Phillies

Will Cesar Hernandez hear it from Philly fans after 'totally unacceptable' lack of hustle?

Will Cesar Hernandez hear it from Philly fans after 'totally unacceptable' lack of hustle?

MIAMI — The Phillies return home to Citizens Bank Park on Monday night.

Cesar Hernandez will probably get a painfully warm Philadelphia greeting from the fans.

“Yeah, I expect,” he said.

Hernandez was not the reason that the Phillies lost two of three over the weekend in Miami. He was not the reason they lost the series finale, 3-2, on Sunday afternoon. In fact, he scored one of the team’s runs after a two-out single in the sixth inning.

But Hernandez was still a major subplot in the loss as what has been a season-long issue for this team reared its head again.

That base hit that Hernandez had in the sixth inning? It should have been a double. He thought the ball was going to be a homer so he did not run hard out of the box. By the time he realized it was going to stay in the park, it was too late to make it to second. It was an egregious mistake in a scoreless game when a base hit could have put a run on the board.

As it turned out, Rhys Hoskins got Hernandez off the hook with a two-run homer. Hernandez thanked Hoskins for that — twice — once at home plate and once while running out to the field in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Hernandez’ lack of hustle did not sit well with manager Gabe Kapler.

“Totally unacceptable baserunning play,” Kapler said through clenched jaw. “It was addressed on the bench. I had a conversation with Cesar after the game. He understands it's unacceptable. There's no excuse for it. We have some strong veteran leaders in the clubhouse who will address it, as well.”

One day earlier, Kapler had talked about accountability after sending Nick Pivetta to the minors. Kapler said he thought Pivetta needed to be more accountable, to “look in the mirror.”

Hernandez is not the first Phillie to come up short in the hustle department this season. Jean Segura and Maikel Franco were violators. Franco was held accountable with a benching.

Did Kapler consider removing Hernandez from the game?

“It's just an unacceptable base running play,” was Kapler’s answer to that question.

Deciding whether or not to pull Hernandez is a question complicated by the Phils’ place in the standings — they are in a playoff race and need wins — and the fact that they have a weak bench. Would it have been fair to the rest of the team to subtract the starting second baseman (and endure the dropoff in talent) from a game the team needed to win?

“I think it's really important that we bust our asses out of the batter's box,” Kapler said. “We're not sure if the ball is going to go out of the ballpark. It's really important that we give every ounce of energy on that play. Even at the expense of making a bang-bang play at second base. We need a single to score that run. Obviously, Rhys was able to bail us all out. He hit a big home run for us. But we have to find a way to get to second base on that play.”

Hernandez was contrite after the game.

“It was obviously a mistake," he said, "but the thing about this team is that we try to pick each other up. You watched the game and you saw what happened. I was obviously thankful to Rhys that he was able to pick me up there.”

Hoskins said players in the clubhouse hold each other accountable.

He added that Hernandez did not need a strong reprimand.

“Cesar doesn’t need to be talked to,” Hoskins said. “I don’t think he’s someone that doesn’t play the game the right way. He just had a little brain fart. Had a little lapse in judgment. Thank goodness it didn’t hurt us.

“I didn’t say anything to him on the field. He came up to me. That showed everybody he’s accountable. That type of player knows (he made a mistake). My bet is it doesn’t happen again.”

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When will pitching prospect Spencer Howard’s bright future in Philly begin?

When will pitching prospect Spencer Howard’s bright future in Philly begin?

Like everyone else in the Phillies organization, new pitching coach Bryan Price has been impressed with right-hander Spencer Howard.

"If this kid is the guy we think he is — and we do — then he's going to have a really nice future in Philadelphia," Price said.

So when will that future begin?

Months ago, before baseball was shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, Phillies officials envisioned Howard getting to the majors at some point in 2020.

It wasn't going to happen at the start of the season — for a couple of reasons. First, after pitching just 92⅓ innings and dealing with shoulder tendinitis last season, Howard's workload was going to monitored closely in 2020. The Phillies were going to pull him back early in the season so he could use his bullets — in the majors — later in the season. Pulling in the reins on Howard early in the season would have also allowed the Phillies to push back the pitcher's potential free agency by a year. That's not a popular practice with players — and it might be addressed by the union in negotiations for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement — but it makes sense from a front-office perspective.

Baseball's shutdown has eliminated the need to limit Howard's workload for 2020. If he was part of the Phillies' starting rotation for the entire 60-game season, he would make about a dozen starts. No problem.

But the whole service-time, extra-year-of-control matter still exists. That's why the Phillies might decide against putting Howard on the active, 30-man roster when the season opens a week from Friday night. The team could hold Howard back six days before adding him to the roster and therefore preserve the extra year of control. In those six days, Howard would probably pitch once and with early-season innings limits on all pitchers, he'd probably max out about 65 pitches or four innings in that outing. Trading a year of control for four innings — even in a short season when every game is magnified — makes little sense. So, it won't be surprising if Howard continues to build innings with the satellite club in Lehigh Valley for at least a week or so when the Phillies start the season.

But that doesn't mean Howard won't be around for the bulk of the season.

He'll get here.

Probably quickly.

And if he performs well, he'll stay — possibly with a significant spot in the rotation.

"I would really hope and expect to see him pitching here if not on opening day, then at some point in time because he really needs the work and I think he's ready to compete at this level," said Price, who was previously pitching coach in Seattle, Arizona and Cincinnati. (He also managed the Reds.) 

Howard, who turns 24 in two weeks, has been touted as having top-of-the-rotation potential.

Price, however, is reluctant to comment on Howard's ceiling and that's probably wise. Howard was selected in the second round of the 2017 draft. He has reached 100 innings in the minors just once. He will control his own career trajectory. And he needs to be on the mound to do that.

"You don't really want to talk about repetitions or the importance of workload, but you can't turn a blind eye to it either," Price said.

"I stay away from (commenting on a pitcher's ceiling) and I'll tell you why. Because when you start talking about assigning expectations, especially if you rank like No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 — we don't know what these guys are until they come up here and perform.

"We know that (Howard) would be a top-end prospect in any organization because he has power, he throws strikes, he's athletic, he has a really, really good changeup and breaking ball. The key component there is stuff with strikes, stuff with command. So the sky is the limit.

"In the same respect, you have to get to the big leagues and perform at this level before you define where you are: starter or reliever, No. 1 or No. 5, or somewhere in between. I'll reserve judgment on that and let him pitch his way wherever he gets to."

In other words, the ball is in Howard's hand and he will control the trajectory of his career.

He next gets the ball on Thursday when he's scheduled to pitch three innings in an intrasquad game.

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Who’s playing third base behind Aaron Nola? Yep, it’s Bryce Harper

Who’s playing third base behind Aaron Nola? Yep, it’s Bryce Harper

Two members of the Phillies' starting pitching rotation took a step forward Monday.

And Bryce Harper did his best Mike Schmidt imitation.

First, the pitching stuff.

Aaron Nola took the mound for the first time in an intrasquad game as he remained on course to potentially start the season opener a week from Friday.

And Zach Eflin, who had been slowed for several days by back spasms, was able to throw a bullpen session without any problem.

"He threw a beautiful pen," pitching coach Bryan Price said. "There were no limitations. He threw it great, aggressive."

Manager Joe Girardi said Eflin's command was "great."

Eflin is projected to slot fourth in the Phillies' rotation but he could move back a spot if he needs an extra day.

Nola, Zack Wheeler and Jake Arrieta will precede Eflin in the rotation. Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta are battling for the final spot in the rotation. One of them will end up in a bullpen that could number 11 men out of the gate.

Rosters will be increased from 26 to 30 men for the first two weeks of the season. There is no limit on how many pitchers a team can carry.

Nola faced 14 batters and struck out one over three unstructured innings of work. He faced extra batters in the first two innings to get his pitch count up. He retired eight of the first nine batters he faced and allowed two hits and two walks in his third inning of work.

"Aaron threw well," Girardi said. "He lost his command a little in that third inning, but that's probably normal fatigue at the end in your first time out. I feel good about where Aaron is."

Nola threw 47 pitches. He should get up to about 65 in his next outing and that would put him on target to start opening night. Girardi has not officially named Nola his opening night starter because he wants to see how the next week or so of workouts unfolds. But Girardi did acknowledge that Nola could indeed be the opening night starter if all continues to go well.

Nola might still be a little behind in his work. He missed the first few days of workouts because he had come in contact with someone who had been infected by COVID-19. Though Nola was not infected, protocol called for him to stay away from the team for several days.

Several coaches and staff members were pressed into duty as defenders during the intrasquad game.

Harper got some time — six defensive outs — at third base. 

Girardi acknowledged there was risk putting the $330 million man, usually a right fielder, 90 or so feet away from the hitter. 

"I think it's important the guys have fun," Girardi said. "I saw him a week ago taking ground balls there and I was impressed. His hands worked well out front and he threw the ball across the field well. I told him, 'You look good there.'"

Girardi said Harper had been bugging him to play third in an intrasquad game.

Finally, Girardi relented.

"All right. One inning," the manager said. "But no diving. And make sure your arm is loose."

Harper got one ball in the field, a bouncer to his left. He moved his feet nicely, fielded it cleanly and threw a strike across the diamond for the third out.

Then he styled it off the field a la Mike Schmidt.

It really was not surprising that Harper handled himself well at third. He was a catcher in college and had played third before. He moved to the outfield in pro ball.

The Phils play another intrasquad game Tuesday night. Wheeler and Velasquez will each pitch four innings.

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