May 2019, has solidified himself in the competition with his play early in camp.
"People in Philadelphia have seen the talent," Girardi said. "He's been an All-Star. Everyone I've talked to, people who've been here a while, say he's matured and is in better shape. I think he understands you only get so many chances in life and you've got to make the most of them and that's what he's trying to do."
Scott Kingery started in center field on Thursday and hit one of the Phillies' six home runs. Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn are also in the competition for the center field job. Kingery and Haseley both have minor-league options, Quinn does not.
When might Herrera get a look in center field?
"It's coming," Girardi said.
Before Thursday's game, Herrera met with the full squad of players, all of them, even the veterans he did not get a chance to speak with before Tuesday's game.
"Overall, I think it was positive," Hoskins said of the meeting, which occurred on a back field.
"He got the whole camp together and spoke to us about his situation. He apologized. I know one of his big things is he's trying as hard as he can to be the best teammate he can be and he conveyed that. He was sorry for putting the organization and his teammates in the line of fire and this situation."
On Tuesday, Herrera spoke with reporters and said he hoped to win back the trust of the fans.
Hoskins has been around long enough to know something about Philadelphia. Can it happen?
"Obviously, it's a tough thing to do and with the magnitude of something like this, it's always going to take time," Hoskins said.
"He's stressed being a good teammate to us and we've stressed it to him. If he can focus on that, I think he's going to be OK. He knows what went on, the fans know what went on. I think he understands things like this take time and if he can just put his head down and work as hard as he can, be as good a teammate as he can then, over time, I think things will shake out."
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