Inside the Phillies: Lopes gives Phillies an edge in baserunning

Davey Lopes has energized the Phils' running game and made Shane Victorino one of the most dangerous base stealers in the National League.
Davey Lopes has energized the Phils' running game and made Shane Victorino one of the most dangerous base stealers in the National League.
Posted: October 10, 2010

CINCINNATI - In an evening of mishaps, it was an easily missed moment that made a bigger difference than some people may have realized.

The Phillies had cut a four-run deficit to two in the bottom of the fifth inning Friday night, and now they were trying to keep the momentum rolling.

First, Jayson Werth had a quality nine-pitch at-bat, fouling off three two-strike pitches - a curveball, fastball, and sinker - from Cincinnati's Bronson Arroyo to draw a leadoff walk.

Then, with two outs and Carlos Ruiz at the plate, Werth stole second base, placing himself in scoring position and raising the anxiety level of lefthander Arthur Rhodes.

On the next pitch after Werth stole second, Rhodes drilled Ruiz in the kneecap with a two-strike pitch. Rhodes' evening was over. Now, the pressure was on rookie righthander Logan Ondrusek, and the decibel level at Citizens Bank Park was on the rise.

Before the inning was over, Ondrusek had hit pinch-hitter Ben Francisco on the brim of his helmet and walked Shane Victorino, forcing in Werth with the Phillies' third run.

The following inning the Phillies wrestled the lead away from the Reds en route to a 7-4 victory that gave them a 2-0 lead in this best-of-five division series that resumes Sunday night at Great American Ball Park. An insurance run was added in the eighth after Chase Utley stole second and scored on a single by Werth.

Werth's walk and stolen base did not make the ESPN highlight reel and Utley's steal was maybe his least memorable act of the evening, but those moments provided more indisputable evidence of how much three men are worth to the greatest Phillies era in franchise history.

Obviously, Werth and Utley were the players who got the job done on the field.

Behind the scenes - or at least off to the side - first-base coach Davey Lopes was working his magic that has turned the Phillies into the most efficient running team in baseball.

Since Lopes joined manager Charlie Manuel's coaching staff in 2007, the Phillies have been first in stolen-base percentage each of the last four seasons. They have been successful on 501 of 594 regular-season attempts, an 84-percent success rate.

In two postseason games this season, the Phillies have been successful on all three of their attempts. Since Lopes' arrival, the Phillies also have an 84-percent success rate in the postseason, stealing 31 bases in 37 attempts.

"He's like a Hall of Fame first-base coach," Werth said after the Phillies' workout late Saturday afternoon. "It took me some time to get on the same page with him when I first got here in '07, but once the line of communication is open, there is a lot to be gained from his knowledge. It's not just his baserunning either. He played the game a long time."

When the Phillies hired Lopes after the 2006 season, Manuel immediately turned the baserunning aspect of the game over to him.

"Davey is the best baserunning coach I've ever been around," Manuel said. "Since he's been with us, he sees things I don't see from the standpoint of baserunning and pitching."

Three things, according to Lopes, have been key to his success with the Phillies. One is that Manuel allowed him to take complete control of the running game.

"It's very rare where a manager will allow a certain phase of a game to be taken over solely by a coach," Lopes said. "That's the respect that Charlie has for me knowing what I've done in the past and what I had done as a player. We played together a little bit and he doesn't have an ego problem designating that authority to a coach."

Second, the players have bought into his teaching skills.

"They bought into the philosophy and are students," Lopes said. "Base stealing to me is an art just as there is an art to hitting and pitching. I go at it a little bit differently than most first-base coaches do. I would venture to say one or two guys do what I do and none of them do it to the extent I do it."

Finally, Lopes, who stole 47 bases and was caught just four times at the age of 40 with the Chicago Cubs, uses his eyes to see things that will give the Phillies an edge.

"I don't know how much guys study pitchers," he said. "They all react to something . . . but I don't know how far they can expand it by looking at a pitcher's body and picking up what he does. Sometimes I can tell what a guy is doing just by looking at his feet. There are things I can pick up from a catch. I can get a sign from a catcher and relay it to my guys. I'm not talking about stealing signs. I'm talking about watching what a catcher does when he calls the pitches."

Lopes said Utley is his best student, but others have also prospered under his guidance. Shane Victorino, for example, had just four steals and was caught three times the year before Lopes arrived on Manuel's staff. In the four years since, he has been successful on 132 of 161 attempts.

Utley has been successful on 59 of 64 attempts, and Werth has swiped 60 bases on 67 attempts.

"I was like a zero or .05 before [Lopes' arrival]," Werth said of his previous base-stealing knowledge. "Now I'm like a six. I'm way better. I'm not one to take a whole lot of chances. When I steal I want to be safe."

That's Lopes' mission for all the Phillies' baserunners, and he has been better at it than anybody in his business.

Inside the Phillies:

Read The Inquirer's Phillies blog, "The Phillies Zone", by Bob Brookover and Matt Gelb, at

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