Scott Podsednik took two balls, swung through a pitch, then squared up a fastball he could drive, sending it sailing onto the right field berm and delivering a walk-off win to the Phillies. Afterward, Charlie Manuel couldn't help but admire the veteran left-handed hitter's at-bat against Pirates southpaw Daniel Moskos.
"Podsednik got a good ball to hit there at the end," Manuel said. "He got up in the count and he got a fastball that looked like it was down and right in the middle of the plate."
The home run illustrated the biggest difference between Podsednik and his chief competition for a bench spot on the Phillies' Opening Day roster. Manuel acknowledged that he has a tough decision to make if it comes down to Podsednik or Juan Pierre for one of the team's final bench spots. In some ways, the two veterans have similar skill sets. Both rely on their speed and ability to reach base. Both are left-handed hitters. Both play the corner outfield positions. And both are long-time veterans looking for a chance to contribute.
The big difference? Manuel said he thinks Pierre is more of a top-of-the-line-up hitter who can get on base and make things happen. The 34-year-old veteran has hit .295 with a .367 on base percentage this spring, numbers that are similar to his career averages of .296 and .345.
Podsednik is two years older than Pierre. He carries a career .279 batting average and a career .340 on base percentage. But he also has 41 home runs in 3,707 major league at-bats, compared with Pierre's 16 home runs in 6,823 at-bats.
Another difference this spring has been their base-running. Pierre has been thrown out on 3 of his 5 stolen base attempts. That might not be a concern except he is coming off a season in which he was thrown out on 17 of 44 attempts. Manuel also sounds ambivalent about Podsednik's defense. Although he relies on speed, he has never been regarded as a great defender. Although the Phillies have used him in center field at times this spring, Manuel said he views Podsednik as a corner guy. If Shane Victorino were to go down with an injury, John Mayberry Jr. would move to center field, leaving left and first base to a collection of other players.
This is going to be a very, very interesting decision, and if Manuel's body language was any indication, it is one that he is going to wrestle with. All spring, Manuel has raved about Pierre's attitude and make-up, as well as his history of wreaking havoc on the base paths. At the same time, Podsednik appears to have out-performed Pierre this spring. Of his 17 hits, six have gone for extra bases. He is hitting .362 with an on base percentage over .400. He has converted all five of his stolen base attempts. He appears to be running very well on the base paths.
Spring training results are far less significant than track records. But even there, it is difficult to tell who has the edge. Pierre's production has been well below his carer averages the last couple seasons, when he hit .277/.335/.322 while playing regularly for the White Sox. In Podsednik's last two years in the majors, he has a .300/.347/.397 line, also while playing regularly.
But Podsednik also spent all of last season in the minors trying to shake a foot injury. He appears to have overcome that injury. That doesn't mean it has been erased from the Phillies' minds.
"We have to make a decision," Manuel said. "I know how long Pierre has played and I know how long Podsednik's played."