On Monday night, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin became a teacher. He taught a lesson to his 24-year old center fielder about what it means to hustle. Odubel Herrera jogged to first on a routine groundball in the seventh inning of what would turn out to be a 5-4 loss in Detroit and Mackanin sat him on the bench for the rest of the game.
"One of the ingredients to our success to this point is the fact that these guys play with energy, they play hard, and we're training them to play the game the right way. And not running is not the right way. And that's why it's more important for me to set that tone than to take our best hitter out of the lineup," said Mackanin, who admitted that he's been troubled by some of Herrera's antics. "I've seen it in the past, and it's been trickling in," Mackanin said. "I just, I didn't like it, and I just made a decision."
Mackanin noted that Ryan Howard also approached Herrera to tell him about not running out the ball, something that Mackanin applauded from his veteran first baseman.
Fast forward to Wednesday afternoon in Detroit when Herrera launched a long fly ball to right field. His swing had an exclamation point; a bat flip that has drawn attention even from the national media.
Bat flips have become something of a status symbol in major league baseball, but there are still teams and pitchers around who don't have much patience for the trend. Pitchers can have long memories and even though the Phillies and Tigers don't meet again this season and there's no telling when the next time is that they'll play, players move around and Herrera could wind up facing Anibal Sanchez somewhere down the line. There are still pitchers who will look to teach a player a lesson with at least a knockdown pitch, if not a square hit-by-pitch, for putting on such a display against them.
You can call it youthful exuberance, but the bottom line is that players still need to play the game the right way. Running out a groundball is basic. Less and less players do it, but it's basic and as the old saying goes, 'the one thing that every player can do is hustle.' The truth is that Herrera hasn't earned enough of a reputation for his offense - and especially for his power - to be coming up with a big bat flip after a home run.
Mackanin is right, that things can start to trickle in and for the Phillies, playing the game the right way is important, because they're simply not that good. They can't squander any opportunities and if it means reaching base because an infielder boots a groundball, it can be a big part of a win for this club. Herrera has a huge asset in his speed, which is good enough to make an infielder hurry a play or try to do too much with the throw, leading to an error. Herrera can do more than take advantage of a potential miscue from a fielder, he can create them with his speed.
Herrera has the potential to be a really good player, but especially in Philadelphia, even good players get taken to task for a lack of hustle and playing the game the right way. It happened with Bobby Abreu, who was repeatedly late to the clubhouse and it happened with Jimmy Rollins, who had a similar penchant for not running out groundballs and got burned by it on more than one occasion.f
Many fans took to social media to criticize Mackanin for benching a guy that is possibly his best player in a close game. Here's the thing; if that's what it takes to get through to Herrera, then Mackanin has to do it each and every time that he sees a lack of hustle. And he has to do it with every player, not just with Herrera. It should become well known to the players on the team that not hustling is simply not acceptable. It should also be noted that grandstanding isn't going to help the club, but could potentially hurt them if teams retaliate.
All of this isn't to say that Herrera is a bad guy, because from all signs, he's going to be a great player and seems to be well liked by his teammates. It's just to say that he's young and that he's got some lessons to learn, which can be expected from a 24-year old player in just his second season, and especially from one who hadn't played higher than Double-A ball before coming to Philadelphia last season as a Rule 5 pick.
As both a manager and a teacher, Mackanin is the right guy to lead this young club and he's been pushing the right buttons with the team. We can just hope that the lessons sink in and help to make the players better.