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.”

Tonight's Lineup: After hitting 6th Friday, Odubel Herrera moves up to 2-hole

Tonight's Lineup: After hitting 6th Friday, Odubel Herrera moves up to 2-hole

After watching his club get smacked around in a 9-4 loss to the Mets on Friday, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has tinkered with his lineup for Saturday's game at Citi Field.

Odubel Herrera moves up to the two-hole after hitting sixth Friday, while Aaron Altherr goes from second to third and Jimmy Paredes gets the start in left and bats seventh. Ryan Howard starts again at first base and bats fifth.

Herrera, who has been struggling since the All-Star break with a .257 average, has lost his leadoff spot to Cesar Hernandez but is starting to find his swing again.

In the last seven days, Herrera is 5 for 17 with a double and a run scored. In August, the centerfielder is hitting .288 two homers and five RBIs.

Altherr, who played left field Friday, moves over to right field and Peter Bourjos gets the night off. Altherr is hitting .255 with four home runs and 19 RBIs on the season.

Here is the full Phillies lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Aaron Altherr, RF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Jimmy Paredes, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P

For more on tonight's's game, check out Steven Tydings' game notes.

Phillies option Jorge Alfaro back to Double A Reading

Phillies option Jorge Alfaro back to Double A Reading

As expected, the Phillies on Saturday optioned prized catching prospect Jorge Alfaro back to Double A Reading after a one game stint with the big club.

Alfaro was called up for Friday's series opener in New York against the Mets because newly acquired veteran backstop A.J. Ellis had yet to arrive with the team. Ellis was acquired Thursday from the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of the trade that sent Carlos Ruiz to L.A.

The 23-year-old Alfaro is expected to return to the Phillies once Reading's season is over and MLB rosters expand in September. The Fightin Phils, at 83-48, are the Eastern League's top team and very much could make it to the championship series.

Alfaro, acquired in the Cole Hamels trade last summer, has a .279 average with 13 home runs and 61 RBIs in 90 games with Reading this season. He did not get play Friday night against the Mets.

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Jeremy Hellickson, Phils have chance to play spoilers

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Jeremy Hellickson, Phils have chance to play spoilers

Phillies (59-69) at Mets (65-63)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

Both the Mets and Phillies go into the second game of the series with their best (healthy) starter on the mound. Noah Syndergaard, known by many as "Thor," takes the hill while trying to keep the Mets' playoff hopes alive, while Jeremy Hellickson makes the 26th start of his rebound season. 

Here are five things to know before Saturday night's matchup.

1. Playing spoilers
If the Mets want to make the playoffs in 2016 and reprise 2015's run to the World Series, they're gonna have to go through the Phillies. 

Not in the playoffs of course. But in the regular season.

After losing Friday night, the Phillies are six games back of the Mets and 10 games back of a playoff spot. They're not going to the postseason, barring a miracle.

But the Mets still have every intent to compete for a wild-card spot despite injuries all over the place (see point No. 2). They have the second-easiest schedule the rest of the way (Nationals have the easiest) and that is in large part thanks to games remaining against the Braves … and the Phillies.

Including Saturday night's game, the Mets and Phillies have nine games left against each other this season. That's more than enough to affect the Mets' postseason chances. The Mets are just 6-4 against the Phillies so far this year and will need to be much better in the final nine games to make a legitimate run.

But the Phillies can also spoil other teams' postseason chances. They have six games left against the Marlins and four games vs. the Pirates. This doesn't even mention the seven games with the Nationals, who are fighting for homefield advantage in the first round of the playoffs while holding a comfy lead in the NL East. 

2. Laying down the hammer
Matt Harvey is out for the year. Steven Matz is having shoulder issues and is on the disabled list. Jonathon Niese, newly reaquired, was injured four batters into his Tuesday start. Zack Wheeler seems far away from returning from Tommy John surgery. And to top all of it, Jacob deGrom's next start will be skipped to work on mechanical issues.

So that leaves Friday's starter, Bartolo Colon, and Syndergaard as the Mets' only experienced starters still on turn in the rotation at the moment. Certainly not how the Mets drew it up.

While this shows the perils of building around pitching, there is still the one shining ray of hope: Syndergaard. The righty flamethrower had his bumps in the road, his non-ace like starts, but for the most part, he's been just as advertised. 

