Thome back with the Phillies, as DH or on the bench

Jim Thome watches the Phillies play the Dodgers in the first inning. He pinch-hit and struck out in the ninth. H. RUMPH JR / AP
Jim Thome watches the Phillies play the Dodgers in the first inning. He pinch-hit and struck out in the ninth. H. RUMPH JR / AP
Posted: June 08, 2012

Jim Thome and his 604 career home runs are back in the Phillies dugout. Just what that means for the team's sputtering offense, however, remains to be seen.

The organization activated Thome from the disabled list Wednesday, putting him back in red pinstripes for the first time since he exited a game with tightness in his lower back on April 29. The slugger's return might provide a much-needed boost for an offense that squeaked out just five runs in its previous three games entering Wednesday.

Then again, Thome's impact might be minimal. He struggled to play first base while rehabbing in Florida with Clearwater, and he will likely serve as a designated hitter or pinch-hitter for the rest of the season.

Thome isn't used to stepping into the batter's box cold. In his 22-year career, he has pinch-hit 128 times - about five times per season. And in those situations, Thome has struggled. He is a .219 career pinch-hitter and 0 for 8 subbing in for an at-bat this year.

"You really tip your hat to guys that can pinch-hit full time," Thome said before Wednesday's game. "Pinch-hitting is a job you have to put a lot of time in. I think the key is to continue to work and do everything you can before [batting practice], during the game, to put yourself in a good position."

In three games with high-A Clearwater, Thome played DH and hit 5 for 10 with a pair of doubles. He couldn't play first base, he said, because bending over to field ground balls sent pain piercing into his back.

Putting Thome on the roster could handcuff manager Charlie Manuel late in games. The Phillies might need an extra fielder, something Thome simply can't provide.

Manuel hopes Thome can play a similar role to the one Matt Stairs played in 2009 and Ross Gload did last season - coming off the bench when the Phillies are searching for a timely knock.

If that's all he can provide, Thome said, that's OK.

"You try to put yourself in a position to stay healthy, and when it doesn't happen you feel like you've let yourself down - you feel like you've let your teammates down," he said. ". . . There's no reason to go dwell on things. The bottom line is you get back as quick as you can, and you be a good teammate."

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