CLEARWATER, Fla. Juan Pierre has made the Phillies opening-day roster, ostensibly as the fifth outfielder.
But could Pierre actually rank higher than that on the depth chart?
Its certainly possible, especially if the lineup that Charlie Manuel will use Friday night in Tampa is any indication.
Manuel, who makes it no secret that hes impressed with Pierres ability to make contact and get on base, is using Pierre as his leadoff hitter and leftfielder Friday night against New York Yankees righthander Michael Pineda. With Pierre leading off, Manuel is using Jimmy Rollins in the No. 3 hole as he tries to fortify the middle of the lineup which has been weakened by injuries to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Jim Thome is batting cleanup as the designated hitter and Ty Wigginton is hitting seventh and playing first base.
It will be interesting to see how the lineup functions with Pierre at the top and Rollins in the No. 3 hole.
If it clicks, you have to wonder whether Manuel would use a variation of the lineup in Thursdays opener against the Pirates in Pittsburgh.
The Pirates will start lefty Erik Bedard in that game. Conventional wisdom would suggest that Manuel use a pair of right-handed bats John Mayberry Jr. and Wigginton against Bedard. Mayberry could play left field and Wigginton first base.
Mayberry came into camp as the top candidate to win the left field job, but after a month in Florida he is hitting just .188 in 69 at-bats, the second-most on the club. His on-base percentage is just .243.
Manuel could still come out of the gate with Mayberry in left field on opening day. The guy is very loyal to players and Mayberrys strong second half in 2011 might have earned him the first look at the position. But the hole in the No. 3 spot (which could be filled by Rollins) and the skippers affinity for Pierres style of play make it possible that Pierre could be in left field on opening day against Bedard. Though Pierre swings left-handed, he can handle himself against lefties. He hit .329 with a .430 on-base percentage against them last season.
Its something to think about.
As for Thome Its difficult to envision him getting the opening-day start at first base against the lefty Bedard, but he has certainly acquitted himself well enough at the position in recent days to believe that he can survive there as an occasional replacement for Howard. Mayberry, Wigginton and Laynce Nix will also play there.
The Pirates are scheduled to follow Bedard with a pair of righthanders Jeff Karstens and James McDonald in the second and third games of the season-opening series in Pittsburgh. Thome could certainly get a start at first base in one of those games as Manuel looks for some thump in the middle of his watered-down lineup.
The Phillies will face Miami righthander Anibal Sanchez in the home opener on April 9. If Thome continues to feel comfortable at first base, he could get the start in that game. The popular veteran, beginning what is likely to be his final season in the majors, would certainly receive a thunderous ovation from Phillies fans.
The possibility of starting the home opener was mentioned to Thome a few days ago.
He smiled, thought about it for a moment and said, That would be amazing. Amazing.
Stay tuned to see if Juan Pierre could be in that lineup, as well.
On paper, he is this teams fifth outfielder. In time, he could become more than that.
Here is Friday nights lineup against the Yankees:
Juan Pierre LF
Jim Thome DH
Hunter Pence RF
Ty Wigginton 1B
Carlos Ruiz C