For Mayberry, job in Phillies' outfield is there for the taking

John Mayberry has two home runs and seven RBIs on the season. (Michael Bryant/Staff file photo)
John Mayberry has two home runs and seven RBIs on the season. (Michael Bryant/Staff file photo)
Posted: May 20, 2011

IF YOU ARE a partial season ticketsharer who drew last night's game at Citizens Bank Park, you sat down for the first pitch and this is what you saw:

Kyle Kendrick on the mound;

Pete Orr at second base;

Michael Martinez in centerfield.

Which means only one thing: You chose unwisely.

Better luck with the Preakness, dude.

Jason Giambi blasted a career-high three home runs and Colorado banged out 15 hits against an array of little-used arms in a 7-1 Rockies victory. There will be nights like this even for good teams, nights that have little to do with trends, with a team's pulse.

The Phillies are amid a week of those nights.

With Shane Victorino still nursing his hamstring, Chase Utley still getting his timing down and Domonic Brown just back from his hand problems, they sent a spring-training lineup out there last night, starting two players up the middle who nearly didn't make the team when it left Clearwater 7 weeks ago, sending Kendrick to the mound after Joe Blanton's elbow flared up in warmups, banking perhaps on rain clouds that were as fickle as Kendrick's control.

Someone asked Charlie Manuel before the game whether he wrestled with his lineup before each of these late May games. "I think about five or six lineups," he said. "But at the same time . . .

"I don't see no new faces in there."

That sounds like the baseball equivalent of an interoffice memo. But aside from pulling a "Send Help" sign from the trunk of his car and holding it up in the bottom half of innings, what else is a Charlie to do?

That said, there's at least one face that's offered at least a little intrigue. Because he still struggles against righthanded pitching and because Manuel wanted Ross Gload to get some at-bats (see spring-training analogy above), John Mayberry Jr. did not start last night. Yet he was part of that pregame discussion, the manager likening him to Jayson Werth when he first joined the Phillies, lauding the improvements Mayberry has made with both his swing and stance since coming here in a trade 2 years ago at the not-so-young age of 25.

"He's improved quite a bit," Manuel said. "He's gotten stronger. He stays in a stronger hitting position. I've seen some good things out of John. Now what he's gotta do is take those things that he showed us and be more consistent with it."

Mayberry's 27 now, no kid, but some of the things he has done as his opportunity has increased has provided fuel for conjecture, if not hope. Four stolen bases in five attempts are a byproduct, he said, of listening to Jimmy Rollins and Victorino. A .411 slugging percentage on a team parched for power may be evidence of that stronger hitting position, and maybe a shorter swing.

"I realize there's an opportunity there," Mayberry said last night. "And I'm trying to take advantage of it."

Manuel sent him up last night to pinch-hit against Colorado righthanded starter Jhoulys Chacin with two outs and a man on in the seventh, the score already out of hand. No pressure. An opportunity. After falling behind 2-1, Chacin struck him out with two breaking balls that finished well out of the strike zone.

"He's got to get more consistent hitting righthanded pitching," said Manuel. "Same things I used to tell Jayson Werth."

It's Phillies folklore now, the story of Werth putting together a videotape to show the manager he could hit righties, too.

"Still got it here somewhere," Chuck chuckled. It's clear he would like to see a few new faces in his clubhouse sooner rather than later, especially after what he's had to watch over the last week.

It's also apparent that among the faces he's seeing in there right now, he's got a sweet spot for the guy who is built like Werth and runs like Werth, who has given hints of being the same kind of late-blooming power hitter, too.

"I've seen quite a few of them," Manuel said. "From a hitter's standpoint, I think I was a late bloomer as far as knowing how to hit. Actually, I had to sit on the bench for a long time in the big leagues. It was hard for me to get a chance."

Mayberry might have said the same thing. Last year. But he never will have a better chance than he does now.

And he knows it.

"I think that I'm more suited to handle it now, too," he said. "I've had a couple extra years of experience. To be able to hang around and be able to observe and be able to learn from some of the guys who have had a great deal of success up here. Hopefully it pays off."

The payoff would be as a valued contributor, a platoon player maybe, should Ben Francisco's struggles continue. At least through Manuel's eyes.

Mayberry? He was asked if he saw himself becoming an everyday player, a la Werth.

"That would be a nice phrase to attach to my name, yes," he said.

Send email to donnels@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/SamDonnellon.

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