The chances of Odúbel Herrera starting in center field on April 1 seemed to increase each day during the first week of Grapefruit League action. Herrera started spring training in minicamp, a long shot to head north with the team when camp breaks.
It’s still early as the Phillies have 21 spring games left, but it’s no longer far-fetched to imagine the team debating Herrera’s place when it finalizes the 26-man roster before opening day. That debate, Joe Girardi said, will be strictly about baseball and not the public perception of Herrera playing for the Phillies 22 months after being arrested on a domestic violence charge.
“It’s baseball because of the negotiated pact between MLB and the players union,” Girardi said. “We’re not allowed to punish anyone more than what MLB did. If Odubel doesn’t make the team, it would be what we would consider probably a lack of performance or we’d be more comfortable with getting a few more at-bats. That sort of thing. He’s in the running just like a lot of other guys.”
Herrera went 1-for-3 Saturday in a 7-1, seven-inning loss to Toronto in Dunedin, Fla. He flied out 357 feet to right field against Tanner Roark in the first inning, falling a few feet short of his second homer in three days. Herrera’s single to right field in the fourth inning off reliever Rafael Dolis was the game’s hardest-hit ball as it left the bat at 111.2 mph. Herrera made a nice defensive play in the first inning, chasing down a line drive by Bo Bichette that seemed to be flying over his head when it left the bat.
This spring is Herrera’s first baseball action — outside of two games he played this winter in the Dominican Republic — since serving an 85-game suspension in 2019 for domestic violence. Herrera reported to Clearwater, Fla., with a slim chance to break the roster, with one of the reasons being the challenge of adjusting to major-league pitching after such a long layoff.
Early on, Herrera seems to have adjusted.
“Let’s not forget, this guy put up some pretty good numbers a couple of the years. But it is a little bit surprising,” Girardi said. “Had he went to winter ball and played a lot, it wouldn’t be surprising. He was in spring training last year, but I think it shows you there is talent there and as we start to see pitchers get stronger and sharper, it’s going to tell you exactly where he’s at. So far, he’s swung the bat extremely well.”
Girardi said before camp that he hoped one of his outfielders would take control of the center-field job, the lone vacancy in the lineup, and make his decision easy.
Adam Haseley homered in his first at-bat this spring but is out four weeks with a strained groin. Roman Quinn has two hits in his first seven at-bats and Scott Kingery homered on Friday but has just two hits in his first 11 at-bats. None of the three returnees has gotten off to a hot start.
Herrera has four hits in his first nine at-bats and is making the strongest contact at the plate. An All-Star in 2017, Herrera would also provide a left-handed bat to a right-handed-heavy lineup. It’s early, but Herrera appears to be showing signs that he could take control of the job.
“I think that’s fair to say,” Girardi said. “He wants to win that spot. He’s doing the things he needs to do.”
Aaron Nola was scheduled to start Saturday in Dunedin, but the chance of rain kept him in Clearwater. He pitched a simulated game at BayCare Ballpark, Nola against a lineup of Phillies hitters. Adonis Medina started against Toronto in Nola’s place and threw a scoreless inning.
Bryce Harper plans to play Sunday, but he’s not quite ready yet to play the field. Harper will be the designated hitter when the Phillies play the Yankees in Tampa. He’s on a throwing program in camp after his back bothered him enough last September that he was unable to throw a baseball. Harper said he is almost relearning to throw.
“I had to change a couple of things with leg movement, but that’s about it,” Harper said. “Arm feels good. That action feels fine. My back feels fine. But there was a couple things with my leg that was causing me to have a little bit of pain in my back.”
Harper is throwing up to 140 feet, but not yet firing at full force. The Phillies will see how he feels next week before deciding when he’ll play right field. Girardi said the Phillies are targeting March 19 as Harper’s debut in right.
“I don’t worry too much about him having to play a ton in right field because he keeps himself in such great shape,” Girardi said.
Herrera wore No. 93 on Sunday because he left his No. 37 jersey in Clearwater. ... Enyel De Los Santos struck out the three batters he faced — George Springer, Bichette, and Marcus Semien — and pumped his fastball to 96.7 mph in an impressive outing. ... Alec Bohm made a nice defensive play in the first inning. ... Zack Wheeler will start Sunday against the Yankees. The game will be carried by WIP-FM and MLB Network.