PHILADELPHIA >> Coming off a rainout, and with an ominous forecast directly ahead for the second game of a weather-imposed day-night doubleheader Sunday, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler didn’t have to look far for something to blame for a key play in an opening loss to the San Diego Padres.
That play came in the sixth inning, Phillies starter Nick Pivetta having just been lifted for reliever Edubray Ramos with one out and a pair of Padres at the corners. San Diego’s Christian Villanueva lifted a high pop to shallow right field, and backtracking Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez camped under the ball ... and promptly allowed it to hit him on its way to the ground.
No indication of trouble with feet or eyes, no blinded by the light kind of reaction as the ball meandered down. Just an error that cost a run and opened the door to a three-run inning in an eventual 10-2 day-opening loss to the Padres.
Ah, but there was a break in this week’s expected monsoonish weather pattern, and since it’s Philadelphia...
“It’s a sun ball,” Kapler said by way of explanation. “It’s a lonely situation to be in for a fielder. You don’t play that ball well or not play it well. You look up and see this giant ball of yellow and the baseball isn’t there.
“(Hernandez) was positioned well. He was underneath. He allowed the ball to come to him. He couldn’t find it. It hit him. It happens. It’s not something you plan for. You don’t practice it. It happens.”
It must have happened just that way, since Hernandez was seemingly unavailable to offer up any other kind of post-game play by play.
Errors happen. Wind-blown, sun-scorched or otherwise.
To the Phillies, however, they happen a lot.
Yes, they came into this long day 12 games above .500 and in first place in the National League East. And they did so with such so-so (or below that) offensive numbers that a lot of people might be waiting for the inevitable slide.
But what’s even more disconcerting is the way they play the field.
Odubel Herrera may cover almost the entire outfield when he’s of a mind to do so, and Maikel Franco makes plays at third base that a lot of third basemen around the league can’t.
But the Phillies, that overachieving youngest team in the league, have more than their share of ugly moments in the field. And not only when overcome by solar power.
That was the Phillies ranked 27th out of the 30 MLB teams through Saturday in team fielding percentage (.980), with only the Rangers, Cardinals and White Sox — none of them currently in contention — ranking below them.
Those three were also the only three teams in the league that have made more errors than the Phillies’ 71 on the season coming into the day. Hernandez’s sun-splotched pop was No. 72. At least he did so in style, not making a mockery of the moment by letting anybody know that he had no idea where the ball was in that big, yellow sky.
“I think it was him staying composed,” Kapler said of Hernandez’s cool reaction before the ball hit him and bounced away. “Whether it’s the lights or the sun, you look up and you’re waiting for the ball to come out. If it does, and you stay under control, you have a chance to catch it. I think that’s what César did. It didn’t come out. It came out on top of him.”
Someone in the tanned crowd of sunny media personalities then pointed out that Hernandez didn’t have sunglasses on at the time.
“That’s a personal preference,” Kapler said. “We don’t ask guys or force guys to wear sunglasses. Some guys are good at shielding the sun. In this particular situation, if he needs sunglasses to field that ball then he should have sunglasses. But he’s a veteran infielder who knows how to play a ball in the sun. His decision was to not have sunglasses on.”
There really shouldn’t be a call for Hernandez to don shades, since he only committed 11 and 12 errors, respectively, over his last two full-time seasons at second base. Easily top-10 territory. Certainly good enough.
Critical observers of the Phillies’ defensive efforts could train their focus elsewhere for more defensive debates. As for ‘Cesar’s Shades: Will he or won’t he?’ ... Kapler’s lack of concern is a correct approach.
Besides, he has the rest of his defense to worry about.
“We constantly work on our hands in various drills,” Kapler said. (Base coach and infield instructor) Jose Flores is adament and diligent about that. On a daily basis we look to get better on defense just by revving our drills.
“I just want to re-emphasize, this is not a practice more sunballs thing. We’re not getting better at it the next time the ball goes up in the air and just happens to go into the sun. It’s just something that happens once a while.
“If we saw it happen multiple times over the course of, like, a week’s stretch, it’s something we could address. But this is something that’s a one-off in my personal opinion.”
Ramos only pitched to three batters in his one-third inning of work in the sixth of the first game. The first was Villanueva, who hit the pop that hit Hernandez. Ramos then retired Austin Hedges on a fly to left, but on his third pitch to next hitter Franmil Reyes, a problem ensued.
“It happened on the very last pitch when I landed on my left leg,” Ramos said. “I felt the sharp pain in the knee. It was weird.”
Ramos said he will undergo an MRI Monday on what’s preliminarily diagnosed as a strained patellar tendon. He will go on the disabled list, with Yacksel Rios promoted from the IronPigs to take his place on the roster.
“I don’t think it’s something very serious,” Ramos said.
NOTES >> Perhaps worth noting: No catcher in the National League is hotter at the plate since June 14 than one Andrew Knapp, who is hitting .345 with a 1.097 OPS since then. ... The Phillies will take on new Dodger Manny Machado and codger Dodger Chase Utley in an upcoming three-game series at Citizens Bank Park. L.A. has Ross Stripling vs. the Phils’ Zach Eflin Monday night.