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Phillies win opener as ‘two littlest guys’ homer

Updated: APRIL 3, 2017 — 8:33 PM EDT



by Matt Gelb, STAFF WRITER @MattGelb |
CINCINNATI – Three minutes into the season, when Cesar Hernandez cracked a solo homer to the red seats in right field Monday, these young Phillies exuded confidence. The December workouts in Miami to add strength produced immediate results for Hernandez. The laborious seven weeks of spring training melted to the scene of Tommy Joseph, the guy who is supposed to be crushing home runs, high-fiving the diminutive Hernandez and removing his helmet.
Phillies 4, Reds 3
“I mean, everybody was happy,” shortstop Freddy Galvis said after a 4-3 Phillies victory over the Reds. Some Flo Rida blasted in the winning clubhouse. Galvis glanced toward Hernandez, who sat nearby at his locker, fiddling with his phone.

“I have to tell you,” Galvis said. “Nobody believed it.”

Hernandez tilted his head. Galvis laughed.

“But it was good,” he said. “To start the season like that, it gives you some confidence. I think he’s going to have a good year.”

They longed for this day. A long winter forced every Phillies starting player to wonder about their future. The prospects are coming. This, the franchise’s 135th season, is a gap year.

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The opening-day win by one rebuilding team over another was powered by newcomers and relievers. It was punctuated by two middle infielders who seek to prove their value to a team that is grooming their replacements.

Hernandez and Galvis homered. They paired to complete two inning-ending double plays in the first three innings. Galvis doubled to center in the sixth. He scored an insurance run on Jeremy Hellickson’s triple.

The Phillies did not waver until the final out, when Scooter Gennett’s two-run homer cut the lead to one. But the smoke from the fireworks had not even cleared by the time Jeanmar Gomez sealed the 27th out.

“Cesar Hernandez set the tone,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “I tell you what, we don’t need power from the corners. We’ve got our power from the middle infielders. Cesar and Freddy, the two littlest guys on the field. It was good to see.”

The offense – bottom feeders in every major category last season – rapped seven extra-base hits by six hitters. The Phillies coerced Cincinnati starter Scott Feldman to throw 27 pitches in a patient first inning. Feldman required 64 pitches to record his first nine outs.

It looked nothing of the feeble unit from a season ago. That, as much as a nine-inning sample can mean, is progress.

“That’s part of the plan,” Mackanin said. “We want to grind out at-bats and not waste at-bats. I think we did that.”

Hernandez, the unlikeliest of sluggers, started the surge. He did not hit his first home run last season until June 4, in the Phillies’ 56th game. The Phillies coaches have pushed Hernandez to attempt at least one bunt single every game because of his exceptional speed.

He fell behind 0-2 to Feldman. He fouled back three Feldman fastballs. He worked the count full. The eighth pitch, a 91-mph fastball low and inside, intersected with Hernandez’s swing path. The ball traveled 377 feet.

“He threw a couple pitches inside,” Hernandez said. “So I stayed on that pitch. Something inside.”

Not since Heinie Mueller against the Brooklyn Dodgers at the Baker Bowl on April 19, 1938, had a Phillies season begun with a home run. Mueller was 5-foot-6 and later joined the army after the Pearl Harbor attack.

Hernandez is 26 and upbeat after a career season. This spring, Scott Kingery and Jesmuel Valentin impressed Phillies officials in big-league camp with their natural instincts and composure. The two prospects are at double-A Reading and triple-A Lehigh Valley, respectively, and both profile as potential everyday players in the majors. They will put pressure on Hernandez.

Galvis, 27, is aware that shortstop is one day reserved for J.P. Crawford, the Phillies’ top prospect. He could reach the majors in 2017 with adjustments applied at triple A. That makes Galvis one of the more intriguing characters this season, a shortstop with a tremendous glove and power potential but flawed until he improves his low on-base percentage.

The summer will be the truest test. For one day, the current Phillies introduced their arguments to remain.

View Freddy Galvis

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