Phillies' biggest surprises and disappointments through 6 weeks

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Phillies' biggest surprises and disappointments through 6 weeks

The 23-16 Phillies have exceeded expectations through six weeks, playing at a mid-90s-win pace. While few would project them to approach that total, it's interesting that they've arrived at this record despite slow starts from numerous players.

Let's take inventory of the biggest surprises and disappointments as we near the quarter-pole.

Biggest offensive surprise
Odubel Herrera is the obvious answer. We knew of his skill set and potential if everything clicked, but who would have guessed he'd be leading the National League in hitting through 40-ish games?

The widespread perception is that Herrera is a streaky player. But in reality, his bat has been hot for nearly a calendar year. Dating back to last June 3, Herrera has hit .338, second in the majors to only Jose Altuve. His .395 OBP and .550 slugging percentage are also top-10 in the NL over that span.

Herrera's slugging percentage has increased in each of his four big-league seasons. When he homers, they tend to be missiles or towering no-doubters. Sure looks capable of reaching 20-plus home runs after previously topping out at 15.

Biggest offensive disappointment
While some might still want to give this to Carlos Santana, you just can't right now. Santana has been one of baseball's hottest hitters the last week, driving in 16 runs in his last nine games. 

Despite his slow start, he has nearly as many walks (23) as strikeouts (24), and Santana’s 19 extra-base hits rank second among all major-league first basemen behind only Freddie Freeman.

So let's go with a combo here of Andrew Knapp and J.P. Crawford.

Knapp is hitting .185 with one extra-base hit and 23 strikeouts in 62 plate appearances. Because of this and Jorge Alfaro’s recent play on both sides, Alfaro has emerged as the No. 1 catcher. If both stay healthy all season, expect Alfaro to start between 95 and 110 games.

As for the injured Crawford, he's hit .188/.246/.328 with just four walks and 19 K's in 71 plate appearances. He's swung and missed a good amount and has not shown the trademark plate selection he did in the minors. It's far too early to say this is who Crawford will be, but the Phillies certainly hoped for a faster start in his first full season.

Biggest defensive surprise
Santana had a track record of top-notch first-base defense but he's been even better than advertised. Aside from his steadiness around the bag and on scoops, the Phillies have picked four runners off of first base in their last 11 games, with Santana providing the quick swipe tag each time.

There's hidden value in that and in first-base defense on the whole. You don't notice scoops unless they're missed. You don't notice the 3-6 assists unless they go into left field. 

Biggest defensive disappointment
Not to pile on Crawford, but he committed a major-league high five throwing errors from shortstop in his 20 starts this season.

Unfortunately for Crawford, his defense will always be measured up against the gloves of his predecessors, Freddy Galvis and Jimmy Rollins. Galvis and Rollins are two of the best defensive shortstops of the last two decades.

Still, the Phillies will need more consistency moving forward from Crawford, especially with ground-ballers like Jake Arrieta, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin in the rotation.

Biggest pitching surprise
It's hard to pick just one with Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez each pitching well in five of their eight starts and young relievers Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano taking steps forward.

But you have to go with Nola. Aside from Max Scherzer, is there any right-handed starting pitcher in the National League you'd put clearly ahead of Nola? After Scherzer, you have a similarly-skilled group of Nola, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Stephen Strasburg, Carlos Martinez and Johnny Cueto.

Nola is among the major-league leaders in every important pitching category: ERA, WHIP, opponents' batting average and OPS, soft-contact rate, groundball rate, first-pitch strikes, swinging strikes.

Last season, we saw a No. 2 starter become an ace. This season, we're watching an ace become a Cy Young candidate.

Biggest pitching disappointment
Hector Neris is the answer here based on the three blown saves, nine walks and three homers allowed through 15⅔ innings. 

Neris just isn't right at the moment. He's never trusted his fastball as much as he should, and right now his splitter isn't nearly as effective as it was the last couple seasons.

The Phillies have several relievers with closer's stuff, so it makes sense at this point to go with the hot hand rather than define Neris' role as the saver. We saw the beginnings of it Sunday with Ramos. 

Phillies call up shortstop Sean Rodriguez, who's known for his competitive fire

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Phillies call up shortstop Sean Rodriguez, who's known for his competitive fire

NEW YORK — All signs point to Jean Segura returning to the Phillies on Saturday, but in the meantime, the Phils have another shortstop: Sean Rodriguez.

Rodriguez was called up from Triple A on Wednesday, two days before his 34th birthday. He will immediately get the start at shortstop for the Phillies, batting seventh on Wednesday night against Mets left-hander Jason Vargas.

