Odubel Herrera continues tear as Phillies notch 2-game sweep of Braves

Odubel Herrera continues tear as Phillies notch 2-game sweep of Braves

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ATLANTA – Two months ago, it may have seemed far-fetched to envision Phillies centerfielder Odubel Herrera as a potential batting champion. Now it’s not such an incredible idea — especially if he can keep playing the Braves. 

Herrera had a pair of triples in his 2-for-4 night on Wednesday to help generate the little bit of offense needed to support the pitching of starter Jerad Eickhoff and the bullpen in the Phillies’ 3-2 win (see Instant Replay). He became the second Philadelphia player to have two triples in a game this season and pushed his hitting streak to 12 games.

“Odubel is playing like his hair is on fire,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. 

He continued to feast on Atlanta pitching. In 13 games against the Braves this season, Herrera is hitting .434 (23 for 53). He is hitting .500 (12 for 24) at SunTrust Park and now has a 16-game hitting streak against the Braves.

Herrera hit .354 (11 for 31) with two triples, a homer and three RBIs in the eight-game road trip the Phillies just completed. 

“We’ve seen it before,” Mackanin said. “He hits the ball very well here. The last time we were in town, he tore it up. He’s over .280 now. He’s fun to watch.”

In the first inning on Wednesday night, Herrera ripped a liner into the right-field corner and never even thought about stopping at second base. He was stranded at third when Maikel Franco popped up to end the inning. 

His second triple came in the third inning. He slapped the ball to the gap to score Freddy Galvis with the first run. Herrera was celebrating at third base before he even realized the relay throw had bounced into the stands. That allowed him to score the second run.

“He’s been awesome,” said starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff, the beneficiary of the run support. “Every at-bat, whether the count is 3-0 or 0-2, he’s putting a good swing on something and making good contact.”

In the first game of the series, Herrera golfed a shot above his shoes for a home run. 

“He’s always doing stuff like that,” Eickhoff said. “We’re always like, ‘How did he do that?”

Herrera suffered through a dreadful May. He hit only .183 that month and saw his batting average dip all the way to .217 on May 28 after an 0-for-4 effort against the Reds.
 
Since June 1, Herrera ranks among the league leaders in doubles (22), hits (76) and extra-base hits (34). He leads the club with 118 hits and has already set career highs in doubles (34) and extra-base hits (49). 

Now Herrera has lifted his average all the way to .284 – and trending the right way. 

“These guys are going to hit what they’re supposed to hit,” Mackanin said. “He’s a .290 hitter and if he gains a little more discipline at the plate, he’s a potential batting champion. He’s got tremendous hand-eye coordination and there’s no reason he can’t improve.”

Bruce Bochy on Hector Neris: 'He's an idiot'

Bruce Bochy on Hector Neris: 'He's an idiot'

The Giants don't seem to be too fond of Hector Neris.

The Phillies on Sunday were clinging to a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning when Hector Neris entered the game. The reliever inherited runners on first and second with two outs and Giants All-Star catcher Buster Posey at the plate.

On a first-pitch fastball, Neris plunked Posey, who called out the Phillies' closer afterward.

"I'm pretty certain he hit me on purpose and it's just a shame because I wanted to compete in that at-bat," Posey said. "I guess he didn't feel he could get me out.
 
"It was a big spot. It would have been fun to hit."

In that situation, purposely hitting a batter makes little sense, as it advances the potential game-tying run into scoring position and puts the go-ahead run on base. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged just that, while Neris denied any intention behind the hit by pitch. Despite the bases-loaded jam, Neris struck out Pablo Sandoval to escape before closing out the 5-2 win with a scoreless ninth inning.

Things didn't end there, though.

A day later, Giants manager Bruce Bochy had something to say about Neris.

"It wasn't just a little inside. The same guy … I'll say it, he's an idiot," Bochy said Monday before the Giants' series opener against the Brewers. "He showed it in Philadelphia when he was having words with (Eduardo) Nunez. I think that caused the radar to be up a little bit on what happened there."

The incident with Nunez in which Bochy refers to apparently happened during the Phillies' 9-7 win over the Giants on June 4 at Citizens Bank Park. According to CSNBayArea.com's Alex Pavlovic, Neris appeared to blow a kiss at Nunez after a ninth-inning strikeout. Following a game-ending punchout of Brandon Belt, it looks like Neris glances over at the Giants' dugout before catcher Cameron Rupp stops him.

None of the above explains why Neris would feel any intent to hit Posey in such a tight spot more than 2½ months later.

"You never know for sure, but it certainly didn't look good, did it?" Bochy said.

"It wasn't a glancing blow — it was at his ribs, on the backside of the ribs. So, no, I'm not surprised [Posey was upset]. I would have been upset, too.

