BOB BROOKOVER COLUMN: Phillies must find way to get through to talented Odubel Herrera
The overmatched Phillies did not lose to the Houston Astros on Tuesday night because Odubel Herrera struck out in the bottom of the sixth inning and opted against running to first base on a ball that bounced away from catcher Evan Gattis.
Herrera was going to be the second out of the inning and the Phillies were going to lose regardless.
Still, Pete Mackanin saw it as another test of the manager’s nerves and made sure it marked the end of Herrera’s evening. When the Phillies went out for the top of the seventh, Cameron Perkins was the new center fielder.
“I’m going to talk to him [Wednesday],” Mackanin said after his team’s 5-0 loss to the Astros at Citizens Bank Park. “I have to keep having conversations. He’s a different kind of guy, and I just have to keep him pointed in the right direction.”
Mackanin has pointed, poked and prodded before when Herrera has had mental lapses. The message always seems to get through for a little while, but never lasts. His serial bat flips — he had another on a deep fly ball to center field that died in the glove of Houston rookie Derek Fisher — sometimes alienate opponents and other times infuriate the hometown fans who should be in love with his talent.
They will not and should not be in love with the fact that he had left the clubhouse before anyone had a chance to ask him about his failure to run to first in Tuesday night’s loss.
Was five-year deal a mistake: It makes you wonder if the Phillies made a mistake when they gave the 25-year-old center fielder a five-year, $30.5 million deal after last season. It was the first long-term deal extended by the Phillies tag team of Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak, and there was no argument that Herrera had the kind of talent to warrant that kind of money.
He hit .292 with a .353 on-base percentage and .773 OPS in his first two seasons, making an all-star team in the process. As Rule 5 picks go, Herrera was a steal of Shane Victorino proportions. In fact, Herrera’s first two seasons with the Phillies were better than Victorino’s first two, and that’s saying a lot because Victorino was surrounded by one of baseball’s most potent lineups.
Perhaps that is why Herrera is not more beloved. Victorino could be comfortable as just a piece of the Phillies’ puzzle from 2006-11. When they needed more from him during an injury-ravaged 2012 season, it was too much to ask and they traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a couple of prospects — Ethan Martin and Josh Lindblom — who have long been forgotten.
Strong season: Herrera, despite a dismal May, is still having a strong season. He is tied for second in the National League with 32 doubles and since June 1 is hitting .331 with a .934 OPS. If the Phillies had better hitters around Herrera, the manager would probably be more likely to forgive his center fielder’s transgressions. Sometimes, Charlie Manuel looked the other way when Jimmy Rollins declined to take the fastest route to first base on an infield popup. He did so because he could.
When things go bad, however, tolerance levels decline. In other words, when you’re losing as often as the Phillies have lost this season, you better be giving maximum effort at all times. It does not just rub the manager the wrong way, either.
“It’s not the first time,” catcher Cameron Rupp said. “It has happened before, and that is something we don’t want to see. We want him in the game. He’s a good player.”
Shortstop Freddy Galvis declined to talk about Herrera’s benching, saying that is a decision left to the manager. But Rupp said Galvis and others besides Mackanin have told Herrera about his lack of hustle.
“Guys have said things,” Rupp said. “I know Freddy has talked to him. Sammy (third-base coach Juan Samuel) has. The language barrier is there, but you have the Latin guys who can tell him and he understands enough English. It’s something only he can control. We can only do so much.”
Could be perennial all-star: Herrera, still only 25, has the ability to be a perennial all-star and make his five-year contract look like a bargain for the Phillies. Maybe if they had not given him the long-term deal, he would have more incentive to run at all times, flip bats less often, and listen to every word spoken by his manager, coaches and more veteran teammates.
Maybe the problem is the Phillies do not have a definitive leader in the clubhouse because they are so young and inexperienced. Whatever the case, they need to get through to Herrera. His talent is too immense, and that is why he should never give anyone a reason to think he is overpaid.