Rodriguez's call-up was one of several roster moves the Phillies made ahead of their series finale in New York. Right-handed pitcher Enyel De Los Santos was also recalled from Triple A, while Mitch Walding and Drew Anderson were optioned back to Lehigh Valley. 

Additionally, left-handed reliever James Pazos was designated for assignment. Acquired in the Segura trade with Seattle, Pazos wasn't sharp in spring training and had a rough go with the IronPigs, allowing six runs and seven walks in 7⅓ innings.

The Phillies have had to utilize more of their 40-man roster than they would have liked these last two weeks. Scott Kingery was Segura's replacement, but then Kingery suffered a hamstring injury of his own. The next man up was Phil Gosselin, who had two singles in his Phillies debut last Friday and a three-run double Saturday but is 0 for 12 since. Gosselin also committed a throwing error in the first inning of Tuesday night's loss.

Enter Rodriguez, who last season in the majors played every position except pitcher and catcher. He's spent most of his career as a bench utilityman but had a lot of success in 2016 as a platoon player with the Pirates, hitting .270/.349/.510 with 18 homers and 56 RBI in just 342 plate appearances.

Even through his struggles the last two seasons, Rodriguez has more than held his own against left-handed pitching. Since 2016, he has a .384 OBP against lefties, which you'd think factored into the timing of this call-up. The Phillies face the lefty Vargas on Wednesday and another southpaw in Caleb Smith Thursday. 

Rodriguez, who's tight with Andrew McCutchen and thrilled to again share a clubhouse with him, had an opt-out in his contract if he didn't make the team out of spring training but decided to stay in the organization and accept the role at Triple A. 

"I'm in it to win," he said. "That's what I told (Gabe) Kapler and (Matt) Klentak. It was clear this offseason this team was trying to win."

Rodriguez had been hitting for power at Triple A, going 11 for 25 with four homers, a triple, two doubles and 12 RBI in his last six games before Tuesday night. Despite that and the Phillies' growing injured list, he tried his best to not sit by his phone and await the call.

"We can try to play GM but I learned a long time ago not to do that," he said. "You obviously see the injuries and all that but you don't buy into it, you just try to show up every day and do your job on a daily basis."

Rodriguez is perhaps best-known for his fire and competitiveness in the field, on the bases and in the dugout. He's the consummate good teammate, the kind of guy who's usually the first one out when benches begin to clear in a situation like the Phillies experienced Tuesday night when two fastballs were thrown above Rhys Hoskins' head.

He has no intentions of dialing that back as he gets reacclimated to the group of guys he spent spring training with.

"I think if you've identified pretty early on that's who you are as a player and competitor, it's hard not to just continue to be that guy," he said. "If you're not, then you're almost taking yourself and your competitive nature and putting it aside. Basically, you're putting it in the closet. You don't want to do that. 

"If that's who you are, that's who you are. You learn to somewhat not let the rage come out in a bad or negative way. That's what you try to harness and buffer up a bit. But definitely not turning it off."

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Upbeat David Robertson feeling good, eager to be reevaluated

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Upbeat David Robertson feeling good, eager to be reevaluated

NEW YORK — David Robertson, the most important and accomplished reliever in the Phillies' bullpen, is feeling good and might not be too far away from returning from a Grade 1 flexor strain in his throwing arm.

Robertson was upbeat Wednesday afternoon at Citi Field before the series finale between the Phillies and Mets. He admitted he's been antsy to get back during this process. He hasn't spent much time on the shelf throughout his 12-year big-league career, visiting the IL (then the DL) just twice, in 2012 with an oblique strain and 2014 when he "pulled something in [his] butt."

Robertson will be reevaluated by the Phillies' medical staff when they return home for the four-game series against the Marlins. He is hoping and assuming that evaluation will take place Thursday. If it goes well, he can resume throwing.

Robertson, who signed a two-year, $23 million contract with the Phillies this past offseason, has made seven appearances. The first three were ugly — four runs, 10 baserunners in two innings. The next four were strong — 4⅔ scoreless innings, four baserunners, five strikeouts.

Robertson felt the tenderness most when he would release the ball. He does not want to use the soreness as an excuse for those first three outings, one of them a ninth-inning meltdown in D.C. He's felt soreness and nagging pain at times during his long career like most major-leaguers so it's not always easy to determine when it's affecting his performance.

He's hoping that he doesn't need a rehab stint in the minor leagues but realizes it may be necessary given his recent inactivity. The last game in which Robertson appeared was April 14 in Miami when he pitched two scoreless innings in a Phillies win.

He's eager to get back, especially with the team's recent struggles. The Phillies entered Wednesday's game 1-5 on their two-city road trip.

"You watch some of these close games and think, 'Man, it should be me out there," he said. "But I don't want to be stubborn."

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