March 25, 2016
CLEARWATER, Fla. – For the first time in 13 days, Odubel Herrera jogged out to his regular center field position on Friday night at Bright House Field against the Toronto Blue Jays.
There was only one problem: there was a glove of an unknown Blue Jays player on the lip of the grass and the warning track. Herrera retrieved it and eventually handed to a man in khaki shorts who ran in from the left field tunnel.
The glove was there as the result of some hijinks from the Phillie Phanatic, who tried to get into a war with the Toronto dugout, had a glove thrown his way, and hopped on his ATV and left it in dead center.
It’s good the glove was removed: Herrera made a highlight reel-worthy catch minutes later, leaping up at the wall to rob Kevin Pillar of extra bases on the second pitch of the game in the Phillies eventual 4-4 tie.
Herrera showed signs of rust at the plate in his first game in nearly two weeks, but was his usual, high-wire self in the outfield. Most importantly for the Phillies: he believes he’ll be ready in 10 days for Opening Day despite his late March layoff.
“Of course,” Herrera said. “I have to keep it positive, and that’s what I want to do.”
Herrera missed the last 11 games on the Phillies exhibition season schedule as the result of a bruised left middle finger he suffered during the first week of games when he slid headfirst into home plate. He was able to play through the injury for six games, but then decided it was smart to get his finger examined and take a break.
The X-rays taken on the finger a week and a half ago were negative. A follow-up examination this week showed inflammation, but nothing else.
Herrera hit with a small protective guard during batting practice this week but ditched it for Friday’s game.
“I felt fine,” he said. “The swings that I made were perfectly OK. They didn’t hurt. I felt fine.”
He did look like a hitter who went 12 straight days without seeing live pitching, however. Herrera struck out in both of his at-bats before coming out after four innings.
“I was a little behind in timing, that’s the only thing I have to admit,” Herrera said.
With eight exhibition games still on the Phillies schedule before they open the season on April 4 on Cincinnati, Herrera feels like he has plenty of time to get that timing back. He was asked on Friday if he expected to play every game in the next eight days in order to do that.
“That’s what I want,” he said. “That’s my plan. So hopefully the manager will keep me in center field so I can get my timing right.”
Herrera, who hit .297 in 147 games as a rookie last season, is hitting .333 (9-for-27) in nine games this spring.
Maikel Franco hit his eighth home run of the spring to open the scoring in Friday’s game against the Blue Jays.
Franco is hitting .304 (17-for-56) and leads all major league players in home runs and RBI (with 19) this spring. In each of the last two springs, combined, Franco hit .191 (13-for-68) with zero home runs and three RBI in 28 games.
Franco’s latest home run was a solo shot off Toronto right-hander Marco Estrada on a 1-2 cut fastball.
“Hurry up and get to April,” pitcher Jeremy Hellickson said with a laugh. “I don't think he’ll stop, but we need to hurry up and get there.”
The race continues for jobs in the Phillies bullpen with a week remaining in exhibition games, but some decisions could be coming in the next few days.
Veteran right-hander Edward Mujica, in camp as a non-roster player on a minor-league contract, has an opt-out clause that he can exercise on Saturday. He can inform the Phillies that he plans to opt out if he’s not on the 25-man roster for Opening Day … and then the front office as a 48-hour period to decide whether to put him on the roster.
Mujica allowed one run on two hits in 1 1/3 innings on Friday night. He has allowed two runs in 7 1/3 innings (2.45 ERA) in six games this spring, striking out five while walking two.
Rule 5 left-hander Daniel Stumpf is another player the Phillies must make a decision on in the coming week. Per Rule 5 rules, Stumpf must remain on the 25-man roster all season or offered back to his original team, the Kansas City Royals.
Stumpf served up a solo home run to lefthanded-hitter Darrell Ceciliani in the sixth inning of Friday’s game. Stumpf has a 4.35 ERA (five earned runs in 10 1/3 innings) in eight games this spring, racking up 13 strikeouts (the most among Phillies relievers) while walking only three.