You never like to see a player who was doing well suffer an injury and end up on the disabled list. But that’s what happened with left fielder Howie Kendrick this week when he landed on the 10-day DL with an oblique strain that could keep him out for a bit longer than that.
Kendrick had MRI, diagnosed with a Grade 1 oblique strain. Could still come off DL when eligible Tues but wouldn't be surprise if out longer— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) April 21, 2017
Kendrick has gotten off to a hot start hitting in the 2-hole for the Phillies. In 43 plate appearances he has a slash line of .333/.395/.487 with an OPS+ of 144. That’s darn good production at the top of the lineup, and ordinarily, would be a big blow to a team.
But in the case of the rebuilding Phils, it’s more of an opportunity, one that will likely benefit 26-year-old Aaron Altherr.
After having a terrific spring with the Phillies, Altherr has continued that success into the regular season. In 23 PAs he is hitting .333/.391/.571 with a homer, 2 doubles and 1 stolen base. He has an OPS+ of 163 and has been scalding the ball on a regular basis.
In the Phils’ series finale against the New York Mets, Altherr came up in the top of the 2nd inning, not long after one of the toughest pitchers in baseball, Noah Syndergaard, blitzed through the first three hitters in the lineup in dominating fashion, and did this.
kiss my ass with all the perfect game talk pic.twitter.com/FHwEPx35Wb— chris jones¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (@LONG_DRIVE) April 20, 2017
Altherr went 2-for-5 as a late addition to the lineup (he subbed for Michael Saunders, who came down with a flu bug just before the first pitch), with a run scored and an RBI. Two nights earlier, in the series opener, Altherr came through with a monstrous hit that scored much-needed insurance runs in the Phillies’ 6-2, 10-inning win.
Aaron Altherr with a HUGE knock and Joseph scores on a bad throw. https://t.co/avm4HUdAC3— John Stolnis (@FelskeFiles) April 19, 2017
When the Nationals visited Citizens Bank Park a couple weeks ago, he went opposite field for a home run in a game the Phillies almost came back to win.
The Phillies felt the need to sign Michael Saunders as a free agent this off-season because they weren’t sure what they had in Altherr. After a terrific cup of coffee with the team at the end of 2015, he was lost for most of the season thanks to a wrist injury in spring training.
When he did return last year, much of his power was sapped as he tried to get his timing and rhythm back as well. It never happened as he batted a meager .202/.304/.293 in 227 PAs last season.
As you may remember, hitting coach Matt Stairs worked with Altherr to change his swing, lowering his hands to get him quicker to the ball. The hope was a shorter path to the ball would help him hit for more power.
It seems to be working.
#Phillies' Aaron Altherr when not recovering from wrist injury (2015, 2017):— schmenkman (@tgpschmenk) April 21, 2017
So far this year, 37.5% of all balls hit by Altherr have been categorized as “hard-hit” by Fangraphs, up from 29.5% last year and 29.3% in ‘15. He’s also taking the ball the opposite way a lot more, 37.5% of the time this year as opposed to 20.2% last year.
When Altherr is going well, he is using all fields.
As with everyone in the first few weeks of the season, statistics have to be taken with a grain of salt. Things tend to fluctuate wildly in the season’s opening month. But the eye test (which should never be used on its own, mind you) tells you how well he’s swinging the bat.
When Kendrick returns and Saunders is feeling better, it’s likely Altherr will once again become the team’s fourth outfielder. But he has the next week-and-a-half to prove he should be getting regular run, even when the veterans come back.