Phillies may find bigger role for Juan Pierre

(left) gestures as he and outfielder Juan Pierre warm up before Friday night's game with the New York Yankees. KATHY WILLENS / Associated Press
(left) gestures as he and outfielder Juan Pierre warm up before Friday night's game with the New York Yankees. KATHY WILLENS / Associated Press (The Phillies' Jim Thome)
Posted: March 31, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. - They played night ball for the first time in 2012 on Friday, the latest sign meaningful baseball is closer. Back in Clearwater, workers loaded the Phillies players' vehicles on two car carriers bound for Philadelphia. On Sunday, the Phillies will head north and leave a forgettable spring behind in Florida.

And there's a good chance manager Charlie Manuel will think about his lineup during the two-hour flight home.

"I've got a few," Manuel said. "I think it's going to take a few. We'll see. We could have a different lineup a lot."

There are moving parts in a new reality that does not include Chase Utley and Ryan Howard for the foreseeable future. Manuel sat in the dugout at George M. Steinbrenner Field before a 13-9 Phillies loss to the Yankees and effectively ruled nothing out.

Could Jim Thome play twice a week? Maybe. Is Jimmy Rollins his leadoff hitter? Maybe not. Can Juan Pierre play regularly? Maybe.

"I like to look at some lineups and figure out the ones I like," Manuel said. "See how we play. See how we go together. I'm looking for some balance."

That could start with Pierre, who was officially told he made the team Thursday and started at the top of Manuel's lineup Friday. The 34-year-old outfielder was fighting for a spot on the bench, but he could very well play a larger role than that.

"I want to try Pierre at the top," Manuel said. "Pierre, to me, has always been a top-of-the-order hitter."

All spring Manuel has spoken highly of Pierre, who had four hits in five at-bats against the Yankees Friday night. He played in 158 games for Chicago last year and batted 711 times. His 178 hits were 26 more than any Phillies player in 2011. Granted, only 23 of those hits were for extra bases. Just 3.2 percent of his plate appearances resulted in an extra-base hit, the lowest for any qualifying hitter in baseball. (The second-lowest was Placido Polanco at 3.6 percent.)

From whom could Pierre steal at-bats?

"Anybody, if you play good," Manuel said. "What the hell? Our expectation is to win. We have to try to put the best team on the field every day. It's always good to be good enough to develop some players as you go along. But at the same time, you should be ready to play here. We're in this to win. Go ask ownership. We're not in it to mess around."

At times, Manuel has expressed his dismay at John Mayberry Jr.'s spring. He didn't mention him by name in his rant, and the manager said earlier this spring that Mayberry would receive the same opportunity to start that Ben Francisco did a season ago. Mayberry was hitting .188 (13 for 69) in Grapefruit League play entering Friday.

The Phillies have five players they can mix and match in left field and first base - Mayberry, Pierre, Thome, Ty Wigginton, and Laynce Nix - affording Manuel the chance to play the hot hands.

With less pop in the lineup, he wants his team to use its speed more. That, Manuel said, was another reason to put Pierre at top with Shane Victorino and Rollins following him.

For the majority of the spring, Manuel definitively stated that Rollins remained his leadoff hitter. He softened that stance Friday.

"Jimmy can hit in the three hole," Manuel said. "When he's hitting, he can hit anywhere. I've put him there before and he's hit well."

It could be Pierre's presence that forced it. When Pierre was summoned to Manuel's office Thursday afternoon, he had no inclination of his fate. He knew a decision was required in less than 24 hours.

"They just said, 'You made the team,' " Pierre said. "Once I heard that, I pretty much tuned everything out. I wasn't concerned about whatever role I have. That's not important to me."

But to hear Manuel tell it, it's a role that could expand.


Contact Matt Gelb

at mgelb@phillynews.com

or follow on Twitter @magelb


 

 

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