Mack­anin won’t hang ‘sale’ sign on hot Her­rera

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - Jack McCaf­fery Colum­nist

PHILADEL­PHIA >> Odubel Her­rera went 3-for-4 Tues­day, with a home run and three RBIs, rais­ing his bat­ting av­er­age to .536 over seven games. He was solid on de­fense, steal­ing bases, col­lect­ing ex­tra-base hits, do­ing on­field postgame in­ter­views. He was dom­i­nat­ing. He was smil­ing.

By Wed­nes­day, he, of all Phillies, was sit­ting.

“He’s swing­ing so well, I don’t want to mess him up and put him in a slump,” Pete Mack­anin said with a shrug. “This guy is tough on left­ies. So that’s the only rea­son.”

Chris Sale, a left-han­der, was to pitch for the Chicago White Sox. He was 16-8 and had held left-handed hit­ters to a .188 av­er­age in what might be a Cy Young Award sea­son. That gave

Mack­anin at least a rea­son­able base­ball plat­form on which to rest the likely Na­tional League Player of the Week. But be­yond risk­ing a crack in Her­rera’s rhythm for the fi­nal 10 games of a crum­bled sea­son was a more long-term mo­ti­va­tion. The Phillies, who not long ago were be­gin­ning to won­der if his All-Star half-a-year was a tease, a quirk, a con­ces­sion to the reg­u­la­tion that every team is re­quired to have an All-Star Game rep­re­sen­ta­tive, need Her­rera to fin­ish strong.

Her­rera had been slump­ing for weeks, his bat slow, his statis­tics plung­ing. Ear­lier this sea­son touted and cel­e­brated as a nat­u­ral hit­ter, he was de­te­ri­o­rat­ing into a fran­chise mys­tery. Sud­denly, he was more likely to be men­tioned as a pos­si­ble off­sea­son trade piece than as ev­i­dence of an or­ga­ni­za­tion’s growth. And for an op­er­a­tion that had hung out a par­don-our-dust sign, a fiz­zling, fad­ing Al­lS­tar was not the ideal pub­lic im­age.

The Phillies were sup­posed to be de­vel­op­ing stars this sea­son. In Her­rera, it seemed they had at least one. But from the Al­lS­tar break through Sept. 1, he was hit­ting .258 with three home runs and nine RBIs. And with Aaron Nola in­jured, Maikel Franco flat­ten­ing and the most in­trigu­ing prospects still stashed as deep in the sys­tem as Read­ing, the Phillies needed more from Her­rera. So when Her­rera be­gan to dom­i­nate again, there was a col­lec­tive fran­chise ex­hale.

“Well it means a lot, not only to him but to the team,” Mack­anin said. “He’s got the bat go­ing.”

For that, the Phillies were not pre­pared to al­low Sale — a mas­ter­ful, vet­eran Amer­i­can League left­hander un­likely to tor­ment them again for years — to have a chance to spin Her­rera the wrong way; not this late in the sea­son, not this close to them be­ing able to use him as an off­sea­son ex­hibit of their suc­cess­ful de­vel­op­ment.

“I was a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed be­cause things were not work­ing out the way I wanted them to work out,” Her­rera was say­ing the other night, after his fifth con­sec­u­tive multi-hit game, and his sixth in his last seven. “But thank­fully now things are bet­ter for me.”

Rea­sons? The slump could have jarred him into re­fo­cus­ing. So, too, could have been the Phils’ pro­mo­tion of Ro­man Quinn to the in­flated, Septem­ber ma­jor­league ros­ter. Fast, de­fen­sively sound, quick to show dou­bles power, Quinn is the Phils’ fu­ture cen­ter­fielder, per­haps as soon as next sea­son. When that hap­pens, Her­rera will shift to a cor­ner out­field po­si­tion, where a re­duc­tion in de­fen­sive stress could be a small ben­e­fit to his of­fense.

“I think the minute Quinn got here he started re­ally turn­ing it on,” Mack­anin said. “He saw Quinn and said, ‘Hey wait, I’m bet­ter than this guy. I bet­ter get back on track.’ Every­one needs a lit­tle bit of a boost some­time, and I think that may have some­thing to do with it. But nev­er­the­less, he looks much bet­ter than he did for the past four or five weeks.”

Her­rera is 24, young but close to his prime. A Rule 5 steal from the Texas or­ga­ni­za­tion, he is an un­ortho­dox but ag­gres­sive hit­ter. He had eight home runs as a rookie in 2015 and brought 15 to Cit­i­zens Bank Park Wed­nes­day.

“In Odubel’s case, I have a hard time look­ing at him as a dis­ap­point­ment,” Matt Klen­tak said re­cently. “I know there’s a lot that’s been writ­ten about that. But he’s one of the best cen­ter­field­ers — one of the best over­all out­field­ers — in the Na­tional League, pe­riod. I cer­tainly re­al­ize the first half was dif­fer­ent than the sec­ond half. But in the ag­gre­gate, I think Odubel Her­rera is still a very valu­able player to this team.”

After his All-Star start and siz­zling Septem­ber, the Phillies can shout that all through the off­sea­son. They just have to get through an­other 10 games, one cau­tious bat­ting or­der at a time.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

He might still be a bit of a mys­tery man out in cen­ter field, but at least the Phillies won’t have to end the reg­u­lar sea­son try­ing to fig­ure out why Odubel Her­rera looked like a bust in the sec­ond half.

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