9/13/2013 10:55 P.M. ET
Hernandez a 'pleasant surprise' in center field
By Andrew Simon / MLB.com
WASHINGTON -- Phillies interim manager Ryne Sandberg said Friday that rookie Cesar Hernandez, a converted second baseman, has been a "pleasant surprise" in center field thus far. Sandberg started Hernandez in center for the seventh time in the past eight games for Friday's series opener against the Nationals.
Sandberg said the 23-year-old Hernandez has fared well, despite facing some difficult plays, including sinking line drives and balls hit directly over his head.
"His stride and his foot speed and his speed to the gaps has been very good, calling off the corner outfielders on balls," Sandberg said. "So, pleasant surprise. It's not an easy position, by no means. But I think his athletic ability has allowed him to cover the position very well, and he finds himself in the lineup."
Hernandez also has been holding down the leadoff spot. He went 3-for-4 with a walk, a double and two RBIs on Thursday against the Padres, his second three-hit game in a week. A .309 hitter with a .375 on-base percentage at Triple-A Lehigh Valley this year, Hernandez has gone 9-for-22 (.409) with four walks and three doubles over his past seven contests.
Hernandez began playing center field in July at Triple-A. With Chase Utley at second -- and signed through at least 2015 -- the Phillies needed to find another spot for him.
Sandberg has an idea what Hernandez is going through. The Hall of Fame second baseman was a shortstop coming up through the Minors with the Phillies before becoming a legend with the Cubs as a third baseman in 1982.
"For a young player to have some versatility, sometimes that's how you become a regular, just because that position opens up, you've had experience there," Sandberg said. "Basically, that's what happened to me."
Sandberg added that he would like to see Hernandez get some work on the left side of the infield at some point, perhaps over the winter. That would help him match the versatility of Freddy Galvis, who has played second and third base, plus shortstop and left field. Sandberg liked the idea of having both players "in the mix" for next year in order to maximize the team's depth.
For now, learning center field is enough. While Hernandez has what Sandberg called "a real good infield arm," he still has to adjust to throwing from the outfield and seeing the game from that perspective.
"For a guy like Cesar to go out there, you really have to be in the game," Sandberg said. "When you're an infielder and you go to the outfield, you really have to focus a little bit more on the game, because home plate's farther away from you, and it feels like ... if you haven't been out there at all that the ball's not going to be to hit [to you], where the infield, you're on the balls of your feet, down really low, waiting for the hot shot."
Brown pinch-hits, status still day to day
WASHINGTON -- When Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown pinch-hit in the ninth inning of Friday's 6-1 loss to the Nationals, it was his first appearance since Sept. 1. Brown has been making progress in his recovery from a right Achilles injury, but manager Ryne Sandberg didn't commit to getting him back in the lineup this weekend.
"He was cleared to [play] in a pinch-hit role tonight," Sandberg said. "It was a perfect opportunity to give him an at-bat and see how he looked.
"We'll take it day to day. He had a solid pregame, and no complaints there. … I actually watched him run real hard to first base, that all looked good. So, that's just a passing of the test to get him back in the lineup."
Brown has not made a start since Aug. 30 and had only 12 plate appearances since Aug. 23 before hitting into a game-ending 4-6-3 double play against Drew Storen Friday night. He progressed to taking batting practice on Thursday, when he called himself "close to 100 percent."
Brown hasn't homered since Aug. 14, but still ranks fourth in the National League with 27.
'The Shark' returns to Washington
WASHINGTON -- Phillies outfielder Roger Bernadina returned to Nationals Park on Friday for the first time since the Nationals released him on Aug. 19.
Bernadina had played his entire professional career in the organization, signing with the Expos in 2001 and debuting with the Nats in 2008. But he downplayed the significance of coming back to the stadium he used to call home.
"Actually, I haven't really thought that much about it," said Bernadina, who signed with the Phillies on Aug. 21. "Maybe a few weeks ago, I'd say I was excited, but now it's like, I feel at home with the Phillies. I've kind of put it behind me. I had a great career with the Nats and now it doesn't really cross my mind."
At the same time, Bernadina was happy for the opportunity to play in front of the Washington fans again, although he wasn't in the starting lineup for Friday's series opener. During his time in the District, Bernadina earned the nickname "The Shark" for his defense in the outfield and had his own fan club, complete with shark costumes.
"The fans have always been great to me, and I love coming to Washington and seeing the fans," he said. "That's something for sure that will stick in my mind, is the fans. They've always been great and I'm looking forward to seeing them tonight."
As for Bernadina's tenure with the Phillies, the offensive struggles he experienced with the Nats this year have continued. He has gone 8-for-55 (.145) with his new club, including 4-for-his-last-34 with 10 strikeouts, losing playing time in center field to rookie Cesar Hernandez.
"It's been OK. I can't say it's been great," Bernadina said. "I started OK when I was playing a little more, but lately I can't get the stroke I want to. But there's still two weeks to go and I want to make the best out of it."
• The Phillies' bullpen worked 4 2/3 innings without allowing a hit, walk or hit by pitch on Thursday against the Padres, their first such outing since they went five perfect innings on May 22, 1998, at Montreal.
• Philadelphia relievers rank last in the Majors in walk rate (10.6 percent), but have not issued a free pass in six straight games, spanning 15 2/3 innings. They have racked up 18 strikeouts over that period.
• Sandberg used the same lineup -- minus the pitcher's spot -- for the second day in a row after the Phillies scored their most runs since Aug. 8 in Thursday's 10-5 win.