Here's a telling stat: Syndergaard has made 24 starts and only in three has he given up more than three runs. As electric as he was as a 22-year-old rookie last year (3.24 ERA with 166 strikeouts in 24 starts), he's been even more so this year. He's given up more hits in almost the same number of innings, but he's limited home runs and struck out more batters. 

Overall, he has an 11-7 record and a 2.61 ERA. His 5.53 strikeout-to-walk ratio is one of the best marks in baseball and so is his 0.5 home runs per nine innings this year. With a hit-or-miss offense and a struggling middle relief corps, Syndergaard continues to carry the Mets to some modicum of playoff contention.

3. Hellickson re-established
It's been said and written plenty of times, but Hellickson was a clear reclamation project when the Phillies acquired him in the offseason. 

He hadn't pitched to an ERA below 4.52 since 2012, his second full season in baseball. His velocity had fallen after a shoulder injury and the righty based mostly on command was beginning to give up way too many hits. The Tampa Bay Rays, the team that drafted him, dealt him and after one year, the Diamondbacks gave up on him, too.

But in five months with the Phillies, Hellickson has re-established himself as the pitcher he was before. His hits per nine innings have improved back to their 2012 numbers and he has lowered his walk rate while keeping his strikeouts at a career high rate. 

So for the first time in four years, Hellickson is an above-average MLB pitcher. Besides pushing back his last start, he's been consistently pitching every fifth game, one of the few constants for the Phillies' rotation. He's thrown 150 innings, his most since 2013 and he has a month left.

And he's now won four straight decisions. The Phils have won his last six starts and he's given up three or fewer runs in each one. While he is putting himself in line for a big payday in the offseason, the Phillies are certainly happy with the production they've gotten from the 29-year-old righty.

4. Battle of the bullpens
Based on ERA, the Phillies and Mets have had two of the five worst bullpens in baseball since the All-Star break. Yet it's been for very different reasons.

For the Phillies, it's simple: The rotation has been in disarray. Even the guys who've been healthy have simply failed to get far into games. Hellickson is the only starter to complete at least seven innings since the break and even he hasn't done it more than the one time. 

If the starters weren't giving length but were giving the bullpen leads on a consistent basis, Pete Mackanin could go to his top relievers like Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez, who have been pretty steady despite a recent hiccup by Gomez against the Cardinals. But they haven't been given many leads and that has meant mop-up relievers. 

So with the long reliever getting more of the innings, it's easy to see why the Phils' pen has the fifth-worst ERA (4.52) of any MLB bullpen since the break. 

But what's been the Mets' problem to cause a 4.74 ERA, second worst in the second half? It's a little more complicated. First, they've had some of the same issues as the Phillies. Starters either getting hurt (Niese) or struggling and having to exit early leads to same results as the Phillies. 

Yet it's also the back-end relievers struggling. Although he's had a good August, Jeurys Familia has blown three saves since the break after none before the break. Jerry Blevins has been slightly worse since the break. And Hansel Robles, a key cog in middle relief, has a 6.41 ERA in the second half. 

The mop-up relievers have done a lot of the damage, but the Mets' back end isn't as steady as it needs to be. 

5. This and that
• Syndergaard beat the Phillies in April at Citziens Bank Park. He held the Phils to just one run over seven innings and struck out eight batters. He gave up just five hits and two walks.

• Hellickson has made three starts against the Mets this year and is 1-1. He got a win at Citi Field on April 10 by allowing just two runs in 5⅔ innings. He got a no-decision after allowing 10 hits and four runs in 4⅓ 10 days later. Hellickson was beat up in his first start after the break, losing to the Mets in a six-inning start on July 15. He gave up four runs on seven hits and two home runs in that game.

• Ryan Howard is 2 for 7 against Syndergaard with a home run and two walks in nine plate appearances. Odubel Herrera is 1 for 9 with an RBI single. 

• Curtis Granderson has faced Hellickson more than any other Mets batter thanks to their time with the Yankees and Rays, respectively. In 29 plate appearances, he is 5 for 25 with a home run, two walks, seven strikeouts and two hit-by-pitches.

• Yoenis Cespedes is 5 for 12 against Hellickson with two home runs and a walk.