No Phillie is off to a better start in spring training than Odubel Herrera

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Despite not playing a significant amount of competitive baseball in 21 months, Odubel Herrera has been one of the top players in Phillies spring training camp.

Herrera made his third start of the week Saturday and first in center field, the position he is trying to win back after his career was paused in May 2019 because of a domestic violence charge and a subsequent 85-game suspension by Major League Baseball.

The 29-year-old outfielder caught manager Joe Girardi’s attention with an excellent running catch at the wall in the first inning, and in the fourth inning smoked a base hit to right field, moved to third on a double by Alec Bohm and scored on a wild pitch for the Phillies’ only run in a 6-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, Florida.

Herrera has hit in all three of his starts and made defensive gems in two of them. His base hit in Saturday’s game came off the bat at a scorching 111 miles per hour. So far this spring, he is 4 for 9 (.444) with a homer, an RBI and a stolen base.

It’s early. Very early. But Girardi has been impressed with the way Herrera has swung the bat.

“Let’s not forget, this guy put up some pretty good numbers a couple of years,” Girardi said. “But it is a little bit surprising. Had he went to winter ball and played a lot, it wouldn’t be surprising but I think he played in one game. He was in minor-league spring training camp last year, but I think it shows you there is talent there. As we start to see pitchers get stronger and sharper, it’s going to tell you exactly where he’s at. So far, he’s swung the bat extremely well.”

Herrera is competing with Scott Kingery and Roman Quinn for the center field position. Adam Haseley dropped out of the competition with a groin injury that will keep him on the injured list past opening day.

Quinn, so far, is 2 for 7 with a double. Kingery is 2 for 11 with a homer.

Girardi likes to say the first couple of weeks of games are for players to get ready to compete for jobs. Based on those parameters, no job will be won or lost before the Ides of March.

But Herrera is showing that he’s certainly capable of winning it.

“I think that’s fair to say,” Girardi said. “He wants to win that spot. He’s doing the things he needs to do.”

Herrera was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend in May 2019. The legal charges were dropped that summer. He served his suspension without appeal and completed a counseling program. Earlier this week, he said he hoped to win back the trust of fans and teammates.

Bringing Herrera back remains a sticky public relations issue for the team. Herrera can only be cut for baseball reasons and his contract cannot be voided per the joint policy on domestic violence between MLB and the Players Association.

“We’re not allowed to punish anyone more than what MLB did,” Girardi said. “If Odubel doesn’t make the team, it would be for what we would consider probably a lack of performance or we’d be more comfortable with him getting a few more at-bats (in minor-league camp). That sort of thing. He’s in the running just like a lot of other guys.”

And, so far, he might be leading the race.

Sunday spotlight

Zack Wheeler will start against the Yankees in Tampa on Sunday. The game will be televised on MLB Network. The Phillies will send some of their top players to Tampa, including Bryce Harper, Didi Gregorius, Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura.

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