When manager Joe Girardi made out his lineup card Thursday morning for the Phillies’ series finale against the Miami Marlins, he did so with winning in mind.
You might have looked at the lineup and thought otherwise because it included only two players from the opening-day starting nine and four other guys who weren’t even on the opening-day roster.
The biggest surprise of all was the guy Girardi placed in the cleanup spot.
» READ MORE: Odúbel Herrera rallies Phillies past Marlins, 3-2
Did you think a month ago that you’d see Odubel Herrera hitting fourth for the Phillies at any point this season?
“Probably not,” Girardi said after Herrera played a huge role in the Phillies’ 3-2 win over the Marlins at loanDepot Park. “I didn’t know where he was going to be because he hadn’t played in almost a year and three-quarters. I think a lot of us were wondering where he was going to be.”
When the season started, Herrera was sitting fourth on the center-field depth chart, which, in retrospect, was a mistake. Even when he officially got his second chance to take over the center-field job late last month, his presence at Citizens Bank Park wasn’t welcome by many because of his tarnished past. Optimism was not exactly flowing about his ability to become the Phillies’ center-field solution either.
As recently as May 2, Herrera, with one hit in his first 19 at-bats, was considered the player most Phillies fans wanted to see playing somewhere else and, trust me, there was competition for that title.
But when El Torito arrived for work Thursday, there was his name not only in the lineup but also in the cleanup spot for only the second time in his career.
“I didn’t think nothing about it -- just that I’m the four-hole hitter and let’s do my job,” Herrera said.
His job right now entails more than just being the guy who finally gave the Phillies stability in center field. He also needs to be a major contributor on a team that is missing Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius.
That’s exactly what he was during the Phillies’ tense victory that gave them a four-game split of their series against the pesky Marlins. The Phillies scored three runs and he scored two of them. The Phillies had six hits and he had two of them, including a leadoff triple against Marlins closer Yimi Garcia in the top of the ninth inning.
Three batters later, he scored the game-winning run on a fielder’s choice grounder by Ronald Torreyes.
“It’s nice to see,” Girardi said. “He’s having a chance to rewrite his story a little bit to try to change people’s view of him and to try to show his teammates how he has changed and the fans and the organization … and he is playing really well.”
His manager and teammates are sold and not just because Herrera has hit .324 with a .402 on-base percentage and a .921 OPS in his last 22 games. The mental lapses that used to frustrate those who watched him have been almost non-existent.
“No, I have not seen that,” Girardi said. “And I like the emotion he plays with, too. Like the other day he hit a double down the left-field line and he kind of jumped. He didn’t think it was a home run, but he was excited and I was like, ‘Run Odubel run.’ But I like the excitement and the joy with which he plays the game.”
Rhys Hoskins has seen Herrera’s hot streaks as a hitter before, but it’s another part of the center fielder’s game that has impressed him most so far this season.
“I think really what has stood out, especially recently, is the defense,” Hoskins said. “He has been having pretty good consistent at-bats for the last couple of weeks here with some hard contact and he’s taking his walks and getting on base, but he’s really playing the heck out of center field. Obviously the dynamic play [Wednesday] night, but he is getting to some little flare jobs in the outfield and cutting balls off in the gaps and hitting the cutoff man like today.”
Hoskins was that cutoff man in the bottom fifth inning on a sacrifice fly by Jesus Aguilar that Herrera caught in center field. Because he hit Hoskins with his throw, the first baseman was able to throw to third base for a crucial inning-ending double play.
“I think there is a little more focus there,” Hoskins said. “I know he’s happy to be back playing ball again and you can really see it.”
A day earlier, Larry Bowa and Charlie Manuel raved about the way Herrera was playing during a Zoom call with a reporter. You could tell they were happy for him. Girardi said those two were both in Herrera’s corner and the manager’s ear when his comeback attempt started in spring training.
“Those two have always liked him and made little tips to us about him,” Girardi said. “They have definitely been in our ear and I’m glad because obviously they have a lot more history with certain players than I do or even some of my coaches do. So I welcome that.”
Herrera was a happy man Thursday after helping the Phillies beat a team that has frustrated them so often the last two seasons, but he’s fully aware that he should not take anything for granted.
“I have to keep going,” he said. “I have to keep doing my stuff and help the team win. I have to keep playing hard and having fun.”
It was a mature view of his situation from a guy who went from No. 4 on the Phillies’ center-field depth chart to No. 4 in their batting order in a little more than a month.