Phillies manager Manuel has a lot of lineup options to ponder

Associated Press
Associated Press
Posted: January 24, 2011

NEW YORK - "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, have your pencils and scorecards ready and I will give you the starting lineup for today's Opening Day game between the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros . . .

"For your Phillies, leading off and playing . . .

"Excuse me, fans, but it seems I've been handed five Phillies lineups. And each one is different. I can't make heads or tails out of them.

"Can somebody tell me if Jimmy Rollins is batting leadoff, No. 2, No. 3, No. 5 or No. 6?

"Excuse me, folks, but this is crazy. The only players in the same spot on all five lineup cards are Ryan Howard in No. 4 and Chooch - excuse me, Carlos Ruiz - in No. 8.

"These other lineups look to me like Charlie Manuel pulled them out of a hat . . . "

 The manager is going to be spending a lot of his March time staring at blank lineup cards. Some days drawing names from a hat might make sense.

Manuel will be staying in Safety Harbor during spring training. The community on the western end of Tampa Bay on the Pinellas County side is a lot closer to Bright House Field and the adjacent minor league complex than it is to Clearwater Beach.

"Hell, I've never gotten to the beach one time," Charlie said Saturday night before a Phillies delegation led by team president David Montgomery saw 2010 Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay and Hall of Fame executive electee Pat Gillick honored at the annual New York Baseball Writers Banquet. "No sense being over on the beach if you're not gonna go to the beach, and in my job there's not a lot of beach time."

Halladay makes his home in Safety Harbor. Manuel will now be better positioned to actually beat his ace righthander and workaholic supreme to the ballpark. But don't bet on it.

Right now, the manager has not tipped his hand on how he would like to see his Werth-less lineup settle into the vacuum left by the departure of the Phillies' No. 5 hitter.

"I'll be thinking things over, considering a lot of options," Manuel said. "We could come right down to the end of spring training and still not be settled on how the lineup is going to look. Fortunately, we've got some pretty good hitters to consider for various roles."

OK, Dan Baker, grab that mike again and give us a lineup. Come on. It's getting late. Almost time for the clubs to line up along the base lines . . .

"Leading off and playing center, No. 8, Shane Victorino . . . Batting second, the third baseman, No. 27, Placido Polanco."

OK, Charlie played that combination at the top a lot last season when Jimmy Rollins was on the DL. But how does that work if he's healthy, or close to it?

"Batting third and playing shortstop, No. 11, Jimmy Rollins . . . "

OK, I get it today. The Astros are probably going to start a righthander, Brett Myers? Now who?

"Batting fourth, the first baseman, No. 6, Ryan Howard . . . Batting fifth and playing second base, No. 26, Chase Utley."

Say what?

Charlie neatly ducked the question when I asked if a veteran hitter like Utley could add the same stability to the No. 5 chasm he once did to the vital No. 3 hole. And I'm not talking about the injured Utley, who gutted it through the 2010 season, obviously hurt, but, as always, stoic as a Spartan warrior. I'm talking about the Chase Utley that Joe Morgan once called the best all-around player in the game.

That Utley drove in more than 100 runs four straight seasons, averaged 29 homers, scored 100-plus runs, batted as high as .332, lashed 203 hits in 2006.

"I think Chase is a real big key for us," Charlie said. "We know he played hurt last year and I'm looking for him to bounce back in a big way."

Is it conceivable that he could be an everyday No. 5 hitter?

"He'll be an everyday player," Charlie stiff-armed.

"Batting sixth and playing leftfield, No. 29, Rauuuuuul Ibanez."

No surprise there. Old guy will be in great shape. Not even Halladay works harder than Raul. And this is his last contract year. He's got to prove there's still some tiger in his tank. But how many lefthanders will he see?

"Batting seventh and playing rightfield, No. 9, Domonic Brown . . . "

OK, he made the ballclub. But Lehigh Valley is only an hour away. He can't just be OK, he's got to be the force Baseball America says he will be. And when a lefthander is out there, he'll be on the bench. A lot of people will be watching to see if he has shrugged off the unexplained malaise that he brought to the Dominican Republic for a shambles of an assignment.

"Batting eighth, the catcher, No. 51, Carlos Ruiz . . . Chooooch!"

So that's just one day, one lineup. One of many. It will have a totally different look against lefthanders, without doubt.

Rollins, Polanco, Utley, Howard, Ben Francisco, Victorino, John Mayberry, Ruiz? Whether Mayberry makes the club is going to depend on whether he can look like a major league hitter against the breaking ball.

Now, throw the names of Francisco, Brown, Mayberry, Ross Gload, in a hat. Mix 'em and match 'em. Charlie is an inveterate lineup tinkerer.

But in the past, the manager had that tall, scruffy dude with the long swing, the long stride and the long arm to provide a Berlin Wall of security in the engine room.

"I'll be throwing a lot of combinations at you guys," Charlie grinned, loving every second of it, thriving on the huge challenge of getting this 2011 Phillies lineup just right.

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