Phil Sheridan: Podsednik and Pierre racing for a roster spot

Phils outfielder Juan Pierre dives for a ball but can't make the catch against the Yankees in Saturday's exhibition game.
Phils outfielder Juan Pierre dives for a ball but can't make the catch against the Yankees in Saturday's exhibition game. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 09, 2012

CLEARWATER, Fla. - A little slice of Grapefruit League fan interaction summed up the situation Scott Podsednik and Juan Pierre are in.

As the Phillies played the Pirates on Thursday afternoon, the two veteran outfielders were standing along the left-field line, stretching and getting ready to play if called on in the later innings.

"Hey, Scott," a fan called out. "Who's faster, you or Juan?"

Podsednik shook his head, bemused.

"I'm an old man," the 35-year-old said.

Pierre looked up.

"I'm on my last leg here," the 34-year-old said.

The honest answer to that question could decide both men's future with the Phillies. They are two of the more intriguing players here this spring, and not just because they both possess World Series rings. With Charlie Manuel and Ruben Amaro Jr. preaching smarter, more disciplined at-bats to their free-swinging regulars, here are two guys who have made careers with that approach.

It can't be lost on Manuel that, until Thursday, both of them seemed to be on base whenever they were in the game.

"Each player has his own skill set, strengths and weaknesses," Podsednik said. "I've been around the game for a while. I feel like I've learned what my skill set is. You've got to go out there and be yourself. I'm going to try to play my game, get on base, move guys around, and try to get myself into scoring position."

That sounds a lot like Pierre's game, too. Phillies fans are more familiar with him, because he used to drive them crazy when he was with the Florida Marlins. Every at-bat, it seemed, Pierre would draw a walk or drop a ball in front of an outfielder. He'd be on second within a pitch or two and cruising home on a base hit.

Pierre won a World Series with the Marlins in 2003. He was on those Dodgers teams that lost to the Phillies in the 2008 and 2009 National League playoffs. He was traded to the White Sox before the 2010 season. He replaced Podsednik, who hit .304 with the Sox in a second stint with them in '09.

To complete the circle, Podsednik went to the Dodgers in a trade deadline deal in 2010, to fill the leadoff spot left open by Pierre. By then, Podsednik was already beset with the foot injuries that placed his career in jeopardy. He was released by Toronto last May.

"For a guy who makes his money with his feet to have two jacked-up feet, it's no fun," Podsednik said.

This was a guy who scored 100 runs in 2003, who led the American League in stolen bases in 2004, and who led off for the 2005 champion Chicago White Sox.

There is some irony in the fact that Podsednik is perhaps best known for a home run. After hitting exactly zero in the entire 2005 regular season and AL playoffs, Podsednik drove a ball into the seats to end Game 2 of the World Series. It was a huge moment. The Houston Astros had come back to tie the game in the top of the ninth and their closer (a fellow named Brad Lidge) was on the mound. The moment that ball landed was the moment it first seemed possible the White Sox would win their first title since 1917.

The memory of that clutch performance came to mind when the Phillies signed Podsednik to a minor-league deal last summer. Thought maybe he had a chance to be the Phils' version of Cody Ross, the barely noticed addition who led the San Francisco Giants past the Phillies in the 2010 playoffs.

Instead, because of his foot injuries, it was "probably one of the worst years in my big-league career," he said. "It was a struggle. It was a grind. I didn't feel like I was myself last year with those guys."

Considering he would be 35 before the start of this season, Podsednik wondered if that was it for his career.

"Those thoughts start creeping in," he said. "Wondering if clubs are going to call and be interested. Fortunately, I was able to get healthy again and have a full offseason to train and get back in the game. Personally, I still feel like I have gas left in the tank."

When the Phillies called this offseason, Podsednik was ready. He is here to win a job on the big-league roster. Barring injuries, that would almost certainly mean beating out Pierre for the role of fifth outfielder, pinch-runner, and defensive replacement.

"They're good base runners," Manuel said. "The more he hits, the more he gets on, the better his game is."

Again, he could be talking about either Pierre or Podsednik. We may not get an answer about which is faster, but there's no doubt they are in a race.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster and his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

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