When Odubel Herrera met Big Papi at dinner in Philly, a hitting lesson broke out

When Odubel Herrera met Big Papi at dinner in Philly, a hitting lesson broke out

ST. LOUIS -- Imagine this for a second.
You're a young baseball player and David Ortiz offers you a private hitting lesson.
In the middle of a busy restaurant.
In Center City Philadelphia.
It happened to Odubel Herrera.
"Fogo de Chao en Filadelfia," Herrera said with a laugh over the weekend in St. Louis.
Herrera and his agents, Victor Tranquillo and Leo Gomez, dined at the Chestnut Street restaurant after the Phillies' opening-day game in April 2015. It happened to be Herrera's first major-league game. The Phillies lost, 8-0, to the Boston Red Sox that day. Hours later, Herrera looked across the restaurant and saw one of his boyhood idols, Red Sox slugger Ortiz, having dinner.
The two gave each other a big wave.
After finishing his dinner, Ortiz walked over to the Herrera table, greeted everyone and started talking hitting with the young Phillies rookie.
"He gave me some tips," Herrera said with the assistance of Diego Ettedgui, the Phillies' Spanish-language translator. "He noticed I had a high leg kick similar to his. We talked about that."
Ortiz warned Herrera that pitchers would try to exploit the leg kick and try to upset his timing at the plate. He offered Herrera advice on how to prevent that from happening.
As Ortiz, Big Papi to his friends, spoke to Herrera he got a little animated and started demonstrating the leg kick — right in the middle of Fogo de Chao in Center City.
What a sight that must have been.
With the Phillies getting set to play Monday and Tuesday nights against Red Sox at Fenway Park, Herrera recalled his encounter with Ortiz two years ago. Ortiz retired (with 541 homers) after last season, his 20th in the majors. Meeting Ortiz that night two years ago was a thrill, Herrera said. It brought him back to his youth in Venezuela and stirred memories of watching the Red Sox and New York Yankees on television, back when their rivalry seemed to dominate the sport.
"When I was little, in my town, all you heard about was Yankees-Red Sox, Yankees-Red Sox, Yankees-Red Sox," Herrera said. "It was a huge rivalry and it was always on TV."
Herrera's dad — Odubel Sr. — was a Red Sox fan because he liked that they were the underdog, at least for a while, in that old rivalry. So little Odubel became a Sox fan, too.
"I liked Johnny Damon, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez," Herrera said.
Herrera gushed with excitement as he recalled watching the history-making 2004 American League Championship Series on television.
"When the Red Sox went down three-nothing and came back to win it, that was huge," he said. "It was unbelievable.
"(Curt) Schilling. Wow! It was crazy to see blood on his sock."
Those days of watching the Red Sox-Yankees postseason epics made such an impact on Herrera that he still vividly recalls the first time he stepped foot in Fenway Park and calls it one of his greatest baseball thrills. It was in September 2015, his rookie season.
"I remember looking around, seeing the field and all the fans," he said. "When my time came and I stepped foot in Fenway Park — that's when it hit me. I was like, 'Wow, I'm a big-leaguer. Now I know that I've made it.' "
Herrera quietly reflected on the moment.
"I'm getting goosebumps right now talking about it," he said. "It's my favorite park."
Herrera will have to check his emotions at the door when he plays in Fenway Park on Monday night.
He says that won't be a problem.
"I've been a fan of the Red Sox …" he said in Spanish.
"No, no, no," he said, catching himself.
He paused, laughed and spoke in English.
"I was a fan of the Red Sox."

Phillies outfield prospect Carlos Tocci promoted to Triple A


Phillies outfield prospect Carlos Tocci promoted to Triple A

Phillies outfield prospect Carlos Tocci, who it seems like has been in the organization forever, was promoted Thursday from Double A Reading to Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Tocci, who turns 22 on Aug. 23, has been in the Phillies' organization since he was 16 years old. He's taken some pretty big steps forward offensively the last three seasons as he's gained muscle and experience, and this season he's hit a career-best .307/.362/.398 in 474 plate appearances.

Recent promotions to the majors of Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams and Cameron Perkins have created openings in the Lehigh Valley lineup. Tocci will likely play center field, where he's committed just one error in 801⅓ innings this season.

Tocci will likely be added to the Phillies' 40-man roster this winter to prevent another team from plucking him away in December's Rule 5 draft. The Phils may have to make a decision between Tocci and oft-injured Roman Quinn (see story), though there are several other replaceable players on the 40.

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Aaron Nola on track to make some more history


Phillies-Giants 5 things: Aaron Nola on track to make some more history

Phillies (43-75) at Giants (48-74)
10:15 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After a rather pathetic series in San Diego, the Phillies move on to San Francisco for their final non-NL East road series of the season.

