CLEARWATER, Fla. — Cesar Hernandez hobbled out of the batter’s box last July, grimaced, and limped back to the plate. He had fouled a pitch directly on top of his right cleat, breaking a bone in his foot, and his season would immediately change.
He shook his red cleat, paused for just a few seconds, and finished his at-bat. Hernandez went on to play the rest of the season with a broken foot. His numbers declined, but Hernandez said he wanted to do what he could to help the Phillies try for the postseason.
“I’m not going to lie,” Hernandez said. “It was tough playing with a broken foot.”
That foot healed this offseason with rest after it took its toll on Hernandez’s final three months. When Hernandez broke the foot July 6 in Pittsburgh, his on-base percentage was .379 and nearly identical to the mark he had posted the previous two seasons. The Phillies were receiving the production they expected from their leadoff hitter.
But with his foot broken. Hernandez posted just a .329 on-base percentage and batted .236 over the season’s final three months. It was a struggle.
“It affected me in every single way,” Hernandez said. “I couldn’t really stand hard on that foot. If I was batting lefty, it was the foot that I had in front. If I was batting righty, that’s where I put all my weight. I just wanted to keep playing because we were in first place.”
Hernandez begins spring training entrenched as the second baseman and is the favorite to bat leadoff when manager Gabe Kapler posts his lineup on opening day. He will be hitting atop a lineup that was infused this winter with the additions of Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, and Jean Segura. Bryce Harper or Manny Machado could soon be on the way. The leadoff hitter will have more talent behind him.
“It’s super cliche, but a rising tide lifts all ships,” Kapler said. “When you have a lineup that works together, scores a lot of runs, and last year what we saw when our lineup was working together, was Cesar was a major catalyst for that movement.
"Maybe this year, he plays more of a supporting role because everyone else is reaching base and we’re scoring runs. That’s not to say he can’t be the catalyst. He was the catalyst for a good portion of last year. But the better our team performs as a unit, as a cohesive collection, the better off every individual is.”
Kapler texted Hernandez the night before games last season to see if he wanted a day off, and Hernandez urged the manager to keep him in the lineup. The Phillies monitored Hernandez’s broken foot with a weekly X-ray and determined that the fracture could not worsen if Hernandez played through it.
He arrived at spring training with a healed foot, and the Phillies will remember the Hernandez of last season’s first three months as they chart out the season.
“Even when his foot was a mess and even when his mechanics, as a result of his foot being hurt, weren’t where he wanted them to be, he still had the toughness and never wanted to come out of games,” Kapler said. “Did I learn how tough he was? I absolutely did.”
Sean Rodriguez, in camp on a minor-league deal, was evaluated Monday for knee discomfort. Rodriguez has a chance to make the team as a utility player. ... Andrew Knapp, Kapler said, is in the driver’s seat to be the team’s backup to catcher J.T. Realmuto. Knapp’s biggest competition is non-roster catcher Drew Butera.