CLEARWATER, Fla. - Cesar Hernandez is out of minor-league options, meaning this is a make-or-break spring for the 24-year-old competing for a Phillies bench spot.

With Chase Utley still working his way back from a right- ankle sprain, Hernandez has gotten extra playing time at second base through the first nine games of Grapefruit League play. Manager Ryne Sandberg likes Hernandez's ability to switch-hit as well as his range and defense in the field.

"It is a big spring for him," Sandberg said. "The way that he's playing, he's making a good case to be a part of the plan and a part of the puzzle.

"With Chase at second base and the possibilities of some days off and things like that, we're going to need somebody for second base, and Cesar's one of those candidates."

Sandberg spoke moments after a 3-2 Phillies win against the Pittsburgh Pirates in which Hernandez scored the winning run. The Venezuelan reached on a double to left-center field, the Phillies' only recorded extra-base hit over the last two games.

Hernandez, who batted second Wednesday, worked on defense in the offseason with longtime major-leaguer Cesar Izturis. He hit .264 in 235 major-league at-bats over the last two seasons.

"I know this is my last time here to try to make this roster," he said through an interpreter. "I want to be on the 25-man trip going north."

Extra bases

Cody Asche is slated to return to the lineup Thursday against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland. The third baseman hasn't played since Monday, when he was plunked by a pitch on his right triceps. . . . Righthanders Jerome Williams, David Buchanan, Kevin Slowey, Luis Garcia, and Hector Neris are scheduled to pitch Thursday for the Phillies. Former Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander is slated to start for the Tigers.

- Jake Kaplan