On opening day, Gabe Kapler made a head-scratching decision to bench center fielder Odubel Herrera.
Herrera batted .281 in 2017 with 14 home runs and 56 RBI. He was thought of as one of the more reliable Phillies hitters heading into the season. His benching did not sit well.
“I want our guys to want to be in the lineup every day. I want them to have that fire in their belly to compete every single day,” Kapler said of Herrera’s benching to start the year. “And I thought the coolest thing was when I talked to Odubel, he said, ‘I’m upset. I want to play.’ And I said, ‘Awesome. That’s exactly what we want you to feel.’”
Fast forward to Sunday. Herrera has proven to be one of the Phillies’ most important two-way players during their 16-10 start. Herrera is tied for first in the National League in hits (32) and ranks second in batting average, hitting .344. He’s also notched three home runs, 13 RBI and has made some incredible plays in the field.
On Friday, he cracked two home runs in a 7-3 Phillies win. In the third inning on Saturday night, in a 4-1 loss to the Braves, Herrera robbed what would’ve been a two-run home run to give the Braves a 5-0 lead.
“What a tremendous play,” Kapler said. “Incredible jump, timed up his jump perfectly, having his glove go into the bushes like that, you never know what’s going to happen in that kind of situation. But more and more he just shows you how engaged he is, how dynamic he is, how athletic he is, and how invested he is in our baseball games. You see how emotional he is and we love that, and we don’t want to do anything but celebrate it.”
Herrera compared his cuts and bruises from the play to Sylvester Stallone in the movie “Rambo” as he crashed into the center field bushes to make the grab.
“I was able to read the swing,” Herrera said. “I was able to read the fly ball. Immediately, I knew I had a chance.”
Just a few weeks ago in a 4-3 win over the Reds in extra innings, Herrera had a similar grab in the 10th inning at the center field fence to keep the Phillies’ chances alive.
He’s earned his place as an everyday starter and if Kapler had any doubt in his abilities, that doubt has disappeared.
The Phillies finish their three-game series with the Braves Sunday. They start a three-game series on the road against the Marlins on Monday. All games will air locally on Comcast SportsNet.