Phillies' Laynce Nix likely opening-day starter in outfield

Posted: March 27, 2013

DUNEDIN, Fla. - The highest-paid outfielder on the Phillies roster has not enjoyed a particularly auspicious spring. He started all of 26 games during an injury-ridden 2012. There were hopes that other players would step up, but because of ineffectiveness or injury they didn't pan out.

When everything settles, Laynce Nix could be introduced as a starting outfielder for the Phillies opener Monday at Atlanta's Turner Field.

"We'll see what happens," Nix said. "I'm sure Charlie has his lineups made. I'm thinking I'm going to be in there, and I'm ready for it."

Manager Charlie Manuel has provided hints as to how his lineup will look. The outfield construction is fluid. He's intimated he wants to eventually insert Delmon Young into right field and play Domonic Brown in left. Young, recovering from ankle surgery, could miss the first month of the season.

Brown can play left or right until then. Either Nix or John Mayberry Jr. will man the other corner position for the time being. The Phillies, according to major-league sources, are searching for another outfielder during the final week of exhibition games.

Manuel did not commit Monday to a platoon.

"I'm looking for people that can get hot," he said.

For now, Nix may be the lackluster answer. He signed a two-year, $2.5 million deal last winter. The rest of the outfield - Brown, Mayberry, Young, and Ben Revere - will earn a combined $2.27 million in 2013 base salary.

Nix has not hit well in spring training; he lugged a .563 OPS with 14 strikeouts in 55 plate appearances through play Monday. The 32-year-old outfielder said he is tinkering with the mechanics of his swing.

If Mayberry is on the bench Monday, it will mean Jimmy Rollins is the lone holdover from last season's opening-day lineup. (The Phillies started Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco, Rollins, Hunter Pence, Ty Wigginton, Mayberry, Carlos Ruiz, Freddy Galvis, and Roy Halladay. They won, 1-0.)

The last time that happened was 1961, when pitcher Robin Roberts was the only player left from 1960's opener. In 1949, the Phillies' lineup was completely different from the one that started 1948.

Nix has started on opening day before, the last instance being in 2010 when he was Cincinnati's leftfielder. He also started in center for Texas in 2004 and 2006.

Both Nix and Mayberry have favorable lifetime numbers against Atlanta starter Tim Hudson. Each has batted .308 against him, but Nix has done it in a larger sample size (27 plate appearances to Mayberry's 17). Two of Mayberry's four career hits are home runs.

If Manuel installs a straight platoon, with Nix facing righthanded pitchers and Mayberry drawing the lefties, Nix could get the majority of playing time until Young returns.

That will require durability, something he lacked in 2012. Nix has made trips to the disabled list in seven of his 10 major-league seasons. He missed 73 days last season with a left calf strain that worsened when he intensified his rehabilitation.

"It really frustrated me that I tried to push it too fast," Nix said. "I could have come back sooner had I not done that. It was frustrating. I was down here with Chase and Ryan, and we all felt the same. We all wanted to come back quickly and play. But sometimes you can't."

Nix's power dipped compared with his time in Washington. He averaged one home run for every 20.3 at-bats in 2011. It was one every 38 at-bats in 2012. A higher percentage of his hits, though, were for extra bases. He simply was not on the field enough.

"Not being able to play is the hardest thing," Nix said. "If you keep giving me an at-bat and let me get in the batter's box, things are going to happen."

Starting Monday, when a new season commences, Nix could have his wish.

Contact Matt Gelb at Follow @magelb on Twitter.

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