A strong surge at the plate bodes well for Travis Jankowski

MLB: JUL 18 Marlins at Phillies
PHILADELPHIA, PA – JULY 18: Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Travis Jankowski (9) bunts in the eighth inning during the game between the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies on July 18, 2021 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

When Travis Jankowski first came up to the Phillies’ club at the end of May, expectations were set extremely low for the local guy.

Prior to returning to the Philadelphia area, Jankowski spent six years in the Majors with the Padres and Reds. Possessing a .238/.315.313 slash line over that stretch, the outfielder was strictly mediocre at the plate. Drafted with the 44th pick of the 2012 draft out of SUNY Stony Brook, Jankowski became eventually became a utility outfielder for the Padres.. Known for his speed, Jankowski stole 30 bases for the Padres in 2016.

Known for his speed, Jankowski stole 30 bases for the Padres in 2016.

Signed to a minor league contract, Jankowski was looked at as a depth move for the Phillies. But when every center fielder under the sun began to perform terribly, the Phillies brought Jankowski up to the Majors on May 31st. Then came the classic blunder.

A literal deer in the headlights in his third game with the Phillies, Lancaster-native Jankowski was caught “stealing” third base in the bottom of the ninth against the Nationals on June 4th. The potential game-tying run, Jankowski pinch-ran for Rhys Hoskins and instead got ran down by the catcher after a pitch was thrown in the dirt.

Not a good first impression. One that he would have to work to correct moving forward.

Riding the Bench and Making the Best Out of Every Opportunity

Througout most of June, the 30-year old rode the bench for the Phillies, coming in as a pinch-runner or pinch-hitter late in games as manager Joe Girardi saw fit. In 14 plate appearances through June 22nd, Jankowski accrued four hits, scoring one run and walking twice for an overal average of .364.

Despite early mistakes, Jankowski continued to grind, doing whatever was asked of him and contributing when called upon. This did not go unnnoticed by Girardi.

“I think it tells you that he’s able to overcome adversity and it doesn’t get the best of him. To be really successful in this game, you’re going to have to be able to do that because you’re going to have those moments. I know personally. I can do some really dumb things out there and you’re prepared and you’re educated and you know and sometimes your brain just doesn’t read things right. You think about how many chances we get to screw up. We get a lot. I’m happy for him. He’s been a guy who’s been up and down and it’s never been easy for him. But he’s keeps fighting.”

Joe Girardi on Travis Jankowski (from the Inquirer)

On June 23rd, Jankowski made his first start of the season for the Phillies, starting in left field. In an action-packed 13-12 loss to the Nationals, Jankowski went 3-for-4 with a home run, a double, three runs scored, three RBI, and a walk. This performanced resulted in Jankowski starting the following game on the 25th, the first game of a doubleheader against the Mets.

Over the next week or so, Jankowski began earning spot starts throughout the outfield, giving chances to rest for Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper.

Next Man Up

When Odubel Herrera made his return to the Majors in late April, he filled a gaping hole in center field for the Phillies. The controversial outfielder did his job quietly, returning to his old role as leadoff batter for the Phillies after readjusting to the Big Leagues. Through June 16th, Herrera sported a respectable .276 average and .768 OPS on the season.

Things would, however, begin to change to take a turn for the worse for El Torito. From June 18th through July 8th, Herrera owned a .154 average, dropping his season total to .241. Batting 10-for-65 over the stretch with 14 strikeouts and two home runs, Herrera slowly began to be usurped at the leadoff position, batting sixth or seventh on occasion.

Herrera then came down with left ankle tendonitis, putting the outfielder on the Injured List. The injury, an unfortunate pause for Herrera, came at the perfect time for Jankowski to step up as an everyday starter.

The injury, an unfortunate pause for Herrera, came at the perfect time for Jankowski to step up as an everyday starter.

Jankowksi has started six of the eight games since Herrera went on the IL. In that stretch, he has gone 8-for-21 with four RBI for the Phillies. On the season, he posseses a .346 average and an impressive 151 OPS+ on the year. A performance strong enough for fans to speculate as to whether or not he has usurped Herrera for the starting center fielder job.

Is Travis Jankowski the new starting Center Fielder?

Herrera returned from the Injured List on Thursday, sparking additional buzz regarding how the Phillies would proceed. The answer? Inconclusive. Both Herrera and Jankowski appeared in the lineup on Thursday night against the Braves.

Worth noting, however, are the positions and location in the order. Janowski was the starting center fielder last night while Herrera was in left field. With J.T. Realmuto and Andrew McCutchen out of the lineup, Girardi is going with a lefty-centric lineup against Charlie Morton. As such, Herrera is starting in left field, McCutchen’s usual spot.

Not only was Jankowski the starting center fielder, he also batted second for the Phillies. Now, it appears to be an off-day for J.T. Realmuto and Andrew McCutchen, so Jankowski will not bat second often. The fact, however, that Girardi is valuing Jankowski in the two-hole and Herrera batting sixth is not to be ignored.

Jankowski’s 0-for-4 performance last night shakes the pot as well, especially considering Herrera went 1-for-2 with one RBI. Considering that the Phillies lost to the Braves 7-2, the fact that Herrera has one of only two RBI on the night is key. Contrarily, Herrera was also removed from the game in the bottom of the eighth for McCutchen as a pinch-hitter.

There is certainly a possibility that Girardi is riding the hot bat. However, given that both Jankowksi and Herrera are left-handed bats, it is unlikely that the pair platoon in center. Most likely, Herrera will be riding the bench until Jankowski fizzles. Wally Pipp. Herrera will now likely work his way into the lineup in favorable matchups while acting as a late-game pinch-hitter.

When the Phillies signed Travis Jankowksi on February 12th, no one expected him to become the starting center fielder come July. And yet he has proven himself worthy of a shot, so here we are.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire