Status updates: Contreras, Utley, Howard, and more

(Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

Just arrived home from the Philadelphia Sports Writer's Association's annual banquet, where the Phillies always send a large contingent. I have to write a story for the newspaper, so I will be light on details and quotes. But here are some of the key things that jumped out at me in conversations with Charlie Manuel, Ruben Amaro Jr. and others. Keep in mind that I have been largely out of the fold for the past month-and-a-half, so a lot of this might be reptetitive. 

-I don't want to say that Manuel tends to have an overly optimistic outlook with regards to injuries, but he seems to operate on the assumption that if the appendage is still attached to the body in any manner (tendon, bone, ductape), then a player could return in the near future. Hey, I'd think the same way if I were a manager and had nearly died on an operating table. But even though Manuel said he doesn't think Howard is going to miss much time, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said, "If he's back by some time in May, I'll be happy." Keep in mind that Howard is a big fella, and that he blew out the Achilles on his back foot. The Phillies played two months without Chase Utley last year and still won a team record and major league season-high 102 games. So expect caution.

-Early prediction: On the third day of spring training, Manuel starts giving out wedgies every time a reporter asks him about the clean-up spot in the line-up. He seemed to get a little - and I mean little - edge in his voice when somebody asked him who will take Howard's spot in the middle of the order. Often times, this is less of an indication of annoyance with the question than it is annoyance at having to think about something that has no obvious answer.

Say what you will about Ryan Howard's contract, the guy has elite power and a knack for driving home runners, and the Phillies don't exactly have an abundance of options to replace him. The first guy who Manuel mentioned was John Mayberry Jr., but he also named Hunter Pence and Chase Utley, even Laynce Nix and Jim Thome, provided Thome is able to play a game or two a week at first, which is still very much in question.

There really is no obvious answer. Pence has a career .236/.271/.350 line in 30 starts at the clean-up spot. Whether you think that means anything is up to you. His numbers are far more prolific at No. 3, No. 5 and No. 6. 

Other line-up notes:

-He likes Polanco hitting second when Polanco is healthy. Polanco has recovered from offseason surgery and is expected to be 100 percent at the start of spring training (First workout: Feb. 18).

-He likes Utley hitting third.

-He sees John Mayberry Jr. as a left fielder. Laynce Nix and Ty Wigginton will likely get playing time at first base, with Thome perhaps factoring into the mix.

-Random line-up projection based on all of this knowledge:


  1. Jimmy Rollins SS
  2. Placido Polanco 3B
  3. Hunter Pence RF
  4. Chase Utley 2B
  5. Shane Victorino CF
  6. John Mayberry Jr. LF
  7. Laynce Nix 1B
  8. Carlos Ruiz C
-Another random line-up projection with Ty Wigginton at first base:
  1. Jimmy Rollins SS
  2. Placido Polanco 3B
  3. Hunter Pence RF
  4. Chase Utley 2B
  5. Shane Victorino CF
  6. John Mayberry Jr. 
  7. Ty Wigginton 1B
  8. Carlos Ruiz C
With Howard out, it just makes sense to get your five best hitters at the top of the order. I would hit Carlos Ruiz seventh so his base-reaching ability plays up more with Wigginton or Nix behind him. But Manuel has always liked Ruiz at No. 8. Against lefties I'd flip Pence and Utley so that Utley is hitting third and Pence is hitting clean-up. 
Other news:
Sounds like Manuel likes the addition of Juan Pierre to the mix. If you look at the roster right now, it's hard to envision a way that Pierre does not make the Opening Day squad. Scott Podsednik will have a chance to compete in spring training, although I asked Amaro about him and Amaro did not sound like he had huge expectations. 
At the moment, here's how the roster looks:
REGULARS (8): With Mayberry in left, we'll put Wigginton in as the starting first baseman. Then we have Polanco, Utley, Rollins, Ruiz, Victorino and Pence.
ROTATION (5): Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, Vance Worley. Manuel labelled Joe Blanton as having to prove that he is healthy, while Amaro said he expects Blanton to be in the Opening Day rotation. But Amaro said Worley's job is his to lose. Hard to see a guy like Kyle Kendrick or Joel Piniero beating him out in spring training.
BULLPEN (6): Jonathan Papelbon, Jose Contreras, Antonio Bastardo, Dontrelle Willis, Michael Stutes, Kyle Kendrick. I'd expect the Phillies to go with seven relievers, at least until Howard returns, if for no other reason than the fact that they really don't have an obvious candidate for a sixth bench spot. A number of players will be in the mix for that seventh bullpen spot. Manuel said he likes Willis as the lefty specialist. 
BENCH (5): Jim Thome, Laynce Nix, Brian Schneider, Michael Martinez, Juan Pierre. Manuel said Martinez enters spring training as the leading contender to fill the utility void, although he said that Freddy Galvis could merit a serious look if Jimmy Rollins were to miss an extended period of time. There really aren't many other obvious options to fill the utility hole, unless one of the minor league free agents really impresses during spring training. Martinez has minor league options. 
-Utley is healthy, according to Amaro and Manuel.


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