CLEARWATER, Fla. - Odubel Herrera wasted little time getting back into action Friday night as he crashed into the center-field wall after chasing down the second pitch of the Phillies' 4-4 Grapefruit League tie with Toronto.
Herrera returned to the lineup for the first time since March 12. He played four innings and struck out twice.
He had been sidelined with a bruised left middle finger, which Herrera injured March 6 when he slid into home plate. Herrera did not play with any protection on his finger. Kevin Pillar sent the second pitch of the game deep to center field, forcing Herrera to backtrack before making a terrific leaping catch against the wall.
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin expects Herrera to need about a week to regain the timing of his swing. Herrera twice struck out on three pitches as he was unable to master breaking balls.
"I was a little behind in timing," Herrera said through an interpreter. "That's the only thing I have to admit."
Herrera's return is welcome news for the team's injured outfield corps. Cody Asche has yet to play in a Grapefruit League game as he deals with a tweaked rib-cage muscle. Aaron Altherr should miss most of the season after undergoing wrist surgery. The team insisted Herrera's finger was not serious, but his extended absence was concerning.
"I believe as time goes by, I will get better," Herrera said. "I still have one week until the season to get ready."
The Phillies will start Herrera in center when the team opens the season April 4 in Cincinnati. The corners will likely be manned by Peter Bourjos and Tyler Goeddel as the Phils continue to search for a fourth outfielder. David Lough and Cedric Hunter are internal candidates. The Phillies, who hold the No. 1 waiver priority, also could wait to see which players do not make other teams' rosters.
Hellickson's change-up struggles
Jeremy Hellickson struggled with the command of his change-up as he allowed a pair of runs on four hits in 42/3 innings. Hellickson threw 90 pitches and was unhappy with the amount of three-ball counts he faced.
The righthander is scheduled for one more spring start before starting on opening day. He struck out four batters and walked three. Casey Kotchman tagged him for a two-run homer in the fourth. Hellickson appeared to have trouble with the mound, which was hit by heavy thunderstorms in the afternoon.
"The fastball probably felt the best it has felt and the curveball was sharp," Hellickson said. "I couldn't throw the change-up for a strike until the last inning. I have to throw more strikes with that earlier in the game."
Maikel Franco homered in the third inning for his eighth round-tripper of spring. . . . Toronto used ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte in the fourth and fifth innings. He pitched righthanded against Carlos Ruiz and threw lefthanded against Ryan Howard. . . . Aaron Nola will pitch on Saturday in a minor-league game to allow the Phillies to use all of their relievers in the major-league game against visiting Detroit. James Russell will start against the Tigers and Justin Verlander. . . . Jerad Eickhoff will start on Sunday.