Hernandez has found a home in leadoff spot

Hernandez has found a home in leadoff spot

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies manager Pete Mackanin used 144 different lineups last season. So it didn't attract a lot of attention on July 24 when he moved Cesar Hernandez from the eighth spot in the order to leadoff.

Hernandez went 3-for-5 against the Pirates at PNC Park that day. Mackanin left him at the top of the order. A few days later, Hernandez had eight walks in three games at Atlanta. By the time the season ended, he had batted first in 60 of the final 63 games while hitting .313 with an eye-popping .430 on-base percentage.

Mackanin hopes to go with a more set lineup this year and, not surprisingly, when the regular season opens at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park Monday (4:10 p.m. ET), that means the 26-year-old second baseman will be leading off. He'll be followed by left fielder Howie Kendrick, center fielder Odubel Herrera, third baseman Maikel Franco, right fielder Michael Saunders, first baseman Tommy Joseph, catcher Cameron Rupp, shortstop Freddy Galvis and right-hander Jeremy Hellickson.

"Hernandez was a prototypical leadoff hitter," Mackanin said at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday before the team charter left for Cincinnati. "He's been fantastic, especially the second half of last year.

"One thing I thought was very noticeable in the second half was that Cesar started playing with a lot of confidence. And during the course of Spring Training, he really looked like a Major Leaguer. He played with confidence both on offense and defense. He takes pitches. He knows how to work the count."

Hernandez batted sixth 10 times in 2016, seventh on 13 occasions, eighth 26 times and even ninth three times. He's happy to have a more defined spot.

"That's what I was looking for last year and the previous years, obviously," he said. "You want to be set. You want to know what your role is. So I'm comfortable now.

"I did it last year, so I can do it this year."

Hernandez stole 17 bases last season but was also thrown out 13 times. Mackanin compared it to being at the top of your backswing in golf, knowing something doesn't feel right and swinging anyway.

"For some reason, he just got caught up in a situation where he didn't know when to go and when not to go," Mackanin said. "He wanted to steal bases, but sometimes he started and knew he shouldn't have gone."

That's why the Phillies were so pleased that he swiped six bags in the Grapefruit League without being caught.

Mackanin knows circumstances will dictate that he'll have to make adjustments to his lineup as the season progresses. For the time being, though, he likes what he envisions.

"I keep looking at the lineup and it always comes out the same for me," he said. "For the time being, I'm going to try to stay as close to that as I can."

Worth noting
• Mackanin isn't backing off the goal he set before Spring Training of having at least a .500 record going into August. The Phillies won 71 games last year. "We should be very capable of playing .500," he said. "The rest depends on how much the players improve during the regular season."

• The Phillies worked out at Great American Ball Park after arriving in Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon.

• Four of the Phillies' starters -- Hellickson (5.92), Jerad Eickhoff (6.86), Clay Buchholz (6.65) and Aaron Nola (8.38) -- had high Grapefruit League ERAs. Mackanin said he wasn't concerned because some were working on things and all pitched hitters differently than they would during the regular season.

• After being called up last season, Joseph mostly platooned with Ryan Howard, hitting well vs. lefties and struggling against righties. This year he's expected to play against both. "Tommy Joseph is the everyday first baseman," Mackanin said.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.