Cesar benched 'in response to' lack of hustle

August 27th, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies manager Gabe Kapler's decision to keep second baseman Cesar Hernandez out of the starting lineup for Monday's series opener against the Pirates came "in response to" Hernandez's lack of hustle in Sunday's loss to Miami at Marlins Park.

Hernandez ripped a ball off the right-field wall with two outs in the sixth inning of a scoreless game, but settled for a single after watching the ball sail toward the wall instead of running hard out of the batter’s box.

"It’s in response to yesterday," said Kapler, whose club entered Monday 1 1/2 games behind the Cubs for the final National League Wild Card spot. "I was taking a look at the calendar and I recognize how important every game is for the rest of the season, and the little things really matter right now. I felt that it was appropriate to show that that’s really meaningful to all of us as a group, in the clubhouse."

Though he did not start, Hernandez replaced Scott Kingery at second base to start the top of the seventh frame in the Phillies' 6-5 win over the Pirates in 11 innings. Kingery left the game due to abdominal soreness, though Kapler said it was not a muscular issue and he expects Kingery to be fine for Tuesday.

For his part, Hernandez said he apologized to the skipper after Sunday's game and spoke to Kapler again after the lineup was posted on Monday.

"I talked to him, and he said he was just giving me a day off, but I had to be ready for the game for any situation," Hernandez said through the team’s interpreter. "Nothing to do with [Sunday]."

After being told of Hernandez's comments, Kapler said he reiterated to Hernandez that the decision was made "in response to" Sunday's play.

"As I looked at the calendar late last night and this morning, I recognize that we can’t leave a single inch out there right now," Kapler said. "We just can’t afford to. I want to look back at the end of September and say we won or we lost based on the talent in that room and not because we didn’t get to second base on a really important play."

Though Hernandez scored when Rhys Hoskins followed with a two-run homer, the second baseman's gaffe was just the latest hustle-related incident for the Phillies this season. Jean Segura did not run out an infield fly on June 3, then he also settled for a single when he did not run out a blooper that ultimately dropped in on June 19. He was not benched either time. More recently, Maikel Franco did not run out a grounder with the bases loaded and two outs on July 15. While he was benched the following day, he was also dealing with a groin issue at the time.

"I think every incident stands on its own and it has its own unique circumstances, and I take all of them into consideration," Kapler said. "This felt like the appropriate action."

As for Hernandez's role moving forward, Kapler stressed that he believes the Phillies' best chance to win comes when Hernandez thrives in the leadoff spot. Hernandez hit primarily in that role last season, putting up a .358 on-base percentage in his 144 starts at the top of the order. He started just 10 games hitting anywhere else in the lineup.

“I think our team works best when he is -- without Andrew McCutchen -- our leadoff hitter," Kapler said. "If he can stick and take control of that leadoff spot down the stretch, man, we are a much better team. Man, we are a much deeper lineup."

That said, Hernandez entered Monday with a .335 OBP this season, including just .312 in 20 games out of the leadoff spot. Hernandez also has a career-high chase percentage of 27.3 percent in 2019, up from a career-low 17.8 percent last season.

Hernandez has started everywhere in the Phillies' lineup except for the No. 3 and No. 4 spots this year.

"As you know, baseball is a game of adjustments. I’m sure you’ve seen the lineups this season -- I haven’t been the leadoff guy all season long," Hernandez said. "The spots in the lineup where I was, I was more accustomed to being aggressive. Now that I’m back in the leadoff spot, I have to go back to when I was the leadoff hitter last year and try to be more patient, see more pitches -- that’s the adjustment I’m trying to make now."

News and notes

• Franco was optioned back to Triple-A Lehigh Valley on Monday as the corresponding move to the club activating Bryce Harper from the paternity list. Kapler said Sean Rodriguez simply provides more versatility in the field and is a better pinch-hitting option against left-handed pitchers.

“At this point, performance really matters," Kapler said. "Those specific roles, as a bench player for our group -- pinch-hitting, hitting left-handed pitching and playing multiple positions -- those are things that Maikel has not been successful at over the last three years.”

• Right-hander Pat Neshek is "still having difficulty" with his strained left hamstring, according to Kapler. Neshek is considering a platelet-rich plasma injection or surgery, though Kapler said he's not ready to declare the righty done for the season at this point.

• Outfielder Jay Bruce will join Double-A Reading for a two-game rehab assignment on Friday and Saturday, with the expectation that he will be activated for Sunday's game against the Mets. Bruce will only hit with Reading and is expected to be used strictly as a pinch-hitter upon his return to the big league club.