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For the Phillies, priority is winning, not sending messages

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The time for sending messages has long since passed.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

In the 6th inning of Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Marlins in Miami, Cesar Hernandez hit a rope, a screaming line drive that, off the bat, had a good chance of leaving the park.

Hernandez watched it fly. He tossed his bat steps from the batter’s box and jogged to first. In his mind, he had just given the Phillies a 1-0 lead in the rubber match that would determine who won this all-important series between the Phils and the last place Fish.

I’ll bet it was about two-thirds of the way down the first base line that Hernandez knew he screwed up, because that’s how long it took the ball to reach the base of the right field wall, ricochet to Miami right fielder Harold Ramirez, who then fired the ball into second base.

Hernandez, not running hard out of the box in a scoreless tie in a game the Phillies absolutely had to have, with their ace Aaron Nola on the mound, was stuck at first base.

Cesar is no plodder. Had he run hard out of the box, he likely would have been on second base, in scoring position, in a game in which neither team had scored. One run could have decided it. Instead, it was yet another play in this 2019 season in which a Phillies player did not hustle out of the batter’s box, a play that continued to feed the narrative that hustle is everything.

There are some plays where hustle isn’t necessary, but really, what does hustle hurt? There’s not much a baseball player can control on the field, but effort is one of them. For a few moments yesterday, Hernandez forgot about that cardinal rule and decided to pimp what he thought would be a home run.

It was unacceptable but, fortunately for him and the Phillies, Rhys Hoskins hit his first home run in ages, driving Hernandez in and giving the Phils a 2-0 lead. Hernandez thanked Hoskins for saving his bacon, and after the game, manager Gabe Kapler was asked about Hernandez’ lack of hustle (quote via MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki).

“Totally, totally unacceptable baserunning play. It was addressed on the bench. I had a conversation with Cesar after the game. He understands it’s unacceptable. There’s no excuse for it. We have some strong veteran leaders in the clubhouse who will address it as well.”

Kapler was then asked if he considered benching Hernandez after the play, and his answer was telling.

“It’s just an unacceptable baserunning play,” he said.

And there you go.

With the Phillies 1.5 games behind the struggling Chicago Cubs, and just a half game ahead of the also-struggling Brewers and Mets, Kapler made clear what the priorities are right now — that the Phils can’t afford to lose any game, and especially not one against the last place Marlins, with Nola on the mound, in order to make a point they don’t really believe in anyway. It was just a couple months ago that general manager Matt Klentak said this about hustling (quote via the Inquirer’s Scott Lauber).

“We need to give the Phillies the best chance to win,” Klentak said. “To penalize the other 24 guys on the field by benching one and not putting our best lineup out there is not the right thing to do.”

The time to make an example of someone was months ago, after the second Segura incident. Now isn’t the time, especially because any benching or suspension would be hollow and superficial. We know the Phils don’t believe in benching a player because of a lack of hustle, so any move to do so now would simply be to avoid criticism from the general public.

Cesar Hernandez probably should have been benched and probably should ride the pine for a game. But when the alternative to that is starting Sean Rodriguez or Brad Miller, in the heat of a pennant race, the choice to keep Hernandez in the game was easy.

Sure, Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker benched Ronald Acuna Jr. after he pimped what he thought should have been a home run that turned into a long single. Acuna Jr. is also 20 years old, and the Braves have a comfortable 6 game lead in the NL East. That’s the perfect environment in which to send a message.

Despite losing the series finale to the Marlins yesterday, the Phillies had no choice but to keep Hernandez in the game. Having him in the lineup gave the Phils their best chance to win, which is all that matters now.

The time to prove a point was long before now. Now, it’s too late.

On Episode 313 of Hittin’ Season, Justin Klugh, Liz Roscher and I discussed this and recapped the Phillies disheartening loss to Miami. Subscribe, rate and review!