By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
Five games into the season, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is trying to figure out the strength of his bench. Part of it is out of necessity. especially with regular second baseman Chase Utley still recovering from a knee injury.
So far, Manuel has to like what he has seen since opening day. It was his bench players that helped the Philliess get their first win of the season when they rallied for three in the ninth to beat the Houston Astros in season-opener . In that game, Wilson Valdez had a game-tying RBI single and reserve outfielder John Mayberry Jr. smacked a single to center to help the Phillies win it.
“We have to go in there and cover those guys spots. That’s why we’re here. We’re here to play hard, play the right way and make things happen,” said Valdez.
In the Phillies 10-7 win over the New York Mets Wednesday night, Manuel started Pete Orr at second base, who was a non-roster invitee to the Phillies spring training roster, but has some major league experience with the Atlanta Braves and more recently the Washington Nationals.
“I like the fact that he runs pretty good and I like the positions he can play,” Manuel said. “He’s a baseball player. He’s not a burner, but he is an above average runner …He has talent.”
Orr demonstrated his speed in his first at bat against the Mets when he beat out an infield single to shortstop Jose Reyes on a play that would have been an out for players lacking his foot speed. For the game, he was 2-for-3 with a pair of runs scored before he was replaced by Valdez.
Ross Gload, who usually comes off the bench as a pinch hitter, will probably get some time in the starting lineup. Coming off the bench as a pinch hitter, Gload is 2-for-4. Last season, he ranked 3rd among all pinch hitters in at-bats and batted .352 with 13 runs batted in and three homeruns as a starter in 15 games.
“I think Ross Gload is going to give you a good at-bat every time he goes up there,” Manuel said. “I think Ross has a lot of confidence and is very relaxed at the plate and gives you a good professional bat.”
With the number of injuries that the Phillies have had over the years, especially in 2010, the Phillies have had to rely on their bench players to come up with some big performances while ailing starters have been out.
“Whoever takes that role at that moment knows what’s expected. They know what this team is supposed to do and they count on that mindset now,” said Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. “Years ago, that wouldn’t have been the case. It was like ‘I finally I got my break.’ Now, you kind of get the feeling like ‘I know my time is limited and I need to make the most of it, so when that guy comes back, I’m a guy they want to keep on the team’.”
Mayberry said it’s important for the bench players to be ready when their number is called just as he was with his walk-off single last week against the Astros. He got a pinch-hit single in the Phillies win over the Mets on Wednesday night.
“We realize that we’re going to be a big part of this,” Mayberry said. “If we’re going to get to where we want to go everybody has to participate.”
When catcher Carlos Ruiz needs rest, Manuel has an experienced receiver in Brian Schneider, who got his first start of the season in the second game of the Phillies series with the Mets.
To Bunt or not to Bunt
With the speed of both Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, you would think that both players batting from the lead-off position would lay down bunts more often than naught. But bunting is something rare for both players. Rollins had a bunt single in the Phillies 7-1 loss.
In age when small leadoff hitters with speed try have become too enamored with the long ball pattern themselves after Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, who holds the major league record for leadoff homeruns.
Meanwhile, Manuel said it would help a struggling Victorino to lay down a bunt or two to help improve his batting average. Coming into Wednesday’s game against the Mets, Victorino was batting .154 from the leadoff position.
“The whole purpose of Victorino bunting and Jimmy, too, is the fact that if you can get the first baseman and third baseman up on the corners that widens field for them for where the second baseman and the shortstop’s gotta go. They’ve got to make up their minds some of the balls that they hit have a better chance of getting through.
“When the third baseman or first baseman is back, you can bunt or you can bunt to get the guy over if you can’t pull the ball. You might get a hit, too.”
Manuel said he’s not expecting Victorino or Rollins to bunt on every at-bat, but just to keep opposing infielders off balance.