Galvis, Hernandez turning heads in outfield

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Galvis, Hernandez turning heads in outfield

WASHINGTON -- It’s weird to think of Ryne Sandberg as anything but the Gold Glover and Hall of Famer. But when Sandberg was coming up with the Phillies and Cubs, he was essentially a man without a position.

Primarily a shortstop and third baseman, Sandberg said his managers moved him around the diamond before he settled into second base. In fact, Sandberg says he even played some outfield.

Ryne Sandberg, the Hall of Fame centerfielder?

“When I was first traded to the Cubs, I played a handful of games in center field because I was swinging the bat a little bit,” Sandberg said before Friday night’s game at Nationals Park. “I was playing some third, backing up a little at second as a utility type of thing.

“I hit well the whole spring, so they were looking for a position that was open and centerfield was one, third base was another. I played about a handful out there.”

So maybe Sandberg understands what it’s like for Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez to play the outfield for the first time. Galvis and Hernandez, two natural middle infielders, were major-league ready -- only their positions weren’t open.

No problem. Sandberg and the Phillies found a couple of spots in the outfield and for the second game in a row, Galvis is in left and his double-play partner Hernandez is in center.

“Freddy has experience on the left side of the infield at short and third, but that being said he’s also played second base and the outfield,” Sandberg said. “So he is more versatile than Cesar as we speak. But to have both guys around, in the mix, it makes it interesting and a good problem. It creates depth in case of an injury, which is good.

“I would like to see Cesar to get some work on the left side of the diamond, but I don’t know when that will happen. That’s a down-the-road thing, maybe a winter-ball thing. To be the super-utility guy who can play on both sides of the diamond and in the outfield, that’s versatile.”

So far it’s worked out well. Galvis and Hernandez have settled into the new positions well.

Galvis played some left field during spring training, but played 580 of his 586 minor-league games at shortstop. The other six were at second base or third base.

Hernandez has played 567 minor-league games, but never stepped into the outfield until he went back to Lehigh Valley after a brief call up to the majors in May and June. Still, Hernandez got just 21 games in the outfield before he rejoined the Phillies, where he’s played 10 of 11 games in center.

That’s quite a switch for the second baseman.

“It was a long way from home plate,” Hernandez said in Spanish. “Used to being so close to the action, so I kind of get that. I understand it. To go out there, you really have to be in the game. When you’re an infielder and you go to the outfield, you really have to focus a little more on the game because home plate is further away from you and it feels like maybe at times, if you haven’t been out there at all, the ball is not gonna be hit to you.

“Whereas the infield, you’re on the balls of your feet, glove down, really low waiting for the hot shot. Out there, it’s like that, but you really have to stay focused if the ball is coming your way.”

Hernandez seems to be a natural in center field. Sandberg said Hernandez gets good reads on fly balls and has a strong arm that translates well from the infield to the outfield. Part of that is because of Hernandez’s speed, but also because he’s a pretty good baseball player who understands the game.

“His athletic ability is allowing him to play the position pretty well right now for the lack of experience that he has, the reads off the bat that he’d normally have,” Sandberg said. “He’s had some plays right at him, handled sinking liners very nice. He’s had balls hit over his head, but his stride and his foot speed [are good].

“His speed to the gaps has been very good. He’s called off corner outfielders on balls. He’s been a pleasant surprise. It’s not an easy position by no means, but I think his athletic ability has allowed him to cover the position very well and he finds himself in the lineup.”

It hasn’t been easy for Hernandez and he admits he still has a lot of work to do. But if moving from second base to the outfield gets him playing time in the big leagues, Hernandez will happily wear the glove.

“It’s not for everybody, but you get guys that can play different positions like a lot of our guys have and have that ability, that’s a good thing down the road,” Hernandez said. “You never know when they’ll need it. For a young player to have some versatility, that’s how you become a regular.

“That position opens up and you have some experience there, and basically that’s what happened to me. I was able to break in because there was an opening at third base and I had never played third base. It used to be taught that way, for guys to break in possibly as a utility player and one day earn the right to be a regular. That was the mentality.

“For that, I needed to learn two or three positions. When an opening came up, they were good to go, and then they became a regular.”

Today's lineup: Odubel Herrera returns vs. King Felix

Today's lineup: Odubel Herrera returns vs. King Felix

With Mark Leiter, Jr. going for his second straight win as a starter (see today's game notes), Pete Mackanin has kept his batting order pretty much the same from Tuesday's night's win.

But there is one change that will stand out. Odubel Herrera will return to the lineup today for the Phils after getting a breather last night. Prior to the game, Herrera talked about how he needs to play a smarter brand of baseball. But he'll get back in today against Seattle star Felix Hernandez.

Daniel Nava will lead off again and play left field with Freddy Galvis right behind him. The Phils' shortstop went 3 for 5 last night and is hitting over .300 for the month of June.

Howie Kendrick sits this afternoon for the Phillies as Tommy Joseph gets the start as designated hitter. That means that Brock Stassi will play first base instead.

