Byrd goes deep as Phillies down Marlins

Phillies second baseman Chase Utley and right fielder Marlon Byrd. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Phillies second baseman Chase Utley and right fielder Marlon Byrd. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 26, 2014

On Monday night, soon after Marlon Byrd capitulated for the final out in another Phillies shutout, the rightfielder grabbed a bat and settled into the black leather chair next to his locker. Byrd, hitless in four at-bats, examined the wooden weapon. While seated, he mimicked his stroke, with extra attention to the timing and placement of his hands.

When he stepped to the plate Tuesday in the first inning of a 7-4 Phillies win over Miami, he did not miss an Andrew Heaney fastball. It exploded from the rookie lefthander's hand at 94 m.p.h. and landed in the center-field stands, just to the left of the 409-foot marker.

A fan seated in the fourth row plucked the ball, a two-run homer, from the concrete floor. Byrd circled the bases for the 13th time; the Phillies brandished a 3-0 lead.

"He's a threat every time he comes up," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said.

The Phils scored two runs on wild pitches and another on an error. David Buchanan threw as many balls (47) as he did strikes, but survived five innings. Three insurance runs in the sixth helped compensate for B.J. Rosenberg's stumbles in the eighth.

Byrd provided the first-inning cushion.

Power is a commodity in a modern game ruled by pitching. It earned Byrd a $16 million contract last winter, and it could make him attractive to other teams come next month's trade deadline. The 36-year-old outfielder's 13 home runs are enough to crack the bottom of the National League leader board.

Byrd is hitting .260 with a .785 OPS. That OPS ranked second among Phillies regulars behind presumptive all-star second baseman Chase Utley.

Two years ago, Byrd decided to trade strikeouts for power. He was stained by a performance-enhancing drug suspension and retreated to a batting cage in suburban Los Angeles and then to Mexico for a resurrection.

"He's a strong guy, and he works very hard," Sandberg said. "Birdie is one of the first at the ballpark, and he prepares. He loves to hit and he's strong. He stays in great shape, and he keeps his power stroke."

"It's really impressive what he does," said Cody Asche, who slashed a two-run double in the sixth. "He comes up in a lot of big spots. He's a big presence to hit in the middle of the lineup."

He smashed 16 home runs for the Mets in a similar amount of plate appearances last season. His strikeouts (88) and walks (19) are almost identical. He is hitting fly balls at a higher rate than ever - by design - and his home run rate is close to matching that of last season's. Those are signs that can dispel the notion of 2013 as an aberration.

The Mets were able to flip Byrd, signed on a minor-league deal, for a potential setup man and a promising young shortstop prospect from Pittsburgh. Byrd joined a contending club, helped the Pirates make the postseason, and produced. He finished the season with 24 homers.

That recent history will entice others.

Byrd, unlike so many of the Phillies' trade chips, does not possess no-trade rights. He is owed $8 million next season and could trigger another $8 million for 2016 by reaching various plate-appearance marks. The Phillies are willing to assume financial risks in exchange for talent, president David Montgomery said last week.

The Phillies will not yet consider such dilemmas, but that moment could arrive soon. A night like Tuesday, which snapped a three-game losing streak, will create pause. But those moments are fleeting.

Utley dropped two pop-ups, which qualified as the game's only puzzling thing. He converted one lapse into an out. The first mistake, with the bases loaded in the second, allowed a run. Utley appeared to take his eyes off each ball.

"That's rare," Sandberg said. "You won't see that every day."


mgelb@phillynews.com

@magelb www.inquirer.com/

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