Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Posted: 11:35 p.m.
By John R. Finger
Rare is the time when Charlie Manuel breaks camp with a roster devoid of question marks. The truth is, Manuel typically has more juggling to do this time of the year than Barnum & Bailey.
Why should 2011, when his Phillies are odds on favorites to get to the World Series, be any different?
As the new season is set to begin on Friday afternoon against the Houston Astros at the Bank, Manuel has question marks at third and second base as well as a batting order with a lot of interchangeable parts. Before the penultimate exhibition game of the spring, Manuel said he hadnt decided on a lineup or a second baseman and he felt it was a good idea to rest third baseman Placido Polanco.
But right field is no longer a question mark. Ben Francisco is your starting right fielder.
Ben Francisco is the starting rightfielder, Manuel said. Hes going to get a chance to play a lot.
Francisco certainly earned the starting job during spring training. His five homers were tied for the team lead with Ryan Howard and John Mayberry, with 14 RBIs, while his .377 batting average was the best amongst the teams likely starters.
Franciscos fifth homer of the spring came when he led off the second inning of Tuesdays game against the Pirates with a solo shot to left that cut through the teeth of a 15-mph wind. The shot proved to be the catalyst in a three-run third that delivered the Phillies a 8-5 victory and their Grapefruit League-best 21st win.
Still, whether Francisco is the right-handed bat the Phillies need to replace Jayson Werth will have to play itself out. Werth, of course, was picked up off the scrap heap after struggling with injuries throughout his early career. He was mostly a bench player during the 2007 season and served as part of a platoon with Geoff Jenkins in 2008 until an injury opened up a spot for Werth.
Francisco finds himself in a similar situation where he can take the job if he shows Manuel he can handle it.
The biggest problem we have is the third and the fifth hitter, Manuel said. With Werth and Chase Utley here last year, those were run-producers. If you look, I dont think we have anyone with the background to knock in 95 runs.
True, but Werth didnt have that pedigree, either. In fact, there have been several players through the years who benefitted from the coziness of the Phillies lineup and home ballpark the way Werth did. Aaron Rowand also produced career-best numbers in Philadelphia before departing to San Francisco. The same goes for Pat Burrell.
Why cant it be the same way for Francisco?
When we start the season, Franciscos going to get a chance to play, Manuel said. In our organization, people think he can hit. I think he can hit, too. Hes going to get a chance to play.
Ive heard people say he got to play in Cleveland. He didnt get no 350, 450 at bats or anything like that. Hes never done that. So this is a chance for him to get to play. Starting off, hes going to get a good chance to play, what you call a bona fide chance.
Or, more succinctly
Got to change those question marks into exclamation marks, Manuel said.
Oswalt gets final tune up
In his final outing of the spring and his first trip to the mound since getting hit on the neck with a line drive, Roy Oswalt was a bit shaky on Tuesday night. In four innings he allowed five hits, four walks and five runs and says his stamina was an issue in his last inning.
Not only that, but the much chillier climate in Philadelphia as opposed to Florida bothered him a bit, too.
The ball felt a little cue ball-ish, Oswalt said, noting that he had trouble gripping the seams in the 40-degree air.
Meanwhile, Luis Castillo appears to have locked up the Opening Day job at second base. The late spring pickup went 2 for 4 with two runs, an RBI and a stolen base. In seven games with the Phillies, the former Marlin and Met is 6 for 22 (.273) with a pair of walks.
He definitely figured into our offense tonight, Manuel said about Castillo. In some ways this isnt fair to him because he needs a good chance. Well give him tomorrow and then well make a decision, but hes done a real good job since hes been here.
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