WASHINGTON -- It’s weird to think of Ryne Sandberg as anything but the Gold Glover and Hall of Famer. But when Sandberg was coming up with the Phillies and Cubs, he was essentially a man without a position.
Primarily a shortstop and third baseman, Sandberg said his managers moved him around the diamond before he settled into second base. In fact, Sandberg says he even played some outfield.
Ryne Sandberg, the Hall of Fame centerfielder?
“When I was first traded to the Cubs, I played a handful of games in center field because I was swinging the bat a little bit,” Sandberg said before Friday night’s game at Nationals Park. “I was playing some third, backing up a little at second as a utility type of thing.
“I hit well the whole spring, so they were looking for a position that was open and centerfield was one, third base was another. I played about a handful out there.”
So maybe Sandberg understands what it’s like for Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez to play the outfield for the first time. Galvis and Hernandez, two natural middle infielders, were major-league ready -- only their positions weren’t open.
No problem. Sandberg and the Phillies found a couple of spots in the outfield and for the second game in a row, Galvis is in left and his double-play partner Hernandez is in center.
“Freddy has experience on the left side of the infield at short and third, but that being said he’s also played second base and the outfield,” Sandberg said. “So he is more versatile than Cesar as we speak. But to have both guys around, in the mix, it makes it interesting and a good problem. It creates depth in case of an injury, which is good.
“I would like to see Cesar to get some work on the left side of the diamond, but I don’t know when that will happen. That’s a down-the-road thing, maybe a winter-ball thing. To be the super-utility guy who can play on both sides of the diamond and in the outfield, that’s versatile.”
So far it’s worked out well. Galvis and Hernandez have settled into the new positions well.
Galvis played some left field during spring training, but played 580 of his 586 minor-league games at shortstop. The other six were at second base or third base.
Hernandez has played 567 minor-league games, but never stepped into the outfield until he went back to Lehigh Valley after a brief call up to the majors in May and June. Still, Hernandez got just 21 games in the outfield before he rejoined the Phillies, where he’s played 10 of 11 games in center.
That’s quite a switch for the second baseman.
“It was a long way from home plate,” Hernandez said in Spanish. “Used to being so close to the action, so I kind of get that. I understand it. To go out there, you really have to be in the game. When you’re an infielder and you go to the outfield, you really have to focus a little more on the game because home plate is further away from you and it feels like maybe at times, if you haven’t been out there at all, the ball is not gonna be hit to you.
“Whereas the infield, you’re on the balls of your feet, glove down, really low waiting for the hot shot. Out there, it’s like that, but you really have to stay focused if the ball is coming your way.”
Hernandez seems to be a natural in center field. Sandberg said Hernandez gets good reads on fly balls and has a strong arm that translates well from the infield to the outfield. Part of that is because of Hernandez’s speed, but also because he’s a pretty good baseball player who understands the game.
“His athletic ability is allowing him to play the position pretty well right now for the lack of experience that he has, the reads off the bat that he’d normally have,” Sandberg said. “He’s had some plays right at him, handled sinking liners very nice. He’s had balls hit over his head, but his stride and his foot speed [are good].
“His speed to the gaps has been very good. He’s called off corner outfielders on balls. He’s been a pleasant surprise. It’s not an easy position by no means, but I think his athletic ability has allowed him to cover the position very well and he finds himself in the lineup.”
It hasn’t been easy for Hernandez and he admits he still has a lot of work to do. But if moving from second base to the outfield gets him playing time in the big leagues, Hernandez will happily wear the glove.
“It’s not for everybody, but you get guys that can play different positions like a lot of our guys have and have that ability, that’s a good thing down the road,” Hernandez said. “You never know when they’ll need it. For a young player to have some versatility, that’s how you become a regular.
“That position opens up and you have some experience there, and basically that’s what happened to me. I was able to break in because there was an opening at third base and I had never played third base. It used to be taught that way, for guys to break in possibly as a utility player and one day earn the right to be a regular. That was the mentality.
“For that, I needed to learn two or three positions. When an opening came up, they were good to go, and then they became a regular.”