"Anyway, that's behind us."

For now. 

While the Phillies and Giants don't play again this season, baseball players sure have great memories. 

Future Phillies Report: J.P. Crawford makes more sense at 3B than Scott Kingery

Future Phillies Report: J.P. Crawford makes more sense at 3B than Scott Kingery

The Future Phillies Report takes on a different look as September approaches. So many of the key players we've focused on this season — Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, Nick Pivetta, Jesen Therrien — are now firmly entrenched with the big-league club.

At Triple A, Lehigh Valley's lineup has taken some hits as the aforementioned position players have been promoted, which was a reason Carlos Tocci was promoted to the IronPigs last week.

Sunday saw another interesting development with J.P. Crawford making his first start in the Phillies' organization at a defensive position other than shortstop (see story). We've explored this idea in recent weeks given the steps forward Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis have taken and the continued struggles of Maikel Franco.

So we'll start with the top prospect left at Triple A.

SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
It's not how you start, it's how you finish, right? Well, Crawford is finishing this season strong.

Since July 1, Crawford has hit .306/.397/.595 with nine doubles, four triples, 11 homers, 25 walks and 37 strikeouts in 199 plate appearances.

It's gotten his season numbers back to a respectable place — Crawford is hitting .246/.352/.408 for an OPS 72 points higher than he had last season. Crawford had another multi-hit game Sunday, his seventh in his last 15 games. He's also been more sound in the field, committing just one error in his last 23 games. 

It makes a lot of sense to try Crawford out at third base at Triple A over the next few weeks and then potentially see what he's got at the hot corner in the majors in September. Franco just continues to show little improvement at the plate — and it's not as if we're looking merely at results, it's Franco's approach too. Franco is down to .224 with a .277 OBP on the season, and in only one month this season has Franco hit higher than .224 or had an OBP higher than .284.

Crawford would make more sense than Scott Kingery as a third baseman (at least while Galvis is still around) since Kingery's defense at second base is above average. Kingery has one error in his last 43 games.

Hernandez remains an offseason trade candidate, one who could probably fetch the Phillies a starting pitcher who can help.

2B Scott Kingery (AAA)
Kingery is 48 games into his stay at Triple A and is hitting .315/.347/.502.

He hit .313/.379/.608 with Double A Reading.

He's done it all — hit for power, hit for average, play great defense and run the bases well. In total, Kingery has 26 doubles, eight triples, 26 homers, 63 RBIs, 98 runs and 27 steals in 117 games this season.

This feels like a repeat of the Rhys Hoskins situation — the minor-leaguer is ready for the majors, just has no everyday spot.

For Kingery, the best avenues to everyday playing time early next season are either a trade of Hernandez, a trade of Franco or an injury to one of them. Hernandez should have trade value this winter as a leadoff hitter with on-base skills, speed and improving defense. With Franco, the Phillies would be selling low unless they deem that this is just who he is.

RHP Tom Eshelman (AAA)
After allowing eight runs in his return from the DL on Aug. 4, Eshelman has twirled two gems, allowing just one run and 11 baserunners in 13 innings.

Overall this season, Eshelman is 11-3 with a 2.70 ERA in 20 starts (five with Reading, 15 with Lehigh Valley). His trademark control has never been better — Eshelman has walked just 17 batters in 130 innings this season.

The Phillies face some tough starting pitching decisions this winter. Do they add a few veterans to improve the team and make Philly a more worthwhile destination for that star-studded 2018 free-agent class? Do they give Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin and Jake Thompson another half-season to stick in the rotation? None of those three has answered doubts or pushed his way into the Phillies' future plans yet.

Whatever the Phils do, Eshelman isn't far from the majors or far down the organizational depth chart.

Another reason you'll likely see Eshelman early in 2018 is that the Phillies are going to want to see some fruits of the Ken Giles trade. Velasquez hasn't panned out as a starting pitcher so far, nor has Mark Appel, and a trade that looked smart and promising at the time has been a win for the Astros and a loss for the Phillies two seasons later.

OF Dylan Cozens (AAA)
Perhaps if Cozens was hitting, he would have gotten the call to join the Phillies for a few days on the West Coast with Odubel Herrera injured. Instead, the Phillies chose to add Pedro Florimon to the 40-man roster last week rather than call up Cozens or Brock Stassi.

Cozens has not had a good year in his first taste of Triple A. After hitting .276/.350/.591 with 40 homers at Double A last season, he's hit .214/.302/.411 with 23 homers this season. He's on pace to strike out even more than he did last season, when he whiffed 186 times. He's already at 171 this season.

