LAKELAND, Fla. - It took only five at-bats of Thursday's Grapefruit League game for a ball to fly in the direction of Odubel Herrera.
Herrera ranged backward and to his left to haul in a deep fly ball off the bat of Detroit's Tyler Collins. The 23-year-old Venezuelan stuck out his glove but whiffed, turning a would-be out into a ground-rule double.
A natural second baseman, Herrera is still adjusting to left field, a position he played Thursday for the first time this spring. His previous experience there spanned only 11 double-A games and in workouts. But if his bat and speed on the base paths continue to play as they have this spring, the Phillies will find a place for the Rule 5 draft pick.
"He just shows his athletic ability just about every day he plays in some form or another," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He continues to impress."
Herrera's performance in the Phillies' 6-5 win was far from perfect. After smacking a first-pitch double to left-center field off Justin Verlander in the first inning, he was picked off second base by the former Cy Young Award winner. Then came the botched fly ball in the outfield, which Herrera said he lost in the sun.
But at the plate, hitting out of the two-hole behind Ben Revere, Herrera tallied two more hits to bring his Grapefruit League average to .333. He beat out what should have been a groundout to first base and later scored from second when Detroit first baseman Jordan Lennerton bobbled a Ryan Howard ground ball.
Two innings later, he beat out a ground ball bobbled by Tigers second baseman Javier Betancourt. Herrera's seven hits lead the Phillies this spring.
"He could be a very versatile guy," Sandberg said. "The more positions he learns, whether it's left field, whether it's a little bit of right field, second base, center field, he could be very versatile. If he gets a hot bat, his legs really play on the bases and offensively. He really tends to bring a spark to the offense often."
Before Thursday's foray into left field, the Phillies played Herrera in center field, where he spent his winter playing in his native Venezuela, and second base. He's still a work in progress in left field, though he said through a translator he felt comfortable the rest of the day after the error.
Grady Sizemore and Darin Ruf are also vying for playing time in left field. Sandberg could platoon them in the regular season and mix in Herrera when he sees fit.
But Herrera will surely get more reps in left field through the final 20 games of the Phillies' Grapefruit League schedule. "The more and more I play the more comfortable I get," he said. He will continue to work on his defense with coach Juan Samuel.
"He's a real good practice player and he really seems to put things into play, a very coachable guy," Sandberg said. "So I think it'll just be some practice sessions and some games. I wouldn't put a number of games [on how much to play him in left field], but his speed and some of his baseball awareness really kicks in almost no matter where I put him."