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With Utley extended, Hernandez experiments in center

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies believe that Cesar Hernandez has the type of tools they can use to develop the 23-year-old into an everyday Major League player. The problem is Hernandez has moved through the system as a second baseman and with the recent extension signed by Chase Utley, that position is theoretically locked up for the next two to five seasons.

With the understanding that it would only accelerate his learning curve in the Minors, Hernandez, who made his Major League debut on May 29, spent his return to the Minor Leagues developing a second possibility and his time in center field paid off as he returned to the Phillies on Sunday and found himself in the starting lineup against Washington on Monday.

"I'm very happy to be back," Hernandez said through a translator. "It's a challenge, but I felt good in center field. I can still play in the infield and be comfortable in center field."

This year, Hernandez hit .309 in 104 games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He had a pair of home runs and 27 RBIs, but more to the point, Hernandez hit nine triples, which showcased raw speed. His range was the one asset the Phillies' front office felt could be better exploited in center, and so the experiment began to some degree -- he still played second with the Iron Pigs -- in earnest.

"When he left here two months ago, the idea was to just give him another position to play to give him some versatility to his resume," Phillies interim manager Ryne Sandberg said. "Center field was looked at because of his speed and range. He has a real nice stride that's noticeable. He seems to have adapted very well. This here is another challenge for him, but it's a good chance to see where he's at.

"He has a plus bat for his age. He uses the gaps well, and has power in a smaller looking body. He can swing the bat a little bit. I see him being initially a bench player and get some odd starts, but to do that, you need to be versatile and that's what the center field move is about."

Michael Radano is a contributor to
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