The guy is just in an awful slump. Since July 20, Cozens is 10 for 91 (.110) with 45 strikeouts and two extra-base hits. Add in some shaky defense and you get a player who needs more seasoning, or could maybe be used as a trade chip with the Phillies' outfield well set up for 2018 with Herrera, Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams.

RHP Sixto Sanchez (High A Clearwater)
Sanchez, the Phillies' top pitching prospect, has made three starts with Clearwater since being promoted at the end of July and each has been better than the last.

• 6 innings, 10 hits (career high), 5 runs (career high), 0 walks, 3 strikeouts

• 6 innings, 6 hits, 3 runs, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts

• 6 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 0 walks, 6 strikeouts (season-high 84 pitches)

It's interesting that with Sanchez's blazing fastball and above-average command, his strikeout total isn't very high. He's whiffed 77 batters in 85⅓ innings, a respectable rate of 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings, but a rate lower than you typically see from a pitcher who throws as hard as he does. Some of that is because he locates well early in counts and gets soft contact. Can't argue with efficiency.

Sanchez has pitched 85⅓ innings this season and is starting once a week at this point. The Phillies will be cautious with him and likely cap him right around 100 to 110 innings.

CF Mickey Moniak (Class A Lakewood)
Moniak's numbers continue to slide as he's enduring a brutal month of August. He's 8 for 59 (.136) this month and hasn't walked nearly enough to offset the offensive difficulties.

Moniak this season has hit .241/.292/.343 with an extra-base hit every 15.5 plate appearances. He has 27 walks and 98 strikeouts. 

Moniak, the No. 1 overall pick in 2016, was recently joined at Lakewood by Adam Haseley, the Phillies' first-round pick in June. Haseley has been playing left field and batting a spot ahead of Moniak in the batting order. 

Keep in mind with both of these guys that this is by far the most baseball they've ever played in a calendar year so it's not surprising they're fading as the summer wears on. Moniak is one year removed from a high school schedule, while Haseley has already played 104 games in 2017 between the University of Virginia and the Phillies' system. With the Cavaliers, the most games he played in a season was 68.

RHP Seranthony Dominguez (High A Clearwater)
Dominguez had a 2.02 ERA in his first seven starts this season before experiencing shoulder soreness that kept him out two months. Since returning to Clearwater, he's allowed 12 runs, 24 hits and 14 walks in 19 innings.

Still, Dominguez has put himself on the map this season as an intriguing, 22-year-old pitching prospect with a high strikeout rate (74 K's in 60 innings).

LHP McKenzie Mills (High A Clearwater)
The Phillies' return in the Howie Kendrick trade, Mills has made three starts for Clearwater. The first two were very good — he followed five innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts and three runs over six innings — but he was shelled his last time out, allowing 11 hits and four runs in 4⅔ innings.

Mills' opponents have hit .356 over his last two starts, but he's been missing bats at a high rate (16 percent). Overall this season, he has a solid whiff rate of 14 percent; the league average is around 10 percent.

Mills' control continues to be outstanding. He hasn't walked a batter in four starts. Overall this season, he has 134 K's and 22 walks in 120⅓ innings.

Mills could potentially factor into the Phillies' pitching plans in a few years the way Nick Pivetta has this season, but the Nationals are much happier so far with how this trade turned out. Jonathan Papelbon was a disaster in Washington, but Kendrick's bat has kept the Nats afloat through a bunch of injuries lately.

LHP Nick Fanti (Class A Lakewood)
Another lefty with a sparkling K/BB ratio, Fanti is 7-2 with a 2.65 ERA, 108 strikeouts and 22 walks in 108⅔ innings this season. That includes his no-hitter on July 17 and his 8⅔ innings of no-hit ball on May 6. 

It's not like Fanti has had only a few great outings, either — he's allowed zero or one earned run(s) in 12 of 19 starts this season. Not bad for a 31st-round pick.

Fanti would probably be at Clearwater already if the Threshers' rotation wasn't so crowded with Sanchez, Dominguez, Mills, JoJo Romero and Ranger Suarez.

LHP JoJo Romero (High A Clearwater)
The 20-year-old has already moved pretty fast through the Phillies' system and if he keeps up his current pace, he'll likely be at Reading early in 2018.

Romero, the Phils' fourth-round pick in 2016, has adjusted seamlessly to High A. In seven starts with Clearwater, he's 3-2 with a 2.45 ERA, 38 strikeouts and 12 walks in 40⅓ innings. Those numbers are pretty close to what he was doing at Lakewood.

With a good sinker, Romero has gotten a lot of quick outs this season, which has enabled him to go deeper into games than some of his counterparts. Since arriving at Clearwater, he's held his opponent to 1, 0, 2, 0, 1 and 3 runs. In his lone poor outing, he gave up seven runs (five earned) on 12 hits in four innings.