Phillies

Odubel Herrera will have to fight for Phillies' starting center field job

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Odubel Herrera will have to fight for Phillies' starting center field job

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies spring training is turning into Camp Competition.

Maikel Franco and Scott Kingery will battle for the third-base job — unless, of course, the Phillies sign Manny Machado or Mike Moustakas.

And Odubel Herrera and Roman Quinn will throw down for the center field job.

“Competition is a really good thing," manager Gabe Kapler said Friday. "I think competition raises your game, it makes you focused, it makes you bring more intensity."

Andrew McCutchen is set at one of the corner outfield spots, probably left field. That leaves Herrera, Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr looking for reps in center and right — unless the Phillies sign Bryce Harper.

Kapler has met with Herrera and told him that he will have to earn the center field job.

Herrera, in camp early and looking lean and ready to rumble after getting in the gym and dropping 20 pounds this winter, is prepared to win the job.

“My mentality is that I’m still the center fielder,” he said Friday. “All that I can control is the work that I put in on the field. The rest is up to the front office and the staff. They make the decisions.”

Late last season, Herrera lost playing time in center field to Quinn. Herrera’s overall game slipped in the second half. He hit just .189 with a .530 OPS over the final two months of the season, not quite what the Phillies had come to expect after Herrera made the All-Star team in 2016 and signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension later that year.

Kapler and general manager Matt Klentak pulled no punches with Herrera at the end of last season. They told him he needed to get into better physical condition and eliminate mental lapses in the field and on the bases.

Performance will offer the ultimate verdict, but, so far, Herrera is doing and saying the right things.

“I think part of the maturity of a player is to know what you’ve done wrong and what you can do better,” he said through Diego Ettedgui, the team’s Spanish-language translator. “So I took this offseason just to get better and work hard. I’ve learned from my mistakes and I’m definitely more motivated.

“I understand this year there is more competition and honestly I think it makes me better when I have competition around me. It gets the best out of me, because I know I have to play better. There’s pressure that you need to perform.”

Herrera’s improved physical condition is tangible.

Improvements in concentration can only be measured over time.

“That’s definitely an area where we want to raise the bar for Odubel,” Kapler said. “If he is the guy that we got closer to the beginning of last season when he was one of the best players in baseball, you’re not going to be able to keep him out of the lineup or be able to keep him off the field.”

The Phillies have hired Paco Figueroa, a former instructor in the Dodgers system, as their new outfield coach.

“He is known for developing relationships with Spanish speakers and he’s known for his ability to ask for a little bit more and get somebody to step up and meet that bar,” Kapler said. “The relationship that Odubel and Paco develop will be very important this season.”

Herrera, 27, admitted that he needs to improve his concentration.

“There definitely were times when I knew I could have focused more last season,” he said.

He said he did not know what caused the lack of focus.

“For a baseball player, it’s not easy to stay motivated because obviously it’s a long season,” Herrera said. “But my main focus is to keep that concentration going all season and through nine innings every game and the whole season.”

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Kid Cole becomes The Man — '07 lessons Cole Hamels carried into '08

Kid Cole becomes The Man — '07 lessons Cole Hamels carried into '08

On Monday night, NBC Sports Philadelphia will begin re-airing the Phillies’ magical 2008 postseason run, all 14 games, culminating with the club’s World Series clincher against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Grab a chair. Find the remote. It’s going to be great.

Before our trip down Memory Lane commences, it’s fair to remind everyone that none of this happens without a 24-year-old kid named Cole Hamels.

Yeah, Jimmy, Chase and Ryan were vital cogs in Charlie Manuel’s victory machine from 2007 to 2011. And guys named Lidge, Madson, Victorino, Werth, Ruiz, Burrell and Stairs — oh, yeah, that Stairs guy — were crucial to the cause, as well.

But Kid Cole was The Man during that October run. The Phillies received some outstanding pitching up and down the staff that month, but Hamels was a cut above. He started five games and the Phillies won all of them. In 35 innings of work, he allowed just seven runs for a glistening ERA of 1.80. He was named MVP of the National League Championship Series and World Series.

Hamels benefited from confidence and momentum in that postseason. 

“I had that belief that I was very good and each and every game I was pitching, I felt better and better and better and everything worked out,” he told us a few weeks ago.

The momentum and confidence that Hamels enjoyed was rooted in his first start that postseason: On October 1, in front of 45,929 crazies at Citizens Bank Park, Hamels neutralized the heavy-hitting Milwaukee Brewers in a 3-1 victory in Game 1 of the NL Division Series. Hamels pitched eight shutout innings, scattered two hits, walked one and struck out nine. That’s what you call a tone-setter and you can watch it again Monday night.

The gem against the Brewers was Hamels’ second postseason start. He’d lost Game 1 of the NLDS to Colorado the year before. He walked three batters in the second inning of that game and gave up three runs. The Phils were a quick out in that postseason and the Game 1 loss stuck with Hamels for a year, until he took the mound against Milwaukee that day.

