When Pete Mackanin devised his 45th lineup in 52 games, he batted Cesar Hernandez eighth, and the message Tuesday was implied. Then, to leave no doubt, the Phillies manager said what he was thinking about his second baseman.
"I expect more out of him," Mackanin said.
The Phillies have spent a significant amount of time evaluating Hernandez, a 26-year-old infielder who was 16 when he signed with the Phillies. Hernandez does not hit for power, which means he must hit for average to justify a starting spot. The Venezuelan infielder entered Tuesday hitting .255 with a .616 OPS. He tripled in the third inning to drive in a run.
Hernandez's counterpart and countryman, shortstop Freddy Galvis, is the source of constant praise from Mackanin. J.P. Crawford, one of the game's top prospects, will soon be in the majors - and likely at shortstop for the Phillies.
Hernandez's chance to be an everyday player is dwindling. The Phillies will pick Galvis or Hernandez to be Crawford's initial double-play partner.
"That's basically what it boils down to," Mackanin said. "I've even talked to them about that: 'It's an important year for both of you because there are people who want to be in the big leagues that are in the minor leagues and want to take your job.' That being said, you have to approach it that way. You can't let down. You have to stay focused and work hard."
The Phillies coaches have voiced their frustration this season about Hernandez's mistakes on the bases and in the field. It could be that Hernandez has a future in the majors as a bench player, but the Phillies will delay that decision. For now.
Mackanin said Hernandez must make adjustments. The opposition has done that. Hernandez hit .314 with a .769 OPS against lefthanded pitchers in 2015. Those numbers have fallen to .256 and .591 in 2016. He has hit fewer line drives and more fly balls.
"He's a better hitter than he's shown," Mackanin said. "I think he's a .280 hitter and I think he's at .250. I want to see improvement."
With Crawford closer than ever, Hernandez's future depends on that improvement.