Herrera seems closer to becoming Phillies' regular centerfielder
Odubel Herrera has little experience playing in centerfield, but could be the Phillies' starter, with Ben Rever moving to left.
CLEARWATER, Fla. - On one side, you had Houston's Jonathan Villar, a former Phillies prospect and longtime shortstop.
The 23-year-old started in centerfield for the Astros. Before this spring, Villar hadn't played centerfield since 2008 - for one game - when he was a 17-year-old in the Phillies organization, 2 years before moving on to Houston in the Roy Oswalt trade.
Villar made an athletic diving catch to rob Freddy Galvis of an extra-base hit in the first inning of yesterday's game, and, later, avoided a near-disastrous collision with rightfielder Robbie Grossman to track down another ball in the gap.
On the Phillies' side was Odubel Herrera, the Rule 5 pick left unprotected by the Texas Rangers this spring in part because he does not have a natural position on the field. Herrera has played only 13 of his 559 minor league games in the outfield.
Unlike Villar, he was not able to catch up to a ball Alex Presley ripped to deep center in the sixth inning.
It marked the fourth straight game that Herrera started with Ben Revere, but with Revere, the longtime centerfielder, positioned in left and Herrera in center. It's beginning to feel like the way manager Ryne Sandberg will go when the season begins a week from Monday.
"I'll continue to look at different options and different things," Sandberg said following a 7-1 loss to the Astros. "But Ben is getting some games played under his belt in leftfield, in case that's the way I'd like to go. And Herrera continues to be in center field, along with some other options that I have with lineups going forward. But right now, for Ben getting some work out there, that's the idea there."
Herrera's adjustment to a new position notwithstanding, it's worth wondering whether the Herrera-Revere alignment will become the everyday play. Both are single-happy, lefthanded hitters in a Phillies lineup that lacks both righthanded regulars (only Carlos Ruiz) and the presence of much pop.
Yesterday, regular rightfielder Domonic Brown, also a lefthanded hitter, was sidelined for the sixth straight day with Achilles' soreness (he did hit for the first time in 6 days). Veteran Grady Sizemore has been getting work in minor league games in an attempt to get more at-bats in a short amount of time. And Darin Ruf, who hit his second home run of the spring Tuesday, came off the bench to play first base in the seventh inning.
Is Sandberg's outfield likely to become a more fluid situation in 2 weeks?
"I think there could be some options there and some matchups with different pitchers, some righthanded bats, some lefthanded bats, the versatile guys that are in the mix," Sandberg said. "I'd throw [Brian] Bogusevic, [Jeff] Francoeur and [Jordan] Danks in the mix there, as well. Those guys will continue to get some looks, too."
Neither Bogusevic nor Francoeur, non-roster players, can play centerfield. Sizemore, who is hitting .148 (4-for-27) this spring and is a very odd fit on the roster anyway, apart from the 1-year, $2 million contract the Phillies signed him to in October, is also not an option in center.
As for the regular starting three in the outfield, it's difficult to see Ruf not becoming a more regular option, splitting time with Revere and Herrera.
Herrera is hitting .348 this spring, but 16 of his 17 hits are singles. When he won the Texas League batting title last summer, Herrera collected singles in 96 of his 118 hits.
Revere, meanwhile, had 22 extra-base hits in 151 games last season; his .316 slugging percentage ranked 126th out of 146 major league hitters.
Cameron Rupp continued his quietly productive spring with a double in three at-bats.
Rupp is hitting .391 (9-for-23) this spring, with a career-high five doubles in 11 games. Rupp is entering shoo-in territory to win the backup catching job behind starter Carlos Ruiz.
"He's making contact," Sandberg said. "He's shortened his stroke a little bit. And he's strong. It's resulting in some extra-base hits . . . He's getting some pitches to hit, not missing them. He's driven the ball to all fields and he has some pop in his bat."
Rupp, 26, has hit .205 in 22 big-league games in the last two seasons. He batted .165 with a .555 OPS in 59 games at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season.
Rene Garcia and Koyie Hill are the only other two catchers in camp.
Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt will have an expanded role in the broadcast booth. Comcast SportsNet announced that Schmidt will work as an analyst for both Saturday and Sunday home games at Citizens Bank Park this season. Schmidt joined the broadcast team for Sunday home games last season. His new workload will increase from 13 to 26 games . . . Righthander Chad Billingsley is scheduled to pitch in a minor league game at the Carpenter Complex today, his second game in the last week. Billingsley has been limited to two big-league games since 2013 after undergoing two elbow surgeries . . . Cole Hamels will make his second-to-last start before Opening Day in Dunedin today against the Toronto Blue Jays.