By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
Veteran outfielder Juan Pierre would like to tell you that his speed on the base paths is a valued commodity in baseball.
But he can’t, because it’s not.
Unfortunately in an age of baseball where chicks still dig the longball, finding teams that could use his ability to manufacture runs was a a challenge for the speedy Pierre, who played on five different teams before coming to the Phillies.
“I just know how baseball is going these days,” Pierre said. “It’s not that much premium put on guys that can run and do that stuff. Everybody wants homerun guys and guys who hit for power and I understand that. But my game is my game. I’m going ride it out until they don’t want me no more. I’m not a power guy.”
But as luck or fate would have it, Pierre ended up on a Phillies team that has been searching for some type of spark on offense after having their postseason end prematurely for three straight years because of their inability to score runs.
Coming in as a non-roster invitee in his 11th season in the majors, Pierre, who has a .296 lifetime batting average, was not a lock to make the team when spring training began in late February. But he made the Phillies Opening Day roster by his ability to spread the ball around the field and befuddling opponents with his ability to run the bases.
“I think my type of game can still help teams win,” Pierre said. “It’s just a matter of getting a team who thinks that. Some teams don’t put a premium on it all. They want eight or nine guys in the lineup that can it the long ball. My game is what it is and hopefully I can contribute.”
Pierre, a three-time league leader in stolen bases, gave fans a glimpse of his ability to wreak havoc on the base paths in Monday’s exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citizen’s Bank Park when he ran out what looked to be a routine single and turned it into a double. He then took third on a fly ball to right and then scored on a sacrifice fly.
“He’s been getting on base and making things happen,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “When he’s gets hits and sprays the ball around, he brings the energy. He’s been playing good. He’s the kind of guy that ticks the other team off. With his style of play, he can throw some hits around the field. He puts the ball in play.”
Manuel said Pierre’s speed makes him a valuable commodity to the Phillies offense in 2012, especially since the team is starting the season without slugging first baseman Ryan Howard and power hitting second baseman Chase Utley who are on the disabled list with injuries.
“He’s very important to us even when he’s not in the starting lineup,” Manuel said. “You can actually put him in there to lead off an inning or bunt him or run him. He’s very important to the club.”
With the Chicago White Sox last season, Pierre batted .279 and led the American League in bunt singles, infield hits and sacrifices. The left-handed swinging Pierre batted .329 against left-handed pitching.
Whether he’s a starter or coming into pinch hit, Pierre relishes the opportunity to play a brand of baseball that conjures up memories of James “Cool Papa” Bell of the Negro Leagues, St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Lou Brock and Detroit Tigers Hall of Famer Ty Cobb, players who used their speed to help teams manufacture runs.
“I like to play pepper with it, hit where they ain’t, get on and take the extra base and steal bases,” said Pierre. “That’s my goal every night is to put pressure on the defense. It’s my goal going into every game.”
In the aftermath of the Phillies inability to hit during the National League Division Series loss to the eventual world champion St. Louis Cardinals last fall, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he would like to see the team change their approach offensively and come up with ways to manufacture runs to help the Phillies starting pitching staff that played well, but got inconsistent run support.
That’s why Pierre thought the Phillies were a good fit for his style of play and he thought he could be an extra piece to a winning team. Last season, with the White Sox, Pierre batted .331 (43-130) with runners in scoring position.
“You always got a chance with those arms you run out there every night and you scrape a couple of runs across and then you’re looking good,” Pierre said. “That’s one of the intriguing reason why I signed with them. With a team that’s trying to win, you can latch on and help a team win by coming in late and pinch running or pinch hitting when given an opportunity. I’m just looking forward to it because they 40,000 come out to an exhibition. They’re serious about just coming out here, but winning and that’s the way I approach every game to help win games. ”