“I got my butt kicked the year before against Colorado and I’m like, ‘Gosh, I don’t want to have another one of those,'" Hamels said. “Game 1 is so important to get things going off right. There were a lot of nerves going in because I didn’t want to repeat ’07. But at the same time, I had to trust myself. Throw that first pitch, get that called first strike and (the nerves) go out the window and you, all of a sudden, calm down.

Hamels had faced the Brewers twice that regular season. They had roughed him up early in the season and he came back to beat them in September.

The Brewers thought they had a good scouting report on Hamels coming into the NLDS. Hamels was a lefty who could locate a plus fastball and dazzle with a great changeup — he didn’t add the cutter until later in his career — and everyone knew that. But on this day, Hamels had something extra up his sleeve: a sharp curveball. It was the difference maker that day and the pitch that helped his postseason — and the team’s on the whole — get off on a strong foot.

“He’d been mostly fastball-changeup against us,” Milwaukee shortstop J.J. Hardy said after that game. “He mixed in that curveball for strikes today and that got us off his other two pitches. This was the best I’ve seen him.”

Hamels has always had a love-hate relationship with his curveball.

On that day, he loved it.

And the Brewers, of course, hated it.

“The curveball always has been a pitch that’s either here … or there,” said Hamels, pretending to toss the latter away like an old apple core. “I had the feel of it that day and if I know I have the feel of my curveball I know hands-down I can win because I have three pitches and they’re all plus.”

Hamels threw 101 pitches through eight innings that day and, with a 3-0 lead, could have pursued a shutout.

“Charlie looked at me like, ‘You want to finish?’ “ the pitcher recalled. “I was like, ‘No. We have Lidge.”

Brad Lidge, who had gone 41 for 41 in save chances during the regular season, survived a bumpy ninth for the save as the Phils opened the best-of-five series with a win.

After stumbling in the first round of the postseason the year before, Hamels knew this postseason would be different. That’s why he deferred to Lidge in the ninth.

“I wanted to save myself for the next series because I knew we were going to the next round,” he said.

Confident guy.

See why (once again) Monday night on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

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Potentially awkward scenes we could see during 2020 MLB season

Potentially awkward scenes we could see during 2020 MLB season

Baseball fans are hoping for the best. 

Everyone that loves the sport is hopeful that the owners and players can iron out their financial differences and come to an agreement that clears the way for a 2020 season. In the meantime, we are left to wonder what a season played in the midst of a pandemic might look like. 

Beyond there being no fans in the ballparks when the season starts, players would also keep their distance from one another, both on and off the field. 

A potentially awkward scene comes to mind. Say the home team wins in walk-off fashion. What would the celebration look like? We're used to seeing the entire team stream out of the dugout and charge whoever delivered the winning hit, mobbing him somewhere along the basepaths and ripping his jersey off.

Or in the case of a walk-off home run, everyone waiting at home plate to dump the Gatorade bucket on the hero and jump around in unison.

We saw Phillies star Bryce Harper in the middle of several such celebrations last season, most notably after his walk-off grand slam against the Cubs. What would that look like in 2020? Harper sprinting around the bases, charging towards home plate where ... no one is waiting for him. Everyone gives him a thumbs-up from a distance and goes their separate ways? It's a weird scenario to think about. But it will likely play out quite a bit should there be a season. 

Former Phillies outfielder Jeff Francoeur was a guest on the Phillies Talk podcast this week and said that if he were still playing, he'd probably still hug a teammate after a walk-off and just pay the fine.  

Back to the possibility of playing in empty ballparks without fans. At first thought, that doesn't seem like too big of a deal for the players. Baseball is baseball, it's still the same game with or without fans. But not having the energy and electricity that the fans provide could have a big impact on certain players, particularly the Phillies' best player. Francoeur, for example, explained how players sometimes really use the fans' energy to get up for day-games when the fatigue of the season mounts.

No one feeds off the fans more than Harper. He loves playing to the crowd at Citizens Bank Park — pumping up the fans sitting behind him in right field and gesturing to the crowd behind the dugout after a big home run. Harper fires up the fans, and vice versa. 

Harper is equally effective in feeding off negative energy on the road. He's probably been booed in opposing ballparks more than any player in baseball and he's been dealing with it since his teenage years. He was heckled throughout a game in San Francisco last season, with one fan yelling 'overrated' each time Harper stepped into the batter's box (a chant Harper hears in most road cities). He channeled that negativity into a pair of monster home runs and made sure to let the fans know about it afterward.

His first game back in Washington last season is another great example. Nationals fans were all over Harper the entire night. He responded by going 3-for-5 with two doubles and a two-run home run into the upper deck.  

Harper is a showman. He relishes his roles of fan-favorite at home and villain on the road. Harper will still be effective playing in an empty ballpark. But it's fair to wonder if the lack of energy could have an adverse impact on him.  

It's one of countless unknowns as we brace for what promises to be a baseball season unlike any we've seen. Of course, there is still plenty of work to be done to ensure there will be a season. The clock is ticking. 

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