The first seven weeks of Odubel Herrera's season were so good that it was almost impossible for him to sustain that kind of production. He was batting .361 on May 17 with a .431 on-base percentage after his first 40 games. Surely there would be a bit of decline.
But that decline has been a bit sharper than expected. Herrera went 0-for-4 on Sunday, his third straight hitless game.
He's batting .169 with a .204 on-base percentage in his last 98 plate appearances. His batting average (.288) and on-base percentage (.350) have reached season lows. Through his first 40 games, Herrera averaged one walk per every 9.82 plate appearances. In his 22 games since, he is averaging a walk per every 31 plate appearances. His walk rate has plummeted and his strikeout rate has spiked.
If May 17 was his season's peak, then the Phillies have to hope that Sunday was the low point.
"I think he's going through a rough time," manager Gabe Kapler said after the 4-3 win over Milwaukee. "There has been a significant drop in his numbers and statistics, we're all seeing that. And we're seeing his rhythm and timing is off. He's a rhythm and timing hitter, very similar to how Rhys Hoskins is a rhythm and timing hitter. So when that rhythm and timing is disturbed and disrupted, you just don't see as clean swings. But we know that rhythm and timing tends to come back."
The timing is so important to Herrera's swing because of the leg kick — described by Kapler as "a violent move towards the catcher" — that he uses before each swing. Herrera's swing is so dependent on the kick that he's almost helpless if the movement is off just a tick. Finding that rhythm could just take time. And Herrera's production of the last three seasons — and the first seven weeks of this year — allows the Phillies to show him patience.
Herrera is no stranger to pulling himself out of ruts, as this is not the first time he has been tested to find his rhythm. He batted .183 in May of last year before hitting .321 in June and then .360 in both July and August with an on-base percentage better than .400 in both months. He had a dismal July in 2016 but then ended his season with a strong August and September. A similar rebound is needed here.
Herrera drove in a run in Sunday's fifth inning when he hustled to first base to beat out a would-be double play. That run, scored by Zach Eflin, put the Phillies ahead by two and proved to be the winning run after Milwaukee scored in the eighth. Herrera's groundout two innings later was the hardest-hit ball by a Phillies batter. And after three rough weeks, even a sharply hit groundout could be seen as a positive.
"He's hitting right in the middle of our lineup, so it's always nice when he's going good," Kapler said. "But I guess the one thing that makes us confident is that we know it can come at any moment, and we've seen him take a swing with less than optimal timing and then come right back and be right on time."