March 27, 2005

Phils face tough decisions early

Not to make hard decisions harder, center fielders Kenny Lofton and Marlon Byrd may begin the season on the disabled list, just one week from when the Phillies make the final roster cuts.

Before March 11, when Kenny Lofton went on the shelf with a pulled hammy, the major pieces for April 4 were set. Lofton would be the center fielder and likely bat second, with Marlon Byrd winning back a major-league spot as his reserve. Byrd dislocated his finger a week ago.

Team physician Michael Ciccotti examined a number of players yesterday including Lofton and Byrd. Lofton seems likely to begin the season on the DL, and Byrd has a "good" chance, Jim Salisbury reported in Sunday's Inquirer.

The toughest choice is what to do with Rule 5 center fielder Shane Victorino. Victorino, a defensive specialist, must be included on the 25-man roster or be offered back to the Dodgers. If the Dodgers decline, they can keep him.

It was an easy choice before Lofton and Byrd became injured. Victorino hasn't been hitting well this spring, and lost the battle against the resurgent Byrd by a landslide. Victorino played 38 games with the Padres in 2003, and has since bounced between AAA and AA with modest to good success. But with uncertaintely at the position, Victorino's chances of sticking increase. There is also a chance the Phillies may trade for yet another outfielder or add someone off waivers, Salisbury reported.

Who bats two?
Three weeks ago, readers at BPF said they wanted Placido Polanco to get the majority of hacks out of the two-hole this season. The problem is, he's blocked out of starting by David Bell, plus, Lofton has been penciled as the number two.

Bell, who's been out most of the spring with back problems, seems recovered and should be clear to start the season. Meanwhile, Polanco has had a fantastic spring.

BPF take
I’m a believer in riding the hot bat over position loyalty, and Polanco not only has hit this spring, but came on strong at the end of last season. In my view, Polanco is a better hitter than Bell anyway, and the team's best No. 2 hitter period. I'd like to see Polanco start the season instead of Bell, hitting second until Lofton returns. Then, move Bell back to the lineup and resume Polanco's place as super-utility.

Race for backup catcher just good theater?
I didn't believe backup catcher was being contested this spring, but apparently there's a race between incumbent Todd Pratt and challenger A.J. Hinch.

I contend it's more smoke and mirrors.

In 77 games with Scranton, Hinch hit .234, .313 OBP, .298 SLG 2 HR.

In 45 games in Philadelphia, Pratt hit .258, .351 OBP, .367 SLG, 3 HR.

If there’s a legitimate gripe with Pratt, it's age. Hinch is 7 years Pratt’s junior, and Pratt, 38, projects as a high injury risk.

Yet Pratt is as solid a backup as they come, a good defender, good with pitchers, and seems loyal to the team by always resigning.

I’m not sure what this is all about, but my feeling is they're creating a catchers dual to draw interest to Hinch. There’s a dearth of quality backups around the league, and a number of open spots have shaken loose on contending teams. Salisbury today reported the Yankees have interest in Hinch. Since trading Dioneer Navarro to the Dodgers this winter, the Yanks are extremely shallow at the position.

The Phillies are also excited about BPF favorite Carlos Ruiz, who will get the lions share of starts in Scranton, even if Hinch sticks around.

The moral of the story is, major league catching is a commodity, and the Phillies believe they have plenty. Looking around the league, they may be right.


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