PHILADELPHIA -- Cesar Hernandez answered questions in Spring Training about his future with the Phillies, much like former teammate and friend Freddy Galvis answered questions about his future with the Phillies a year ago.
But three weeks into the season Hernandez's spot on the team seems as secure as ever.
He scored the game-winning run in the eighth inning Friday night in a 2-1 victory over the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park. He ripped a double to right field to start the inning and scored on Odubel Herrera's one-out triple into the right-field corner as the Phillies improved to 7-1 at home. It is the first time the Phillies have opened 7-1 at home since 1981 at Veterans Stadium.
"You want to earn that starting spot on a daily basis by playing well and doing everything the right way," Hernandez said through the Phillies' interpreter. "It's really satisfying to know that I'm always in the lineup."
Hernandez is hitting .299 with two home runs, eight RBIs and an .867 OPS in 83 plate appearances. His .434 on-base percentage is the best among National League second basemen and second only to Seattle's Robinson Cano (.470). Hernandez has stolen five bases, which is an encouraging pace considering he stole a career-high 19 in 2015.
"Cesar has been an absolute rock for us," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "He's continued to find a way to get on base, even when he's not driving the baseball. One of the things we've noticed on the bench is he goes from an 0-2 count to a 3-2 count just like that. And then it's just like waiting for him to walk or put the solid part of the bat on the ball and for it to jump. He's been very consistent with that."
Hernandez has been in the Phillies' starting lineup 18 times in 19 games. It is somewhat surprising only because entering the season it seemed like Scott Kingery's presence on the roster would chip away at Hernandez's playing time. But Kapler has played Kingery at second base only twice -- Hernandez DH'd one of those games -- playing him at shortstop, third base, left field and right field instead.
"To be honest, like I've said before, I'm very happy for him and his contract," Hernandez said about Kingery. "But at the end of the day, I only have to pay attention to what I do and that's what I'm trying to focus on. And I think that's why I've been able to play well, because I've been able to separate that from my playing time and what I have to do to stay in the game."
Fans often assume that the Phillies will trade Hernandez, like the Phillies traded Galvis to San Diego in the offseason, because of Kingery, but it is hard to see the Phillies moving in that direction in the near future because it would hurt the offense, and they are still trying to figure out what they have at third base and shortstop with Maikel Franco and J.P. Crawford, respectively.
"We knew how Cesar's track record suggested that he's one of the better second baseman in baseball," Kapler said. "And now we're blessed to see it every single day. It's really exciting to look out there and see a guy that consistent. It's really nice for a manager to have Cesar at the top of the lineup."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Phillies right-hander Ben Lively allowed five hits, one run, three walks and struck out four in six innings. Phillies starting pitchers have a 3.05 ERA this season. They have a 2.58 ERA since a 1-4 start.
"I was a lot more controlled," Lively said. "I got texts all week. Even my grandpa [Jim] said, 'Hey, you're rushing.' So I was like, 'OK, I'm going to go slow.'"
Herrera singled in the sixth inning to reach base safely in 21 consecutive games, tying a career high. It is the fourth time in his career he had a 21-game streak. Herrera entered the game with the fourth-longest active streak in baseball. Only Minnesota's James Dozier (30), Arizona's David Peralta (23) and Colorado's Charlie Blackmon (23) had longer streaks.
• Herrera fake swings twice before taking pitch
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Rhys Hoskins walked after Herrera's triple, but the Phillies ended the inning with a bizarre 1-3-4-2-5-8-7 double play to end the inning. Hoskins got caught in a rundown trying to steal second, but then Herrera wandered too far down the third-base line. Herrera ended up in a rundown and eventually got tagged out. Hoskins then stopped running to third base as he got caught in a rundown. He got tagged to end the inning.
"We saw something that we tried to exploit and the Pirates executed," Kapler said. "And after the first out was recorded, I think Rhys just lost track of the outs."
HE SAID IT
"He can barely text, but he will text me often." -- Lively, about his grandfather Jim, who was instrumental in his baseball career
Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola (1-1, 2.22 ERA) starts Saturday afternoon's 4:05 ET game against the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park. Nola has been inducing a ton of weak contact. His opponents' average exit velocity at 85.1 mph ranks 13th out of 176 pitchers. Only one ball has been barreled against him. Steven Brault starts for the Pirates.