Phils' overhauled bench could be busy

Ty Wigginton started 62 games at third base for Rockies last year and hit 15 homers.
Ty Wigginton started 62 games at third base for Rockies last year and hit 15 homers. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: February 14, 2012

IT MIGHT sound hokey, but the makeup of the Phillies' bench heading into the 2012 season really will depend on who's on first. Manager Charlie Manuel has no shortage of options to fill in for injured slugger Ryan Howard, who is expected to miss at least the first 2 months of the season. From there, the dominoes will fall. The likely scenario heading into spring training has John Mayberry Jr. starting in leftfield and veteran Ty Wigginton getting the first crack at first base.

But the situation is best described as fluid. If you are a veteran hoping to get at-bats on a World Series-contending team, the Phillies are as good a place to be as any. Laynce Nix, who signed a 2-year, $2.5 million deal after spending the last three seasons in Cincinnati and Washington, should get plenty of opportunities against righthanded pitchers, whom he tagged for 16 home runs in 297 at-bats last season (albeit with a .263/.306/.475 batting line). Nix is viewed primarily as a leftfielder, but he has played eight games at first base in his career. How much he factors into the equation at first will depend largely on whether Jim Thome fulfills the Phillies' optimistic hope that he will be able to get his 41-year-old body in shape to play the field, something he has not done since 2007.

Thome was the surprise of the offseason, agreeing to a 1-year, $1.25 million deal to return to the franchise where he starred from 2003 through 2005. The 21-year veteran posted a solid .256/.361/.477 line with 15 home runs in 277 at-bats for the Twins and Indians last season. But apart from DH duty in interleague play and whatever starts, if any, he is able to muster at first, Thome will be occupying a role he has never performed regularly. He struggled as a bench player with the Dodgers for 17 games at the end of 2009 and is 28-for-120 (.233) with four homers and 14 runs batted in for his career as a pinch-hitter.

As long as Thome stays healthy, he will at least give opposing managers something to think about as they navigate through late-and-close situations. Nix has never fared well off the bench, hitting .187/.276/.545 with two home runs and 40 strikeouts in 134 career pinch-hit at-bats (including 4-for-29 with no extra-base hits last season with the Nationals).

The other lefty who could factor in late in games is Juan Pierre, the 34-year-old outfielder who signed a minor league contract. With the White Sox last year, he batted .279/.329/.327 with 27 stolen bases. While Pierre is not the dynamic threat he was during his prime, he still provides the Phillies with more speed and better bat-handling than they had last season (assuming, of course, he makes the team).

The situation at first could also affect the situation at third, where Wigginton started 62 games for the Rockies last season. Like the rest of the bench, his best days are well in his rearview mirror. As a 33-year-old in Colorado in 2011 he hit .242/.315/.416 with 84 strikeouts in 401 at-bats. But he does provide the Phillies with power (15 home runs in 2011), and the ability to play multiple positions.

The good news is that whoever is sitting on the bench should have enough regular at-bats to stay sharp. Where those at-bats come - and with what frequency - is a question that won't be answered until the regular season.


For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/HighCheese. Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/HighCheese.

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