Perhaps Maikel Franco can continue to stay hot from the sixth spot. He's hitting .303 as the team's No. 6 batter and will be there again Wednesday.

Here are both teams' full lineups for today's matinee in the Pacific Northwest:

Phillies
1. Daniel Nava, LF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Aaron Altherr, RF
4. Tommy Joseph, DH
5. Odubel Herrera, CF
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. Brock Stassi, 1B
8. Andrew Knapp, C
9. Ty Kelly, 2B

Mariners
1. Jean Segura SS
2. Ben Gamel, LF
3. Robinson Cano, 2B
4. Nelson Cruz, DH
5. Kyle Seager, 3B
6. Mitch Haniger, RF
7. Danny Valencia, 1B
8. Jarrod Dyson, CF
9. Mike Zunino, C

Phillies-Mariners 5 Things: Can Mark Leiter, Jr. make it two straight?

Phillies-Mariners 5 Things: Can Mark Leiter, Jr. make it two straight?

Phillies (25-51) at Mariners (39-40)
3:40 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App. Pregame Live begins at 3 p.m.

After a brutal weekend in Arizona, Tuesday night's late rally was something for Phillies fans to smile about — even if it all happened past midnight Eastern time. It was a second straight strong start for Aaron Nola and his third in the month of June, plus the Phils' bats doubled their entire output from the final games against the D-backs.

Now, the question is: can the Phillies win their first interleague series of the season and their first series overall since the first weekend of June?

1. Fool me once...
Through 12 appearances and 19.0 innings of relief work, Mark Leiter, Jr. showed very little. The 2013 22nd-round pick had tallied just a 4.74 ERA, with 14 walks versus only 12 strikeouts.

So last Friday's starting debut in Phoenix came as somewhat of a surprise — Leiter earned a quality start, tossing six shutout innings of three-hit ball with 5 Ks and only one walk against one of the best teams in all of baseball.

Wednesday afternoon, the nephew of two-time All-Star Al Leiter will have a chance to follow up on that performance against another top-10 offense. When Leiter faced Seattle last month in relief duty in Philadelphia, he went 1.1 innings and surrendered just one hit but put a pair of runners on base that eventually came around to score.

Although Leiter's fastball has sat around only about 91mph this season, he's got a pretty decent repertoire of pitches including a plus curveball — a similar style to Nola, who gave the Mariners trouble last night. If Leiter can have another good outing, he might be able to hang around in the rotation longer than initially expected.

2. Bowing down — or not
Félix Hernández has been one of baseball's better hurlers in the last few seasons. He's racked up double-digit wins every season since 2009, had a career-best 2.14 ERA in 2014 en route to Cy Young honors and is still probably Seattle's best starter stuff-wise.

But this season, King Felix has not entirely been himself, going to the DL in late April before returning just last week. And after a sluggish start to the year, he bounced back with one of his better outings — the Astros mustered only three runs on eight hits against Hernández in six innings of work.

What can we expect against the Phils? Well, the only other time he's faced the Phillies was in 2011, when he also gave up three runs in seven frames. 

But want to guess how many players in that lineup are on this team? Right, exactly zero.

3. Franco's big night
Tuesday was only the second time in his last 13 games that Maikel Franco chipped in a multi-hit performance. His .242 batting average this month is well above those of April and May, but obviously it's nowhere near where the Phillies probably hoped he'd be at this point in the season. Last year at this juncture, he was still only hitting .246.

Still, his HR and RBI numbers aren't that far off, and his solo shot sparked the Phils' crucial surge. He's also cutting down on his strikeouts — although he did last night, it was his first since June 17 and only his 12th this month.

Franco has had better success at the plate since moving down in the lineup. Pete Mackanin had the third baseman hitting sixth last night, where he's gone 20 for 66 with a .303 batting average and .803 OPS.

4. Multi-hit madman
You want to know who is the hottest hitter in the Phillies lineup? Yep, it's Freddy Galvis.

He has 15 hits in his last 40 at-bats and is currently batting .301 for the month. This comes after a month of May when the shortstop hit .188 with 17 strikeouts in 96 at-bats.

Tuesday night, Galvis went 3 for 5 with 2 RBI and a run out of the two-hole, and there's no reason to think he's coming down in the order anytime soon.

5. This and that
• Other than Jean Segura's two-run bomb in the third inning, it was an extremely quiet offensive night Tuesday for a Seattle lineup that brings a ton of pop in the heart of its order. The Mariners' top six batters went a combined 2 for 22 with nine strikeouts against Nola, Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris.

• Speaking of Neris, last night's perfect ninth inning was part of what's actually been a pretty solid six-week stretch. Sure, he hasn't been lights out but since May 14, Neris has only given up five earned runs on 13 hits in a total of 15.2 innings of work.

• If you're looking for a glimmer of hope, look no further than Allentown. Scott Kingery's second game with IronPigs might've been better than his first as the second base prospect slugged two home runs for the Triple A club.