Gabe Kapler still leaning toward Cesar Hernandez as his leadoff man


CLEARWATER, Fla. — When we last saw Cesar Hernandez, he was heading out the door of Citizens Bank Park after the 2018 season and looking at an uncertain winter.

The second baseman survived another offseason of trade speculation and is back with the Phillies — probably in a familiar spot in the batting order.

The Phils have upgraded their lineup with several new additions — Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto — but Hernandez appears to still be the favorite to hit in the leadoff spot.

“With Cesar and his performance in the first half last year, he is an ideal leadoff hitter,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He sees a lot of pitches, he fouls balls off, has a great eye at the plate, spits on balls in the dirt, can drive the ball out of the ballpark. Those are all things that we value in the top spot of the lineup.

“On the flipside, McCutchen has all the same characteristics. Both of those guys could be options for the leadoff spot. I think we’re going to give Cesar a long look and from my perspective, he has all the characteristics and all of the talent to take down that leadoff spot.”

Hernandez’ batting average dropped from .294 to .253 and his OPS from .793 to .718 last season. He struck out a career-high 155 times. Much of Hernandez’ decline came after he cracked a bone in his foot in early July and played through it.

Despite his struggles, Hernandez walked a career-high 95 times and maintained a solid .356 on-base percentage.

If Hernandez bats leadoff, McCutchen could hit somewhere in the middle of the order. He is a consistent 30-double, 20-homer guy.

Kapler places a lot of value in the No. 2 spot in the batting order. Newcomer Segura, who has carried a .308 batting average the last three seasons, would seem to be a good fit there.

“I think Segura could be a two-hole guy,” Kapler said. “But I also think he can hit three, too. And I think he can hit five or six. A lot of that is going to be dependent on how he's performing, how others are performing, and who the guy on the mound is.”

Kapler will communicate with players, especially the new guys, to find out if there are spots in the lineup where they feel most comfortable, but, ultimately, he is the one who will sign the lineup card.

“The thing that excites me most is, all of these guys — McCutchen, Segura, Hernandez, Rhys (Hoskins), Realmuto — all of those guys can hit one through five, one through six,” Kapler said. “And Odubel Herrera, when Odubel is on, he hits anywhere in the lineup, too, and you can't take him out of the lineup.”

This is the way things shape up in Kapler’s mind on Feb. 15. There is still a long way to go before opening day March 28. And it’s all subject to change if the Phillies are able to put Manny Machado or Bryce Harper in red pinstripes. Nothing has changed on that front. The Phils would still like to land one of them and they are awaiting an answer.

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