On April 18, newly acquired left fielder Howie Kendrick hit the disabled list with an apparent oblique injury. He was placed on the 10-day DL, retroactive to April 16. He’s now spent 17 days out of commission, and reports say he’s started to hit off a tee and take light batting practice. That, however, doesn’t mean that he’ll be ready for game action soon. I’d assume it’ll be another two weeks until Kendrick is game ready. Even when Kendrick comes of the DL, it’s going to be tough to find playing time for him I left field because of the emergence of Aaron Altherr.
In the first game after Kendrick was sidelined, Daniel Nava got the nod in left field, but figured to split time with Altherr. That time split has become reminiscent of the time split that Geoff Jenkins and Jayson Werth had in 2008 in right field. In other words, the position is Altherr’s to lose. He’s been that good.
Since Altherr effectively took over as the everyday left fielder for the Phillies on April 16, he’s rarely been out of the lineup. Altherr has been Pete Mackanin’s starting left fielder for 12 of the last 15 games. In the three games he didn’t start, he came off the bench to pinch hit.
When Altherr started in left field against the Nationals on April 16, his batting average sat at .250. Now, through three games in May, Altherr has raised that average to .327. In three games in May, he’s hitting .455, with five hits in 11 at-bats. What may be even more impressive is Altherr’s near .400 on base percentage, and an incredible .538 OBP in May. What may be the most impressive, still, is the pitching he’s doing all that against. Over the last two weeks, the Phillies have faced Zach Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard from the Mets, Gio Gonzalez of the Nationals, and, most recently, Jake Arrieta from the Cubs. In each of those games, Altherr had at least one hit.
In total this year, Altherr has 18 hits in 55 at-bats, including seven doubles and three homeruns. While this is the first year he’s getting full season, every day playing time, it’s worth noting that his previous season high in homeruns is five last year. His doubles season high is 11 in 2015.
Altherr’s explosive emergence puts the Phillies in a good situation. They now have three starting caliber players for two outfield spots when Kendrick comes back.
So who’s the odd man out? Well, that depends on where you want to play Kendrick. Before his injury, Kendrick was hitting the ball well. He’d been getting a hit exactly one out of every three at-bats. That was through ten games. It was also nearly a month ago.
But, if you want Kendrick back in the outfield, then the answer is fairly obvious. The odd man out is right fielder Michael Saunders. While taking Saunders out of the lineup would eliminate a power bat in the middle of the order, it would put two plus .300 hitters in your corner outfield spots. That bodes well for an offense that produces singles around Maikel Franco’s power.
Through 25 games, Saunders has 22 hits in 87 at-bats, posting a .253 average. While that’s not lighting the world on fire, it is on pace with what he averaged his last two full seasons in Toronto. What more concerns me about Saunders is his low on base percentage. Last year, Saunders hit exactly .253, but had an OBP of .338. Heading into May, the Phillies are only getting a .286 OBP from Saunders, who’s only walked three times this year. That’s one more walk than Aaron Nola. Saunders could lose time in right, as Kendrick reclaims left field and Altherr is shifted over.
Let’s say, for arguments sake, you want to keep Saunders in the lineup. Where do Kendrick and Altherr play? Well, a report came out via Jim Salisbury a few days ago saying that along with his light hitting, Kendrick is taking reps at first base. Kendrick is seemingly the ultimate utility guy, as he’s played five positions in his career, including 89 games at first base for the Angels and Dodgers.
This puts the struggling Tommy Joseph out of a starting job. Despite the fact that he crushed a three-run homer a few nights ago off Brett Anderson, Joseph hasn’t been productive this year. Through 22 games and 75 at-bats, Joseph has managed just 14 hits, a .187 average. He’s also striking out far too often, punching out 32 percent of his at-bats this year. If Joseph continues to see consistent playing time, he’s on pace to strikeout 150 times in 137 games. That’s not productive.
Like I mentioned earlier, Mackanin will have a good problem on his hands when Kendrick comes off the disabled list. Regardless of where the manager feels Kendrick fits best, one thing is for certain. It would be very, very unwise to take Aaron Altherr out of the lineup.
Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports