The Phillies' leadoff dilemma

MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Phillies centerfielder Ben Revere's speed can create havoc at the top of the order, providing he gets on base.
MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Phillies centerfielder Ben Revere's speed can create havoc at the top of the order, providing he gets on base.
Posted: March 27, 2013

DUNEDIN, Fla. - On Sunday, Ben Revere landed on second base after he pushed a bunt toward Dustin Pedroia and Boston's Gold Glove second baseman hastily threw it wide of first base. On Monday, Toronto's Gold Glove shortstop Jose Reyes barehanded a ball hit by Revere on one bounce on the infield dirt, fired it quickly and accurately to first, and the throw was late.

Two infield hits, three total bases, including what has kiddingly been referred to as a "Ben Revere double."

"Hopefully, I can do that 20 to 30 times this season," Revere said of the fortuitous bunt. "Be in scoring position right off the bat. Because I won't hit that many doubles. If I got on second right off the bat, I could put even more pressure, maybe steal third . . . "

With less than a week before the start of the season, the Phillies are still mulling their options at the top of the order. Some of this is because Jimmy Rollins was missing from their lineup from March 2-19 because of the World Baseball Classic. Some of this is due to the fact that two lineup cogs they deem important, Carlos Ruiz and Delmon Young, will be missing for the first month of the season because of a suspension and an injury, respectively.

Much of this, though, is due to the overabundance of lefthanded bats at the top of their lineup with which they are likely to begin the season, and the connected debate about whether a lineup that starts with the switch-hitting Rollins at the top of the order is better or worse than one in which the lefthanded Revere hits there.

The case for Revere, 25, centers on the kind of hits he has generated over the last couple of days, and the fact that Rollins has not hit well from the right side lately, anyway. At this point in their respective careers, Revere is also more disruptive to a pitcher's concentration while on base than the 34-year-old Rollins. After his "double" Sunday, Revere reached third on a ball thrown in the dirt.

"If I can get on second right off the bat, I could put even more pressure on the other team," Revere said. "But my main thing is get on first base. Get my on-base percentage up. If I can do that, I can make the big man in the front office happy and big men batting behind me . . . all these big men happy. That's my focus, try to get on first base."

Revere's on-base percentage this spring is .360, slightly higher than his .333 mark over 553 plate appearances last season for the Twins. Tutored already by Hall of Famers Rod Carew and Paul Molitor with the Twins, Revere now has Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg and Juan Samuel, one of only two Phillies to ever swipe 50 bags in a season.

Revere had 40 steals last year. Improve that OBP just a little, get a few more swings as an everyday guy, and it's conceivable there could be a third Phillie with 50 steals by season's end.

So it's a no-brainer, right? Except for this: Rollins hits natural doubles. He also hit 23 home runs and knocked in 68 runs batting mostly leadoff last year.

"I say it all the time," manager Charlie Manuel said Monday after the Phillies' 13-4 loss to Toronto. "Jimmy's RBIs are huge. Because he's knocking in the seven, eight and nine hitters. People seem to overlook that.

"And that's what I don't know with him in the two-hole. How will we react in those situations? Will we get those runs if Jimmy bats second?"

Monday, against a dominant Josh Johnson, Rollins batted leadoff and Revere followed. With a man on and two out in the fifth, Rollins pushed a single to right. Revere, who had reached base twice and stolen a base, struck out to end the inning.

Afterward, Rollins wavered between nonchalance and enthusiasm when discussing batting order. "I'm sure there's going to be some days when we don't have those lefties on the other team and we're hitting four, five in a row," he said. "But this whole season is going to be fun. Our team is back."

Well, soon maybe. Young took batting practice again Monday. Ruiz is eligible to come off suspension on April 28. Until then, Manuel plans to "move our lineup around a little bit."

That means Tuesday against Tampa Bay, it's Revere.

Wednesday, in Lakeland against the Tigers, it could be Rollins.

"I want to see how we match up right now," Manuel said. "I want to know how we can play with Ben on the top. Whether he can get on, whether we can run and how much Jimmy can get used to hitting second, too.

"I'm trying to get the best combination that we can possibly have."


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