MIAMI — For 37 days, the Phillies patched Cesar Hernandez’s spot with a veteran outfielder and two utility men. The fervor for another second baseman, Scott Kingery, intensified. It’s not that Hernandez is a forgotten man, but he returned to the top of Pete Mackanin’s lineup Monday, and it was an important moment for these Phillies.
Hernandez has 11 weeks to re-establish his place as this team’s second baseman. Kingery looms, but it’s all but certain he will spend the remainder of 2017 at triple-A Lehigh Valley. This is Hernandez’s time to convince the Phillies — or another interested team — that he can be a productive, everyday man.
“I can make it like I did it last year,” Hernandez said. “I had a good second half. We’ll see what happens.”
Hernandez was activated Monday, while Aaron Altherr was subtracted. He went on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring.
Hernandez was sidelined by a strained abdominal muscle, an injury he suffered June 9 while making a throw from deep second base. He played four games for high-A Clearwater and batted 17 times. He drew nine walks. He was hit by a pitch once. He had one single.
“I was just trying to get my timing back,” Hernandez said. “I was trying to see as many pitches as I could. I didn’t care if got a base hit or not.”
Hernandez tied a Florida State League record with six walks Sunday night in his final rehab game.
“He has two good eyes,” Mackanin quipped.
Really, the Phillies crave that kind of presence. Hernandez was terrific for the season’s first month — an on-base machine with an improved power stroke. His numbers dipped in May. Still, his .336 on-base percentage entering Monday was the second best among Phillies hitters with enough at-bats to qualify.
Kingery may be the second baseman of the future, but Hernandez owns the present. The Phillies would like to see the version of Hernandez who impressed last summer and carried it into April.
“I’m anxious to find out,” Mackanin said. “Sometimes layoffs help a guy. They rejuvenate. They see the ball and hit it. You can get bogged down and start to outsmart yourself when you’re playing every day. You start thinking too much. That can hurt some guys. We’ll see. I’m throwing him right in there.”
Altherr, the team’s most productive hitter, flew back to Philadelphia and will undergo an MRI examination Tuesday. The Phillies believe he can return as soon as July 25, when he is first eligible to be activated.
“We don’t think it’s anything serious,” Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said. “It’s just a purely precautionary MRI. I think there’s a really good chance he’s back by the time the 10 days are up.”
Howie Kendrick, still sidelined by a hamstring ailment, joined the team here at Marlins Park and participated in batting practice. He was cleared for all baseball activities, Proefrock said. Kendrick said he planned to spend all three days in Miami with the team. He’ll do some outfield drills.
“I feel better,” Kendrick said. “I’m not quite there yet, but I feel better.”
He could be ready for a minor-league rehab assignment later this week.
“That’s reasonable to assume,” Mackanin said.
The Phillies would like to trade Kendrick. For that to happen, he will need to play a few games before the July 31 trade deadline to prove there are no lingering health issues.
Vince Velasquez will be activated from the disabled list to start Tuesday’s game. Velasquez has not pitched since May 30, here at Marlins Park, when he sustained an elbow injury. He threw 70 pitches in his last minor-league rehab game, so he’ll be on a pitch count Tuesday against the Marlins.