WASHINGTON — If Odubel Herrera keeps this up, he’s going to find himself right back in this city next month.
And not to visit the monuments.
Herrera swung a potent bat again Friday night in helping the Phillies beat up on the Washington Nationals, 12-2 (see first take). The win allowed the Phils to leap over the Nats and into second place in the NL East. The Phils are 40-33. The Nats are 40-34. Atlanta leads the division.
There’s still an entire summer of baseball to play before a division winner is crowned. But the Phils, who went 66-96 last season, were feeling pretty good about themselves after winning this one.
“At this point, in a lot of ways, we've proven ourselves,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We're a pretty good ballclub. We have gone toe to toe with some of the best teams in the league and done a pretty good job. At some point, it stops being that we're trying to prove ourselves and we're just competing with really good teams. I think that's where we are.”
The Philies have won eight of their last 11 and much of that run has coincided with Herrera’s re-awakening at the plate.
Herrera was leading the NL in hitting at .361 on May 17. Over the next 23 games, he hit .161 (15 for 93) to fall to .283. He is back up to .308 thanks to a four-hit game Friday night. He homered, stroked three singles and scored four runs.
Over the last eight games, Herrera is 17 for 36 (.472) with six homers and nine RBIs.
Herrera joined some fine company in the third inning when he homered for the fifth straight game. The only other Phillies to do that are Rhys Hoskins, Chase Utley, Bobby Abreu, Mike Schmidt and Dick Allen.
“All I’m thinking about is helping the team win,” Herrera said. “It’s always satisfying to beat great teams like the Nationals. That’s what you play for. Everyone here is a competitor. You always want to see where you're at. It’s a good challenge for us. Luckily for me, I’m hitting the ball well.”
So well that he could end up back in the All-Star Game. Herrera was the lone Phillie in the game two years ago. This year’s game will be played in Washington.
“I’m playing hard. I’m giving my best,” Herrera said. “If it happens it will be great. That’s what you work for.”
Starter Zach Eflin won his fourth straight start with five innings of two-run ball and relievers Austin Davis, Yacksel Rios and Zac Curtis did the rest.
“Every guy who pitched for us today was not on our opening day roster,” Kapler said. “So here we are, in a very important series in the middle of the summer, and we're playing the Nationals. Kudos to our player development department, an excellent job developing these guys. These guys came in and threw strikes and attacked the strike zone.”
The Phillies had 15 hits. They struck out 13 times, but they drew eight walks and pushed Washington starter Tanner Roark from the game at 4 1/3 innings and 113 pitches.
“Our offense played Phillies-style offense,” Kapler said. “What we've been preaching all year long. Deep counts. We worked walks at the end of the counts. We found ways to put the ball in play. And drive the baseball. I thought we did a really good job. Roark is a tough dude. Really impressive to see us grind him out. I was really impressed with the way we worked counts from the very beginning of the game.”
One of those deep counts came in the first inning when Roark fell behind Carlos Santana, 3-0. With one out and runners on second and third, Kapler gave Santana the green light and Santana lined a pitch that was off the plate into left field for two runs.
“Carlos prides himself on drawing walks,” Kapler said. “He wants to have 100 walks a season. It's an excellent goal. That's why he's so valuable whether he's swinging the bat the way he wants to or not.
"However, every once and a while, he's going to get into a 3-0 count with runners on base and he might be the best guy in the lineup to do damage in that moment. And we like him to sometimes be ultra-aggressive. It doesn't mean you go way out of the strike zone to attack. But maybe you expand just a little bit. You know where the barrel is and you're in an advantageous position against the pitcher. I'm really happy that was his decision.”
Santana also had a two-run homer en route to a four-RBI night. Nick Williams drove in three runs. Cesar Hernandez had three hits and Andrew Knapp homered.
Since May 1, Santana has 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 45 games.