The Giants have had an unbelievably disappointing season, getting very little from key pitchers like Johnny Cueto, Matt Moore and Mark Melancon and key hitters like Brandon Crawford and Hunter Pence.

On most nights, the Giants struggle to score. This is shaping up to be another one of them.

1. Nola night
Aaron Nola's starts have become must-watches over the last two months. He's on a historic run of 10 straight starts with at least six innings pitched and two or fewer runs. 

It's the longest streak in Phillies history, and it's a longer streak than the following pitchers have ever had: Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Sandy Koufax, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Warren Spahn, Nolan Ryan, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Max Scherzer, and countless others.

This is a great matchup for Nola. On top of the Giants' offensive futility, AT&T Park is just an extremely difficult place to hit home runs. There have been just 82 homers hit there this season, which is 23 fewer than any other park and 70 fewer than the league average.

Nola (9-7, 3.02) has faced the Giants only once, last June when he was in the midst of a rough summer. Buster Posey, Denard Span, Crawford and Jarrett Parker went a combined 5 for 9 off of him, but Nola is a much different pitcher these days.

2. Outfield help wanted
The Phillies are in a precarious position heading into San Francisco. They don't know whether Odubel Herrera (hamstring) will be available to start this weekend, and Aaron Altherr remains on the DL with a hamstring injury of his own.

AT&T Park is the most difficult outfield to defend in all of baseball. It's 404 feet to left-center field and 421 feet to right-center. A centerfielder must have above-average range to succeed there.

In right field, there's the high brick wall that a rightfielder must learn. If a ball hits high off the wall and caroms past the rightfielder, it's an inside-the-park home run waiting to happen.

The Phillies cannot expect to play Rhys Hoskins in left field and Hyun Soo Kim in right field and get away with it in this series. Look for them to help Nola out tonight by putting a more experienced outfielder like Cameron Perkins in one of the corners, even though his bat is a liability.

3. Shark attack
The Phillies tonight face 6-foot-5 veteran right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who's having an interesting season. Samardzija is 7-12 with a 4.74 ERA, but he also has 160 strikeouts and just 23 walks in 155⅔ innings. Roy Halladay had only one season with a better K/BB ratio.

The issue usually with Samardzija is that he throws a lot of hittable pitches early in counts because he hates falling behind hitters. Two seasons ago, he allowed the most hits, earned runs and home runs in the league. And yet he's still regarded as a very good pitcher because on a pitch-by-pitch basis, he can be tough to solve.

Samardzija, like pretty much any pitcher who goes to San Fran, has been much better at home than on the road. He has a 4.35 ERA at AT&T Park and has allowed 0.79 home runs per nine innings. On the road, he has a 5.05 ERA and has allowed 1.65 home runs per nine.

Samardzija has faced the Phillies 10 times in his career but his numbers (26 runs in 27 innings) are immaterial because no current Phillie has ever faced him.

Samardzija has six different pitches: sinker, slider, four-seam fastball, curveball, cutter and splitter. His sinker and fastball average about 95 mph. A right-handed hitter rarely knows what's coming on the first pitch — Samardzija has thrown four different pitches at least 17 percent of the time on the first pitch.

4. Nothing from the corners
Any major-league team needs offense from first base and third base. That has been true as long as this game has been around. They're both premium offensive positions where you typically see a power hitter.

The Phillies have gotten so little this season, especially lately, from their corner infielders. Maikel Franco is hitting .223 and his .276 on-base percentage and is 70th out of 71 National League players. (Only Brandon Crawford is worse.)

In August, Franco has hit .186 with one home run and zero walks. Franco has 17 home runs, but it seems like everyone in the majors has 17 home runs this season. There are 89 players with more home runs than Franco this year, so the 17 homers are little solace.

Tommy Joseph is hitting .102 in 49 at-bats since Aug. 2. Combined, the two of them have two home runs in their last 190 plate appearances.

5. This and that
• I dug up a depressing stat Wednesday on the Phillies' struggles this season against bad starting pitchers. Clayton Richard, Brandon Finnegan, Martin Perez, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Anderson, J.C. Ramirez, Edinson Volquez, Adam Conley, Tim Adleman, Patrick Corbin and Ricky Nolasco have a 0.93 ERA vs. the Phils this season. They have a collective 5.22 ERA against the rest of baseball.

• The Giants' disastrous season hasn't affected Posey, who is having another dynamic season, hitting .316/.406/.473 with his typically elite defense.

• The Phillies' 6-20 record against the NL West is the worst record by any major-league team against any division this season.

• After sending Nick Pivetta to Triple A after his start Wednesday, the Phillies called up shortstop Pedro Florimon. Florimon, 30, will be available off the Phillies' bench tonight.