Hernandez continues offensive surge

Hernandez continues offensive surge

WASHINGTON -- Though Cesar Hernandez isn't a finished product by any means, the player that he is these days is good enough to be considered the Phillies' best hitter.

Through 12 games, the 26-year-old second baseman appears to be turning the corner in his third year as an everyday big-league player, becoming the spark plug that Philadelphia's offense has needed.

He leads the team in average (.347), runs scored (13) and is second on the club in RBIs (8).

"I'm happy for Cesar," manager Pete Mackanin said following Sunday's 6-4 loss to the Nationals. "He's playing full of confidence and that's what we need everybody to play with."

In the Phillies' three-game set in D.C., Hernandez went 6-for-13 with two home runs -- one a go-ahead two-run shot and the other a leadoff homer -- to go along with four runs scored and a stolen base.

Getting on base and wreaking havoc is the typical job description of any leadoff hitter, but the added pop he's shown recently has been a pleasant surprise. Sunday's long ball marked his third of the season, which is already half his 2016 total.

"I can hit the ball harder than last year," Hernandez said after Saturday's game. "Maybe that ball I hit is dead at the wall [last year]. Today, it was a home run."

"He's turned into a real good Major League player," Mackanin added.

Though the Phillies will certainly take whatever power Hernandez gives them, what Mackanin wants to see is the speedy infielder take the next step as a baserunner. Since 2015, the 5-10, 160-pound Hernandez has stolen 37 bases, a number he could amass in a single season if he adds a few wrinkles to his game.

"The one ingredient that he needs work on -- and he's been working on it -- is getting jumps to steal bases," Mackanin said. "He's got the potential to steal a lot of bases. He's been working on reading slide steps, when to go, when not to. The other night he was going to attempt to steal, but the pitcher put a slide step on so he shut it down. That's a vast improvement."

Whether Hernandez can make those improvements this season while sustaining his current surge is unknown. But for a player that initially struggled to find his footing in the Majors, he's shown capable of improving as he gets more experience.

"When you play every day, you grow more," Hernandez said.

Daniel Shiferaw is a contributor to MLB.com and covered the Phillies on Sunday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.