Cesar Hernandez Helps Phillies Start 2017 With a Bang in Opening Day Win Over Reds

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CINCINNATI -- When Cesar Hernandez showed up in the Phillies' spring-training clubhouse seven weeks ago, he was noticeably bigger and stronger. A winter spent in the weight room had taken him from a spindly 165 pounds to a sturdy 180.

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It didn't take long for Hernandez to show off his new strength. The Phillies' leadoff man hit the eighth pitch of his first at-bat of the new season into the right-field seats Monday afternoon. It was one of seven extra-base hits that the Phillies used in opening their 135th season with a 4-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park (see Instant Replay).

Hernandez, 26, entered the new season with just eight home runs in 1,187 career at-bats in the majors. He had just six in 547 at-bats last season and didn't hit his first until June 4.

So, of course, he became the first Phillie since Heinie Mueller in 1938 to lead off a season with a home run.

"I'm hitting the ball a little harder this year," Hernandez said. "Workouts."

Freddy Galvis, who had a career-high 20 homers last season, went deep an inning after Hernandez. Both homers came against Reds' starter Scott Feldman.

The two friends and middle infielders from Venezuela signed as teens on the same day in 2006. After hitting home runs on the same day in 2017, they shared a laugh in the clubhouse.

"I have to tell you," said Galvis, explaining the dugout reaction to Hernandez's homer, "nobody believed it."

Hernandez heard Galvis' comment and shot a look at his friend.

Galvis laughed.

"It was pretty good, man, pretty amazing," he said. "The guy worked hard in the offseason. He really worked hard, took it seriously every day. To see a start like that is pretty good."

Manager Pete Mackanin concurred.

"Cesar Hernandez set the tone," he said. "I tell you what, we don't need power from the corners. We've got our power from the middle infielders. Cesar and Freddy, the two littlest guys on the field. It was good to see."

Yes, it was a good way to start a game and a season.

A lot went right for the Phils in this one. Three of general manager Matt Klentak's wintertime additions had big days. Michael Saunders doubled home a run in the first inning. Howie Kendrick had two singles and a double. And Joaquin Benoit came out of the bullpen throwing smoke in the sixth inning. Pitching with a man on second and no outs after starter Jeremy Hellickson exited, Benoit got two strikeouts and a fly ball to get out of the inning and protect a 4-1 lead.

Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris both followed with a scoreless inning before Jeanmar Gomez gave his manager agita by giving up a single and a two-run run homer in the ninth before registering a wobbly save.

Gomez had 37 saves last season, but lost the closer's job with a poor September. Mackanin decided to give Gomez the first chance at the job this season, but he's clearly on a short leash.

"I'm concerned about it," Mackanin said of the closer situation. "I had two guys up in the ninth. [Gomez] is just not getting the ball down the way he did when he was successful. I want to make sure that he gets the opportunities, but at the same time I don't want to let games slip away."

Four of the Phillies' seven extra-base hits knocked home runs -- all of the runs, in fact. One of those extra-base hits was a triple by starting pitcher Hellickson in the top of the sixth inning. It knocked in Galvis, who had doubled.

Hellickson's hit was a slicing liner toward the line in right field and it got by a diving Scott Schebler and rolled to the wall. Hellickson seemed perfectly content to stop at second, but third base coach Juan Samuel waved him to third.

The 270-foot sprint left Hellickson winded. He gave up a double to open the bottom of the inning and Mackanin, clearly with more confidence in his bullpen, got the right-hander out of there after five-plus innings of one-run ball.

"I was catching my breath for about 30 minutes after I got back in here," Hellickson said in front of his locker after the game. "That's the last time I'll be doing that. I'm stopping at second no matter what."

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