Pirates 5, Phillies 0: Tony Gwynn Jr. opening eyes

Pirates 5, Phillies 0: Tony Gwynn Jr. opening eyes

March 16, 2014, 6:30 pm
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Tony Gwynn Jr. singled, doubled and stole a base on Sunday in the Phillies' loss to the Pirates. (USA Today Images)


CLEARWATER, Fla. -- As spring training heads into the final two weeks, there’s an interesting battle shaping up for bench jobs.

Infielder Freddy Galvis and catcher Wil Nieves are locks. Kevin Frandsen could end up with the second infielder’s job.

In the outfield, Darin Ruf, John Mayberry Jr., Bobby Abreu and Tony Gwynn Jr. appear to be vying for two -- maybe three -- jobs. Because of off days, the Phils could scale back on a pitcher and carry an extra bench man for the first 10 days of the season.

It’s no secret that the Phillies would like to have a lefty bat on their bench. That’s why they brought the 40-year-old Abreu in for a tryout. It’s also no secret that they’d like to add some late-game outfield defense. Their scouts are out looking for such a player.

With Gwynn, the Phillies might have the guy right in camp.

Gwynn, a lefty hitter who has big-league time with the Dodgers, Padres and Brewers, is in camp on a minor-league deal. He singled, doubled and stole a base Sunday against the Pirates. He is hitting .273 (6 for 22) on the spring.

Manager Ryan Sandberg was enthusiastic in his praise of Gwynn.

“What he brings to the table is showing in games,” Sandberg said. “His ability to steal a base in a moment, his ability to hit the ball and play defense, cover ground -- that’s all playing. It shows just about every day.

“I like what he’s doing. If you’re talking about a late-inning defensive guy, if you’re talking about a big bunt late in the game, if you’re talking about pinch-running, steal a base -- all those things add up. He definitely can play center field. All those things add up. He’s fighting for a job.”

Sandberg is putting a huge emphasis on defense.

“I think that’s his first strength for me, at three outfield positions,” Sandberg said. “And he can be a leadoff hitter in a lineup.

“He’s made some nice adjustments the last week or 10 days as far as staying on top of the ball, keeping the ball out of the air, and that plays for him.”

The Phillies have a tough call on Abreu, who is hitting .222 (6 for 27) with two doubles. He has to be on the roster by a week from Wednesday or he can opt out of his contract. If he’s on the roster, he will be guaranteed $800,000.

The final call on Abreu might come down to his ability to play competent defense. Sandberg said Abreu would play more right field in the coming days.

“We’re continuing to evaluate him,” Sandberg said.

If Abreu can’t cut it defensively, the Phils might choose to go with Gwynn. He doesn’t have Abreu’s lefty pop, but has a deep skill set. Getting both guys on the team, at least at the start of the season, would require moving Mayberry or sending Ruf down. Phillies officials like the job Ruf has done in camp.

These questions will shake out over the next 10 days as Abreu’s out date approaches.

But Gwynn has definitely played himself into the picture.

Warnings issued
Five batters were hit in the game, prompting umpire Tom Hallion to warn both benches.

Jonathan Papelbon hit Starling Marte with a pitch in the fifth inning and came high and tight on Andrew McCutchen. Papelbon insisted he wasn’t sending a message. He blamed it on poor location.

“It’s spring training,” he said. “No one is trying to hit anyone.”

According to scouts behind home plate, Papelbon’s fastball was 89-91 mph. He allowed three hits and two runs.

“I felt good, but I wasn’t hitting my spots,” he said. “I felt too good. I wanted to get out there and throw harder. My location wasn’t good.

“I just felt really, really good. Hopefully next time I’ll feel just as good and get back to locating.”

Papelbon looks a little thicker than he was at the end of last season. He said he had put on five or six “good pounds” after dropping weight late last season.

“Everybody loses weight toward the end of the season,” he said. “This year we’re trying to be more on top of that with the food in the clubhouse and make sure guys keep their weight on. Eat better.”

Big Pieces
The day after taking nine at-bats in games at the minor-league complex, Ryan Howard had a pair of singles.

Meanwhile, Chase Utley was 0 for 3 and is 6 for 32 (.188) on the spring. He is without an extra-base hit.

The Phillies are 5-12-2 on the spring.

Recovery road
Jonathan Pettibone, pushed back by a sore shoulder early in camp, will pitch his first competitive innings in a minor-league game Monday.

Mike Adams, recovering from shoulder surgery, is scheduled to throw his first competitive innings since last June in a minor-league game Wednesday.

Sore-shouldered Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez may resume throwing Monday, pitching coach Bob McClure said.

Up next
Kyle Kendrick starts against the Orioles in Clearwater on Monday.