In 1983, at age 35, future Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk went into Memorial Day weekend batting .168 with a .560 OPS through 41 games for the Chicago White Sox.
“Everybody was saying, ‘He’s through, he’s through, he’s through.’ Well, I think he finished second in the league in MVP voting that year,” recalled Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, then a young executive with the White Sox. (Fisk was third in the MVP voting.) “So I’ve learned throughout the years to not jump to conclusions too quickly.”
That brings us to the Phillies and Andrew McCutchen.
McCutchen began Tuesday night on the bench, the second game in a row in which he didn’t occupy his usual left-field position. Manager Joe Girardi said he planned to give McCutchen back-to-back days off in St. Louis to “hit the reset button.” He’s scheduled to be in the lineup Wednesday, weather permitting.
But 22 games into the season, McCutchen is batting .154 with a .531 OPS. He has two extra-base hits and 18 strikeouts in 80 plate appearances. Outside the organization, at least, some are wondering if the 34-year-old leadoff hitter -- a five-time All-Star and former National League MVP -- is through.
Girardi is choosing to emphasize that it’s early. Less than 15% of the schedule has been exhausted. He also is accentuating a positive. McCutchen has drawn 14 walks and reached base at a .328 clip against right-handed pitchers.
For now, Girardi said he isn’t considering having McCutchen split time in left field with Brad Miller, who started the last two games.
But Girardi also knows the Phillies must get more from their leadoff hitter. Center field always had the potential to be a problem spot. But the anemic offense at that position is amplified when Phillies left fielders have a .596 OPS, 13th in the NL and 23rd in the majors entering Tuesday.
The trick is figuring out whether McCutchen is merely having a bad April or in the midst of a post-prime decline that was perhaps hastened by major knee surgery two years ago. For every Fisk or David Ortiz in 2010, there have been other stars for whom a slow start portends a deeper problem.
“Whenever you have a track record of Andrew McCutchen’s, you truly believe it’s going to turn around just because he’s done it so many times,” Girardi said. “I do believe that his at-bats have been better. I think he’s hitting the ball harder recently. And I believe that he’s going to come out of it.”
Girardi said McCutchen was “respectful” of the decision to sit out two games against the Cardinals even though he preferred to play through his slump.
And for those who are counting out McCutchen, Dombrowski said there’s a risk in looking foolish.
“Because I’ve also seen him turn around a 100-mph fastball this year,” Dombrowski said. “I’ve seen exit velocities and all that that have been pretty good. He’s been scuffling so far early in the year, but I don’t think you pass judgments on that. I think it’s a while until you get to that point.”
One day after getting called up from the alternate training site, center fielder Odúbel Herrera said he and his girlfriend continue to receive counseling via Zoom. Herrera was arrested in May 2019 on assault charges in Atlantic City. His girlfriend declined to press charges, but he served an 85-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy.
Herrera declined to share what he has learned in counseling. But he said through a translator that the sessions have “given me a sense of having way more responsibility, way more patience, and how to be a better man.”
Reliever Archie Bradley, sidelined since April 11 with a strained oblique muscle in his left side, is long-tossing from 120 feet but hasn’t progressed to throwing off a mound. ... Second baseman Jean Segura has not yet tested his strained right quadriceps by running at full speed. It’s too soon, then, for the Phillies to determine if he will be ready to come off the injured list when he’s eligible Saturday. ... Even though the New York Mets are using a four-man rotation for the moment, it appears the Phillies will miss Jacob deGrom in this weekend’s three-game series at Citizens Bank Park. How’s that for luck? ... Vince Velasquez will start again Wednesday night in place of Matt Moore, who spent last week away from the team in COVID protocol. Velasquez will be opposed by Cardinals right-hander Jose Oviedo.