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