If all goes as planned with Chase Utley’s rehab assignment this week in Reading, Charlie Manuel will have an interesting dilemma on his hands when his second baseman returns.
Utley is a top-of-the-order hitter, but the top of the lineup, as currently constructed, is producing. Ben Revere and Michael Young each hit .415 in their nine starts leading into Wednesday’s game vs. Washington. Ryan Howard hit .452 in that span. Domonic Brown is slumping in the five-hole, but leads the team in homers, RBIs, runs and slugging.
Where does Utley fit in? He’s batted third in 772 of his 1,172 career starts, and second 189 times.
“I don’t know exactly what my lineup will be right yet,” Manuel said before Wednesday’s game. “I don’t know yet because I moved Brown to the five-hole. I don’t think our best lineup is Utley, Howard and Brown hitting [in a row.] I think every team in the National League might go to five lefties in the pen.”
Manuel has been reluctant to bat his lefties consecutively in recent years. It’s why he hit Raul Ibanez sixth so often in 2010 and 2011 and had Delmon Young in the five-hole when he came back from an ankle injury. Unfortunately, Young isn’t producing and the Phillies have no consistent power threats from the right side.
“We gotta offset some things,” Manuel said. “It’s something I have to figure out. It’s a tough thing.”
One logical solution would be to keep Revere in the leadoff spot, bat Utley second and split the lefties up by keeping switch-hitter Jimmy Rollins in the three-hole. But, Manuel says, even that is a suboptimal order.
“If we have Ben at the top and Utley hitting second and Rollins hitting third, we have one right-handed hitter, but we still got four out of five left. We ain’t never gonna have three or four left-handed hitters straight in a row. I can tell you that. We get beat up enough as it is.”
So, perhaps Revere moves down? Under that scenario Rollins could return to the leadoff spot, Utley could bat second and Michael Young would be a candidate to bat third, thereby splitting up the lefties and giving the Phillies a Switch-Left-Right-Left-Left top-five.
Moving Revere down in the midst of a hot streak could stunt his progress, but Manuel thinks the Phillies could use some speed toward the bottom of the order. When Revere was hitting there earlier this year he wasn’t effective because he wasn’t swinging as well as he is now. He also wilted in some prime RBI opportunities because he is not a flyball hitter capable of getting you a sacrifice fly. Revere leads the majors in groundball rate for the second straight year.
“If [Revere] keeps running and getting on consistently every night, that means we can create a lineup that can definitely produce some runs, as far as manufactured runs,” Manuel said.
“I think I can hit [Revere] first, second, seventh or eighth. I like him seventh better than eighth because I like him where he can get on, steal, and our eight-hole hitter (Carlos Ruiz, for now) can knock him in better than a pitcher.”
In any event, it's a good problem for Manuel to have. He's had his projected starting lineup together only five times in 72 games.
What to do with Frandsen?
Another moving part of the Utley equation is Kevin Frandsen, who has been one of the Phillies’ hottest and most clutch hitters in recent weeks. Frandsen has hit .343 with a .439 OBP since May 29. In 97 games spanning two seasons with the Phillies he’s batted .325/.387/.449.
If Delmon Young continues to struggle, it might make sense to try Frandsen out in right field. Frandsen isn’t all that experienced in the outfield –- where he's played just 59 of his 1,877 major-league innings –- but it’s not as if Young is a strong fielder, either.
“If it gets to that point I might try things,” Manuel said. “I’d say right now [Frandsen] is a second, third, first baseman every now and then. But I’ll never rule out where I want somebody. Especially if he can play, if he can catch the balls he’s supposed to catch and things like that.”