Gabe Kapler benches Cesar Hernandez, holds team meeting to remind Phillies to hustle

Gabe Kapler benches Cesar Hernandez, holds team meeting to remind Phillies to hustle

It took Gabe Kapler a couple of tries, but he finally delivered his message to Cesar Hernandez.

Hernandez was out of the starting lineup for Monday night’s series opener against the Pirates. The benching, Kapler said during his pre-game meeting with reporters, was “in response” to Hernandez’ failure to run out a ball in the sixth inning of Sunday’s 3-2 loss in Miami.

It sounded simple enough except for one important detail: Hernandez did not see things that way.

When asked about the benching by reporters, Hernandez said Kapler had informed him that he was just getting a day off. Hernandez went on to say that what happened in Miami on Sunday had been dealt with after that game and his absence from the starting lineup Monday night was unrelated.


Hernandez’ take on the matter eventually got back to Kapler and that resulted in the manager seeking out the player and telling him directly that the benching was indeed a response to what happened Sunday.

"It's not a punishment," Kapler said. "It's a response."

Kapler, according to several sources, used Hernandez’ misstep as impetus to call a five-minute team meeting before Monday night’s game. The subject: hustle.

“I was taking a look at the calendar and recognized how important every game is for the rest of the season and the little things really matter right now,” Kapler said. “And I felt that it was appropriate to show that's really meaningful to all of us as a group in the clubhouse. Cesar could end up playing in today's game and could play a meaningful role. But I felt the timing was right to let our club know how important every inch is right now.”

The Phillies entered Monday night 1½ games back in the NL wild-card race with 33 to play. The Phils are a flawed team but so is every other club in the wild-card hunt. An extra base, a hit cutoff man, a detail here or there, can help a team win a game and one win could make a huge difference in the race.

Hernandez did not run out of the box on a ball off the right-field wall in the sixth inning of a scoreless game Sunday. He should have had a double on the play but could not advance past first base. Not getting into scoring position in a tight game was an egregious mistake on Hernandez’ part. He was fortunate that Rhys Hoskins got him off the hook with a two-run homer. The homer gave the Phils a 2-0 lead, which they lost when the Marlins rallied for three runs in the bottom of the sixth en route to the win.

Kapler said he decided to bench Hernandez after digesting the play overnight. He said he received no directive from his bosses to take action.

After Sunday’s game, Kapler was asked why he did not remove Hernandez on the spot. In the wake of defeat, he did not answer the question directly. He was asked the same question Monday and acknowledged that he might have acted differently if his bench was configured differently. It’s no secret that the Phillies have a weak bench and that removing Hernandez would have weakened the team.

“I think my first responsibility is protecting the Philadelphia Phillies and whenever you take a player out of the game in the middle of a game, particularly early in the game, you lose leverage on the bench and I think there are multiple ways to send messages to players and the clubhouse and it can come during the game, it can come post-game, it can come down the road and it can come in conversations,” Kapler said. “I didn’t feel like sacrificing the possibility that we’d win yesterday’s baseball game was the right thing for the Philadelphia Phillies in the middle of a playoff race.”

Kapler said Hernandez’ benching would not last more than one game. He emphasized that the team needed Hernandez to step up in the leadoff spot down the stretch and said it was possible he could come off the bench Monday night and contribute.

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A small step in Phillies camp for pitching prospect Spencer Howard

A small step in Phillies camp for pitching prospect Spencer Howard

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Spencer Howard, the Phillies' top pitching prospect, returned to a bullpen mound Wednesday and threw 27 pitches.

Ordinarily, a bullpen session in spring training is not news, but Howard had temporarily stopped his bullpen work after sustaining a minor knee injury — manager Joe Girardi called it a "tweak" — 10 days earlier.

Howard threw all of his pitches during the bullpen session as a gaggle of fans watched at Carpenter Complex.

"I only saw two pitches," said Girardi, who was busy bouncing around four fields. "But he felt great. That's the important thing."

Girardi said there was no timetable for when Howard would pitch in a Grapefruit League game. The Phillies are on record as saying they will take things slowly with Howard in the early part of the season. The 23-year-old right-hander is on an innings/workload limit this season and the Phillies would like to get a good chunk of those innings in the big leagues.

"Spencer has an innings limit so we have to think about this because we believe at some point he's going to play a role for us," Girardi said earlier in camp. "We can't go wear him out by June so we have to think about that. We're not going to waste a lot of innings in spring training."

It's possible that the Phillies could hold Howard back in extended spring training in the month of April so they can maximize his innings later in the season.

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Phillies outfielder Jay Bruce honors a friend on his back and in his heart

Phillies outfielder Jay Bruce honors a friend on his back and in his heart

CLEARWATER, Fla. – As kids, they rode their bikes to each other’s houses. They played Little League and high school ball together.

As adults, they hunted and fished together, always washing it down with a cold beer and a few laughs.

Jay Bruce and Justin Hoose were boys, as the saying goes.

“We started playing together in tee ball,” Bruce said. “And we were always close. I had my first sleepover at his house. Toothpaste in the ear, shaving cream, you name it, we did it. He was the first person I ever ding-dong-ditched with. 

“We did everything together. And regardless of whether you wanted to have fun or wanted to laugh or wanted to have a good time, when he came around you were going to do all of those things.”

The phone call came in December when Bruce was in Idaho picking up a hunting dog. Back home in Beaumont, Texas, his lifelong friend Justin had been hospitalized with a sudden and serious illness. A few days later, he was gone, way too young at the age of 32.

“It floored me,” Bruce said. “We have a tight group of friends from high school and it floored all of us. It still stings. I still can’t believe it. It’s something no one would have imagined.

“I always believed we’d one day be old men talking (crap) on each other and then …

“It’s really made me understand and realize that life is precious and can be taken from you so quickly and to just love the people you’re close with.”

Justin loved the Dallas Cowboys so much that friends were encouraged to wear Cowboys’ colors to his memorial service. A few years ago, Bruce arranged for sideline passes at a Cowboys game.

“We had a blast,” he said.

In 12 seasons as a major league outfielder, Bruce has played in Cincinnati, Cleveland, New York, Seattle and Philadelphia. Justin supported his friend, and rooted like crazy for him, in every one of these towns.

So, as Bruce prepared for spring training this year, he decided to do something for the old friend that supported him so much. He phoned Phillies equipment man Phil Sheridan and asked if he could change his number from 23 to 9. That was the number Justin wore when they were teammates on the baseball team at West Brook High School in Beaumont.

Changing numbers in the big leagues is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, it requires league approval. Merchandisers often object because they have existing stock with the player’s number already on it. But everything lined up favorably for Bruce because he’d only been a Phillie for a few months after being traded from Seattle last season.

“I got here in June so there’s not a lot of stuff out there,” he said. “But if there was merchandise out there, I would have been willing to buy it to do this.”

There aren’t many Bruce jerseys with No. 9 on them in the merchandise stores yet. But there is another one out there. Before he left for spring training, Bruce, a husband and father of two young sons, made sure to order one for Joseph Hoose, the 10-year-son of his old pal Justin.

Bruce took batting practice with his new number on his back Tuesday and felt as if his old friend was looking down on him.

“Justin was special,” Jay Bruce said through misty eyes. “He was an incredible person. Wearing this number doesn’t fully honor who he was a person, but it brings a little bit of him with me.”

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