As Gabe Kapler explained it, Cesar Hernandez’s absence from the Phillies’ lineup Monday night is “in response” to the veteran second baseman’s lack of hustle on a single in the sixth inning Sunday in Miami.
To Hernandez, though, it's merely "a day off."
What we have here, then, is a message that seems to have gotten muddled in translation. But as the Phillies enter the stretch run in the wild-card race, Kapler is finally taking action on players who don’t run hard out of the batter’s box, a recurring issue this season, even calling a five-minute team meeting Monday to emphasize the importance of hustling, according to multiple sources.
“It’s not a punishment. It’s a response,” Kapler said. “How old is Cesar Hernandez? 28 or 29? The word ‘punishment’ is important here. This is absolutely in response to the incident [Sunday] where he did not get to second base on a ball that was clearly a double.”
To recap: Hernandez gazed at a ball that he hit down the right-field line Sunday because he believed it was a home run. Instead, it hit off the right-field fence and went for a long single. Rhys Hoskins followed with a two-run homer.
Hernandez got a lecture in the dugout from veteran outfielder Jay Bruce and hitting coach Charlie Manuel, among others. Kapler, who has been criticized for not benching shortstop Jean Segura and Hernandez after similar incidents earlier this season, labeled the play “totally unacceptable” but didn’t remove Hernandez from the game in part because the Phillies’ bench is limited.
Upon further reflection, Kapler said he decided by the time he arrived at Citizens Bank Park on Monday to bench Hernandez. He said he spoke with Hernandez about the situation, though he declined to elaborate.
"He understood," Kapler said. "I'll leave it at that."
But Hernandez, speaking through a team translator, said Kapler didn't reference Sunday's incident in relaying that he wouldn't be in the lineup for the series opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“He said he was just giving me a day off,” Hernandez said. “Nothing to do with [Sunday].”
Kapler clarified later that the lineup decision is “absolutely in response” to Sunday’s incident and that he would make sure that Hernandez understood.
“Little things really matter right now,” Kapler said during a pregame session with reporters, adding that he felt “personally passionate about” putting Hernandez on the bench. “I felt that it was appropriate to show that that’s really meaningful to all of us as a group in the clubhouse. I thought the timing was right to let our club know how important every inch is right now.”
Asked why he felt compelled to take action against Hernandez when he hasn’t disciplined other players who haven’t hustled, Kapler said the Phillies “can’t leave a single inch out there right now.”
“Why it’s so critical to be on second base there is we immediately manage the game a little bit differently,” Kapler said. “I considered things like having Cesar steal second base to get into scoring position, and on behalf of our club, I don’t ever want to be forcing the action. There’s a little bit of a ripple effect that happens when we don’t get to second base when we need to get to second base. That came through loud and clear for me and for our dugout yesterday.
"I want to look back at the end of September and say we won or we lost based on the talent in that room and not because we don’t get to second base on a really important play.”
Hernandez was contrite after Sunday's game, a sentiment that he seemed to reiterate Monday.