Five Phillies realities so far

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Third baseman Kevin Frandsen gets his glove on a ball hit by Aaron Hicks but can't make the play in the Twins' 12-5 win.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Third baseman Kevin Frandsen gets his glove on a ball hit by Aaron Hicks but can't make the play in the Twins' 12-5 win.
Posted: March 01, 2013

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Spring training is difficult to describe from a baseball writer's perspective.

Whenever you talk to your friends, family, co-workers or bosses back north, the tone in their voices is a mixture of enthusiasm and envy, as if every minute they spend on the phone with you is 1 fewer minute you have to drink mai tais and play tennis and frolic on the beach as a warm breeze dances through your hair.

And if you say anything that might attempt to temper their sense of wonder, the response is usually some form of a sarcastic, "Oh, OK, sure, whatever . . . have fun!" as if Tiger Woods is standing across from you, leaning on a palm tree, waiting for the phone call to end, so he can finish whipping your rear on the back nine.

Truth is, March is the longest month of the season for a baseball reporter, primarily because there is very seldom something to report.

This morning, I read a story that explained how Gio Gonzalez suffered rug burn on his forehead when he was wrestling with his bulldog. That's March.

Remember the story about how the Phillies had discussed internally the idea of trading Ryan Howard to the Cardinals in exchange for Albert Pujols? That was March.

Three years ago, when Jayson Werth showed up to Bright House Field looking as if he'd spent the offseason eating locusts in the desert, most people's first thought was something along the line of, "Man, that's a great beard." As a reporter assigned to cover that particular spring training, my first thought was, "I might be able to get two stories out of this."

I mention all of this not to complain, but to offer perspective. The Phillies are less than a week into their Grapefruit League schedule. Darin Ruf doesn't have a hit. Jonathan Papelbon has an ERA of approximately infinity. Pete Orr has started a game at designated hitter. And none of it means anything.

If I sound like a man in the throes of an existential crisis, well, I am, and I have a deadline staring me in the face.

So let's take a break from the vast amount of unknowns that have yet to reveal themselves and instead cobble together a list of five realities that the first 2-plus weeks of spring training have shown.

* Jimmy Rollins will be batting leadoff: Here's the problem with batting Rollins third, as several readers have suggested. The goal in batting somebody other than Chase Utley at that spot is to prevent opposing pitchers from facing Utley and fellow lefty slugger Ryan Howard back-to-back. Ostensibly, using the switch-hitting Rollins to break them up would accomplish this. But Rollins hit only .218 with a .281 on-base percentage against lefthanded pitching last year, and he hit only .240 with a .280 OBP the year before that. So batting him third would seem to compound the problem.

Provided Utley is hitting second, opposing lefties would be able to face three straight hitters who struggle against them. And if we are hitting Rollins third so that Ben Revere can lead off, well, Revere bats lefthanded himself. That does not make sense. Going Revere-Rollins-Utley-Howard presents the same problem. Which means Rollins either leads off or hits sixth or lower, at which point you are giving Revere about 75 or so extra plate appearances over Rollins, who is the more productive hitter.

Short of hitting Utley leadoff, something Manuel has never given a hint of consideration, there isn't a logical order that does not have Rollins at the top. Revere is fast, there is no denying that. But the guy has not shown any power in his first 2 years, and when you look at him up close and in batting practice, it is hard to envision that power suddenly emerging this season. I'm not saying he's small, but I'd take Juan Pierre in a wrestling match.

* Ryan Howard's Achilles' tendon is not an issue: For some reason, the first baseman keeps getting lumped in with Utley and Roy Halladay as a health question mark, but everything I have seen and heard suggests the injury is behind him. He might not run quite as well as he did before the injury, but he otherwise looks like the same guy he was in 2011.

* Humberto Quintero will back up Erik Kratz at the start of the season: In a chat on on Wednesday, I fielded a couple of questions about Tommy Joseph, the catcher the Phillies acquired from the Giants in the Hunter Pence trade. There is a zero percent chance that he starts the season on the major league roster. Joseph has huge power, but he has plenty of work to do at the plate, work that a job as a big-league backup would prevent him from accomplishing.

* The only way John Mayberry Jr. does not make the Opening Day roster is if the Phillies take a huge leap of faith on Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte. Even then, they are in no position to be jettisoning players who can play a major league-caliber centerfield, which is what they would likely do by exposing Mayberry to waivers (which they would have to do, because he is out of options).

* The Phillies would have to invent a way not to have Domonic Brown in the starting lineup on Opening Day. Delmon Young is a virtual lock to start the season on the disabled list. The Phillies know what they have in Mayberry. Ruf represents even more of a risk than Brown. The onetime top prospect is the obvious choice. And I'm pretty sure the Phillies realize it.

Now, back to the monthlong anticlimax we call Grapefruit League play.

On Twitter: @HighCheese


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