Shane Victorino is all heart, so you tend to know exactly how he is feeling, regardless of the actual words that are coming out of his mouth. When he is speaking in run-on sentences and barely pausing for a breath and taking multiple detours in a single answer, he is usually feeling really good, and that is how the Phillies center fielder was speaking last night. Yesterday at Busch Stadium III, the vibe emanating from this Phillies team was as upbeat as I can remember it being this season.
The trick, of course, is making it last, which is why they play the games, but you have to be encouraged by how the Phillies have responded since they dropped the first two games of their series against the Nationals earlier this week.
Offensively, it all starts with Carlos Ruiz, and the early results of his move to the clean-up spot are intriguing. Forget about his individual performance for a minute and consider that Victorino is 4-for-8 with a walk, two doubles, a home run, three runs, and five RBI over the last two nights since moving into the five-hole.
Hunter Pence does not have a hit in his two games back in the three-hole, but he has drawn three walks, and has scored three runs. And all of that makes you think that maybe Ruiz really is a clean-up hitter, and that the best lineup Manuel can field at this point in time has his one-time No. 8 hitter as the centerpiece. It makes some sense. For whatever reason, the last two players to make extended attempts at filling in for Ryan Howard at cleanup have failed. Jayson Werth did not respond well in a brief tryout, nor did Hunter Pence in a longer one. Manuel said after last night's game that he does not understand, that a hitter should be overjoyed to be hitting fourth, but he also admitted that many of todays hitters are creatures of habit who can allow a simple change in their batting order position to throw their equilibrium out of whack. Ruiz, on the other hand, does not get thrown out of whack easily, except by injury, which is the one glaring concern about his taking on such an important role in the offense. Ruiz has shown in his postseason performances that pressure does not really affect him, at least not from a negative standpoint. So maybe it does make sense to put him at No. 4 and let Pence and Victorino hit in spots where they are more comfortable. Time will tell if the last two nights have been the start of something good.
"I used to hit him in the second cleanup spot," Manuel joked, referring to the eight-hole. "Now I moved him up to first. That's what I tell him."
Since the move, Ruiz is 6-for-9 with a double and a strikeout. He seems to hit wherever he hits. Batting seventh this season, a .347/.380/.597 line, batting sixth, .333/.429/.667, batting fifth, .367/.444/.533. You used to think part of Ruiz's production could be attributed to the fact that the pitcher hit behind him. No longer.
"This is the best I've seen him swing," Manuel said.
The Phillies have three more games against the Cardinals, more than enough time to erase the good feeling that pulsed through the clubhouse last night. On the other hand, imagine what three wins would do for the confidence of guys like Victorino.