Don't look now, but Odubel Herrera has been one of majors' best outfielders | Extra Innings

It was fair to wonder, given they are the youngest team in the majors, how the Phillies would respond to Sunday’s ninth-inning meltdown in Washington. Would a crushing loss stick with them for a few days? Or would they forget all about it by the time they arrived at Citizens Bank Park on Monday? By the end of the first inning, we had our answer. The Phillies sent nine men to the plate, forced San Francisco Giants starter Jeff Samardzija to throw 40 pitches, and took a three-run lead en route to an 11-0 giggler. Nice way to start a seven-game homestand, right? It was proof, too, that the Phils have short memories, a requirement for any winning team over the course of a six-month season.

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—  Scott Lauber (extrainnings@philly.com)

Camera icon YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
With his 36-game on-base streak, Odubel Herrera has been the Phillies’ most consistent hitter this season. He’s also been one of the best hitters in the majors.

Riding the O-Train

It’s one thing to say that Odubel Herrera has been the Phillies’ most consistent hitter so far this season, a claim he has staked by reaching base safely in all 32 games he has played — and 36 consecutive games overall dating to the end of last season.

But it’s hardly an exaggeration to say he has been among the handful of best outfielders in the majors.

After belting two home runs and driving in a career-high five runs in Monday night’s thumping of the Giants, Herrera is batting .341 with a .401 on-base percentage and a .938 OPS. The only outfielders with better numbers across the board are Boston’s Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, Atlanta’s Nick Markakis and the Angels’ Mike Trout.

“I feel very, very good right now,” Herrera said through a team translator. “It’s part of being selective. I want to be disciplined at the plate. I don’t want to swing at bad pitches. I just want to swing at good pitches.”

Herrera has never been confused with Mr. Consistency since coming to the majors three years ago. Even when he made the All-Star team in 2016, he struggled for a long stretch in the middle of the season. But Herrera is swinging at fewer pitches out of the strike zone (33.9 percent compared to 40 percent last year) and making more consistent contact. He has struck out only 21 times in 137 plate appearances. He has at least one hit in 26 of his 32 games this season.

“Odubel has been locked in all year at the plate,” manager Gabe Kapler said recently. “And when I say ‘locked in,’ I don’t mean hot. I don’t mean like swinging the bat well. I mean locked in and focused and prepared and ready. I don’t think there’s been a pitch where we said, ‘I’m not sure he’s into this right now.’ He’s been laser-sharp focused all year long.”

The rundown

Carlos Santana thought he had been robbed of a home run, and the way his season has gone so far, it would’ve been par for the course. But Giants center fielder Gorkys Hernandez didn’t come down with the ball, and as our Matt Breen writes, Santana is finally getting rewarded for continuing to hit the ball really, really hard.

(Also within Matt’s story, righthander Zach Eflin discusses some reasons behind what might be his resurgence as a member of the Phillies rotation. Eflin recorded a career-high nine strikeouts against the Giants and has allowed one run in 13 innings over two starts since being recalled from triple-A Lehigh Valley.)

It was an unforgettable night for 23-year-old reliever Seranthony Dominquez, who struck out Evan Longoria to complete a perfect eighth inning in his major-league debut.

Important dates

Tonight: Aaron Nola (4-1, 2.17 ERA) looks to keep rolling, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Nick Pivetta vs. the Giants’ Chris Stratton, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: Phillies, Giants cap their series with a Facebook-only telecast, 1:05 p.m.
Friday: Jake Arrieta starts the opener of a series against the New York Mets, 7:05 p.m.

Camera icon YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Of all the positives about Aaron Nola’s season so far, the biggest might be the emergence of his change-up as a legitimate put-away pitch.

Stat of the day

In his first seven starts of the season, Aaron Nola has confirmed that he’s one of the best pitchers in the National League. But the emergence of his change-up is proof that the 24-year-old righthander might be getting even better. Nola is throwing his change-up 20.4 percent of the time, according to Brooks Baseball, an increase over last season (15.9 percent) and the year before (8.5). He’s getting results, too. Opponents are slugging only .200 against the pitch compared to .381 last year and .436 in 2016.

“I have confidence in it,” Nola said. “I don’t just have confidence in my fastball and breaking ball. That pitch has come along for me in the last couple years.”

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

Question: Do you think Kapler will move Velasquez to the bullpen instead of sending him down to the minors? — Brian S., via e-mail

Answer: Thanks for the question, Brian. I realize that Vince Velasquez-to-the-bullpen has been a popular narrative over the past year or so, and on the surface, it makes sense. Velasquez is a hard thrower who struggles with bouts of command problems. He also tends to get, in Kapler’s words, “hyped up” on the mound, a characteristic that seemingly might suit him better in the shorter bursts of relief pitching than the longer duration of starts. But while Velasquez might very well wind up in the bullpen someday, it’s difficult to see the Phillies making the move until a) Jerad Eickhoff returns from the disabled list, b) Nick Pivetta proves he’s a steady contributor to the rotation and most likely c) they acquire another more experienced starter.